September 17, 2014
On the morning of my wedding day I looked to the sky, searching for an omen. Black clouds, rain clouds, wind, sun, certainly they all have significance, right? The weather WAS a bit iffy, black clouds and wind, not too bad…yet. If it rains on your wedding day, that’s supposed to be lucky, right? But sunny skies are what you need for an outdoor wedding. Can’t have rain on the wedding day? Alanis Morisette now plays in my head. It’s like raiiyaiinn…on your wedding day! What? Really?
Chattering monkeys in your brain, Ezra, chill.
Waking up with mom and dad
My divorced mother and father both stayed at our small, hot (by American standards) apartment on wedding eve — and reminisced about their own marriage — but my future wife didn’t.
Around 9 am, I went out with mom to forage for some breakfast, which turned out to be some good and expensive su boreği. “It’s kugel, basically,” I told my mother, trying drawing a similarity between this Turkish breakfast food and its Ashkenazi Jewish, carb-filled cousin. You need protein, Ezra, I thought to myself, got a long day. It was windy. What does wind mean? Does it mean an unstable marriage? Winds of change? We are going to be on a boat! People’s hair is going to fly. Oh no!
You have it easy, Ezra. Your bride may be thinking all these things and wearing a lacey tent and a pound of makeup. I couldn’t help but feel bad for Zeynep, wondering how she was doing.
Bless Mehmet, Zeynep’s “witness” at the ceremony, my “father” at my engagement ceremony, and one of our best friends. He arranged to have our friend Cengiz pick us up at 11:30. As we had breakfast, I tried to remember all the things Mehmet said at the meeting the night before the big day: Make sure you have plenty of 5 and 10 lira notes, because kids will stop a wedding car festooned with flowers for a little extra coin. I knew kids asked for money on the street on a wedding, but didn’t know they’d risk life and limb to stop a car for it. Make sure to have a lot of cash on hand for other miscellaneous expenses. Tell the parents to sit all together at the ceremony…
It must have looked strange to see a man walking around at 10 am in a 1000 TL tux, going corner store to corner store, asking if people could break 50 and 20 TL notes. I wondered if they knew why. Turks often pick up immediately on these kinds of things.
Cengiz came and my mother, father and I loaded in the car for the drive to the parents’ house. We a bit late as per request from Mehmet, who was acting as the intermediary between bride and groom. In Turkish tradition, a brother is a gatekeeper at the bride’s home. He doesn’t let the groom pass until he doles out some cash to show…well, I’m not sure what it shows, a gesture of good faith I suppose. Mehmet told me to have 50s and 100s ready. Zeynep doesn’t have a brother, though, so the job fell to the cousin, Özgür. To our surprise there was no one stopping our way so we entered and sat down in their modest apartment, in Istanbul’s Maltepe district. Homemade Turkish börek (pastry) varieties greeted us, and some çay.
Then it happened. After the suspense, there she walked in to the living room. My bride. I could describe here her dress, her hair. But to me, she just looked like a bride. My bride. I cried.
She was nervous, asking me to play with her hair. We were pretending to talk, lips moving for raw footage that the videographer could put into a montage. After the first of seemingly endless photos, we made our way to her aunt’s wedding car. In Turkey wedding cars are draped in a large ribbon with a bouquet placed on the hood. When the bride and groom leave the house, everyone on the street claps and there is often a motorcade of several cars taking relatives to the wedding, horns blazing all the way.
We were off to the Wedding Factory. For those who don’t know, most couples married in Turkey are officially married in an evlendirme dairesi (official wedding call), usually in their local districts. A young population, a shortage of these district wedding halls, and a summer Ramadan means from May to September, couples are slotted one after the other at 15-minute intervals, an assembly line of life altering moments.
We were whisked to the bride and groom waiting room. Other couples were either coming up before us or entering back from their own wedding to catch their breaths and gathering their belongings. Zeynep’s hair guy graciously followed us around, touching up her quaff as needed. One bride was wearing a full body white dress and white hijab, another an open backed dress showing tattoos on arms and back. This is Turkey.
After a predictable snafu with our “waiting for the couple” music, we entered through what I thought was an elevator door, but was really the entrance door to the Star Trek Enterprise flight deck. We were greeted with hearty applause. The room is a glorified conference hall, with cushioned seats facing a table that looks set for a panel discussion more than a wedding. But this is a socialist, decidedly non-religious looking affair. In fact, religious weddings in Turkey have no legality.
The justice of the peace was a middle-aged bureaucrat. He asked me if I knew why I was there. I said, “I’m getting married” in an innocent, child-like tone, to a chorus of chuckles.
