"The Locals May Cover Their Arms, Legs, and Hair from Public View During the Day, but Lira to Simits* That They're Watching Chelsea Handler at Midnight"
The children don’t go to off to school.
They don’t go to soccer or karate or swimming lessons.
They have no friends, ergo no sleepovers, playdates, or squirt gun battles.
To their everlasting credit—and with many notable hours of painful and frustrating exception—they are coping admirably. They’re taking succor in books, each other, a few odd toys, people watching, learning to use a pottery wheel, and the ritual of complaining about walking to the bus stop (actually, only one of the kids grumbles about it, but I won’t mention which one he is by name).
For the parents, the coping is a bit more complicated. Being severed from our usual support systems, communities of friends, variety of activities, and slate of “sanity-saving outs” from each other results in a whole lot of ‘round-the-clock togetherness, and if you think I sound a little bit screamy right here, you are to be commended on your excellent auditory detection.
A little later, when the togetherness is over, we all congregate in the kitchen to eat some breadsticks and stare at each other over the sugar bowl.
Then we go out to the terrace, open up the math workbooks, and rub elbows for another few hours.
Before we all walk up to the market to look for cabbage so’s to make some slaw.
After which I cut their nails or hair, and they give me braids.
Followed by some Uno.
All of this constant companionship has its upsides, of course. The sugar bowl feels incredibly secure and well socialized, for instance. As well, we are split end and hangnail free.
Plus, we like each other.
The downside is a lack of disruption to many of our days—disruption being a powerful agent of dynamism and vitality. Two kids plus two parents make four: a square, a rectangle, always a serviceable shape, never a hexagon or octagon or anything multi-faceted enough to conjure up prisms and kaleidoscopes.
Don’t get me wrong—I love a good square; it is perfectly suited to dancing, playground games, tablecloths, Mormonism. Beautifully basic and simple, it has elegance. But tack on a few extra straights and angles, give them a pull and a tilt, and suddenly new dimensions emerge, from security of square to the rainbow of prism.
It was a challenge, thus, when, after about six weeks in Turkey, away from our established supports, I realized we were struggling to find the additional angles and tilts that habitually expand our family’s simplicity into greater dimension.
It takes time to create dimension.
While I realized time would yield new facets—that we’d make new friends, figure out a structure to our days--I also realized the winter months were closing in, and if it those months were filled with just the four of us, squaring away inside our house, day after day,
there existed the distinct possibility of only one or two of us emerging come spring, leaving in our wake well-manicured corpses and one seriously traumatized sugar bowl.
It was at this point that I announced to Groom, “Okay, I know we’re trying not to buy too much stuff since it’s all going to be left behind in a year, and I know you’re not really a fan of a lot of electronic input into our brains, but as the breadwinner for the household, I’m issuing an executive financial decision: we have to get a tv, and we have to get cable. If the world shuts down during the winter here, as we’ve heard--with the buses running on limited schedules, the streets being impassable and covered with ice, the markets carrying only two vegetable choices (one of them being turnips), and everyone spending three months sitting around their coal stoves spitting pumpkin seed shells onto the floor—my sanity is going to require that I am allowed some make believe friends who come to the house to fill my brain with words besides ‘Mom, I can’t get all the shampoo out of my hair.’ I need special pretend friends like David Letterman. And Khloe Kardashian. And Tina Fey. Except Tina wouldn’t be a make believe friend because she actually really likes me and called last week to see if I want to go shoe shopping with her and Tracy Morgan.”
Since Groom is what we in the Midwest call a Strong Personality, his response was a strident, “Yea, okay. I agree.”
The process of getting a television involved approximately six bus rides to neighboring towns to eyeball sets and prices. Eventually, Girl and I bought one from Turkey’s version of a Super Target, a place called Kipa (It has peanut butter! It has Pepsi Max! It had fans during the heatwave!); of course, and this is why we're constantly reminded of how lucky we are in the States to have a car, every purchase without one becomes a major production. Finding the desired product usually takes a few days or weeks. Getting to the desired product may require a walk of a few kilometers in conjunction with a couple of bus rides. Then, of course, the desired product has to be carried back home through bus and walk. What’s more, as long as you’ve made the effort to get to a store where there is good stuff to buy, you may as well load up. In the case of Kipa, we may head over for a toaster, but we also like to buy a week’s worth of groceries, too, which we then hoof and dolmus back to Ortahisar in our big travel backpacks.
Translated, this means one glorious night in September Girl and I toted home a flat-screen television (something we don’t have back in the States), a DVD player, and about 40 pounds of food.
Naturally, the first thing we discovered was that the DVD player wasn’t “universal” at all, as I’d hoped (DVD’s are made by zone, which means many European players won’t spin U.S. DVD’s, etc.).
There are few things more fun than making a return when it involves walking a few kilometers and taking a couple of bus rides with elementary aged kids, along with not being able to tell the nice lady at the service counter what the problem is.
