A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul Initiation

July 14th, 2013 (Happy Bastille day!)

A series of cultural/political/social learning experiences culminating in this final scene: Me standing half-dressed in front of the fan in our Beyoglu hostel room eating with my bare hands a piece of chicken cooked in the kitchen of a third floor apartment somewhere in the Haciosman neighborhood of Istanbul:

(1) Heather and I chance upon a Deaf Turkish couple sitting in an outdoor cafe. Turkish Sign Language is not at all the same as American Sign Language, but through some deep intuition about gestures, Heather is able to communicate remarkably well. After perhaps ten minutes of talking, the couple asks us where we are staying... and invite us to leave our hostel the following day and stay with them.

--> I am surprised and touched. I think it is a combination of Turkish hospitality and the rather unique prospect of running into another Deaf person from halfway around the world.

(2) The next day we meet at our hostel as planned. After about a 1km walk, a metro ride from Taksim Square to the end of the line in Haciosman, a bus ride up a hill, and another short walk, we turn into their building, ascend to the 4th floor and walk into their apartment. They are a newlywed couple (married three months ago) and the apartment looks correspondingly newly inhabited. They bid us drop our backpacks in a room with a pair of new sofas for us to sleep on. So far so good.

(3) The woman in the couple is fasting for Ramadan, but her husband is not because he works and would get a headache and feel awful. They offer us tea and also serve some mysterious but tasty substance, homemade by the wife. I would describe it as kind of a cross between yogurt and pudding with walnuts on top.

--> Turkish hospitality again, with the tea and food. And the man not fasting and clearly not too torn up over it suggests a generation gap, changing traditional and religious customs.

(4) Through our improvised common sign language, we learn that the man works all day (as a librarian, we think?) while his wife stays home and cooks and keeps the house clean. She is 18, he is 24. His parents also live in the same building one floor down.

--> This says something about traditional gender roles (man works / woman stays home and family ties (living in the same building with his parents, staying close).

(5) Next we are escorted down to the 3rd floor and into the parents' apartment. They sit us at the kitchen table and serve us soup fries, bread, coke and watermelon. Everyone except the man in the couple is fasting for Ramadan; he has soup with us.

--> In contrast to the first apartment, this one looks very lived-in. Decades of memories and life lived. The kitchen is spotless but you can tell from the jars of spices and ergonomically accessible pots and cooking implements that it has turned out tasty meals for decades. It is a fragrant, simmering, intricate organism.

--> The women cooking while they themselves cannot eat or drink reminds of me of many a Yom Kippur... except that they do this every day for a month straight(!). It also strikes me that plenty of people keep Ramadan AND work. So really, the man just does not care enough to suffer through the fasting. But his parents seem to accept that he does not keep the holiday.

--> By the way, I am now in a veritable language soup. Heather is picking up Turkish Sign at lightening speed. I am picking up some signs myself. Meanwhile the parents are hearing, so I am trying to assimilate a few spoken Turkish words too. This is my idea of fun.

(6) We go back upstairs to their apartment to talk some more. I ask the girl, who is tired because of fasting, if she plans to nap... and suddenly we are talking about where Heather and I will sleep tonight. The man writes down the name of our hostel (we have periodically been resorting to written communication to supplement the sign). After lugging all our stuff here go back?? Heather and I are very confused, and the man looks very unhappy.

(7) Communication is strained. We struggle. He finally gives us to understand that if we sleep there, they may have trouble with the police showing up.

--> Heather is agog. Things are very different here, I shrug; think police state. But still, why invite us all they way here in the first place??

(8) Trying my hand at Turkish sign / universal gesture, I manage to communicate that we must have misunderstood, because we *thought* they intended for us to sleep there. They in turn communicate that they *did* intend that, but while we were eating downstairs just now, the man's father pulled him aside and told him it was not wise for us to stay because the police might come. What's a person to do? Heather and I agree to go back to our hostel. The man looks much relieved; perhaps he was worried that we would insist on staying, making things awkward and difficult.

--> Next lesson in family dynamics: Parents are more conservative, and their word rules. Also, Heather points out later, the parents may exert additional influence because the 'children' are Deaf. Maybe the parents are oppressing them, and worried that we might exert some kind of liberalizing influence.

--> Heather declares she plans to look up whether there is a law against foreigners sleeping over -- otherwise why would the police come? I think it is something altogether apart from whatever laws exist on the books; this is more about prevailing local customs. This is a conservative, peri-urban, all-Muslim neighorhood, and one simply does not have random white people crash on the couch.

