Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wouldn't You Like To Get Away...

Sometimes you wanna go, where everybody knows your name...

And yes, I officially have that in my "neighborhood". I say neighborhood in quotes, because I rather broadly intend to reflect the rather restricted confines of destinations in which I circulate.

So I couldn't resist sharing that my "neighborhood" noticed that I had, indeed, flown away for more than a week or six. My regular coffee shop--they noticed. My cig kofteci *definitely* noticed. I'm about to hear from my hairdresser how he noticed my hair was under the sun/sand/not-washing-my-hair-for-a-week-straight plan. My DVD-seller guy wondered why I hadn't come back for a film I'd asked him to order. But cutest of cutest, the cafe I most adore had the most welcomest welcomes. The server, when I sat down for the first time after two months, said, like the genius he is, "You've been on holiday." (Like I said, nothing gets past these guys.) "And you got a nice tan." (Yes, I probably upped my skin cancer factor by about 500 this summer--but damn, I look "healthy"). He promptly brings me my coffee (he remembered how I drink it even after all 60 days), as well as a small plate of cookies. "Look, he went on vacation, too," he says about the sole chocolate cookie amongst the vanillas.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Fault(y) Lines

Eleven years and two days ago, the residents of Golcuk and the surrounding region in Northwestern Turkey were jarred awake by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in the middle of the night. It only took 37 seconds for nature to take away the lives of 17,000 people, and flatten the homes of nearly half a million people.

Sadly, even after such a period of time has elapsed, survivors are still haunted by the memory, and frequently taunted by subsequent earthquakes. I experienced one myself while recently on holiday in Ayvalik. Granted, it was merely a 4.8 and we were removed from the epicenter, yet I was awakened by the rattling and shaking of my bed.

Earthquake forecasters predict that another major earthquake will hit the Marmara area within the next 30 years--some claim even sooner. Its anticipated impact is devastating, particularly if the earthquake strikes along the fault line near Istanbul, one of the largest fault lines on the planet. According to an article in Hurriyet Daily News, 40% of all structures in Istanbul would be damaged, and 2% would completely collapse with an earthquake of a magnitude higher than 7. That means 20,000 buildings collapsing and 200,000 damaged--killing an estimated 200,000-300,000 people. Some research predicts even greater destruction, claiming more than 40,000 damaged buildings!

Even one look at the tectonic map of Turkey can give one a clearer picture of why there is so much seismic activity. It's startling (pun intended) to have a look at the list of minor tremors that have occurred even in the past month. Yet other places in the world experience such shifts in the plates, with notably less damage. Who's to blame?

The fault lies (again, pun intended--I recognize that earthquakes are really no laughing matter) in the fault lines themselves. Secondly, the mass of illegally constructed houses and buildings whose construction workers have ignored building codes are also accountable. Fortunately, after the devastation in 1999, construction firms began to adhere more closely to such laws, realizing the consequences of not doing so. That begs the question: What is being done to prepare (obviously we can't prevent) Turkey's residents for another potential disaster?

Yes, there are education programs for children, teaching them how to handle the aftershocks (uh, I'm sorry--these puns are just too easy). Yes, the Istanbul Municipality has established logistics and response centers, and started to reinforce bridges and buildings throughout the city. Sadly, as far as I can see, everyone has been doing their best to prepare for the unexpected. Since such a disaster seems inevitable, all we can do now is pray for minimal damage.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sesli Sokaklar

As far as cities go, Ankara is relatively quiet. However, that silence is sometimes marked (mostly in the mornings) by people shouting in the streets. This isn't a common, "Good Morning" or even a shout of emergency or cry for help. These are the guys that wander the streets offering their services...the three most commonly heard are the simitci (the guy selling simit), the hurdaci (the guy collecting junk), and the dolmuscu (the driver of the shared taxis). 

Simit is a delicious bagel-ish looking treat that is best purchased from such street vendors. It's covered in sesame seeds and can also be eaten with cheese. Guys (strange, I just noticed I've never seen a female simitci...) wander the streets shouting, "Seeemeeecchheeeeeee" as if they are bearing a painful load of the world's simit on their head. I relieve this weight by handing over 50 kurus (about $.30 USD) and taking a simit off their hands (rather, heads) once in a while. I can't count the number of children that I know who adorably mimic the simitcis by walking around their houses with a pillow on their head.

A hurdaci is a junk collector--mainly scrap metal. You'll recognize him by the requisite cart that he manages to lumber around with--up and down hills, with the control of a ballerina. His cry is a bit more "mournful" than the simitci, for some reason. I suppose the burden of metal is a tad bit heavier than simit... At least it's not carried on his head.