The official then states that upon inspection, we are deemed legally fit for marriage having jumped through all the hoops (to be described soon in a future post). We then sign a large official notebook, and then are given a 6-inch long booklet known as our aile cüzdanı, we stand up to applause. Then I unveiled my bride, and had our first kiss as a married couple. The witnesses on hand (you are allowed two, foreign or Turk, but foreigners must have a Turkish ID number) also gave their emphatic “evets”.
Off the stage, on with the procession
Then it’s your turn to be a prime minister greeting dignitaries! Your friends and family rush out to a foyer next to the ceremony hall. You stand there. People pin gold or cash on you or put it in a cloth bag. They kiss you and wish you happiness, pose for a photo, and get a small “door prize” for showing up (nikah şekeri, usually a chocolate or small ornament).
Relief was taking over. The burdens of all the ceremony started lifting. The fun was to begin. Some of the people in the procession were acquaintances of Zeynep’s mother and father. “Who was that?” I asked my wife while watching the amateurish wedding video after. “I don’t know, some friend of my fathers.” People you’ve never met dropping a 145 TL gold coin or pinning a bank note on your sash underscores the system of honor and reciprocation that is standard in Turkish weddings: when you go to a business associates niece’s cousin’s wedding, the unwritten rule is that they return the favor when your kid ties the knot.
After hundreds of kisses, well wishes, staring through a camera lens, as part of our American touch, Zeynep arranged to have rice thrown on us. The feeling of being showered by rice was a few seconds of unexpected bliss.
Before we could get into the car, our, the cousin standing in as the tough brother, made his appearance, blocking our way. Laughter erupted as I offered first a 5 TL note, then 10. Finally, 50 was enough to get us through the door and back to the car.
It was off to her parents’ house before changing and heading to a train station to get on a wedding boat. Where else can you do that!
At the late great Haydarpaşa train station
I was standing inside the glass-paneled door of the venerable, turn of the century Haydarpaşa train station, Zeynep was standing outside. We were mimicking each other’s slow hand gestures. Seeing each other so clearly, yet unable to touch each other, a metaphor for pre-marriage chastity, perhaps? Emre, our videographer, was taking shots for his montage.
Outside, the revelers were showing up, many of them our friends who didn’t come to the ceremony. At the nikah: older folks, business associates, pillars of the community plus family and the closest friends. At the boat party: younger folks, more friends there to have a good time with the newly minted couple…plus family and the closest friends. The average age must have dropped 10 years in about three hours.
As the wedding boat started to churn into view from the European side of the Bosphorus, One of Zeynep’s childhood friends then had an idea. “Look, I found this picture online,” Fırat said. In the picture were strangers all assembled on the grand steps in front of the train station, waving their hands. Everyone quickly assembled on the steps like a military marching band and hands were no sooner in the air for an iconic photo.
Then it was onto our pleasure craft, and a look to the skies. A group of unfriendly dark clouds scooted across the sky blocking out the sun and bringing a gust of wind with them Oh gods above us, what does this foretell?
We placed some valuables in the captain’s room and a semi-argument broke out. Nihan, Zeynep’s close friend from university and an extremely helpful uber planner, fretted about the next bit: another Americanism, the giving away of the bride by her father to the groom. So this church/synagogue/all-American church had to be adapted to our Turkish wedding by adding them to our boat reception. Nihan wasn’t sure how we were going to pull it off. Ideas sprang from different angles. Zeynep got frustrated and wanted to forget the thing all together. I went to stand in front of the boats deck. Then, Ahmet, Zeynep’s father (see my “I met Dad” post) came out with our woman, our song played, and all that wedding stress melted away.
“Look after her” Ahmet Baba whispered in my ear. Then John Lennon’s Imagine began to play. Our first dance. Our very own darling flower girl, 7-year-old Özgür’s daughter, Özgü, was our flower girl throwing petals in the air, we donned those classic Lennon round sunglasses.
Improvising, that national pastime of Turkey, worked out beautifully in our favor. During our dance, the sun came out low on the horizon for a brief, blissful moment before setting below Sultan Ahmet mosque, and I thought about all the things coming together at that moment: my love for my wife, the Bosphorus as the common vein uniting our cultures, and, of course, the golden late summer sun.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
The sky gave us a good omen, if there ever were such a thing.
August 13, 2014
Turkey doesn’t have a lot of tidy consignment shops or well-publicized clothing charities like Goodwill, but if you are looking to donate some clothes, especially if you live in the Kadıköy area, at least one place that will gladly take them.
Açik Gardırop (Open Wardrobe) is a small, unassuming place run by Kadıköy Belediye’s (municipality) cultural and social projects directorate. It’s located in Fikirtepe, a poor neighborhood perhaps best known to outsiders as being home to the Salı Pazarı (Tuesday Bazaar). They will take any unwanted, but GENTLY used women’s, men’s and children’s clothing.
