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 café 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.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Burasi Esenyurt: One of the million stories of a small town in Istanbul

“Whatever comes to your mind, can be found in Esenyurt,” our taxi driver told us when talking about how the area we were heading towards has been steeped in crime and illegal activities for decades. “All they have to do is put up a wall between old Esenyurt and the newly absorbed former Beylikduzu districts where the crime hasn’t seeped in yet.”

There was nothing for us to worry about though; we were going to the government run “War against Tuberculosis” clinic, the only place close to us that gives the PPD skin test. It was going to take us 15 minutes in and out. Also next to the Dispensary was the city’s health department. After getting the tests administered to the two poor nerve wracked kids, Wizard, I and the kids headed out to wait for our korsan taxi at the gate. That’s when we heard loud shouts coming from behind us. As I turned around to look at the source, I saw a crying mother and her crying baby held facing out and almost slipping from the mother’s arms. She quickly reached a curb and set the child roughly down in the bushes. She then pushed the baby girl away further while screaming “I can’t take care of you, go away, leave me.” She then threw the blanket over the baby and still crying went to sit a few yards away on a low wall.

Resisting Wizard’s pleadings to stay out of it, I rushed over to sooth the mom and then ran down to pick up the startled child from the ground. Sitting next to the wailing woman the story quickly became clear: She was a single mom and had come here to ask for assistance raising her daughter but was told to bring back the father’s information. “They say they know the father. Tell them to write down his name and address for me because even I don’t know who or where he is!” she cried. She continued to push me and her daughter away saying she wants to kill the child because she certainly can’t raise her alone.

I hung on to the wailing one year old tightly. I waited for her mother to come back to her senses. It took a good long 15 minutes for her to finally wipe her tears after she’d vented her feelings. Kriz geçerdi, my husband said. It was a depressive anxiety attack. As she took the child back from me, I felt like resisting. I wanted to hold on to the baby for fear that the woman will hurt her or throw her away. I let her go and watched them cross the road to the other side and sit down again on the curb where the woman continued to hug and kiss her daughter.

“If she doesn’t abandon her child today, she’ll do it tomorrow,” said a voice behind me. An older man behind us had uttered these ominous words making my heart sink even lower. “Burasi Esenyurt işte,” he said. This is Esenyurt.

When the taxi driver had said the same thing only half an hour ago, a million things had crossed my mind. Unmentionable acts yet I couldn’t see myself being fazed by any of them. I thought I had seen it all, that I was already jaded enough to be effected by any atrocity anymore. Yet I had forgotten one that never failed to touch me; abandoned babies. Any time I came across a story of a baby found in NYC trash cans, or wandering in streets, I wondered what kind of a woman could do such a thing. Here was a woman I’d wondered about. I have no one in this world, she had cried when I asked her if she has any other family to take care of the child. How badly had I misjudged those women? Just one more of those times when I need to remind myself, you cannot understand someone else’s circumstances until you are in the same hot water.

To this day, I find myself wondering about this woman and from my heart wish that she finds the strength to raise her child alone. She reminds me that no matter in how much troubles my life has recently been, no matter how far I feel from my family, my mom, my sister…I am by far a ridiculously lucky woman for having my loving husband to suffer along with me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A simple piece of cloth with a great impact

Everywhere I look in Istanbul, there are colorful heads bobbing in the crowd. Take for example, the food court at Torium Shopping Mall.

In a group of four young high school girls, two brunettes chat with their heads knocking with the other girls' bright green and purple scarf covered heads. There, two tables behind them sits a couple, the girl with a shiny blue scarf has her head bent close to her partner/husband/boy friend, both of them smiling happily. There are also older covered women, taking a break from shopping and people watching. Two young girls sit next to them, their heads open and their faces buries in their cell phones.

You would think "wonderful how in a country as politically motivated as Turkey, in real life covered and uncovered women get along fairly well."

You would be wrong.

Tomorrow I go job hunting and the first instruction from my Turkish husband happens to be "Style your hair nicely and wear some make up." This request may be normal for some people, but is unusual for me because I happen to wear a headscarf every day of the year.

Ironically, when I do happen to interview with my head scarf on, one of the frequently asked questions is "Does your husband make you wear your head scarf?"

I need to take a deep breath each time before answering this question. "No, my husband has no hand in my taking or not taking a scarf." Each time a person asks me this question, he or she falls a little lower in my eyes. I am left pondering the question instead in my mind "Who is more oppressed by the headscarf, I or this person who cannot see beyond a piece of cloth? Whose mind is imprisoned? Mine or this person's who feels the needs to confirm that I am not oppressed by a male in my family?”

In USA, I met amazing Turkish women who came to America to get higher education because universities in Turkey wouldn't let them wear a head scarf. These women went on to finish Masters and PhDs in fields like Chemistry, Engineering, Early Childhood Education etc.

The Turkish media may be partly to blame and the instances are all over the place. In each sit-com, soap, movie, news report; old women are wearing hijabs and younger women aren't. The one village woman has a scarf and the city girl has high lights in her hair. The stereotype is pushed and ingrained into the average Turkish mind. It's the new "Black", the “Turbanli” stereotype of Turkey.

In Istanbul as has been my experience, upon encountering a woman with a headscarf, people’s first intuition is to scowl and look away as if faced with something unpleasant or scary. For someone used to the American “Affirmative Action” regulations, it came as a shock to learn that in the Turkish job market, it is a requirement to include a photograph with one's resume. How many covered women are eliminated right away from the pool of job candidates because of this rule?

A general coordinator at a popular Language Institude shared with me that I will never see a covered woman at an administrative post anywhere in Istanbul. “There is just one covered woman in this building, the cleaning woman.”

Of course, a large majority of normally covered women do hold administrative positions by fulfilling the requirement that they remove the scarf. Don a black dress and let go of years of nurtured modesty. Feminists in Turkey yell "Headscarf doesn't liberate women." I'm wondering if forcing women against their wishes to do something that can make or break their career is actually liberation.

Without a doubt, there are families with patriarchal dynamics wherein the males of the household require the women to cover their heads; maybe even against the wishes of these women. How different are these modern Turks then, if they stick to their own “no-Turban” requirement especially when the women suffering from the regulations are those that did cover their heads on their own will?

It is not rocket science to understand, if a woman is trying to get inside a co-ed college or apply for a job where she will be working with men, it can only be because there are no men oppressing her. Any woman being oppressed by males in her family would NOT be protesting in the streets of Istanbul.

Today's covered Turkish woman is not oppressed by the head scarf...she is oppressed by the same people who think they are attempting to liberate her by making her take off her scarves.

Tomorrow, I too shall take off my head scarf when I go for a job interview. My companion, my niece will wait for me outside the company building.

She's not welcome inside. She has a scarf on.