Monday, February 27, 2012

Cultural differences and missing my baker

I said I will rant...and oh my, have I been saving up on some.

We just broke free of some record-breaking cold wave of February. All my dreams of a snow-less winter dashed to bits under dunes of snow drifts gathering around my new neighborhood in Umraniye. Still, mom has got to do what she gots to do... and strapping Falafal up in my trusty Olives&Applesauce buckle carrier, and Hanim Efendi (previously called Monster) left to fare for her own on the streets, we carried on with our daily excursions.

Our latest conquest at a trio, the local farmer's Pazaar that sets up every Thursday. One particularly cold Thursday morning, I was aching to juice up lots of apples and carrots and thought, why the hell not? I outfitted both kids in the warmest layers and headed out to the pazaar.

I should not have been surprised, that my kids were literally the only 2 feet and shorter variety out in the streets. That meant, tons of "aah yavrum, kiyamam! Annesi nasil cikardin bunlara bu soguk havada!!!?" (Oh my babies! Mom how *or why* did you bring the kids out in this cold weather?)

It also didn't quite surprise me, that out of the three of us, I am frequently the only one who does catch the occasional cold from the cold weather. Fortunately for those women, I have neither the breath, nor the Turkish capacity to explain this, probably strange to them, phenomenon. I merely answer, "they've gotten used to it" and move onwards.

I did however, find just enough Turkish to finally respond appropriately to another scenario that makes me pull my hair. Not too soon after moving to Istanbul, Wizard and I had started noticing that not many Turks use "thank you"s or "excuse me"s very much. If you hold a door open for someone behind you, they walk in brushing you off with a condescending look instead. What the what?

One taxi driver very frankly advised us: "If you appear humble, people will walk over you. That is the culture in Turkey, get used to it."

Just yesterday, I had to make a phone call to a famous home store in Kadikoy to ask about their returns or exchange policy. I had barely mentioned my dissatisfaction with the item that the customer service rep started yelling and scolding me for not liking the item because I don't know anything about bamboo fiber and I must be ignorant. Not able to get a word in, I essentially had to shout over her to tell her to shut up and listen. Had I talked like that to a rep in US, I would have gotten shitty service after that. Here in Turkey, it had the opposite effect.

The customer rep abandoned all her pissy attitude from the beginning of the call, and turned into a complacent little sheep trying to help me as best as she could.




Which made me think of my baker in Sunnyside and the snotty girls that worked there. After the first few visits that I had made there, my smiles started getting reciprocated and the croissants in my paper bag became fresher and fluffier. A little cookie hidden inside sometimes for the Hanim Efendi, or an extra packet of cream with my coffee...just because I was nice to them and took a little extra time to ask them how they were.

People, I have enough of a hard time keeping my wits' together at home, I need to keep my voice running to save for that necessary shout to make my kid pause before he slams the stolen wrench on the glass console...for me to shout at YOU TOO! When I sneak out of the house on the pretext of an errand, I'd rather talk to adults nicely and politely than be expected to treat them like shit to get half decent service.

I need to be able to teach my children common courtesy and charm and not how to yell store employees down if you need anything get done. I've seen those kids too, the ones who talk nastily to adults and then attach an "abla" at the end, as if it makes their words palatable.

Good job, Turkey. You've placed yourself quite close to Pakistan in the department of lacking manners as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I've been emotionally black mailed into watching Pakistani Dramas

This picture is currently making the viral rounds on Facebook started by this dude
and it was funny enough to make me get curious finally to take a look. Never mind the fact that my SISTER has been asking me non stop "Have you seen Humsafar?" every time we talk on the phone, she just never was convincing enough.

So, I decided to watch the first episode and for the first several clips thought it was pretty stupid until the poor girl started crying while praying and I literally went HOLY F SHE LOOKS LIKE SALMA and then I got really sad because my last image of my sister from our last few minutes together she was bawling her eyes out as I was driving to the airport and that was the look I found the most familiar on the character in the drama. Of course, now I HAVE to watch the show out of the obligation that this chick looks like my sister.