(9) The couple clearly feels bad and genuinely des not want to kick us out. We try to be reassuring. They press a pack of cookies into our hands as we are walking out, and say they will escort us all the way back to the hostel and help us negotiate a discount.

--> Turkish hospitality!

(10) We stop back on the 3rd floor landing to say goodbye to the parents, who welcomed us so warmly before. The mom looks sweet and apologetic. Then the father motions, "You're leaving?"

--> A moment of confusion:if he was the one who declared we had to go, why is he asking that??heather elbows me -- 'Maybe we can stay after all!'

(11) Then it all clicks for me. I say, as assertively as posible in my made-up Turkish/universal sign language, "No, thank you very much, we really must go, we absolutely want to sleep at our hostel."

--> Here's why. In this culture, to kick out a guest would be terribly embarassing. To save face for everyone, I realize it is essential that WE insist on leaving, that we go voluntarily so they do not have to ask us.

(12) The parents make the sign for 'food.' I begin to worry that we will be fed again; Iam geting full! Next thing I know, mom appears with a bowl holding two chunks of chicken and hands one to each of us, speared on a fork. I am standing there holding a chunk of chicken on a fork, maybe it is four or five bites worth, too big to put in my mouth and chew all at once without appearing gluttonous, wondering what to do. Luckily Heather thinks quickly for the both of us, and asks for a bag 'to go.' Mom disappears and reappears again with two paper towels. The chicken gets taken off the fork and swaddled in paper towels, we say thank you and goodbye, and proceed down the stairs each holding a piece of chicken seeping juices into a paper towel.

--> Turkish hospitality at its finest, I think.

(13) Back down the hill, back on the bus to the train, back on the train to Taksim Square, which was tranquil enough earlier in the day, but is now mobbed with tourists and... police in riot gear.

--> With all the tourists, it does not feel direly unsafe. And the side streets are quiet as usual. It's not like the whole city is a war zone. I think about how the news blows things out of proportion.

(14) Then we see a column of prosters marching down the street chanting unknown cries in Turkish.

--> Suddenly we want to get the hell out of here -- if there is going to be a clash we do not want to stick around to see it. We hustle back to the hostel, get a slightly cheaper rate on the room thanks to our friends, say our goodbyes, and drop our packs in the same room we left this morning.

(15) Not at all accustomed to shlepping my pack so much, I am sweaty and exhausted. And remarkably enough, kind of hungry again. I peel off my shirt and stand there in front of the fan, and -- without washing my hands (they are clean enough, and a few germs keep you healthy while you're traveling, I think) -- I devour that very tasty chunk of chicken.

P.S.- (Heather typing- forgive me for not writing with accurate grammar structure and beautifully like Sharon's. Ha!)

Here's my analysis about how psychology perspective really made a huge difference on culture and disabilities and more...

After we got back to the hostel and we talked with the hostel owner. He, literally, laughed and said it is just depends on each families' decisions. I was kind of disgusted and thinking... Why didn't the Deaf couples ask their parents first if we could stay, instead of having us shlep our stuff to their nice place.

Remember what Sharon implied about what the Deaf couples said -- how police men will knock their door and ask what's going on during middle of night. The sub-community is small, especially it's during Ramandan where most of people are fasting. They were worried by the parents and said, "Policemen could stab us (with gesture pointing) during middle of night and cause some troubles". I figure out that it is possible that the deaf man's parents explained to him in completely subtle way that they really meant they were worried that we the girls may stab or cause trouble for the Deaf couple. Plus the deaf man kept saying that it was during Ramandan where people were not feeling good and after Ramandan holiday is over and they would definitely welcome us. I was thinking... Ha ha! Sure sure... I don't believe you because you are saving your face, really. I had the temptation to SHOW him a different picture: your parents are controlling you and your mind and they do not treat you like an equal just because you are Deaf. But, I can't do anything and just shut up and respect their culture.

One more puzzle that I figured it out it was based of baloney. Day after our crazy adventure, we decided to wander around and look into beautiful carpets in the town. The man who works in the carpet store offered us cup of teas. We were talking about religions in general. I had the urge to ask him a question to satisfy my puzzle with thoughts regarding to Deaf couples. Sharon was interpreting for me by asking, " How do newly muslim couples functions? Do their parents control them?" The man said, "If I am married, my parents do not tell me any longer what to do with my wife -- she is MY wife. If a couple wants to separate, they decide, not the parents." The statement gave me the BINGO thought... Definely "subtle" controlling.

Posted by sbw2109 10:24

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