pis yabancı.

For some insane reason, I’ve felt a bit unwelcome this month in Turkey, at least more than I’ve ever felt here.  The number of times I’ve almost been swindled is rising dramatically over the past few weeks, and just the vibe I’ve been getting is more negative.  Mind you it’s not all the time I feel this way, but there are days like today when I feel like screaming and punching random people in the face to relieve my anger.

As an aside, let me say that there have been many times where the hospitality in Istanbul is like none other.  I mean this in a positive sense.  I remember being welcomed kindly in Kabak when my pal Gareth and I went camping there.  I must mention the people at this tiny hole-in-the-wall (that’s sadly not there any longer) in Kadıköy, where they served amazing food, were kind to us, and during our first few visits served us free künefe after our meals.  Then there are Hüseyin and Bülent (the latter went on to greener pastures in the south) at Limon Café, and the people who always welcome me with a smile at Asya – a lokantası on Moda Caddesi – who make dolma and ezogelin çorba to die for.  The tea garden in Moda always is active with people just relaxing from a long or short day, and the servers are always brisk and willing to cater to your needs; plus, you can bring your own food while you sip their çay.  Lastly, I have been a regular at this one eatery in Moda called Dodo Café.  Disregarding the name, it’s a pretty laid-back place that’s quite popular for weekend breakfasts.  At the base price of 3TL you receive cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, and endless tea; you can add other things for a small fee, like olives, cheeses, eggs, honey, different deli meats, sausage, börek, menemen.  The people there know me and always ask how I’m doing in the morning.  They always make sure my tea glass is never empty.  They have been recently putting more bread on my tray and giving me extra cucumber.  In warmer weather, the patio fills up – but it’s still a great place for me to eat, then write for a bit over my fourth glass of tea before heading out to enjoy my Saturday.

Despite this welcoming attitude, I have felt a little off-put by the number of times police have stopped me in the evening on the way back to my apartment.  Sure I’m a 20-something-year-old male, walking alone, wearing a big black coat, sporting a beard, and my hair normally slicked back – as it’s gotten a bit longer.  But why have they this month stopped me twice asking me what I’m up to?  The first time it happened was a time that was understandable: I had left a house party at around two in the morning, I was drunk, and I was walking by myself.  The police drove alongside me and said, “Iyi akşamlar” or “Good evening”.  I returned the gesture, and then they began to talk so fast I probably wouldn’t have understood them if I were sober.  So I told them “Anlamıyorum, ben yabancı.” — which means “I don’t understand; I’m a foreigner.”  They nodded and let me go.

A week later, whilst walking back from work at around 10pm, I get stopped again.  This time I’m asked for identification, so I hand over my residency permit telling them I’m a yabancı. Then, they want to know what’s in my possession.  Nothing evil of course, but I oblige to turn out my pockets.  I also had the immense pleasure of being frisked on the sidewalk with people walking past in both directions.  They were stopping all the men, but I really didn’t appreciate being held up for five minutes in the early evening on a busy street.  In all my time in Istanbul, I’d never been stopped and searched by the police, so I guess I should feel lucky.

Not only that, but this month I had three incidences when I received the old Turkish lira.  It’s an oxymoron, but the actual name of the currency was yeni türk lirası (or YTL):  “new Turkish lira”.  In 2009 they did away with the “new” part and nixed the Y.  This past January, all stores and other places would not allow people to use the “old” currency as legal tender; it all was useless.  There’s still “yeni” lira and koruş wandering around in tills and on the sidewalks.  The thing is that I personally – and obviously – will not accept any YTL from anyone anymore; so when a merchant or the man at the register gives me YTL, I’ll say that I want TL not this garbage.  You know, money I can actually USE!  The three times when I had been given lira or koruş that was unusable, the merchants played dumb.  “What?  I don’t understand.  It’s your change.”  I would heatedly respond with “Istemiyorum!” or “I don’t want!” and show the Y in the YTL or the “yeni” next to koruş.