THANK YOU Salma! You can gloat your face off, you brat!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The simple act of making a bed

When Wizard and I got married, I used to plan my hectic morning something like this: Get ready, make the bed, make breakfast, eat breakfast, grab books, college(for me)/work(for him). I had to time making the bed because it needed to be just right. The sheets needed to be firmly tucked around corners again, the comforters folded down at pillow height, a bed spread over the whole thing and a few accent pillows arranged carefully.

Wizard would laugh at me then. "You're not even going to see your bed again till bedtime. Why do you need to make it when it's going to get messed up again?" Ah, yes, the typical bachelor thinking. On days when he offered to make the bed, we'd come home to mysterious lumps under the spreads, my missing glasses under the pillow, a book by my feet, etc.

It took several years, but I can now claim that he must have felt infinitely better relaxing in the made (by me) bed at the end of the day because now, he too takes care to perfect the little things before he leaves for work.

Our new routine now also includes airing the rooms because it just makes the room a lot more fresh than any air freshener. Occasionally, on a sunny day I'll even sun the comforters and pillows to sanitize the fillings.

The best part about a nicely made bed is that rare five minute break when both kids are asleep, or busy so I can escape for a bit and go to my bedroom. The clean room, free of clutter not only gives me space to breathe, but also helps me clear my mind of clutter and noises. Everyday when I make our bed, I'm actually looking forward to stepping back inside the room, just to take one more peek at the organized scene. It's like a reminder, that with a little bit effort, I can also organize and de-clutter my mind.

If you're reading this, please share in the comments a daily routine that you practice that helps you find peace and balance during the day.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking around corners: Summing up one Heck of a Year- Part 4

So the first three parts sound like a huge suck fest, don’t they? I apologize for going on and on about random crap that happened over the year…here is some good news.

For our past six’ish years of marriage, Wizard and I lived under the assumption that eventually we’ll leave US and live in Turkey until kids want to come back. We’d never actually planned for it, or maybe it was that we figured that we’ll have time to plan it the way we see fit.

Life takes over, the universe takes a not so familiar path and the best thing to do is jump right into the worm hole and let the Universe take over. Amazingly it just happened without us even realizing it. At first it felt like we were being ripped away from our friends and family kicking and screaming, and then just like that we were in our new home, feeling slightly richer because of the ridiculously high dollar rate and it looked like it will all work out.

While I was getting cautiously excited over the prospect of setting up a beautiful home, Halloween came around and I got sucked in watching all the festive photos being shared on Facebook. Among the pictures, an older picture of me and Monster in her Angelina Ballerina costume, walking down a Sunnyside street, popped up. A huge wave of emotion rushed over me and I wanted to scream, I can go back to my small Sunnyside home and give up everything just so I can be among my family and friends.

The next few days I was miserable, touchy and ready to explode any minute. Wizard and I were already tense because he wanted me to start working and I wanted to stay home. I called him names and belittled him for wanting to make me work and wanting to stay at home himself. It was a horrible time, knowing I am being unfair to him and yet continuing to attack him just so I could get it out of my system. I kept going back to Facebook to fuel my anger and resentment. Why were some people so much better at life than us? How come even though we had the same immigration status, they were living life so much gracefully than us? Why do they get to be close to their family while I have been forced to live thousands of miles apart?

I blamed Wizard for everything. For bringing us here, for making us take public transport, he was responsible for our friend-less life in Istanbul. In all that mud flinging, I was very aware of everything good that he was also responsible for. For loving me through my temper tantrums and depressive spirals, for holding my hand and never leaving me during my anxiety attacks, for always reminding me that we were together in good times and in bad. When I was particularly sad one time and beginning to doubt myself for bringing the bad luck in his life, he looked me in the eyes and said “I’ve been with you for six years and I want to be with you for sixty more.”

The next day I deactivated my Facebook account and decided to live in the moment with the people who are next to me and stop comparing my life with others’. I also started to look for a job.

