31 December, 2007

Mutlu Yillar, Y'all

There are about 45 minutes left in 2007.Interestingly, in Turkey they equate Christmas with New Year's Eve. This means the city has been full of Santas, evergreens, and all sorts of Christmas decorative detritus since before Bayram.
However, all the trimmings are identified by most Turks as being New Year's decorations. In addition to believing Santa to somehow directly associated with the coming year, many Turks believe today is Christmas and it's near impossible to convince some of them otherwise. One English friend was met with such resistance by one student that accquiessed, muttering "I'll call England and let them know we've been doing it wrong all these years."

New Year's has never been of much importance to me, an arbitrary designation that has taken on arbitrary significance. I also agree with the whoever termed the 31st "amateur night". Whenever I happen to pass the end of a year at my mother's home I take some pleasure in annoying my mother by going to bed at about 11pm. She usually stammers about how I'd only have to wait another hour. My idea is that we'll either roll into a new year or not, and on the chance we don't I'd rather be fast asleep. Also, I tend to find more of interest in the early hours of January 1st along the empty streets and alleys of wherever I happen to be living.

Tonight, I spent some time with friends, opened a bottle of Greek wine, and made a fabulous meal. Tomorrow, I'll get up early and wander around the neighborhood and city with my cameras and see what I find. I suspect not much, at least in the early hours, but I know this city is never still for long.

Mutlar yillar. Happy New Year.
Salaam fi 2008, insha'allah.

30 December, 2007

Turkish, the language of Jedi Masters

My friend and colleague Nick, who is also learning Turkish, pointed out something interesting to me the other day.

"Think about how the sentence is formed in Turkish," he said before modeling a few simple sentences in Turkish.

"It's backwards! It's like Yoda-speak," he exclaimed. "I've decided I need to keep that in mind when I'm learning it."

He's got a point with the verb coming at the end of the sentence.

"Learn Turkish I will," he said in his best attempt at the wobbly, little voice of the little, green Jedi master. "One bottle Efes I want," he said with a laugh.

To a girl raised on the original films, who wanted to grow up to be Princess Leia and lead a rebellion to save the universe (and snag Han Solo), it makes learning Turkish even cooler.

May The Force be with y'all.

Best laid plans....

I know I wrote that I'd post an update regarding Greece, but I've been waylaid by several Christmas parties and now a nasty cold which kept me out of class for three days, which, in all honesty, isn't that bad. However, I'd rather be well and working than sick and housebound. I have begun laying plans for 2008 through my feverish and oxygen deprived haze.

In the weeks before I moved to Istanbul, I began compiling a list of things I wanted to accomplish, but without parameters, such as time or reality or feasibility. The list runs the gamut from the predictable - learn Turkish - to the idealistic, professional, personal, and with regular forays into the odd and unique. I'm revisiting the notes I made and adding things that have come up in the months I've been here.

For instance, I had no idea I'd be living in a neighborhood with so many transvestite prostitutes and, the Diane Arbus in me wants to get to know them. I've taken to telling the two or three who frequent my corner "goodnight" when I return from teaching my night classes. At first they seemed surprised and a bit confused as to how or if they should respond. But I did manage to finally get a "goodnight" in response recently, which I take as a good sign. An older Turkish friend told me "it's best you don't speak to them," but I disagree.

I need to arrange a schedule that includes incorruptible times for writing and photography. There the various places and unused planters I've been keeping my eye on in hopes of staging a guerrilla gardening project. And then there's that intense desire to confound the harbor pilots by taking a kayak through the Bosphorus, finding where and how to keep a kayak in this city, and swimming to the Asian side (no, not kidding). I'll also begin looking for diving partners, because I refuse to stay out of the water for as long as I have in the past. Then there's my stubborn refusal to bow to the male-female divide, whereby I will create a circle of male friends, come hell or high water, for match-watching, billiards-playing, etc.

Some things on the list are coming together: I'm starting a book club with a Turkish friend and that may help lay the groundwork for the writing workshop I'd like to organize. I'm also having a go at a long-standing goal of mine - 50 books in 52 weeks. I've decided to let some of it be a bit organic, while making a list of certain titles I'd like to be sure to read.

I'm feeling good, current illness aside, heading into the coming year. Of course, I suppose most people feel pretty good about the future this time of year, otherwise New Year's Eve likely wouldn't be much of a celebration. I feel a lot of responsibility for myself and no one else, which doesn't make it any easier.
Looking forward to seeing what's next.

Salaam, y'all.

24 December, 2007


Congratulations to everybody, students and staff, at The International Community School in Decatur, GA for the great article in the New York Times! I helped out with their Saturday School program while I was back in the states, teaching English and life skills to adult refugees. This school is a truly amazing place that more people should know about. It is powerful to watch children from such diverse, and often tragic, backgrounds come together and succeed. It gives hope and a world that sometimes offers very little.


23 December, 2007


Just back from Greece, aka Yunanistan. I've posted a few photos at flickr, but didn't take much as I didn't see much as I arrived late and left early. Alexandroupolis is rather sleepy this time of year, but seems a pleasant place. I'll write a little more tomorrow...too sleepy now...6 hours on an overloaded bus coming home, wedged amongst baggage will do that to you. Iyi geceler, ya'll.

18 December, 2007

Small explosion in front of Ziraat Bank in Harbiye

About an hour ago, someone or something caused a small explosion in front of the state-run Ziraat Bank around the corner from my house. Ziraat, headquartered in Ankara, is the largest bank in Turkey.

Roommate #2 and I were watching t.v. when we heard a very loud sound, much like a very loud clap of thunder before a storm. We looked at each other in surprise, knowing exactly what the sound was. Leaning out our window we saw people on the corner of Cumhurriyet looking and gesturing towards Taksim. My roommate went down to see what happened. As I was heading downstairs he met me on the stairs to tell me it had been what he called "a bomb", albeit a small one.

We walked back to the bank, where about 30 police officers from various divisions were gathered around the perimeter of the crime scene. They had taped off part of one lane of Cumhurriyet in front of the bank and a large portion of the sidewalk in front of the ATMs. Dirt and leaves were scattered about the pavement, as if the explosion had gone off in a little patch of landscaping in front of the bank.A small group of men who looked to be press trickled in and began shooting the exact same photos from the exact same angles, which was amusing to watch. My roommate and I milled around the crime scene tape while I took a few shots and watched two investigators scan the outside of the building for evidence and/or any other devices. One officer finally asked me for my credentials, but I just dodged and said "freelance", which for some reason made everything alright.Pedestrians milled about, walked out into the street to get by, and seemed rather bored by the whole thing. One man who asked us what had happened said he had been in the nearby theater and hadn't heard a thing. Mostly the various groups of cops talked amongst themselves. There were some very businesslike plain clothed officers who seemed a bit more focused. At one point, a crowd of police hustled a long-faced man holding a shopping bag from a popular store into the lobby of the bank next door.Bottom line at the moment - small explosive device, little damage, no injuries, just some curiosity from people like us. Nothing has come up on the news yet.


07 December, 2007

Top Ten Signs Your Country Has Ben Infiltrated Via Facebook

The Syrian government is blocking access to Facebook due to fears of Israeli infiltration.

10) The opening salvo will come in the form of a cyber-pillow fight.

