Monday, May 03, 2010

Eye on the Future ..

What do you feel
When you let go of the wheel,
Can you take a leap of faith,
Will you face the change of pace?

There are worlds out there
Beyond compare ..
Going on a journey
Somewhere far out East ..
We'll find the time to show you
Wonders never cease ..

- Morcheeba -

The weeks are beginning to roll by and become as one long moonlit dream .. I am starting to develop a rhythm and pattern to my days that works with the lifestyle of the brilliant heat of midday sunshine and the cool sea breeze of the evenings ..
I don’t sleep much, but then again I haven’t for years, preferring an afternoon ‘siesta’ to hours wasted in slumbering nights, and this affords me time to explore my surroundings near and far, meet new people, learn what I can of the language and absorb the culture as both participant and observer ..

Turkey is by and large a secular society thanks to Kemal Ataturk and his sweeping social and cultural reforms in the 1920s .. I took this photo of a ‘gold’ statue in the town of Kusadasi – about a hundred miles north of where I am staying – the words translate as ‘Peace at Home, Peace in the World’ – this revered leader was determined to drag his country into the future, and believed that by educating the youth he could transform the nation ..

There is a famous story .. back in 1921 Ataturk determined that it was essential to westernise the language, no more Arabic and the various local tongues that distanced people from each other and made economic and cultural exchange difficult .. so he called together the greatest academic minds in linguistics and asked them to come up with a new language to be taught in schools, so that within a generation ‘Turkce’ would be spoken throughout the land – after some debate they told him it would take at least five years to implement - he gave them 5 months, and they did it! Esperanto is supposedly based on the structure of Turkish .. when I told this to an American professor friend of mine a few years back, he laughed and said, “maybe that’s why it never caught on” .. haha? Learn a little more from this fascinating lady, here ..

Although, they could do with a little help in the English spelling and grammar translation department – it’s shocking how many restaurant menus and shop signs have simple, easily remedied mistakes, there could a real business in writing menu boards and ministry of culture flyers for tourists, but to be fair, they get by and maybe in today’s text-speak world that’s good enough for most people ..

But the social reforms of secularism can also be witnessed in ordinary daily life by the lack of attention to the regular call of the muezzin .. unlike other Muslim nations I have visited, Turkish people are generally unaffected by the prevalence of religion, and you are unlikely to see anyone drop in prayer at the sound of a minaret’s loudspeaker .. a few older men carry prayer beads but even that is more personal choice than popular custom .. however, by contrast, among many women the headscarf has become fashionable again, now that it is no longer outlawed (I have only seen one woman in a burkha since crossing the border several weeks ago – compare that to the frequency one sees them in Britain and the politically sensitive debates about the costumes of women that rage in the UK) .. it is interesting that the scarf is not so much a religious statement, but rather an accessory to be worn as a glance to tradition through modern eyes .. originally intended as a covering for the ‘adornment’ of the hair, each headscarf one sees now is more eye-catching, gaudy and colourful than the last ..

As a remarkable feature of the recent Arab-world fashion show in Istanbul, the scarf is more, not less, attention-seeking than any head of beautiful naturally shiny wavy hair – and so seems to defeat the purpose while underlining the objective .. although, many older women wear it as my aunties in Britain would have in the 50s and 60s– to go shopping or perform domestic chores, and naturally a hat to church, younger women often wear a scarf with jeans and t-shirt or skirt and open neck blouse, which makes one wonder more about the seductive art of the hidden in opposition to the exposed ..

Women in Turkey are not the cloistered and unknowable ‘other’ they often are in less free-thinking majority Muslim nations – most women I’ve met or encountered in my daily business are quite comfortable speaking to a western man, though they do tend to avoid the nightly clubbing scene which is dominated by Turkish men and western ‘white’ women ‘on the pull’ ..