Just because I look like a foreigner (some Turks have red hair, but most have dark brown or black) doesn’t mean I want to be treated like one, especially one that’s stupid, oblivious, and easily fooled.  Many tourists and others get the shaft at a lot of places – maybe if they can’t read Turkish or are clueless to the art of negotiating at a bazaar.  I am not one of these people; I’ve learned how to deal with these situations.

Another incident – which happened today, and it happened TWICE – involved the purchase of oranges.  I normally get the mandarins because they’re smaller, they’re sweeter, they peel easier and there are no seeds you have to spit out while eating.  The mandarin season is nearing its end, so there are quite a few left but they’re in sorry shape.  I had a hankering for large oranges, and they’re pretty cheap at this time of year.  The label for orange in most small corner markets is “portakal sıkma“.

At the first place, I nabbed three oranges and placed them in a bag for the produce guy to weigh;  I also bought a few of the large, skinny, green peppers (called çarlistan in Turkish).   I noticed that the price of the peppers on the machine was not the price listed in ink by the barrel of peppers.  By the barrel, it was 4.45TL a kilo; the scale read 4.99TL a kilo.  I told the produce guy, who immediately wandered to the pepper barrel and ripped off the price tag.  I tsk-ed him and walked into the store.  I honestly did not want to deal with it, especially as the price difference wasn’t exorbitant.  Because of the inaccuracy though, I became suspicious and peered at the price-tag of my oranges only to find that he had also charged me the mandarin price.  For mandarins, it’s 3.99TL for a kilo (because they aren’t as large); for the portakal version, they were 1.99TL.  I went back out and complained.  They told me that what I had were mandarins.  They were much larger than mandarins, plus I picked them in the portakal sıkma section!  I was incensed.  The produce men weren’t budging, so I tore open my bag and let the oranges I had chosen fall over the mandarins.  Then, I went back inside and paid for my overpriced peppers and left.

I decided to try another store to get the rest of my goods.  There’s a Tansaş not too far from my apartment, so I traversed there with a list in my head, one of the tics being those lovely oranges.  I purchased some cheese, meat, juice, normal stuff for dinner for today and tomorrow.  I found the orange section:  portakal sıkma were even cheaper here at 1.39TL for a kilo.  The mandarins were at the price of 3.99TL just like the last store.  I went and bought a few of the oranges and noted how even more different both looked when comparing, more so than at my first stop.  In line, everything went through; I paid and after looking at the receipt noticed that the idiot at the register charged me for the mandarins.

Again, I called him out on it and he looked at me, then at the oranges and said:  “Bu mandalina vardır.”  Those are mandarins.

What!  Those are mandarins?

I literally began shaking.  Twice in the span of an hour.  Utterly ridiculous.  I was spouting off, “Hayır ya, mandalina yok, portakal var!”  But my attempts to get him to see that he overcharged me for oranges were in vain.  I shouted an “ALLAHALLAH!” and went over to another Tansaş employee and told him to come with me.  He followed me to the produce section, and I showed him the price right below the oranges and then the mandarins… and HOW THEY BLOODY LOOKED DIFFERENT.  The man gazed for a while at my bag of oranges, considering that maybe these might be grapefruits, or melons, or kiwis.  But he slowly nodded and brought my oranges back to the guy at the register who gave me the 1.39TL price, of course sulking all the while about it.

I honestly am flabbergasted here.  I want to just believe that these people – at least at the stores today – were inept.  However, there are times when they’re just playing dumb to wheedle money out of possible tourists.  When my sister visited me in Istanbul in September of 2008, I went to this bar which served happy hour Efes 50cLs for 3YTL.  We each had two, so the bill should have been 12YTL.  At the end, we got a bill for 18YTL.  I didn’t leave that place without getting my way; they kept telling me the sign was for the weekend, but NOWHERE on the sign did it say that.  It said:  50cL : 3YTL.

True, some tourists are stupid enough to pay 40TL for a cheap dinner that you could get in Kadıköy for ten.  What I find most offensive after living here for almost two years and knowing at least enough of the language to communicate with all these people without having to resort to English, is the fact that I’m still being treated as if I am the ignoramus, that I’m so simple-minded to stupidly accept the worthless money from 2008, or to gladly purchase oranges for double the price; that if I am looking at something at a store or shop, I really want workers to come over and say in English: “Yes, friend, you like?  Lots money, you wish, I help?”.  I don’t deserve that, and a lot of people here need to realize that if they want to prey off people and feign ignorance, they won’t be considered some of the most hospitable people in the future.