9) Classified documents leaked via your Fun Wall.

8) Invitations to take the "Are you an Israeli Infiltrator?" quiz.

7) Second wave assault in the form of cyber-Panty Raid.

6) Infiltration exposed by too many members joining the "Infiltrate Syria 2007" group.

5) Axis powers consist of ninjas, zombies, hobos, fluff friends, garden gnomes, pirates, and legions of smileys.

4) Shock and awe when the hatching eggs application unleashed on the populace.

3) The whole affair settled with a round of "Israel vs. Syria". Have your friends vote!

2) Infiltrators slip up and reveal state secrets after too many virtual beers and cocktails sent by new friends.

1) The whole thing spirals into one giant virtual-poke war.

28 November, 2007

Who is Aicha Qandisha?

Because some people think it's my real name, I offer this:

"Aisha Qandisha or Aisha Qadisha or Ghediseh is one of the most popular and fearsome Jinniya (female one) in Moroccan folklore; beliefs and rituals for Aisha have been continued to the 21st century. She is both a hunter and a healer, sometimes appearing as a beautiful (irresistibly seductive) woman and sometimes as a Hag. When she possesses a man, she does not take over the new host but she opens the man to the storm of incoming Jnun and Jinns, demons, and sorcerous particles of all kind; making the man a traffic zone of cosmodromic data. This is why she is feared. And she never leaves, she always resides in the man to guarantee his total openness which is not always pleasant. According to Moroccans, the only way to feel comfortable with Aisha (the new partner / lover) is participating with her especially through passionate and wild music rites. Those who remember the end credits of Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, may remember the acknowledgment to the master musicians of Jajouka who perform music rites for men possessed (opened) by Aisha (also see Aisha and the role of music in the Hamadsha)."

-From Vincent Crapanzano's research on possession in Moroccan culture. This is far more interesting than what I was told....

-Adapted from my first post on the blog, the way she was explained to me:

"Aicha Qandisha, a spirit (djinn) in the form of a woman, marries men in Morocco and causes them to go quite mad. Mad in the crazy-making way, not in the sexy female way. Her "husbands" number in the many thousands at this point. I've only married one Moroccan. In comparison, I am either slacking off or simply unable to multi-task as well as she. The men wander about endlessly, especially in dry riverbeds she supposedly prefers, searching for her and hoping she'll return in the flesh. When they catch site of her they, well, engage in conjugal relations on the spot regardless of where they are or who is there. My ex-husband called me Aicha Qandisha as a sort of "pet name". If you ask him, he will be quick to tell you that he certainly was never the same once he married me."

Also, Taromeet is the Amazigh/Ashelhei word for foreigner in the feminine form. The root supposedly comes from the word for Roman, the original tourists to N. Africa, if you will. I love that the concept of "out-of-towner" in the language goes back that far. Yes, I'm a huge word geek.

Salaam, y'all.

Art comes from your mother?

This article in the NY Times is interesting, but far too short. Now I'm really hungry to read Dissanayake's books....


26 November, 2007

Thank you for sharing

Drinking: my second mug of ginger lemon tea, to which I am thoroughly addicted.
Procrastinating about: an assignment due tomorrow
Listening to: the wind ripping down the sokak and up the space between our building and the one next door.
Concerned about: The Mysterious Muck on the Marmara

Who needs a stereo when you have upstairs neighbors. The folks above me have rather eclectic tastes and seem to be deaf, or at least they will be soon. The wife, who is often home alone, is quite fond of blaring her musical selections loud enough to rattle the glass in the doors and windows of our apartment. The top songs in the rotation come from...wait for it...Fiddler on the Roof. For some reason this seems to get a lot of play while I am making dinner - Sunrise, Sunset; If I Were a Rich Man...I am curious what the non-English-speaking neighbors think. I've only seen and spoken to the woman once and she didn't seem to speak much English herself.

Then there's Grease and that song from the movie Arthur about getting caught between the moon and New York City. One night was apparently Elton John Night, which wasn't bad. She had on Teardrop by Massive Attack the other day, now known as the theme to the t.v. show House, which I love. I never realized how much the bass line sounds like a human heart if you're listening to it loud enough to shake the walls from one floor down, which makes it a perfect song for a doctor show, really. Tonight was a bit of a chore as she was flipping through some sort of Bee Gees greatest hits album. In fact it's not so much the music as much as her inability to finish listening to one album, much less one song, that grates on my nerves the most. I end up getting snippets of acceptably pedestrian music. And now we're on to "lite jazz", which I believe are technically contradictory terms or at least should be.


24 November, 2007

No human being is illegal

I am incensed by people in the US, and other countries, who claim undocumented -illegal- immigrants are simply criminals, that no good can come from them. In my family, what's considered criminal is exactly that kind of thinking. The hero of this story is rather remarkable. Would you give up your chance at a better life to help a stranger?


23 November, 2007


I can't be that person. I'm listening to what sounds like bickering, but could just as soon be pillow talk in this culture. Off the phone, the young woman with the professional job disappeared. He called. He was hungry. He was coming home. That was that and she, after her own long day, sprang into action to have his meal on the table when he arrived.

A friend, trained in the intimidatingly named neuro-linguistic programing, told me recently that there really is no "cannot". We all have choices. Usually those things we claim we cannot do are simply our excuse for choosing not to and then following through. She mentioned this to me when I told her that at this point I cannot return to live in the US.

"You could," she stated simply. "You would find a way to make it work if you had to, but you choose not to."

It's a powerful thought, when you take that idea and examine your life, all those times you said "I can't". And, I believe she's right. Most of us are just making excuses, backing down in fear, telling outright lies to ourselves and others. I've resolved to try and expel it from my vocabulary.

But, it's not possible with this. I absolutely cannot be that person. Not that girl. Not that woman. I tried, have tried, but then haven't all women all their lives. The whole world expects dinner on the table in a way. Be quiet; don't laugh so loud; just put a little color on your lips; loose a few pounds; sit still; don't go too far; don't stand so tall; don't forget to ask him first.
It is physically, spiritually, impossible for me to be that woman. I admit, I didn't try very hard. I wouldn't even know how to begin, nor can really I comprehend why one would.

I do not want to be domesticated. Suburbs make my chest tighten reflexively, anxiously. I will not clean your house, cook your dinner, iron your laundry, fetch you things. I will go out without you and come home without you. I will ask you opinion, but never your permission. To domesticate me is to break me, and that would kill me, at least something vital in me.

I've met plenty of men who claim they love this about me, about women, when you are dating. Then those strengths, literally, become the source of arguments and resentments once you move in together, start to make more money than him, or get married.

So, I think in this my friend is wrong. I cannot be this person. I can be, am, many things. This is a choice, one that is not always easy to bear. Ask any woman who has made it.


21 November, 2007

Türkiye Finallerde

Turkey just beat Bosnia to secure a spot in the Euro 2008 Finals. The Norway game was more exciting simply because I was down in the crowds on Istiklal. A roar rolled up the street through the crowds at one point that night when Turkey scored and you couldn't help but feel you were a part of something. We all applauded, knowing what the sound meant.

Watching it on our little TV isn't quite the same, but I can hear the fireworks going of over at Sami Yen Stadium. The chorus of car horns is just warming up along Cumhurriyet. Off to bed...