I have tried to avoid too much contact with ‘tourists’ whose brief stay and general attitude toward the local life doesn’t allow for much common interest or reason for being here, occasionally I do spend a bit of time chatting with other ‘English’ people who reside here more permanently – I suppose we all need to communicate with others who share our language and who ‘understand’ the betwixt and between status of living abroad .. we share a glass of Pammukale wine or cup of tea while exchanging information on the best places to buy certain foodstuffs (oh, how I long for some Quorn mince and a bag of granola to add to the cornflakes), which shops and restaurants to avoid – yes, there are a few among these most decent and genuinely honest people who will still try to rip off the unseasoned or na├»ve, news from ‘back home’, which generally ends with someone who has lived here a while saying “I wouldn’t go back to that dreary mess if you paid me” and chuckles at the expense of the poor sods still encumbered with car tax, council tax, tv license tax and all the rest of the constant money grabbing of the UK government, as well as discussions over the high crime rate and antisocial behaviour that gives excuse for cctv cameras and speed cameras and microchips in the recycling bins - the rubbish is collected every morning here (but more on the unusual manner of trash dumping and it's various hunter-gatherers later) .. the things we leave behind pale into comparison with the sense of freedom gained ..

I had my first encounter with the Jandarma yesterday afternoon .. having left my car in a lay-by just off a dirt track on a cliff top, I was enjoying my picnic lunch as I wandered a deserted beach .. heading back toward the path I saw a blue jeep with an armed guard standing beside it parked about 10 metres from where I had left my Rover .. as I rounded the cliff’s edge 3 uniformed young men – no more than about 21 years old I would say, all armed and one carrying a machine gun, came toward me, and as they neared I called out ‘hello’ in Turkish to which the first one in the line of officers replied and sticking out his hand he shook mine with a smile in greeting and continued walking .. they rounded the rocks I had just climbed over and satisfied there was nothing untoward going on hopped in their vehicle and were gone before I reached my car .. didn’t ask for identification or car documents – just checking that it wasn’t abandoned I suppose, after all I do get a lot of looks in my little British ‘oto’ .. no worries then ..

Turkish people are mostly welcoming and helpful (thank you so much the man who stopped a line of cars on the Ataturk Bridge in Istanbul to allow me to manoeuvre my little Rover through the gridlock, or I might still be sitting in traffic), and though the culture of the nation is firmly rooted in an ancient past shared by many diverse peoples, the contemporary Turkish people look forward to a bright future in a modernised world ..
I've actually started to get to know a few people on a casual basis, as I frequent a few local cafes and shops .. not unnaturally the first people one gets to see regularly are in the tourist ‘business’ and so the first relationships one has are those of exchange for services - ‘I give you money, you give me food’ - and for the first week or two that is all that is required - it is easy for a waiter or clerk to be friendly and quick to smile when they believe they will only see you a few times, but there comes a point when they realise you haven’t left on the most recent plane out with the other holiday makers, and this forces a re-evaluation of the terms of engagement beyond the purpose of contact .. it alters the dynamics of the relationship .. no longer able to simply play the pleasant host and fun-loving bartender who will serve drinks while dancing around the table in stereotypical manner, we have to establish genuine conversation that moves beyond the generalised ‘you having good time?’ ‘come in, this Turkish Primark’ ‘I make you tasty English breakfast’ and ‘loverly jubberly, you handsome man’ toward more reality based discussion ..

And so, we get to topical thoughts on the effects of the volcano on trade and travel, the politics of Turkey’s status with Europe, and the Cyprus issue as well as the failing economy in neighbouring Greece, America’s involvement in the region, and British military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the balance of environmental concerns with the necessity of economic growth along the delicately fragile coastal waters .. and so, we start to form acquaintances and bonds that have real meaning, and see each other through a new light .. now when we shake hands on greeting each other, or say goodnight with an allahaismarladik and gule gule or a quick sonra gorusuruz, it means something .. something little deeper, it means it is good to know you, I will see you soon my friend ..

 baris benim arkadas, gorusuruz ..

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