Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ramblings of a Tired Mind

I have apparently reached new pinnacles of slackerness -- after 'oh my!'-ing about the month lag between the last two posts, here it is more than TWO months since the last one. So much for building readership. If there's anybody out there who still looks in on this site from time to time, all my love goes out to you. You are the true fans; sorry mum's been the word for so long. I suppose you know the reason, too, so no reason delving into gory details--nobody likes a whiner.

I have had passing, scattered thoughts in the last two months which never quite developed into blogs but certainly tickled my neurons a fair bit. There were a few fascinating conversations in my head which I was too tired to record on screen, and now, sadly, they are gone; let me try to at least run the headlines by you, to prove that I was thinking about something other than my job:

- life here, for people in my particular socio-economic bracket, at least, is quite nice.
- children in Turkey are more innocent, more child-like, than children in first-world countries. Turn the clock back in America 50 years and imagine how the children were then; this, I think, is how Turkish children are now. (Stands to reason, since everything else is several decades behind.) Children are encouraged to talk to strangers, to be touched; they still play in old-fashioned kid kinds of ways (in the streets, with sticks for props, instead of PSII); and not only are they not having sex in the fourth grade, from all appearances they don't yet quite realize that boys and girls are different. Ma┼čallah! May it go on like this. I am happy to live in a country where there isn't this fear -- sure, there are thieves and break-ins, but fear of violence, fear of psychos abducting us and doing horrible things to us, shootings in schools, sexual predators...it's hardly on the radar. Somewhere in this country these things probably happen, I'm sure. But they are still blessedly rare. Were it not for the totally insane drivers in this country, you could let your 4-year-old run free and alone in the streets and rest assured that he would be in good hands.

- With the weather we have here, if you introduced Western-style festivals and entertainment, it could be amazing. The Turks, however, are a rather serious bunch (is it religion or history? I am still trying to figure that out) and there aren't that many festivals; and the ones that there are are generally based on a religious or political event that hasn't been sublimated into cultural obscurity (like Christmas or the 4th of July), so you always have this rather grim sense of duty to God or country whenever an attempt at a celebration is made. People can't just go out and have a good time. Maybe that's a good thing. The hedonism (aka, normality) that I grew up with in the U.S. and seemed so normal to me now seems to have its limitations. Still, it galls me when expats blast their countries of origin. While a student in Paris I met a man - Michael I think his name was -- who was once a New Yorker but had been a Parisian for the past ten years, and he had nothing but negativity for his place of origin. He had even developed a French accent; deliberate or not, it chafed, when in company of his 'ooooh, those Americans' attitude. I love my country of birth. We have so many fantastic things going for us; but one that is for us and against us is our bloody, rugged individuality. Just this very night I was having this conversation with some Turkish friends. One, who had lived in the U.S., commented that Americans are very alone...they go to work, they're nice to their colleagues, maybe they go to a pub with their colleagues or their social friends, but in the end, they go home alone, she said. I couldn't help but agree, based on my experiences. We don't have friendships on the same level as people do here. Ever the devil's advocate, of course I had to step up and support this "Me, Wonderful ME" mentality that is the U.S. The advantage, I manage to blurt out in bad Turkish after the first half-liter of beer, is that we are so concerned with the pursuit of the maximum individual potential that we say 'screw the group, I'm following my star'. This has led to great advances in medicine, science, the arts, and the economy in general. We are all trying to express our fullest SELVES, in the totally non-Buddhist way we have. Turkish people, by contrast, are more bound by friendship, tradition and group mentality. They pursue the greater equanimity of the group over personal fulfillment. I really have no value judgments about either culture; it is plain to see the advantages of both, and as with everything in life, there is no free lunch, nothing is perfect, and the beauty of aging is that we see more and more of the facets life has to offer, more and more shades of gray, beauty in a wider spectrum. People and cultures have a lot to give to each other. When I consider three cultures I know well -- German, Turkish, American -- Iam able to see the inherent value and weak points of each and realize how very much we have to give, and to learn, from each other.

So now I am aware of change and progress in myself. My rugged individuality, which I was never aware of before, has become obvious to me. I hold on to it still as a part of my American heritage, and as an inextricable part of who I am. I will never be a 'groupie'. The beauty of living here, though, is that it's made me aware of this cultural peculiarity I share with my countrymen, of valuing it, and of distancing myself where necessary.

I am learning how to ask for help. I am learning it can be more pleasurable to sit with a friend instead of cutting them short in order to pursue my fitness routine. I am learning -- admittedly, it's a very hard lesson -- that spending time with someone is valuable just for the sake of spending time with them. You don't have to have something to do or something vital to discuss; you just need to be. Together. My friend Ebru left the restaurant where we were enjoying drinks early tonight. Why? Her mother was waiting at home, and they had agreed to have coffee together. It shames me to say it, but had it been my mother, whom I lived with (and me at the age of 33, as my friend is), and had I been sitting out on a balmy summer night with friends my age? Well, truth is, I probably would have blown my mom off. Maybe not even called. Apologized in the morning, figured, big deal, it's Mom, she's always there, right?? I like this importance given to the nuances of relationships.

- Turkish people are very much like Americans infamously are with regards to geography. There is your country, and then there is the vague world beyond. Another friend I talked to tonight asked if my mother, who lives in China, had been affected by the earthquake. No, I said, that was 500 or so kilometers away. Is China so big, then? he wondered.

And yet...they are aware of who the candidates are in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, they are aware that we have an awkward relationship with our people of color, they wonder about Obama...it has nothing to do with him being black; there is no such history of African slavery here, but they wonder about our support of him when he has overtly pledged to support the claim that the Ottoman treatment of Armenians in the early days of the 20th century constituted genocide. They didn't say it directly, but it was clear from the faces of all my friends that this was a BIG DEAL. It took a while to figure out what to say. The Armenian issue is very sensitive in Turkey, and most people are so on the defensive that they're unwilling to even have a frank discussion about what actually happened (or didn't). Ultimately, I resulted to self-deprecating humor. Relax, I said. The Americans have no idea about geography. I guarantee you, 90% of them don't have a clue where Turkey is. And even if this is 'officially' deemed genocide by whatever administration is in power, don't worry...as long as it doesn't affect Americans' access to ease and comfort, nobody will remember. Not true? As I joked, it occurred to me that in addition to easing the situation, it might well actually be true.

More thoughts to come, these just off the cuff from a slightly tipsy me, sitting alone at an internet cafe where the moon is like a gigantic lightbulb overhead, the air balmy and the palm trees swaying with the music (which, incidentally, is brought to us via internet from a Swiss radio station). Ah, globalization. More anon.