20 November, 2007

Bad parenting

Listening to: Traffic on Cumhurriyet outside my window, India Arie, Woody Guthrie, Over the Rhine
Reading: Ha, funny. Someday...

I've been a woefully negligent parent with the blog lately. Care and feeding of Tales stopped altogether due to time (too little), energies (again, lacking), and stress (abundant). The main source of stress was actually not my CELTA course, but rather the throbbing headache that was working for a sub-standard language school. That has been dealt with and life has returned to bloom, somewhat.

I promise more is forthcoming, including an activity I dreamed up for a free-teaching session today where I had intermediate students copying masterpiece paintings. Yes, I've put them to work making forgeries. O.k., no, but we did have a good time once they got over the idea that they had to get the painting "right". They got valuable listening and speaking practice in an unusual and fun way. I came up with a great lesson that could be spun off in a many directions while satisfying my creative soul. I'll write more about it later.

I am also experimenting on two friends, both of whom more than earned the title by not running away when the word experiment was uttered in regards to them, about the use of original music in teaching English. I did mention to one of them, however, that if I ever mention the word experiment in relation to cooking he should turn on his heals and run.

I've got some nascent ideas kicking me in the ribs that I want to put up on the blog. For now, I need to get my lesson plan ready for Friday. It's a reading lesson about Ikea, which will be highly amusing to my friends in Atlanta after our endless trips to their blue & yellow behemoth to resolve shelving issues. In addition, I need to get back to spending my Thursdays at the MoMA in Tophane. You can find me in the library at 10am, researching the collection and blissing out amidst the creative energy. And then there's all that research into economics and the major business sectors for the possible writing job...

And gobble gobble to all the family gathering this week in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Sorry you couldn't be here.

11 November, 2007

Feminism is....

For those of you who aren't sure about the other F-word, or, better yet, think you are...I stumbled upon this wonderful post by Mandolin at Alas, a blog via Feministing and it absolutely made my day, if not my year. Please be sure to follow some of the links in the post and read the comments at the bottom of the post, as there are some excellent ones. No, I do not mean my comment!


PS: Happy (belated) Birthday, Golaniya!

Poem for a friend

For Strong Women
by Marge Piercy
A strong woman is a woman who is straining.
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing Boris Godunov.
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn't mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears
in her nose.

A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren't you feminine, why aren't
you soft, why aren't you quiet, why
aren't you dead?

A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you're so strong.

A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

I take something from this poem every time I read it. It remains as powerful today as the first time I read it, which was a happy accident. I don't own it and share it, not for profit, but for my friends who are strong women and do not know it. - A.Q.

Turkish Media Presence in Germany

I found this article from the Sunday NYTimes rather interesting. Off to teach at the moment...

09 November, 2007

Finally, Some (Potentially) Good News

According to the New York Times, the Syrian government will allow U.S. officials into the country to begin interviewing Iraqi refugees for the purpose of resettling some in the United States. The U.S. government continues to lag far behind its stated goal of admitting 12,000 into the country this year. The decision by the Syrian government follows their recent decision to close their borders to Iraqis fleeing the violence in their country, requiring visas for Iraqis wishing to enter the country. The decision closed the final border that remained open to Iraqis fleeing by land.

I certainly hope this is a sign the U.S. is finally taking resettlement seriously. Some have said the reluctance on the part of the U.S. to begin large scale resettlement is political, that doing so would admit the failure of the war. Others say the government is reluctant to admit large numbers of foreign born Muslims. Whatever the reason, the people who need help the most have been left to risk their lives fleeing unimaginable violence and immense difficulties if they were lucky to make it across the border. Perhaps now, some Iraqis will have a chance at a stable, peaceful future. However, with roughly 1.5 million Iraqis now in Syria, admitting 12,000 a year is only scratching the surface of the problem. The U.S. will have to give more money to fund the Syrian and Jordanian education systems, now groaning under the stress of generously allowing Iraqi children into the schools. The healthcare sector is also in dire need of assistance. It's up to the U.S. to prove it is serious about taking care of its responsibilities.


08 November, 2007

Two on women's health

Dr. Susan Wicklund's story is important, showing us that the issue is not as easy as the stark partisans on both sides want us to believe. I especially applaud her take on restrictions and the idea of protecting women from themselves, which I agree are about control, not protection. I look forward to reading her book.

Also, I noticed this news regarding oral contraceptives. While nobody is saying anyone should toss their pills, it is interesting to note that nobody is quite sure what's what with a pill millions of women take daily.


31 October, 2007

Victory for the L.A. 8

More on victory in NYT (01/11).

I was thrilled to receive an email from my friend Michel Shehadeh this morning that all charges against he and Khader Hamide have been dropped be the Board of Immigration Appeals, after only 20 years, four trips to the US Court of Appeals, one visit to the Supreme Court, and countless other appearances before the BIA. Read David Cole's 2003 piece from The Nation, 9/11 and the L.A. 8, for a little context. For more information regarding this latest and long overdue victory, read the joint press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Lawyers Guild, and ACLU of Southern California here:


Long court battle ends with victory for immigrants

LOS ANGELES – The 20-year effort to deport two men over their alleged political
support of Palestinian self-determination officially came to an end today when the
nation’s highest administrative body overseeing immigration cases dismissed all charges
against Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh, members of a group of Palestinian student
activists arrested in January 1987, who became known as the LA8.

The action by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) closes one of the nation’s
longest-running and most controversial deportation cases, one that tested whether
immigrants have the same First Amendment rights as citizens.

Hamide and Shehadeh expressed both relief and happiness that the case is finally over but
also anger over what they believed to be a politically motivated, baseless prosecution.
“My family and I feel a tremendous amount of relief today,” said Hamide. “After 20
years, the nightmare is finally over. I feel vindicated at long last. This is a victory not
only for us, but for the First Amendment of the Constitution and for the rights of all

Shehadeh agreed. “I am extremely happy but do have mixed emotions,” Shehadeh added. “The government was wrong for twenty one years. They robbed us, and our families, of the
best and most productive years of our lives. We are now free to continue living our lives,
acting on our beliefs; raising our families, supporting our communities, loving our
country, defending justice and the Constitution, and prospering as good citizens."

The case against the pair began in January, 1987, when the government arrested them and
six others, who collectively came to be known as the LA 8, placed them in maximum
security prison, and accused them of having ties to a faction of the Palestine Liberation
Organization. The government alleged that Hamide and Shehadeh distributed
newspapers, held demonstrations and organized humanitarian aid fundraisers for
Palestinians, and that because these actions supported the PLO faction, they should be

The men were initially charged with being associated with a Communist
organization, but when a court declared those charges unconstitutional, the government
filed new charges of material support for a terrorist group. The case went before the US
Court of Appeals four times, the Supreme Court once, and the Board of Immigration
Appeals multiple times.

The BIA dismissed the case at the request of the government, which agreed in a
settlement to drop all charges and not to seek removal of either of the men in the future
based on any of the political activities or associations at issue in the case. Hamide and
Shehadeh agreed not to apply for citizenship for three years, and to have several judicial
orders in the case vacated as moot.