Every 10 to 15 days the local muhtarlıks (offices of district councilmen) of Kadıköy organize pick ups of the clothes for poor families and clothes are also given the homeless, according to one shop representative.
You are given a receipt (I’m not sure what I am going to do with mine, I don’t write these things off on my taxes here) and are on your way.
The easiest way to get there is by taxi (if you are carrying bundles of clothes). From the center of Kadıköy, it’s about 10 TL. If you are going by public transport, its conveniently located near the Uzunçayir Metrobus stop. After getting off, go down the stairs on the Fikirtepe side of the stop, turn right, and once you get through the underpass there is a path on the left which heads for Özbey Caddesi.
The address is 111 Özbey Caddesi. Drop off hours are The building can be seen from the highway. They close at 4:30 and are closed from 12 to 1 for lunch.
They also do pick ups, but when called, they said they’d come sometime in the next 10 days (but would call before they came).
The center does not accept books, but has a strong need for toys.
If you go on a Tuesday, you can pick up some cheap NEW clothes for future donation at the Salı Pazarı! Happy giving!
March 23, 2014
The statements above, which PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made, are lies, of course.
But when do lies stop mattering? It seems that PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has blurred the lines between lying and truth telling.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter for most of the Turkish populace. By campaigning all over the country in a blitzkrieg unrivaled by anyone else on hte national stage, the AKP has confirmed that it is still in power and is likely to win most of the key races in the March 30 local election.
Ever since bombs were dropped in the form of leaked wiretapped phone conversations between Erdoğan and his son surfaced, and since the blue bird “bombs” being dropped by Twitter users since the Twitter “ban” began a few days ago, Erdogan has seemed to stumble at the most inopportune time. Rumors are that he has cancer. A guy I played basketball with in Kadikoy today said “we will slap him right out of power, don’t worry.” But what tangible effect it will have on the outcome of the elections remains to be seen.
Are the Turkish local elections important?
With all this, it’s sometimes hard to forget that Tayyip isn’t even running for office. It’s just the local elections.
This begs the question: are the local elections important? While it is true that they are a barometer of national sentiment heading into national elections in 2015, they are more than that:“Nowadays local governments are also a significant laboratory of political life and a genuine springboard into national politics for successful leaders. Many current ministers and parliamentarians have served as mayors or held local government positions in the past, including the Prime Minister Erdogan, who was the former metropolitan mayor of Istanbul. –Al Jazeera Center for Studies
The study also highlights that local governments have taken a larger role in the social welfare of society, account for more than 30 percent of all infrastructure projects, and employ nearly 300,000 civil servants.
Is the silent majority still the majority? On the local level, it is for now. The government runs about 1,400 local municipalities, while the CHP and MHP combined control less than a 1,000. The mayoral elections in Istanbul and Ankara might be tight, but those in the smaller provinces around Anatolia still will go to the AKP.
Distracting ads and an international incident
Crafty marketing, a ruler ripe for the take down be damned, it seems that because of the dynamics of most voters here, there won’t be too much in the way of real change following the local elections — bluntly, the majority of the voting population is uneducated to just how much Erdogan and his cronies have gone off the deep end to suppress opposition.
On top of that, the time seemed to be ripe for a tangible distraction. Today, Turkish military has struck down a Syrian F-16 fighter jet on the border. Turkey says the plane crossed into Turkish airspace, Syria says it remained in Syrian airspace and that the event was a provocation.
This seems to be a last ditch distraction for a party that is nervous, despite its heady previous returns. The party has already stated that anything above its 38.8 percent it took in the 2009 local elections would be considered a victory. And, emotion aside, it would be a victory indeed for a party that has caught so much negative publicity to get anything more than 36 percent.
Another shrewd distraction was a recent AKP ad, a 3-minute patriotic tear jerker which shows Turks literally running from all corners of society to save a massive Turkish flag from falling off an impossibly high flagpole (the flag was cut down by a shadowy, faceless man). Using some CGI, the people are depicted literally piled on top of each other to reach high enough to save the flag.
AKP knows full well that the national flag and images of Ataturk cannot be used in political advertisements, but the government seems to want to start a national discussion — using their trademarked hubris — so as to get people to say “why not use the Flag in local elections! Those crying foul are unpatriotic! Let’s change this law! Good for Tayyip for having the will (irade) to change things!”
At the end of this illegal ad is a slogan that reads “The people will not be bent, Turkey will not be defeated” alongside a picture of Erdoğan.
The slogan isn’t a lie, but it’s going to take someone else in power to make it the truth.
