—(Reposted from Live Journal)—
Two days a week I tutor this guy – let’s call him Murat – from Turkey who has been in the US for about a month and a half now. He’ll be here in Cleveland for five more months. He’s working at the Cleveland Clinic to get some experience at what he said has a “very very good medical place” and “one of best in world!” The closest I shall come with describing what he does is this: surgery particularly having to do with colorectal issues. I told him I did not need further explanation.
Murat was born in Kars. He lived there until he was six. He then moved to Ankara for a while. He studied in Istanbul and lived near Topkapı, which I’m guessing is in the Fatih district since the palace is around those parts. Unfortunately, he supports Galatasaray. This has not been a hindrance in me receiving payment, nor has it stopped me from showing up. We both explained why we liked our opposing teams and left it at that. I can live with that; it seems he can as well.
After uni, Murat practiced surgery in Ankara and Kars. His family just arrived in Cleveland at the start of the month and I’ve been tutoring him (mostly conversation, but it breaches into pronunciation and the more relevant aspects of grammar and interaction with other people). Murat’s level of English is quite low, and he sometimes has trouble stringing full sentences together automatically. He pauses a lot. Normally he gets to where he needs to go; it just takes time. He knows things, but it’s just trying to get everything whirring in his head out there. I have to remember to slow down occasionally, but I’ve already told him that might happen. I mean, I hadn’t taught elementary and/or early-intermediate learners of English since 2008.
Two Tuesdays ago, we had the best conversation so far. I had a list of questions to ask him (about how he interacts with people at the store, at cafes, at the clinic, and other public locations where he MUST use English). However, we began to digress from these questions around 30 minutes into our tutoring session, and we talked instead about literature. It spawned off a question about what he did in his free time; he said he loved reading books but he’d been doing a lot of researching for the clinic and so did not have too much free time for it.
Murat’s a huge fan of the classics, especially Russian literature. I grew intrigued, since I’m a big Dostoevsky nut, and asked him which authors he likes most. He said he likes the familiar ones: Tolstoy and, particularly, Dostoevsky. I became even more pleased and asked his favorite novel by Dostoevsky. Sure enough, it’s The Brothers Karamazov, which is mine as well. I wish his level of English was much higher because I’m sure we’d have been able to talk for a bit about it (even though a lot of the novel has slowly evaporated; I need to reread it). We touched briefly on a few famous American writers, but we also discussed a few Turkish writers. He asked me which authors I’d read. Sadly, I had to give the token answers most Westerners would answer: Orhan Pamuk and Elif Şafak. He told me he really enjoyed Aşk or “Love”. I told him I’d only read The Bastard of Istanbul.
We both agreed that – although Pamuk is a very important writer for Turkey and the world, despite what some Turks might think about him – he’s incredibly difficult to finish. At least his fiction is. I’ve tried reading two of Pamuk’s. Rough going. Not particularly fulfilling. His nonfiction, Istanbul: Memories of a City, is his best work. Simply amazing! Murat also provided me with two other authors (Yaşar Kemal and Nazım Hikmet). I had heard both of these people before, but was not fully sure where exactly I’d heard about them. Then, it struck me later on that evening. My pal, Jeff, from Turkey is a huge fan of them! He’d blogged about Hikmet in the past and put a few lines of his poetry on his blog space. Both authors are/were two people who’d been persecuted/arrested/etc. in the past by the Turkish government. If you aren’t well-versed in politics in Turkey, then you don’t realize how much flack a lot of writers get for voicing their opinions and also some of their discontent with the government and how things in Turkey are run. Many authors, journalists, yes some politicians, and others living in Turkey have been arrested, tried, some have even been killed. Just for speaking out for a certain group of people (Kemal against the persecution of the Kurds in SE Turkey). Just for having an opinion that did not gel with the current power. Hikmet fled to various countries during his life and died abroad. Other famous writers (both Pamuk and Şafak) have been held under fire for their words or work (Pamuk for his recognition of the Armenian Genocide; Şafak for one of her fictional works where characters label the Armenian Genocide AS a genocide, which therefore “insults Turkishness” and is against the law); for Pamuk, he even received death threats for his views that the Genocide happened.
I am hesitant to ask any further personal questions to Murat. About his ancestry, about his beliefs, whether or not he has similar ones to Kemal and Hikmet, whether or not he has similar viewpoints to the majority of Turks. We have only met five or six times. This foray into literature has given me more knowledge about Murat, but I do not think it has brought me very far into serious conversation – especially when his level of English is not advanced enough for very complex statements and opinions.
He did not vote for Turkey’s national elections, either. Voting absentee does not seem to happen in Turkey. (Or does it?) At least that’s what Murat seemed to imply. He couldn’t. He wasn’t pleased with Erdoğan’s victory. Another patch on my student’s intriguing personality quilt.