Attorneys for the two hailed the government’s decision to drop the case as a victory the
First Amendment rights of all immigrants and a vindication of their clients’ actions.
“This is a monumental victory for all immigrants who want to be able to express their
political views and support the lawful activities of organizations in their home countries
fighting for social or political change,” said Marc Van Der Hout, of the National Lawyers
Guild. “Hamide and Shehadeh did nothing more than advocate for Palestinians’ right to
a homeland and support charitable causes and other legal activities in the Occupied
Territories. That should never have been cause for deportation charges in the first place.
The government’s attempt to deport them all these years marks another shameful period
in our government’s history of targeting certain groups of immigrants for their political
beliefs and activities.”

“We are overjoyed for our clients, who have spent twenty years fighting for the right to
stay in this country and speak and associate freely,” said David Cole, a professor at
Georgetown University Law School and volunteer attorney for the Center for
Constitutional rights. “And we commend the administration for recognizing that federal
anti-terrorism resources can be far better spent on other endeavors.”

The tipping point came in January 2007, when Immigration Judge Bruce J. Einhorn
dismissed the case finding that the government’s refusal to turn over evidence favorable
to the men violated the pair’s right to due process. The government’s refusal to comply
with his disclosure order, Einhorn wrote, is “a festering wound on the body of
respondents and an embarrassment to the rule of law.”

The case originally involved seven Palestinians and a Kenyan, the wife of Khader
Hamide. Late last year, Aiad Barakat, one of the eight, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in
Los Angeles after federal judge Stephen Wilson rejected the government’s contentions
that he should be denied citizenship for his political associations. All of the others have
either been granted permanent residency or are on track to becoming permanent

“We are gratified that the government has decided to terminate this case and to spend its
resources on genuine threats to our national security,” said Ahilan T. Arulanantham, staff
attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “Hamide and Shehadeh are law-abiding
immigrants who have lived here for more than a quarter century each and done nothing
wrong. We are glad that they will be able to live out the rest of their lives in peace in the
country they have called home.”

Van Der Hout and Cole have been representing the immigrants since the case began in
1987 along with Leonard Weinglass of Chicago Seven fame and investigator Phyllis
Bennis of the National Lawyers’ Guild.

Salaam wa mabrouk ya Michel.

28 October, 2007

I went to a marathon and a demonstration broke out...or maybe it was the other way around...

Make no mistake, Aicha Qandisha does not run marathons. At least not this year. And having only recently arrived in Istanbul I've not yet tapped into timely, reliable news of what's happening in the city. Add to this the fact that I've been ill the last few days. Saturday afternoon I laid down to rest and read after teaching only to fall asleep and not wake up until 7am Sunday, a clear sign you're not well. I was awakened from a slightly feverish haze by a persistent seagull that had parked itself in such a position beneath my window as to maximize the volume of its call, which sounded a bit like "Hey!" I was able to ignore the bird for awhile and doze on, but gave up around 7 when a helicopter decided to hover atop our building. This aroused my curiosity enough to get me out of bed.

I shuffled into the living room and leaned out the window to try to grasp why my much-needed sleep was under siege by all things airborne this morning. To my surprise I turned my head towards Cumhurriyet Avenue in time to see a pack of runners in full competition kits - brightly colored techno-fabric short-shorts and tank-tops, entry numbers, and faces of pure intensity and seriousness - run by the opening of our little sokak. The rotors on the helicopter whined on while more clusters of runners trotted by. Today, I realized, is the annual bi-continental Eurasia marathon.

Still feeling a bit ill and looking a more than a bit worse for wear, I decided to stay in and not join the one police officer at the end of our street, whose main purpose seemed to be keeping two young boys from running into the midst of the larger packs and causing mischief. Having watched some of the IMG marathon while in Atlanta, I noted there seem to be differences in how the average person views such an event. The packs were occasionally joined by bystanders returning from morning errands. Stray runners dodged pedestrians who took advantage of the shutdown of the normally busy thoroughfare. As the lead packs moved by, I began to see the real heroes in marathoning, those everyday folks who for countless personal reasons decided to test themselves this way. Sleek running kits gave way to jogging and exercise clothes, which then gave way to whatever people thought would be a good idea to run 23 miles in. Not all of their choices looked like good ones to me, but I was second guessing from my living room with a mug of tea in my hand. The lines between runner and pedestrian were extremely blurry at this point. The crowds on the route included walkers, people with strollers, women in long jilbab coats, parents running with young children trotting along, people with full shopping bags. It was near impossible to tell who was running this and who just happened to be caught up in it. I turned on the tv, but the coverage on TRT had shifted to the lead pack, moving quickly through a part of town I couldn't identify from the overhead shot.

Many of the runners wore the Turkish flag in one form or another. There were lots of capes, flags tied about necks, trailing gently and the wearer moved along. Some carried the flag on the pole, which I imagine gets rather annoying after several kilometers, even for the most dedicated Turkophile. Some turned the flags into headscarves, tied them to hats, or simply wore flag tshirts. Most people on the sidelines, people going about their business of the day, didn't seem to notice.

Then I started hearing the chanting, which seemed odd in an endurance race. Leaning out the window again I saw a group of marchers, in the midst of the runners and walkers, chanting their slogans of national pride and carrying a giant Turkish flag. The anniversary of the founding of the Republic is Monday, so the last few days have been full of marches. My teaching was interrupted yesterday by first, a procession of marching bands up Istiklal and then a huge procession of boy and girl scouts, who were adorable in their excitement at being part of the festivities. So the marathon/independence day march has been the highlight of today. I suspect, hope, all those running, walking, or crawling the marathon have passed. Groups of marchers continue to make their way towards Taksim. Again, it's hard to tell who is who.

The stragglers have me inspired to try this next year. I'm just not sure if I'll be marching or running.


21 October, 2007

A Not So Lazy Sunday

Twelve Turkish soldiers were killed in a PKK ambush early Sunday. My apartment is just off Cumhurriyet Caddesi, a major street leading to Taksim Square, the location of most protests and demonstrations. I spent most of today at home working and throughout the afternoon small groups of demonstrators passed bearing Turkish flags of all sizes, chanting and waving a hand signal for wolf that looks conspicuously like the gesture waved at many a heavy metal concert. Most of them were heading in the direction of Taksim, but every now and then we'd hear them coming and stick our heads out the window to watch them march by the opening of our street. The larger groups were usually followed by one or two police minivans, inching lazily along, lights flashing, and inaudible commands sounding from their loudspeakers.

On the news early this evening we watched footage of crowds gathering in Taksim and marching down Istiklal Caddesi. There were images of women weeping, young men tussling with police trying to hold them back, and jailed-PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan being burned in effigy. Eventually this evening the demonstrators headed home and we watched one final group, this time larger and better organized, surge up the road clapping and chanting accompanied by a chorus of car horns. The horns have continued, rising and falling throughout the evening.

In addition to this, yesterday the vote was held to approve changes to the constitution, including election of the president by the public versus by parliament. The referendum passed by a majority. Coverage of the vote, as important as it is, was rivaled by the furor over the killing of the soldiers. There have been constant news flashes, reports from the soldiers hometowns showing mothers and fathers collapsing in grief, and a great deal of footage of Turkish military maneuvers near the border. It's almost midnight and no decision about crossing into Iraq has been announced. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Salaam. Iyi geceler. (Good night)

20 October, 2007

Saturday night on Istiklal


I've decided to let the rabbits handle all my major decisions in life.Sure you can have someone read your fortunes from tea leaves or coffee grounds, but I've decided to put my faith in another source of divination - rabbits.