Again, there are many Turks who are incredibly nice, welcoming, and hospitable.  I’ve befriended many.  The bad eggs stand out, and I’m sick to death of being exposed to such skulduggery.

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draft.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written a short story.  It’s a mixture of fiction and real-life events.  I’ve also changed names for this one, something I haven’t done until now.  At this stage, it’s really bad and needs work.  The narrative skips a lot (my intention), it seems too disheveled, the tone changes too dramatically I think, and a lot of the sentences are choppy.  I really liked the part I’m putting on here.  I had tried to remember the actual conversation I had had, but only pieces of it remain.  Despite that, the headline was the very same one.

I had been invited to a get-together in Beyoğlu, which is a district on the European side of Istanbul.  I met up with a few of my pals from the language school where I worked back then.  Evan was one of the people there.  The guy’s apartment where we all congregated was right at the end of the main street called İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Street), where there were fewer people than the mob normally near the main square.  I sent Evan a message when I reached the front door.  The owner of the place held yoga sessions, so there were mats and medicine balls all around the living space.  People had plopped down on the wooden floor, sipping on Vole or red wine, chatting and smoking and lazing around as it began to reach dusk on an immaculate June evening.

My mind whirled to a yoga class, what it might seem here on the penthouse floor amid skinny streets and so close to the party spots of Istanbul.  I stood on a mat and stared at the instructor, glasses masking his eyes and the glare flashing at me like lightning.  In response, I raised my fingers at the instructor and let loose.  Real honest-to-god electricity from my fingers crackled in his direction.  It threw him backwards against the wall where he convulsed as veins of energy circumnavigated his torso and face.  His glasses turned into metal recently fashioned and molded, glowing orange.  His hair stood on end.  Screams again filled my ears.  I turned in a circle, humming along with my own music; people were struck left and right, death by association.

After that quick trip, I returned to a conversation with some dude one of our friends, Ingrid, met on a train from Bulgaria.  Seymour, as he was christened, was planning to get to Iran so he could continue learning Farsi; I nodded and soon excused myself from the conversation, which was getting into how the Iranian people were the warmest people ever, they just had no control over the government, they had no voice, and there doesn’t seem to be any way out of this situation.  Right now, the yoga massacre was still on my brain.  I didn’t think it would be the best thing to be there right then.

I made it to the rooftop terrace.  There were two or three tables near the doorway, chairs layered with leftover rain from the morning’s gully-washer.  Evan was up there with others taking in the fresh, late-spring evening; I wandered around to check the near-360 view.  It rivaled the top of the Galata Tower to the south, the place that boasts the best circular view of the city, all the rolling blocks of apartments, the bridges lit up under the black, pollution-clogged sky.  Up here on the terrace, I could see for miles all over.  Many areas of Beyoğlu, especially near the Golden Horn and Galata Tower are hilly; so this oversees so much age-old architecture and the endless apartment blocks, the sun masked behind clouds as light starts to fade.  The pre-sunset call to prayer (ezan) filled the air, and Evan walked next to me.

“You know what I want to do in a few years’ time, maybe 20 years?”

Everyone else had ventured back down to the party with the in-my-mind-electrocuted yoga teacher.  I turned to Evan who peered over the ledge, looking at the almost people-less road, shops closing up, a not-as-busy area of one of the most famous streets in Istanbul.

“I want to dress up like Mickey Mouse, get up here, and then jump off this building.”

“What?”

“I’d be holding a chicken head, so there’d be a lot of blood.”

“Why do you want to do that?”

I was looking down now and getting the faint urge to balance on the ledge, like I did at the stadium.

“I just don’t want to grow old.  Lose my mind.  Die without my memories.  I mean, I still have a good 20 years before that, but…”

That had struck a nerve with me, for my grandfather currently had Alzheimer’s and dementia – so most of his abilities and his memories were already laid to rest.  To picture oneself in the same state is near impossible; mostly because we wouldn’t be cognizant of it.

