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Coming to terms
A travel diary from Turkey

By Mona Shomali
August 15, 2003
The Iranian

riding in crowded dolmus mini busses listening to the new turkish pop through the barren dry olive fields, attempting to avoid old women from giving us the evil eye in the village because we feel like we are infidels; visiting the the remains of a greek village where the greeks were made to abandon their houses so that turks could move in, meeting a clan of kurds who sell carpets and eating and drinking with them for two days >>> See photos

bikini clad sensual youthful girls pushing up against completely covered up women, we can only see their eyes, in the street while the eveining prayer reminder is being sung by the man inside the minarette at the top of the town mosque, realizing that the almond seller we have met may always be an almond seller and his son will also be an almond seller on a small island where they drink tea in hour glass shaped glasses and play backgammon every night, and not knowing whether to feel happy or sad for all the changes that we see taking place everywhere somewhere in between the east and western world.

this has been turkey so far. here are some of the funnier stories:

our first night arriving in istanbul, we arrived in the sultanament where there is the famous blue mosque and aya sofya which is a church that was turned into a mosque. we started looking around for a pension or hostel and there are so many carpet sellers everywhere, miss, can you please come here? can i show you a carpet?

2 men sitting outside see us circling the block and they tell us that they have a room that is usually for very important guest, but perhaps tonite they will make us an exception, we go inside and the flat with the room is still under construction and there is sheep wool hanging out to dry in the windows, flying around the room a bit. they say dont mind the sheep wool, we politely decline.

the next morning we buy a shawl for me to cover up so we can visit the blue mosque. the man who sells the shawl tells me that god wants me to cover up and that it is my duty.

we go inside the mosque prepared to not be the infidel, even [my boyfriend] ian is all covered up to show solidarity with me, only to be surprised by all the bling bling gucci italians who have thrown off their head scarves once inside, the police dont care, and there is a dividing screen where us, tourist/infidels are and the completely covered up women and older men pray on the other side trying to concentrate amidst the noisy italians posing and snapping photos. we go back outside, more carpet sellers... plesae miss, you look very nice today, can i show you just one carpet?

now you think you know how to say this word, but it is actually said BOZ.JAH.DAH, i cant figure out the pronounciation in this country at all, but there are many words that are like farsi like... please, slow and watermelon are the same words.

i wish i had paid more attention to my grandma when she spoke turkish but we are doing ok. we took a bus, train, taxi and then finally a ferry to arrive at the island. however, when we reached the ferry they said that there were no more tickets, after a very emotional display by me, this man named mehmet -- everyone here is named mehmet -- said if we *waited* there *might* be a ticket. we waited, and then we watched the ferry go without us an hour later, no mehmet. our friend came and told us if we waitied 2 more hours, there would be ticket. this time we waited again, but then we saw the ferry getting ready to leave again.

this time we went and found someone else and made a big scene and told him that mehmet said he would get us a ticket, that guy went outside and yelled at mehmet and then he got us a ticket secretly while all these angry turkish people were yelling behind us, when we finally got on the ferry, mehmet acted all surprised that we got on.

Ian and i have been doing a secret assesment of whether turkey is ready to join the EU and at this time we say they are NOT ready. ha ha. too much third world haggling.

anyways, this island was beautiful, very dry and shallow hills and barren rocks, pine trees, very nice beach and we had such good lamb kabob and great baklava with honey oozing out of the filo sheets. and there is always time for more tea.

selcuk is the village outside of the great ruins of efes. our bus driver dropped us off in front of his brothers pension in the town. everyone here knows everyone. we went out to eat some dinner and we saw a good carpet shop. the owner was half iranian and half kurd. he had been to iran many times and he was the son of a kurdish mayor in the east of turkey. he wsa a part of a big clan or kurds, 3 other members of the clan worked in the same carpet shop. we really got on with them well, we were so interested in their being kurds since they were the first we had met. they said that many of their relatives were involved in a political mess because of their being kurds.

we drank tea with him and i told him htat i knew a bit about carpets. i found myself exaggerating and telling him that my parents were carpet dealers too. as a part of getting a beter deal on carpets, haggling, you know, anyways, we talked carpets and we bought 3 carpets at a very good price. we really liked them so we had dinner with them and talked to them till really late in the morning.

the next day we went to efes. they say that the remans of the roman buildings, greek city of efes is beter preserved than ruins in greece. it was amazing. i was breathtaken by all of the while colomns, the stadium, it was a whole city and took a while to walk through. being there, in the remains of a greek city in turkey, i wondered how the turks got his land, we have seen everything greek so far on the southern coast, nothing is ottoman. it just makes me feel like these borders are so arbitrary.

we went back to the carpet shop because our new friends said they would take us to sirince, an old greek town. it had been evacuated of greeks during a war although eveything was built by greek people and now the town was thriving in olive oil shops, olive oil soap. we saw olive jam!

there are photos of ataturk everywyere, the nationalistist hero of turkey that made the country secular. our kurdish friend got very upset when we suggested he seemed to be everyones hero. he reminded us of the suffering the kurdish people went through under attaturk. kurdish people do not have their own hospitals, school, and they have been forbidden to speak kurdish in their own universities. it is very sad. our friend told us you cannot buy kurdish music in the store.

kurdish sounds so much like farsi and ian could say some words to them too since he is learning farsi. they spoke good english too. we learned so much from them. they knew so much about zorastrianism, which was their original religion, as well as the original religion of persians.... at this time, as a part of our assesment, ian and i think turkey should not be let into the EU untill the kurds are recognized people of turkey. their situation is very sad and deserves more attention...

after this, we walked around selcuk again to buy some ceramics. we met this couple who owned a store. they were very educated, the man had studied international political history. we talked about our experience of turkey so far. we talked about the tension we felt between east and west. the man told us that it would be fine if turkey could have the economy and technology of the west, and the culture of the east. however, it seems to be happening in reverse. he says the economy and technology is still 18th century ha ha, and that he sociological structure is becoming more western every day.

we definitely see the manufacturing of desire in these peoples lives, the kind of desire that comes with vigourous and glamourous advertisining typical of american culture and capitalism. nestle and nescafe has definitely got their hooks in the local bars, and they provide free nescafe memorabilia everrywhere... even in the most simple villages with stone houses and kitchens outside, there is nestle brand ice tea instead of the local tea. ian does not know why i am so surprised. i guess that is the compromise of modernity i have not yet come to terms with >>> See photos

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By Mona Shomali




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