Walk down Istiklal Caddesi and you will see a few old men here and there, tucked in niches that create eddies in the crowds, standing beside tiny tables bearing some sort of box with small scraps of paper sprouting from it and three rabbits. Yes, real, live fuzzy bunnies. My understanding is you pay the man and he lets the bunnies have a go at picking through the scraps of paper, which are similar to the ones found in Chinese fortune cookies, only hand-written. The bunnies pluck the papers and the man hands you your fortune. I believe they may also be used like a Magic 8 ball, to help answer pressing questions and resolve life's many dilemmas. I've included two photos here from the internet.

I will take photos of my advisory council when I stop in for a consult sometime soon. In the meantime know that I will refer all questions from here on out to my three colleagues: Floppsy, Moppsy, and Cottontail. One Turkish friend referred to them as "Turkish life coaches". I'm not sure what my two dear friends in the U.S. who are life coaches will think of this. I just hope they don't find themselves outsourced to the rabbits in this new global economy. But, who knows how much better a world we might have if our leaders consulted the bunnies before making major policy decisions.


13 October, 2007

Şeker screwup, Turkish sea life, and The Godfather

It's raining, really raining. Even better than the sound of the light, steady rain outside is the occasional roil of thunder. I even saw a white flash in the thick cloud cover as I made breakfast this morning. I hope this is a sign the rainy season in this parched country will actually be rainy this year. I made my first cultural faux pas yesterday.

Apparently in addition to marking the end of Ramadan, some people treat Şeker Bayrami like Halloween. Yesterday morning the bird call that is the doorbell sounded to indicate someone wanted to get in the building. A few minutes later I heard the voices of a man and children in the stairwell before the bird chirped again. There stood a very nice man and his four children. He smiled, but looked unsure what to do next when I stammered out my greeting in Turkish. He asked and gestured if anyone else, hopefully Turkish-speaking, was home. I assumed he was asking for one of my roommates and I said no and thinking he knew one of introduced myself and invited them in, which seemed to confuse both he and the kids. He wished me a good Bayram and, still smiling, gathered the kids and headed down the stairs. A while later it dawned on me that what they were probably doing was Bayram trick-or-treating, which left me feeling like those annoying people on your block as a kid who either didn't have candy, but left their porch light on, or the equally annoying box raisins or apple distributors. I knew the tradition dictates you give children sweets on the day, I just didn't realize they came looking for them. I'm sure the kids got their sugar fix elsewhere. I have no one here to ask about this today, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.

So, I am finishing breakfast and studying my Turkish by watching a little Sponge Bob Square Pants in Turkish . Sadly, the powers that be did not bother to dub the theme song in Turkish. I have to admit hearing Patrick the dopey starfish use my favorite Turkish word - Saçmalama (Stop this crazy talk!) - made me giggle.

Other than Turkish-speaking sea life, the oddest thing I've noticed is the how often I've been hearing the theme from the film The Godfather in the last few days. A few nights ago a car on our tiny street blasted their horn, which actually played the iconic first few bars of the theme. My inner-child, who still thinks El Caminos and musical horns are cool, was impressed. Actually, I remember hearing a horn that played Dixie in Damascus, so, I guess it's not that strange. Then yesterday while walking İstiklal Caddesi I passed a man selling wind-up toys. One of them, a bird, actually twittered the same famous opening notes, which seemed like an odd choice for a child's toy, but then again, I don't have children.


12 October, 2007

İyi Bayramlar

A few photos posted over at Flickr....

The city was far from deserted today with the holiday. However, I was able to stroll leisurely across the six tight lanes of Cumhurriyet Avenue outside of the crosswalk, which is rather remarkable.

I stopped in to the New Mosque at about the time for the Friday service and decided to stay. I got annoyed at having to sit behind a screen, especially because I ended up next to a woman who decided to give me a full lesson on proper prayer technique a la Turk. Since we quickly figured out that my broken Turkish wouldn't do, she simply took to yanking my various parts into the proper position. At one point I really longed to know the phrase, "Give it a rest, Bob Fosse," in Turkish. She left before I could thank her. I must say that Yeni Cami smelled distinctly more like feet this time around, but it could have simply been the presence of thousands of them around me.

I paid my first visit to the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, layered in blue Iznik tiles. It's upstairs from the street filled with vendors, which means the traffic is far less than at other mosques, which is nice. The cool blue and white of the tiles and the cozy size, not to mention a very friendly caretaker, make it one of my favorites.

I wandered up the hill to the Süleymaniye Mosque, which is lovely, with deeply colored jewel-like windows and beautiful circular tile works with Arabic script flanking the mihrab. The main dome is either being painted or restored with a jewel motif covering most of it. I tried to walk in with my shoes in hand, as is usually done, only to have the guard at the entrance try to tell me otherwise in broken English. He was a bit embarrassed when I responded to him in Turkish, told him not to worry and that I live here. We shared a smile and he shrugged, as if to indicate he'd had a long day of directing first-time mosque visitors. I wished him a good Bayram when I left and he wished me the same.

Karaköy was empty, save the cats. As I stood photographing a doorway to a church, listening to Max Roach on my headphones, I completely missed the young security guard that had walked out of his building to see what I was up to. Seeing him in my peripheral vision made me laugh as I jerked a bit. We had a perfunctory, but pleasant, conversation before I headed towards the ferry docks.


11 October, 2007

Thoughts on the Armenian Resolution

My roommate and I watched the House committee vote on the Armenian resolution live on Turkish television last night at about midnight. The non-binding resolution passed 27-21 and is supposed to go to the full House next and then on to the Senate.

I've seen the photos, the maps outlining deportations and camps and they are horrific and certainly seem to illustrate killing on such a scale as could not take place without some official system. I can certainly understand how any of the remaining survivors would want, finally, the Turkish government and the rest of the world to say "This happened to you."

If this was happening today, I would hope all governments could find effective means to stop it. Certainly, 92 years ago every government failed the Armenians. Ambassadors and others on hand and who may have had sway with their governments knew what was happening, reported it, yet no one stopped it. But, what does it mean for the government of the modern Turkish state to admit to a genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire?

And while many of my Turkish friends agree that the issue needs to be brought into the open and discussed, they see the issue as one for Turkey and Armenia to deal with and not foreign governments to demand. In some ways I agree, not quite understanding how these resolutions will change things for the better. Indeed, it seems forcing change on this issue only gives power to the very ultra-nationalists who want to keep it hidden in the dark of the past. One could also look at some of the countries, mine included, demanding that Turkey pull the issue into the light of examination. France has only recently begun to deal with the horrors wrought upon Algeria during the colonial era and the bloody war for its independence. In the U.S. the story of one of the world's greatest mass killings, that of the native peoples of the Americas, still usually only gets a brief mention in most schools. Academics and theorists who raise the issue of the US genocide against native peoples as the root from which the violent cycles of US culture and history grew from are often called unpatriotic or quacks, at best.