With this job search came a drastic change, not just in my mental state but also in my physical appearance. Wizard didn’t want me to wear a headscarf to job applications. Not feeling like myself, I insisted on wrapping my hair up in a way that looked professional and also kept to my personal preference of attire. I never had the interview and instead had an eye opening chat with someone. Following that appointment, I found myself stuck at a place I never envisioned myself to be in. If I kept the scarf, I was willingly limiting myself to job prospects and from supporting my family. If I took the scarf off, I was saying “Yes sir” to The Man and putting my relationship with my Creator in jeopardy.

I had to look very deep inside to find out what I wanted and also, How will I explain this to Allah? I WANTED to keep my scarf, to make people see the truth; that hijab does not make a covered Muslim woman uneducated---that keeping a woman away from education because she’s covered leaves her uneducated. Now was not the time for debates though. I had to start somewhere and I had to start right away. For the next interview, I went without a scarf. I also got that job but I turned it down.

I did start working as an English teacher though. It was shaky in the beginning with the students doubting my credibility because of the way I looked. Apparently, as a friend pointed out, I looked younger without a head scarf. Damned if I did, damned if I didn’t: this was Allah’s little revenge on me. I now had people thinking I must have been a child bride.

Slowly, the tide turned. We started shopping for the requirements for setting up our next home and nearing the end of the year, even as we reminisced about all the holiday traditions our family has missed now that we’re in Turkey, the stars were moving. It took a lot of patience for us to acclimatize to the ride of the Universe, but we’ve done it. We rode out that worm hole, we’re in a new Universe and starting this January 1st, we have seen what’s behind the brick walls that faced us in the middle of last year.

More Windows.

Happy New Year, Wizard. Without you this ride wouldn’t have been worth it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Getting comfortable: Summing Up One heck of a Year Part 3

Not willing to even face the circumstances of our move to Turkey, we took relief in making up different stories to different people. “We’re here for an adventure.” “Actually, we wanted to go to Japan but, well, you know…THAT’s not gonna happen for a while.” “I don’t like the American school system and I doubt Monster will leave me alive if I tried home schooling her, so here we are. Turkish schools, get ready for a hurricane.”

Slowly, we’d started adjusting. Every day we learned more about the system in Istanbul. Sometimes it was confusing, other times eye opening. At times we wondered, “Shit, we should have come here ages ago!” Getting the kids health insurance was a piece of cake…in a Betty Crocker box! It was most definitely worlds apart from US health insurance system games.

In US, because of how scared I was of hospital births after Monster’s event, we’d decided to hire a home birth midwife. Seven months into my pregnant we’d moved from NYC where my health insurance case was being filed, to Albany which despite being in the same state asked to get the pending insurance application transferred before they could even APPLY for me anew. How long would that take? We were told 2-3 months. I left the insurance company office and out in the street I had my first anxiety attack of the year. This was still January.

We waited in the car parked by the side of the road for me to come back to my senses. There he promised me “You will have your home birth, insured or not. I will never ask you to go to a hospital.”

So, long story short, I birthed Falafal at home, laboring in a pool and gazing out at the sunny village scene outside of my window. His birth was magical, as his midwife correctly noted in his birth announcement, he was born “…with shining sun and flurries of snow all within just two hours of his birth.” The paper work following his birth, not so magical.

“What town was he born in?” the birth certificate issuing department in the town hall kept asking us.

“Two streets over!” Wizard would yell at them. “Can’t you tell what town we are in right now?” No, they couldn’t because they’d never handled a home birth before and couldn’t come to a unanimous opinion on who got to issue the birth certificate…the Town Hall, the Village Committee or the County Center?

At one point, Wizard called all three on his cell phone, connected them all through conference call and that’s how we finally convinced one of them to issue the birth certificate and then the social security (after another half a dozen calls and conference calls with the headquarters). Falafal was already one and half months old and hadn’t even had his first well check done yet. Finally, after getting his birth certificate, the health insurance issued a card and the doctor deigned to see him for the first time.

So when it took us a total of four minutes to get our blood tests done for a health report, we laughed and recalled that in NY it would have taken at least 5-7 business days to get a blood test report: the NY Standard processing time.