Dolmuses (I couldn't, for the life of me, find a photo from my library) are by far the most efficient system of transportation here in Turkey. These shared taxis (whose name literally means "stuffed"), have set routes, similar to public busses, but drop off and pick up passengers along those routes as requested. The fees are paid directly to the driver, who calculates according to the distance traveled. The only downside to dolmuses is that you really have to know the city and where you need to be dropped off/picked up. That information isn't published anywhere--you just have to "know." Dolmuscus (the drivers) obviously don't wander the streets looking for riders, but you'll hear them at dolmus stops shouting out the end destinations. My favorites are in Istanbul, like "Aksaray, Aksaray, Aksaray" or the one other tongue twister that escapes my mind at the moment. They speak with tongues of auctioneers, so one must keep their eyes open for the interchangeable signs posted in the front window of the minibus.

Ah, there's the hurdaci now, passing just below me...this one is actually riding his rattling (empty) cart down the hill with as much grace as a child on a bicycle for the first time. Maybe that explains its emptiness...

Ramazan Bombasi

Being the insomniac I am, last night was no exception to my sleeping schedule. I toodled around online until 2:30am, drooling over the latest shoes and dresses from my favorite store (Anthropologie), finally surrendering to my bed. No sooner had I fallen asleep was I awakened by what sounded like someone had moved their construction site outside our bedroom window. BANG BANG BANG. silence. BANG BANG BANG. silence. Then it occurred to me that the noise was actually moving around our neighborhood. Then genius here remembered what time of year it is: Ramazan. The noise was a man who has been appointed to awaken believers (and non-believers alike) for Sahur, the last meal of the day, at 3:30 in the morning, before the fast during daylight hours.

The Holy Month of Ramadan is a symbolic month in Islam when the faithful are required to fast from sunup to sundown. That means--no water, no food, no smoking...nothing past your lips. Its intent is to remind Muslims of self-restraint, patience and spirituality. A fine idea in theory...in practice, a greater challenge than one could imagine, seeing as Ankara has witnessed record breaking heatwaves these days! Fitting, seeing as the word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root "rmd" (anyone I've subjected to my fascination with languages knows how interesting I find the concept of Arabic "root words"), meaning "intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations." They probably couldn't have picked a better root word.

I had forgotten that it was Ramadan, seeing as I am a spoiled brat and have been on vacation along Turkey's amazing seaside for the past six weeks (maybe I'm the one who needs a little self-restraint in my life!). A majority of that time was spent around the Izmir area. Now, why would Izmir be any reason to forget such an important holiday, you may ask, in a country that considers itself 99% Muslim. That's because "Ramazan doesn't come to Izmir," as the Turkish saying goes.

Izmir is often affectionately called "Gavur Izmir," or "Infidel (non-believer) Izmir". During the Ottoman Empire, the Izmir population was primarily Christian, due to the large number of Greeks, thus eliciting the name. The epithet remains today, seeing as many Izmirians (is that right? I'll use the Turkish: Izmirliler) are perceived as more "liberal"(in very broad terms).

The first night of Ramazan this year, I was in Ayvalik, 2 hours north of Izmir, at my in-laws' house. My in-laws are very modern, liberal people, yet are still spiritual--very similar to my parents as Christians. My mother-in-law was not fasting, due to the fact that she has a form of diabetes (there are exceptions made for individuals in such cases to be relieved from fasting), but my father-in-law was determined. He explained to me that he had fasted since he was 14 (if I remember correctly), and wasn't about to let the blazing heat get in his way. They both woke up the night before (the morning of?) to prepare Sahur, and I joined them in the kitchen after hearing the rustle of pots and pans. I was worried about him, though, in this heat, but relieved that he consumed a good 2 litres of water. We went back to bed. My father-in-law (let's stop this father-in-law dancing--I call him "baba" (father)), is not one to sit at home. As the day rolled on, I started to see him wavering, sweating like mad and a glazed look in his eyes. I was more than eager to urge him to give in for his own sake and drink water, but who was I to play the hand of God? Finally, we heard what I call in Turkish the "Ramazan Bombasi" (the Ramadan Bomb--I don't know its real name), at 8:35 pm, and he could surrender to gulping heaps of water. I saw him return to himself only a few hours later. At the urging of the rest of his family (myself included), we convinced him that this is not his time to observe, and he agreed that a larger donation to a charity would be more suitable (which is how those who don't fast acknowledge the Holy Month).

It was interesting to see the interviews from the spiritual leaders on TV about what is and isn't permissible during this Holy Month. The local news, applicable seeing as we were near the sea, posed the question as to whether it was ok to swim in the sea during Ramazan, not to break ones fast. Yes, the Mufti (spiritual leader), said...as long as you don't accidentally (?) drink sea water. I'm a pretty good swimmer, but I can't remember a time when I was swimming where I didn't nearly inhale the entire sea--on accident! Maybe that's why in the first days of Ramazan I saw fewer of the ladies in the recently-fashionable swimming Hashemas, a particularly modest "swimming suit" that covers the pious from head to toe (literally), allowing even the most modest of women to enjoy the beauty of the sea.

Gavur me, I humbly continued my own daily pilgrimage to the sea, in my bikini, no less, to drink in the most beautiful sea in the world, literally and figuratively, wishing those fasting: "Allah kolaylik versin"--may God make it easy for you.