Not being Turkish, not being any sort of nationalist, perhaps I'll never understand. One confusing aspect for me is that this happened during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, not under the auspices of Ataturk or the modern Turkish nation. Why not use this episode to show how far the nation has come? I've read part of the difficulty is in the notion of a unified Turkishness - there are no Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, only Turks. This is the same issue plaguing the Kurdish issue. Differences are seen by many as weaknesses, cracks in the foundation. There are people here who call for a change, for the country to begin to celebrate its many cultures, to see variety as a strength. Of course, the same issue is being argued in reverse by many in my home country. After years of celebrating our many cultures, our own ultra-nationalists are pushing for people to see the "others" in the US as threats to security, economy, personal safety, and "American culture", whatever that phrase means.

Things like this cannot, should not, stay buried. Yet even for some of those here who take the risk of calling it genocide, this is an issue to be decided by the two countries involved. Most notable and tragic of those being Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered early this year in front of the offices of his newspaper after calling the killings a genocide. He firmly believed it was genocide, did not agree with the interventions by foreign governments in the issue. In the days after his murder over 100,000 people marched in the streets here chanting "We are all Armenians." However, the Turkish government recently shut down YouTube after music videos appeared in which a Turkish singer insinuated that Dink got what he deserved and bearing images of his body on the ground shortly after his murder. The trial of the young man charged in the case begins soon.

Then there is the stifling Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes it illegal to "insult Turkishness", that is now well known for snaring Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and author Elif Safak, who both faced significant jail time. Safak was charged under the code for simply having a character in her novel call the Armenian murders a genocide. Pamuk was only acquitted on a technicality, had to be provided a security detail after Dink's murder, and, rumor has it, has relocated to New York City for good. Europe is calling for the code to be repealed as part of Turkey's talks for joining the EU.

As with the current situation in Sudan, my stomach churns with all this discussion and debate over a word while people are starved, raped, and butchered. Mass killing, genocide, crime against humanity...Whatever you want to call it, people are dying, have died, and will die. Instead of spending time debating whether these horrors fit the criteria, I wish those in power would spend more time developing effective responses to end the violence and help the victims.

Supposedly the Nazis highlighted the fact that the world forgot about the Armenian victims when discussing their plans against Europe's Jews. There point was that no one would act against them, nothing would be done, because no one had stood for the Armenians in 1915. Sadly, they were right, and, in the beginning, few people in power stood for the Jews. That seems to be the sad constant with genocides across history and into today - it can be identified and classified like a specimen, but no one knows quite what to do with it. Some call the Armenian victims "The Forgotten Genocide". Sadly, it seems, too many victims of similar horrors are forgotten in the end.


PS: If you want to read an excellent and enraging work on a modern genocide, I suggest We Regret to Inform You, But Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch.

10 October, 2007

Bayram and Turkey in the News

It's been a week of anticipation in Turkey, not all of it good.

Şeker Bayrami, translated as the sweet festival, is scheduled for Friday and will mark the ended of the holy month of Ramadan. There are plenty of people not fasting, but everybody fasted for Kadir Gecesi, or The Night of Power, earlier this week. That day commemorates the initial Quranic revelation to Muhammad. I was in training at the language school I'll be working for and the trainer was fasting for the first time and we weren't quite sure she'd make it. As far as we know, she did. I shared iftar, literally break fast, with my roommates at the apartment. One of them has gone home to the Black Sea coast for the holiday weekend. A lot of people will be in-transit over the next few days, heading home to visit their families, with bus lines and airlines sold out. I've heard a few complaints that because Bayram falls on Friday the holiday is much shorter than last year's.

Every night the major stations broadcast special programing as sunset and iftar approaches, on boats, at mosques, usually surrounded by crowds of worshipers waiting to share one of the communal iftars held throughout the city. The programs usually include music and lovely Quranic recitations before everyone digs in and the lights adorning the minarets are switched on.

Unfortunately, the week hasn't been all about gearing up for Bayram. The two major news stories here have been the deaths of 15 Turkish soldiers in attacks by the militants factions of the PKK (Kurdish Worker Party) and the possible passage by the US House of Representatives foreign affairs committee of a non-binding resolution calling the deportations and of countless Armenians (600,000 to 1.5 million), in what was then the Ottoman Empire in the years prior to World War I, a genocide.

Bush&Co have put on a show against the resolution, calling for US House to stay out of it and allow the Turkish and Armenian governments to sort this out themselves. The topic is extremely taboo here. Novelist Elif Şafak was charged under the infamous article 301 of the Turkish penal code ("insulting Turkishness") simply for having a character in a novel call the murders a genocide.

The deaths of the 15 soldiers have helped renew the call by some for military action across the Iraqi border into Iraqi Kurdistan, where the PKK militants are said to be taking refuge. As I've mentioned in the past, people here don't want a war, but they are angry at what they feel is the unfair treatment of Turkey by the U.S. government, who seems to have put the issue of foreign fighters in Kurdistan on the back burner during most of the Iraq war. As one Turkish friend pointed out to me, "So, the US can take care of their problems, but we can't take care of ours?"

The renewed call for military action into Iraq and the dispute over the resolution seem to be a bad combination for the US government. There are rumors that Incirlik airbase near Adana, which is of major importance for supplying US forces in Iraq, would be closed to the US.

In response to the killings this week, Turkey has begun bombing suspected PKK positions. And tonight there was word of a grenade attack on a police vehicle in Diyarbakir that killed a child. Not such a sweet holiday season after all.


04 October, 2007

Blogging the CELTA (or at least trying to)

In addition to other things, I'll be trying to blog about my CELTA course. The main reason is you can't find many first-hand accounts out there. I would have found it helpful, thus I am assuming others will.

The first thing about a CELTA course you should know is it's not cheap. That's not to say it's overpriced, in fact I feel the price asked was fair. If you want cheap sign up at Billy Bob's House of Kebabs and English for an online TEFL certificate. Do you need to take a CELTA course? I don't know, that's really up to you in the end. Can you get a job without the CELTA? Certainly. There are plenty of outfits the world over offering immediate work for people who had the dumb luck to be born in an English-speaking country. I refuse to call native English speaking a skill. Learning the language and learning how to actually teach it in a meaningful and truly educational way is, however, a skill. In fact some of these "schools", and I use the term loosely, don't even bother requiring things like professionalism, maturity, etc. Wander through the various TEFL/TESL discussion boards and you'll read plenty.

I have signed on with one of the "schools" simply looking for "native English speakers" in order to make some income during my course. Istanbul is, sadly, not a place most of us can linger without income. I completed the three day training cycle in this school's "method" yesterday. When I arrived the for my first day of training I was handed a stack of DVDs, yet not informed that there were supposed to be multiple days of training. In my determination and/or stubbornness I spent all of Wednesday in a hot, grey computer lab lit solely by fluorescent plugging diligently through videos of what look to be the most uninspiring lessons ever given. This is training, not educating or teaching. There is no expectation that you write your own lesson plans, that's taken care of in the materials, you only have to fill out the appropriate form properly. The online training is about as challenging as biting my nails and if anybody ever actually managed to fail the subsequent testing I am amazed they could even handle getting out of bed on their own. The live training followed the the lines of the DVD training and we were asked to practice teach mini lessons from the books each day for the trainer. Last night I was asked to observe two high level classes. That was fine, but being warned by a seemingly happy teacher, "Don't hesitate to look for something else." She gave me a knowing look and added, "There are better schools and employment here is a bit uncertain." Then she smiled, winked, and wished me well.