“So, get this, I want to die in a cool way, one that’s unique, you know.  I want to jump off just so the newspaper headlines read:  ‘MICKEY MOUSE JUMPS TO DEATH HOLDING A CHICKEN’S HEAD’.”

I processed this information some more, now with the headline etched in the forefront.  So he does not want to play out his old age with the typical dementia and existential what-ifs.  He wants this odd imprint in history.  I don’t disagree with him, but if I had the choice I’d maybe take a few sloths down with me as I’m plummeting down to meet Charon at the River.  Most people do that, don’t they?

 

I had been invited to a get-together in Beyoğlu, which is a district on the European side of Istanbul.  I met up with quite a few of my pals from the language school where I worked back then.  Evan was one of the people there.  The guy’s apartment where we all congregated was right at the end of the main street called İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Street), where there were fewer people than the mob normally near the main square.  I rang at the front door, which in fact wound up me sending a message to Evan via mobile phone.  The owner of the place held yoga sessions, so there were mats and medicine balls all around the living space.  People had plopped down on the wooden floor, sipping on Vole, chatting and smoking and lazing around as it began to reach near dusk on an immaculate June evening.

My mind whirled to a yoga class, what it might seem here on the penthouse floor amid skinny streets and so close to the party spot of Istanbul.  I stood on a mat and stared at the instructor, glasses masking his eyes and the glare flashing at me like lightning.  In response, I raised my fingers at the instructor and let loose.  Real honest-to-god electricity from my fingers crackled in his direction.  It threw him backwards against the wall where he convulsed as veins of energy circumnavigated his torso and face.  His glasses turned into metal recently fashioned and molded, glowing orange.  His hair stood on end.  Screams again filled my ears.  I turned in a circle, humming along with my own music; people were struck left and right, death by association.

After that quick trip, I returned to a conversation with some dude one of our friends, Ingrid, met on a train from Bulgaria.  Seymour, as he was christened, was planning to get to Iran so he could continue learning Farsi; I nodded and soon excused myself from the conversation, which was getting into how the Iranian people were the warmest people ever, they just had no control over the government, they had no voice, and there doesn’t seem to be any way out of this situation.  Right now, the yoga massacre was still on my brain.  I didn’t think it would be the best thing to be there right then.

I made it to the rooftop terrace.  There were two or three tables near the doorway, chairs layered with leftover rain from the morning’s gully-washer.  Evan was up there with others taking in the fresh, late-spring evening; I wandered around to check the near-360 view.  It rivaled the top of the Galata Tower to the south, the place that boasts the best circular view of the city, all the rolling blocks of apartments, the bridges lit up under the black, pollution-clogged sky.  Up here on the terrace, I could see for miles all over.  Many areas of Beyoğlu, especially near the Golden Horn and Galata Tower are hilly; so this oversees so much age-old architecture and the endless apartment blocks, the sun masked behind clouds as light starts to fade.  The pre-sunset call to prayer (ezan) filled the air, and Evan walked next to me.

“You know what I want to do in a few years’ time, maybe 20 years?”

Everyone else had ventured back down to the party with the in-my-mind-electrocuted yoga teacher.  I turned to Evan who peered over the ledge, looking at the almost people-less road, shops closing up, a not-as-busy area of one of the most famous streets in Istanbul.

“I want to dress up like Mickey Mouse, get up here, and then jump off this building.”

“What?”

“I’d be holding a chicken head, so there’d be a lot of blood.”

“Why do you want to do that?”

But I was looking down and getting the faint urge to balance on the ledge, like I did at the stadium.

“I just don’t want to grow old.  Lose my mind.  Die without my memories.”

That had struck a nerve with me, for my grandfather currently had Alzheimer’s and dementia – so most of his abilities and his memories were already laid to rest.  To picture oneself in the same state is near impossible; mostly because we wouldn’t truly be cognizant of it.