Fortunately, we have the boon of several seasoned expats in our lives. Our friend Christina helped negotiate the return, along with helping us find a universal DVD player. Our friend Elaine called the people at the cable company and organized the installation; much to my delight, she gave both the Digiturk cable guys and me scripts to follow. They were to call me before showing up and give me notice (in case my lolling self needed to strap The Ladies into a bra before receiving visitors, I suppose) by saying “Digiturk. Geyliyorum,” which basically means “Digiturk. I am coming.” In response, I was to say, “Tamam,” which means “okey-dokey, Poodle.”
In reality, everyone departed from the script, but the thing happened nevertheless. I received a phone call, and at some point I said “Tamam,” and half an hour later our landlord knocked on the door, having led two Digiturk employees through the maze of walkways that leads from the village center to our house. I was so excited at the prospect of cable (which, like a flat-screen tv, is something we don’t have back in the States) that I hardly cared they were showing up during the first afternoon I’d had alone since leaving Minnesota. In a valiant effort to provide me with some personal time, Groom had taken the kids to a nearby town for a few hours. My insistence on cable, though, resulted in two new kids—albeit fully grown ones sporting drills and paperwork--being deposited on my doorstep. They stayed for nearly three hours.
Because here’s the thing: when you’re new to a place and don’t really have a full bead on your surroundings, everything takes longer than it needs to. First, the nice lads, who were dealing admirably with the fact that they were alone with a woman, wanted to know how they could get up to the roof to install the dish and then snake a cable wire down into the house. I knew Girl’s room has a trapdoor in it that leads to the roof, so I sent Beefy Installer Dude up to give it a try. However, the presence of a huge wardrobe underneath the trapdoor sent him back downstairs, shrugging hopelessly; strangely, they seemed reluctant to let me go up to her room and move the damn thing myself. It’s a shame “sliding” isn’t in the skillset of Turkish cable guys. Smoking is, though.
Next, I suggested, through many antic aping motions, that I get a ladder so that he could climb up the side of the house to the roof. Yes, yes. Tamam.
It took both guys 15 minutes just to set up the ladder and hoist Beefy Installer Dude over the edge. Never tell them that we recently discovered a staircase and doorway to the roof. Never tell. Tamam?
While the dish was being installed by Beefy, Paperwork Man set about the business of discerning which Digiturk option we wanted to subscribe to. Having done the homework assigned to me by Elaine, I already knew we wanted the Ekonomik Paket. In an effort to explain to me the information I’d already gleaned off the Digiturk Website, Paperwork Man jotted many numbers onto a piece of paper, making sure I understood the monthly costs. Tamam, Paperwork Man. We, too, do math in the United States. Sometimes in our heads.
He was very dear, though, especially when we got to the actual paperwork. Even after he’d taken my passport and run down the main road of the village until he found a place to make a fotokopi of it, many forms still needed filling out, the words on which I understood not a whit. Groom had taken our Turkish dictionary with him and the kids, so I couldn’t look up the basics. Imagine, then, trying to act out the words “hometown,” “father’s name” and “mother’s name.”
Because it’s nearly impossible to use charades to communicate such stuff, Paperwork Man finally took out his own Turkish citizen identification card and, casting about for a place to have a tete-a-tete with me (older houses in Turkey don’t have traditional living or sleeping spaces, necessarily, so finding an easy formal gathering spot can be difficult), realizing there was no way he could sit on the bed with me, dropped to the floor. I joined him there, keeping a good foot between our bodies, and craned my head over the papers. Painstakingly, he went through each line of the forms with me, showing how his personal information corresponded with each line. Guess what? Paperwork Man had a name: Riza. His father’s name was Fatih. His mother’s name was Hayriye. He was from Nevşehir.
And although I’m pretty sure I’ve gone on record as being from the city of Minnesota and the state of Duluth, everyone ended up satisfied.
Two and a half hours after they first arrived, Beefy and Riza were nearly ready to go, with just one more step to complete: channel training. Fortunately, Groom and the kids got back home just in time to witness the twenty minute instructional session in how to hold the remote and push the arrow keys up and down. Each time an arrow key is pushed, the channel changes, you see. Tamam? Also essential to this training was an explanation of each station and its programming. By this time, we were such good friends, and the afternoon had become so epic, that Beefy actually sat down on the bed…
which served as a perfect segue into the stretch of pay-per-view channels that made Riza hush his voice and leave out detailed explanation: Hustler, Penthouse, Intimacy…
Pointing the remote with a steady hand and adopting a carefully-neutral voice, Riza pushed the arrow keys, noting for each one,
…before clicking again and finishing--to everyone's relief--with a jubilant “Disney!”
Carefully not looking at Groom, I thanked both men for their good work and paid the installation fee. As they put on their shoes and lit up cigarettes, I marveled at what a classic Turkish experience the afternoon had proven to be: modern doused with traditional; confusion eased by earnestness; wholesome peppered by sensual.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Groom and I turned to each other, locked eyes, and, together, repeated simultaneously what has since evolved into a recurring marital mantra:
“Erotik. Erotik. Erotik. Erotik. Erotik.”
And I think we all know the best Erotik is always punctuated by an unexpected Disney.
*Lira to Simits = Dollars to Donuts