Last Friday was the second day of my course, which will be held every Tuesday and Friday from now until December 14. This is an extended course, as opposed to the one-month accelerated course. The first portion of day one had us squarely in the role of student. We began with the classic ball toss ice-breaker activity to help everyone learn names. However, our trainers also pointed out these activities go beyond helping with names and setting a welcoming classroom environment and can serve as useful diagnostics to assess students' grasp of the language. We ran through a few others, including "two truths and a lie", where you write out three statements about yourself and then have other students try to guess the lie. A bit of time had to be spent on simple administrative tasks, such as passing out textbooks, paperwork, and reviewing scheduling.

The most striking session from the first day was led my Elna who welcomed us back from a short break in a language none of us understood. Elna led us into "My name is," and other short question and responses, all in a language that seemed vaguely German or Dutch, but obviously neither. We all managed, through her review and a series of games, to learn several phrases and how to answer a few questions in only 30 minutes. Elna finally revealed she was teaching us Afrikaans and put us into groups to discuss the lesson from the view of the student and the teacher. It was an interesting role reversal that might be helpful to return to from time to time in one's teaching career in order to regain perspective.

We will be student teaching two groups with about ten students in a group. One group will be teaching at the intermediate level and my group will be teaching the elementary group. We began looking at the subject of lesson planning in the afternoon. During our first teaching practice session each of us in my 5-person group taught a portion of a lesson in 20 minutes. Subsequently, three of us will teach 40 minutes each on Tuesday and the remaining two will teach their 40 minutes on Friday. I found teaching the 20 minutes far more difficult than actually teaching. Not to mention your nervous being observed for the first time and on your first day with your students you've yet to get to know them or assess their skills. Assessment is really the goal of this first lesson and, indeed, by the end of it we knew their names and the two or three who were higher and lower than the average.

We were given our first assignment Friday. Most of the writing assignments will be essay form and must be 750-1000 words. This first assignment, and I don't know how much the assignments or their order changes course to course, is about lesson planning for a reading or listening activity. We discussed receptive and productive skills related to both activities and observed one of our trainers taught us a sample reading lesson, which we later discussed. This time we had to select an appropriate text or listening activity from the Headway book we are using for our students or a related book available from our school, write a lesson plan, and then write an essay discussing what we chose, why, if we altered it and how, and the receptive and productive skills associated with the lesson. Everything is due on Tuesday the 16th, after our week off due to the Bayram holiday. At some point in the course, we will teach these lessons to our teaching practice students.


03 October, 2007

Alive and well in Istanbul

Just a quick note to let people know I'm still breathing. I seem to be having a very hard time opening the new posts link for Blogger on my laptop. Hopefully, I'll find a way around that...

My CELTA class started yesterday. I really don't see how somebody does that every day, like in the intensive course. I'm quite happy to be taking the more leisurely 10-week course. We'll have quite a bit of work, including a few 1000-word essays, but nothing that sounds horrible.

I managed to find a room to rent. I'm sharing an apartment with a young Turkish couple in Harbiye, across Cumhurriyet Avenue from the Military Museum, about a ten-minute walk from bustling Taksim Square . The room is small, but perfect for now, and my roommates are great.

I'll be teaching part-time for a language center during my course and it will be interesting to see how that goes. It's a well-known name, even if you don't teach English, and I'll leave it at that for now. I hope to find something more formal after that. I've also started making some interesting friends and continue to terrorize average Turks with my basic, broken Turkish. Interestingly, until I open my mouth, everybody seems to believe I am Turkish.

I'll write more, when I am not in a training session for work...


21 September, 2007

Good night and good luck, America.

It's about midnight here in Atlanta. I need to get some sleep, but I always find it hard to sleep the night before a departure. I'm tired, yet wide awake. Everything that can be packed is packed. I have an ambitious stash of reading materials to take on board. I'm due to arrive in Istanbul Sunday night.
For now, I need to turn out the lights and at least shut my eyes and pretend to get a good night's sleep.


PS: Happy to report Nelson Mandela is STILL alive.

20 September, 2007

National Day of Action for the Jena 6

While the media is all over the new O.J. Simpson case, the Jena 6 case continues to outrage and is only gaining traction in the mainstream media after several months. Today was a nation-wide day of action in support of the 6 young men charged in the case. Anyone who tells you the U.S. is a post-racial country is blind or lying.


12 September, 2007

Updates on Israeli airstrike on Syria

Josh Landis over at Syria Comment has a series of posts updating the swirl of information, conjecture, rumors, and speculation over last Thursday's Israeli air strike on Syria. Be sure to check out his Recent Post column for the evolution of the story over the last few days. Turkey is none too pleased about this, either.


Leaving on a jet plane, soon.

Just watched: 2 Days in Paris, written, directed by and staring Julie Delpy. I LOVED this film!
Just discovered: The band Over the Rhine, who play literate and hard to define music, and the bibliophile blog 50 Books where Doppelganger reviews all her great reads and lusts after remarkable bookshelves (proving I'm not the only one with a bookshelf fetish).
Reading: My Nikon D80 manual, causing me to cast longing glances at my 30+ year-old Pentax K1000. I'm like an Amish kid on Rumspringa with digital right now.

Saturday will begin my last week in the States. Here are the plans. I leave on the 22nd for Istanbul. I fly via Chicago and Dublin and arrive at about 9pm on the night of the 23rd, which is far preferable to those 2am arrivals into Damascus. You're generally a quiet audience, but if anybody has any advice for an 8 hour layover in Dublin, please let me know.

The refugee women I teach on Saturdays threw me a party last week. Lots of laughing and lots of food from Afghanistan (chicken and pilaf - amazing) and Liberia (sweet potatoes, greens, chicken, and "broken rice"-delicious). I brought the music of Usted Farida Mahwash for one of my Afghan students and she danced and sang along all afternoon, making sure to point out to me which instrument I was hearing or something important about the structure of a song. Om-Taromeet is visiting Saturday for my last class. I will really miss these women.

Packing is a difficult balance. Clothes are relatively easy. Books are the hard part for me. I remember how expensive books in English are over there (not to mention a $25 New Yorker), which makes my diet an expensive one. There are the "I must takes": a few books on Turkish and Arabic, Kelby's book on Photoshop for CS2; the "I need to read"s: Said's Orientalism (I swear I'll finish it this time) and Covering Islam, a biography of Badshah Khan, Art & Fear, Reading Like a Writer, and Freely's Istanbul; and the "I want to read"s: The Mystical Poems of Rumi, Sontag's Styles of Radical Will, Maalouf's The Gardens of Light, Montaigne's Essays, Homer's The Iliad & The Odyssey, McCarthy's The Road. I'll be handing them off as I finish them, hopefully in trade. Of course I am still hunting for Munif's Cities of Salt and have my eye on Kinross's The Ottoman Centuries and Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul. But, you have to say yeter at some point.

Om-Taromeet will visit from Florida tomorrow through Sunday. She told a class of 5th graders at her school I was moving to Turkey. They laughed, hard pressed to believe there is some place out there named after the bird they eat on Thanksgiving.

Ramadan karim and L'shanah tovah to my friends celebrating today.