Watch the controversial ad below:
Dating back to before the Crimean War, the Russian military has always had a place in the psyche of Turks. In “Istanbul: Memories and the City,” Orhan Pamuk recalls Soviet destroyers stealthily moving north through the Bosphorus in the dead of night during the peak of the cold war, invisible except for their eerie black silhouettes.
So Turkey scrambling jets following an incursion of a Russian aircraft into Turkish airspace over the Black Sea is one of those reminders that the long dormant little volcano of history between the two still shows signs of life now and then. (A nice summary of the history of Turkish-Russian/Ukranian relations can be found here.)
But it’s the liras and the “hryvnia” that do the talking now. Posturing aside, Turkey does a brisk trade with Ukraine, around $6.2 billion in 2012. Everything from Natashas in Trabzon, to the majority ownership Turkcell has in life:), the third largest mobile operator in Ukraine, reminds us that there a number of economic links between the two, born out of geography and transcending socio-economic strata. It shows the inexorable link between the Black Sea neighbors. In fact, Turkey is Ukraine’s largest trading partner, after Russia.
However, trade between Russia and Turkey is significant as well, to the tune of $33 billion, with the two sides eager for more. This could explain why the government has been cautious about reacting to the recent flare ups. Foreign Minister Davutoglu recently made an unscheduled trip to our northern neighbor, but his tone was diplomatic, with no outward bias.
Then there are the pan-Turkic heartstrings. complicating all this is the ethnic sympathies with Turkic minorities in the former Soviet Union’s continuing sphere of influence.
There is a sizeable Turkic Tatar minority in the Crimean peninsula, a minority which has taken a pro-Ukrainian stance as of late. A recent protest in Ankara against Russian aggression by the Crimean-Tatar Turkish community is testament to that.
Anyone who remembers the ethnic strife in Uyhgar western China that that took place in 2009 can attest to the protests and the resulting pro-Uyghar declarations of solidarity on social media.
An estimate 300,000 now live in Crimea, the majority of whom relocated after being kicked out of Crimea during Soviet times. There is a very large community of Crimean Tatars who resettled in Eskisehir, a city in western Anatolia.
I suspect Turkey will lay low: maintain its neutrality, a task that will be easy compared to the current shit storm wiretapping scandal engulfing the government before the March 30 elections. More on that to come later.
What do you think?
February 23, 2014
Last Valentine’s Day, it began to rain at sunset and didn’t stop till around noon the next day. While the deluge disappointed lovers hoping to take a stroll along the Bosphorus in the unseasonably warm weather, it was great news for just about everyone else, because a serious drought is in the making all over Turkey.
If you’re from the States or follow US news casually, you probably have heard about the drought in California. You probably haven’t heard about the drought unfolding in Anatolia, another major global exporter of a variety of nuts, fruits, rice and other foodstuffs.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence. Local elections are in March. The ruling AK Party — which controls information coming out of ministries such as the Forest and Water Ministry and water utilities — doesn’t want to bear bad news at this sensitive time. Not a word about the drought on the “latest news” sections of the homepage of either the ministry or ISKI (Istanbul’s water authority).
Meanwhile, there has been coverage on TV and on the web about it. This article (in Turkish) claims there is just 120 days of water left in Istanbul’s ten reservoirs. The ITU professor interviewed in it stresses the need for public awareness and education about conserving water, while this article (in Turkish) which quotes the Forest and Water guys, says that, hey, everything is fine! Quit blowing your horns! They say the media has the figures wrong. They say nationwide, Turkey consumes 7.5 billion cubic meters per year, while there is currently 10.5 billion m3 of potable water on hand.
The media, like they do with everything from Gezi Park to shoeboxes filled with cash, is exaggerating, it seems. Or is it? The article doesn’t take into account the growing population and the varying drought intensity by region (it speaks in very general terms about the whole country’s water supply).
Also of note, on its website, ISKI claims that that city consumes 1.25 million cubic meters of water per day, while the ITU professor claims about twice that. Given the poor state of plumbing, the water stealing and the lack of awareness about water conservation, I am more inclined to believe the higher figure.
(Watch “Istanbul’da Suyun Hikayesi” (the Story of Istanbul’s Water) which shows how shitty everything was (pun intended) before a smiling, younger Erdogan became mayor in the 1990’s and opened some of the newer water purification centers and water carrying infrastructure. It’s in Turkish but the montage tells the story.)
So while California’s authorities sound the alarm and will no doubt spread the word about water conservation, as they did in the early 1990’s, Istanbul — which adds thousands of commercial, industrial and residential water using accounts every year — Istanbul’s lesser educated will stay in the dark about how they ought to save water.
Meanwhile, the government says it will “evaluate” the situation in April.
After the local elections, of course.