“So, get this, I want to die in a cool way, one that’s unique, you know.  I want to jump off just so the newspaper headlines would read:  ‘MICKEY MOUSE JUMPS TO DEATH HOLDING A CHICKEN’S HEAD’.”

I processed this information some more, now with the headline etched in the forefront.  So he does not want to play out his old age with the typical dementia and existential what-ifs.  He wants this odd imprint in history; I don’t disagree with him.  But if I had the choice, I’d maybe take a few sloths down with me as I’m plummeting down to meet Charon at the River.  Most people do that, don’t they?

disclaimer.

If you disagree with anything I write, if something I put on here angers you or offends you, if any sort of thing I link to ticks you off — let me know.  I want to know your thoughts and opinions.  I honestly am not the go-to man for all things; I don’t claim to know everything; I don’t claim to have opinions that are better than everyone else’s.  They’re just my feelings and what I’ve encountered.  This is where I let the things percolating in my mind rest.  If you don’t like it, go away.

If you do, read on.

saving face.

In lieu of the recent vote made by US Congress that might soon publicly recognize the expulsion of Armenians from Turkey as genocide, I thought I’d copy segments from Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières that stuck out to me most, many of which deal – if not directly – indirectly with this issue.  I wish I knew more about this particular era of history; I’ve read the aforementioned novel and some of Orhan Pamuk’s writings, and there are the articles I’ve read online about it, and also listened to opinions from some of my Turkish students as well as other friends of mine here in Istanbul.

Not to go in too deeply, but I think that the actions made by the US government right now are foolish.  Turkey and Armenia were in the process of trying to come to some kind of agreement that might actually end up with the borders opening up between the two nations (at the most).  Now this – along with another dispute regarding segments of land (should it belong to Azerbaijan or Armenia?) – could hinder any sort of progress in this area.  I won’t even open the can of worms as to whether or not it should be coined as a “genocide”, but to ignore that this happened – however you wish to define it – is foolish, heinous, and in my opinion it has more to do with people trying to save face and not have one’s ancestry tarnished and blemished with the blood of people of another race.

There’s a part in Birds Without Wings where one of the main characters, Karatavuk, writes about his time fighting at Gallipoli.  In this quote, he talks about what he has seen and heard on the front in regard to religion, nationality, who’s on whose side, and basically the chaos and the incomprehensibility of why they’re there and the main reason for the war:

It was true that this war was a jihad, and therefore he would be bound to die gladly for the love of God, but all the same it was puzzling to the faith when one learned that the Arabs had sided with the British, as had the Muslims from the other side of Persia.  It seemed that only Turks took the jihad seriously.  “I am a Turk,” he thought, rolling the idea around his mind, remembering the days when the word “Turk” implied something almost shameful, a barbarian out of the East.  Nowadays, instead of saying, “We are Osmanlis,” or “We are Ottomans,” people are saying, “Yes, we are Turks.”  How strange that the world should change because of words, and words change because of the world. — p.318 BWW

People seem to be strung up about words all the time in multiple scenarios.  When you use the wrong one, you’re called out on it.  Years after World War I, one had to be careful and choose what words to say, or even the language one spoke.  Orhan Pamuk wrote about this in Istanbul: Memories and the City:

After the founding of the Republic and the violent rise of Turkification, after the state imposed sanctions on minorities — measure that some might describe as the final stage of the city’s ‘conquest’ and others as ethnic cleansing – most of these languages disappeared.  I witnessed this cultural cleansing as a child, for whenever anyone spoke Greek or Armenian too loudly in the street (you seldom heard Kurds advertising themselves in public during this period), someone would cry out, “Citizen, please speak Turkish!” — echoing what signs everywhere were saying.   p.239 IMC

And in another part of his memoirs, Pamuk recalls when his wife was writing a paper at an American university and used the word “conquest” when talking about the Fall of Constantinople and was thereby accused of nationalism.  His wife was taught to use the word “conquest” as a lycée student in Turkey.  Perspective has its way with altering a person’s beliefs, especially to mold one’s viewpoints so that he or she believes others’ as ignorant or inaccurate or simply inferior.  Who’s right and who’s wrong in the end?  Each side will plead their case, and there will – at least from what it seems – never be any agreement.  The steps were made to think that there could be one between Turkey and Armenia.  I optimistically thought there was the scarcest of hopes that it could very well happen this time.  With Congress sticking its gigantic nose into the fray, the possibilities have fallen down to a microscopic amount.