We were slowly settling down in Istanbul and Istanbul made it very easy to do that at times. As for the reasons we used to explain our move to Turkey...started making a lot more sense. There was truth in them after all.

In honor of January 1st, 2012 and the beginning of a brand new time of our lives, I’m leaving the best and most amazing end of our tumultuous year for the New Year. Tomorrow I want to come out about why I took a three month long Facebook/Social networking hiatus and all the amazing things that happened while I forced myself to live in our present and how it made all the difference.
For reading so far, thank you.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Summing up one heck of a year - Part 2

You could tell that our first few months in Istanbul will be rough, just judging from our first few hours in Istanbul. For example, one of Wizard’s brothers who was supposed to pick us up from the airport was nearly an hour late. He kept us in the dark about his real location relevant to the airport though, and kept us waiting for him on a street median…literally with airport traffic of cars picking up and dropping off flowing in front of and behind us. I felt waves of panic wash over me one after the other, us standing stranded with our eight pieces of luggage and two children…both of whom were tethering dangerously on the edge of excitement and famishment.

“He better get here soon before either one of them remembers that they are hungry,” I kept telling Wizard through clenched teeth.

Finally he showed up, the truant brother and quickly he took us to a cafĂ© where we awkwardly ate our first Istanbul meal. Had I known this will be my only meal for the next eight hours, I’d have been wiser and squirreled away something for Monster and us. As it so happened, the brother after a quick trip to the apartment we’d chosen online to sign the contract and rent it, decided to drop us off at his empty home and go join his friends.

I should clarify empty: His wife was away, and since he wasn’t cooking himself, there was absolutely nothing in the kitchen. Yes, that was the time of our life…and me, on the waves of panic and anxiety began to already resent the move with every part of my being. Monster was hungry, Wizard was hungry…and I, breastfeeding Falafal every 2 hours, was near dying from hunger. We did get food in the end, but I don’t recall much of it except that I was crying while I ate it.

I demanded to be hosted by a different brother and his family after that.

The first two weeks in Istanbul were spent buying some more urgently needed necessities like dishes, cookware and cleaning supplies. As soon as our new apartment was ready, I rushed my harrowed family out of my brother in law’s home.

This was not our only experience with possessive children sadly. Even at the new apartment, a new saga started: “Winning friends for the preschooler.” To date, I have failed my daughter miserably. Everyday was a rough day for my intelligent little sprite. Anytime I watched her struggle with kids her age, the way she ran towards them excitedly, the way her shoulders sagged when they ran away from h, the pain in her face when she’d tell me “They’re not letting me play with them” I broke inside. How much can a mother’s heart implode until you say ENOUGH? One day when I saw two older girls push Monster away while their father watched the scene, I exploded.

“How can you watch quietly as your daughters are being so cruel to a little girl?”

“But she also stepped on their sand pile,” was this idiot’s reply.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I was livid. I think I yelled for quite some time in my broken Turkish and then coaxed Monster to go to the different park. It was still warm and many babysitters had brought their charges out to play and even though usually I was quite meek around them, this time I used their inability to leave the park in a hurry to my advantage and repeated the entire incident. “What kind of parents are these!?” I asked them.

“The kind that can’t say no to a child because they don’t see them often enough,” one baby sitter offered kindly.

“But they are letting them push a smaller girl around…bullying her…and ….what… is this…” I couldn’t go on any more in Turkish. If I tried any harder, I would have broken. I was already near a catastrophic nervous breakdown. So I changed the topic.

“She’s just three and a half years old, you know,” I told the sitter. “She’s just trying so hard to start talking in Turkish…but no other kids are willing to talk to her.”

“Oh, she looks so much older. We thought she was like 5 or 6! AR will talk to her, won’t you A?” she asked her own 4 year old charge who immediately turned to Monster and offered up his truck as a token of friendship.

Our summer was saved by a baby sitter. Me, I was going to hit rock bottom before I could be ready to be saved.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Summing up one heck of a year - Part 1

One year has gone by.

My head spins when I think back on all that happened in 2011.

If life is called a roller coaster, 2011 was fucking King Da Ka! Or I don’t know, the highest, steepest, fastest ride in the world…yeah, that’s what 2011 felt like.

Around this time last year, I was packing up what I thought was my life in Sunnyside, preparing for what I thought would be the biggest move of my life, to Albany…4 hours away from NYC. This day in 2010, my mommy friends gave me a surprise baby shower by showing up to our semi packed up apartment with balloons, gifts and so much love…so much love that I felt like I was coasting on the sheer power of that love even on the loneliest days in Albany. The same night, another bunch of friends gathered together on some pretext or another and that too turned out to be a surprise baby shower.

How did I get so lucky? It almost made me glad for all the bullying and hatred I’d suffered in school. Maybe this was Allah’s way of rewarding me for my patience. My reward was not finished yet though.

In the next few days, I found my little family in the most beautiful home I’d never dared to dream about. It was my style, my preference shaped in brick and mortar. Dark wood floors, bright walls, a warm brick fireplace, a huge loft sized bedroom and add to that, the most beautiful views from all the windows of the Hudson valley mountains and the village we were in. The type of home even my mom was loath to leave once she visited us.

Happiness to me comes in careful measures I guess though I don’t question it as I understand that there is some great wisdom behind that too. Not even four months had passed, when Wizard’s new manager stabbed him in the back and after telling him to his face that he was doing an awesome job, told the consultancy company he was working through that he was not coming up to their expectations and had his contract terminated prematurely.

What a huge shock. I’d given birth to Falafal just recently, already a hormonal mess from the post partum blues and here I was, sitting next to Wizard trying to be his rock while I was crumbing inside in fear. I tried to get some warmth from the bright sun streaming inside our room, but everything was cold…the air, the wooden floors I was so in love with, the stark staring walls… If I had to describe what the phrase “the world crumbled around” me meant, I’d think of that time.

We started planning immediately for the time left on Wizard’s active immigration papers. We had till June 30th, to find another job or leave the country. One thing was certain: badly burned; Wizard was adamantly against working in USA anymore. The next time he worked in America would be as an American citizen when he can claim his rights for termination notices and unemployment benefits. He would never allow an employer to do this to him again: one day give a present for his new child and the second day, a pink slip. We were planning now for a pan Atlantic move.

In order to receive our security deposit from the building management, we were required to give them a month’s notice before moving out. In that one month, we tried to pare down our belongings as we’d have nowhere to keep them once we moved out. The plan was to move with just clothes and small belongings that can be brought with us to Turkey. Thanks to our new friends, we were able to sell/give away/throw away most of our big household items. Despite the one month notice, the management refused to give our deposit back and that really was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Will no one in America give us a break?

In all this moving and sulking, I was not unaware of the effect everything was leaving on my 3 year old daughter. She’s three, and naughty and monstrous at times but she is the brightest little sprite I’ve ever met. Nothing escapes her notice and even on our final car ride back to NYC with our remaining life in several 4 gallon trash bags, she asked if she’d be able to see her Albany friends again?

The next was an overload of happiness and misery all rolled into one busy month of preschooler sized excitement. Monster was happy as can be with her cousins and I spent every day catching up with my sister and mother and even commiserating with my (gentle only to me) big brother. No one was pretending though, our flight to Turkey was looming over us always like a thick cloud.

Till the last day, my sister kept shrugging saying things like “You’re the one kid in our entire family that has assimilated so much that you cannot be anyone BUT a New Yorker. There is no way you can have a life anywhere outside of NYC…Allah will come through in the end and you’ll end up staying. You just watch.”

Allah did come through in the end…The day before our flight on June 30th, Wizard agreed to give one job interview. Oh but the miracles and ways Allah works, we only found that he got the job…after we landed in Istanbul.

I kept looking into Wizard’s eyes in our times together, for a glimpse of reconsideration…maybe we can move back. All I saw was the same determination, “Only when and if I can go back as an America citizen.” There was no more possibility of him ever giving into the elusive American dream. Fuck it, I told him. I’m with you wherever you want to be. I never asked him to reconsider that job offer again. We’d landed in Istanbul and I too, dug in my heels to get ready for yet another ride.