What I liked about Birds Without Wings was that, even though it excellently informed me more of Atatürk’s rise to power, and it also talked about how many ethnic groups were inhuman to one another (although it must be said that Armenians were quite the innocent ones in the novel), it focused mostly on the lives of the people in a small town away from the bureaucracy and the first-hand changing of the government and the decrees and the mess that had to be “cleaned up” after World War I.  It showed how the lives of all groups of people (Greeks, Armenians, Turks, Kurds) were affected by the fall of the Ottoman Empire and what came about in the years to come.  It wasn’t written to lay blame on anyone in particular or shout particular catch phrases signaling out the actions of one group of people.  But it showed the destruction of war, and how nationalism can breed incalculable cruelty.

My favorite part of the novel was when Georgio P. Theodorou, a wealthy Greek man who built the well for the residents of Eskibahçe, is caught in the fracas of a war-torn Constantinople and is slowly sinking into the Bosphorus to his death.  In this chapter, be basically gives a grandiose “fuck you” to everyone he considers responsible for his death and the deaths of thousands, nay millions, of people during the war.  These two parts are what stuck out most to me:

What bothers me is that I am dying (albeit quite pleasantly) because of the most gigantic fuck-up, brought about by domnoddies, nincompoops and ninnyhammers of the first order who happened to find themselves in charge of fucking everything up.  Excuse the strong expression of my feelings.  I would not normally use strong language in the presence of ladies, but as a drowning man who has lost everything because of the antics of addlepates, I feel titled to express myself picturesquely …  To be fair, in 1914 the Turks tried to clear all of us out as well, and God knows how many thousands of rayah Greeks got frogmarched to the interior and never came back.  It was probably half a million.  So don’t misunderstand me, it isn’t that I think the Old Greeks are worse than the Turks, what irritates me is that they think they’re so much better when really they’re exactly the same.  God made them Cain and Abel, and whichever one happens to have the upper hand takes his turn as Cain.  Whoever is unfortunate enough to be playing the role of Abel seizes the opportunity to bemoan the barbarism of the other. If I ever get to meet God In Person I shall suggest quite forcefully that He impartially abolish their religions, and then they will be friends for ever. – p.506-7, 511 BWW

Quite the ballsy edict, but he’s dying so he can say whatever he damn well pleases.  Still, the idea remains and there is truth in this statement.  It applies not only to this time period, but throughout time itself.  It’s still relevant now in a society where the Abels are crying out from the fields and the Cains are bandying about playing dumb with a giant brand smack dab on their foreheads.

Theodorou was right; everything’s fucked up.  Nationalism, religion, self-defense, bigotry.  We want to think it’s gone, but it isn’t.  I’ve noticed it more in my second time here.

The Armenian quarter is set alight, and soon the European and Greek quarters are completely destroyed.  The Turks say that the Greeks did this to prevent them from having it.  After all, the Greeks burned everything else as they retreated.  However, in this case the Greek army had already departed some days before.  Some say the Armenians started the fire in order to prevent the Turks from having it.  Some say that the fire was started because there were Armenian snipers in some of the houses, and it is common military practice to burn out snipers.  Some say that the Turkish soldiers started it on purpose to disguise what they had done to the Armenian civilians who lay eviscerated and raped inside the houses, or to make sure that they would have to leave and never come back.  Some blame Mustafa Kemal, others Nurettin Pasha, who was a rabble-rouser and demagogue.  Some blame Turkish regular troops, and others blame the uncontrollable irregulars who came along for the ride.  In other words, everybody has someone else to blame and to despise for what happened to the fairest and happiest and most prosperous port on the Levant. — p. 504 BWW

Just reading this paragraph hurts.  Everyone has someone else to blame.  In the end, innocent people died, hundreds, thousands, maybe millions.  And people are bickering about one word.