11 September, 2007

Internet Censorship in Syria

Charlie don't surf* and, apparently neither do Syrians these days. Somebody please reply to Golaniya's question about solving the comments issue, especially in light of the Syrian government criminalizing anonymous comments. Like Turkey, the Syrian government seems to be going with the "it's to protect against defamation" claim. I wonder exactly what the forthcoming new media law will entail?


*I'm assuming you've seen Apocalypse Now, yes?

09 September, 2007

"Kicking a$$" in Iraq, the musical.

President Bush used a colorful phrase this week to describe his opinion of the progress of U.S. Forces in Iraq. His remark provided me a perfect opportunity to share video of one of my favorite songs. For once, and I suspect only once, thanks Shrub. May I present our new national anthem:

Fear not, good people of Turkey, I'm not like these fellas. Though, in the interest of disclosure, I do have relatives who bear a resemblance to the one in the overalls.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are two of my absolute favorite Brits. Everybody should get the DVDs of A Bit of Fry and Laurie.


08 September, 2007

Happy Birthday, Marie!

My friend Marie Elizabeth Wiegenstein O'Connor is turning 99 on September 10th. Yes, ninety nine. It's not just the accomplishment of grazing the century mark. Marie is one of the kindest, funniest, and downright pleasant people I've had the pleasure of knowing. She is a rare bird, a genuinely good soul. She's had quite a life. She and her husband lived in France as part of the reconstruction following WWII and traveled Europe extensively in a time when most Americans still spent most of their lives in hometowns. She raised three sons, is a proud grandmother, and never misses Mass. When she tells stories of the years she spent living out west or growing up on her family's farm, the margins of her stories are peppered with modest references to history that launched many a Google search.

Looking back at history, the world we know today has grown up with her:
1918: WWI ends; the Spanish influenza pandemic; the execution of Czar Nicholas II and his family; first documented interracial jazz recording made;
1928: Fleming discovers Penicillin; Hirohito becomes Emperor of Japan; first regularly scheduled television programming aired; Mickey Mouse makes debuts in Plane Crazy.
1938: The Anschluss; Kristallnacht; Oil discovered in Saudi Arabia; Atatürk dies; the ballpoint pen patented; Orson Welles causes chaos with War of the Worlds radio broadcast.
1948: Mahatma Gandhi murdered; establishment of the State of Israel; World Health Organization founded; Italian film The Bicycle Thieves released.
1958: Treaty of Rome signed establishing the European Economic Community (later the EU); 5,000 U.S. Marines land in Beirut; Radio Rebelde begins broadcasting from the Sierra Maestra in Cuba; Hitchcock's Vertigo.
1968: Dr. Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert Kennedy assassinated; Baathist take power in Iraq; Tet Offensive; Nixon elected President; Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and The Beatles White Album.
1978: First IVF baby born; Cardinal Karol Wojtyla becomes Pope John Paul II; Camp David Accords signed; Steve Martin premieres song King Tut on SNL.
1988: Soviet Union begins withdrawing troops from Afghanistan; Halabja; Iran-Iraq War ends; Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

Congratulations and much love, Marie. Here's to your 100th candle next year.


07 September, 2007


So, he's back after several years. He's looking less gaunt and has picked up a box of Just for Men to wash that gray right out of his beard. Last time we heard from him was just before the 2004 elections:
"And know that: "It is better to return to the truth than persist in error." And that the wise man doesn't squander his security, wealth and children for the sake of the liar in the White House."

After all these years and all those billions of dollars we have yet to find a 50 year old with a possible litany of health issues who depends on dialysis
, walks with a cane, and lives in a cave.

My favorite comment came from Anderson Cooper last night:
al Qaeda's production company -- and, yes, they do have a production company -- posted the following banner ad. "

The whole "hunt" has gotten surreal and ridiculous at this point. Apparently, most in the U.S. now believe he'll never be caught.


A Public Service Announcement for Women

I hope all the you women out there saw this story. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to "live in sin" for equality in the home. I am seriously disinclined towards domesticity and domestic pursuits myself.


The Strange Bedfellows of Turkey's Creationists

This story aired on PRI's The World last night.

Why does this partnership remind me of the "Christian" extremists, "Christian Zionists", etc. who rabidly support the Israeli government and are fervently courted and welcomed by some Israelis and Jews, even though their Rapture visions include the slaughter anybody who doesn't covert to their way of doing things, so to speak? I just want to sit them down and say "you do realize these people still think you're evil and going to hell, right?"

And no mention of the related WordPress ban.

As I keep telling people, usually after watching a little TBN, I hope Jesus is coming back and soon because he really needs to have a sit down with some of the folks claiming to be part of his organization. Speaking of which, has anybody ever seen the Saturday Night Live Skit with the late Phil Hartman as Jesus confronting an overzealous follower? Classic.


06 September, 2007

The Next War - Updates

This is troubling, but doesn't strike me as out of the realm of possibility. Keep checking the Global Affairs blog, which updates this topic regularly and includes many good links.


Riverbend and Her Family Made It!

I was so happy to finally see a new post today from Riverbend at Baghdad Burning, her first since her family made the difficult decision to leave Iraq. Everybody, especially in the US, should read this post. She and her family are lucky they made it into Syria before September 10, when Syria will begin requiring visas for Iraqi refugees.

Meanwhile, please explain to me why Iraqis cannot apply for refugee apply for refugee status at the shiny, new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and instead must risk a border crossing to Syria or Jordan? How will they apply in light of Jordan and Syria changing their entry policies? Read this to see just how difficult the process is.

Listen to two great reports on the crisis in Damascus and the challenges facing the refugees seeking to immigrate to the U.S. from National Public Radio, which reports a mass exodus in anticipation of the deadline.

Shame on us.


Israeli Airstrike On Syria?

This morning on NPR I heard about the supposed intrusion on Syrian airspace by Israeli jets. Israel is saying they didn't, Syria says the Israelis did, dropped their fuel tanks and/or munitions, and Syrian forces fired on the jets. Tried to check the U.S. television news channels this morning, but they were tied up, as usual, with a useless local news story (another standoff with police). Josh Landis weighs in. He links to this article from Haaretz, which has some follow-up links at the bottom of the article.

According to Haaretz, Al-Arabiya is reporting the location as "North-Eastern Syria, near the Turkish border". The jets came in from the sea. Jerusalem Post says it happened near "Abyad".


02 September, 2007

Turkey and the U.S.

Just some random thoughts on Turkey that I am late in posting.

It was interesting to hear the commentators talk about the Gül Presidency and what
it means for Turkey. I say "was" because Gül and the election quickly dropped off the U.S. news radar. This discussion and analysis on The Newshour last week between Söner Çağaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, and Bülent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, seems to be typical with one side seeing it as the end of Turkey as we know and the other taking a wait-and-see attitude.

I am not Turkish and I am not an expert on Turkish politics, but in the U.S. when you call somebody an "Islamist" you are essentially equating them with Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden, and
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who are for most Americans are the poster boys for Islamic extremism. So far as I can tell, Gül doesn't seem to belong in that club and doesn't appear to be applying for membership. It strikes me as somewhat amusing, and sad, that I've had people here ask me if I am afraid about going to Turkey "now that the Islamists have taken over the government."

I have read commentators who blame the rising number of Turks with unfavorable views of the U.S. policy on some sort of conservative Islamic resurgence. However, it may be much simpler. Many Turks I talked to wanted to know why the U.S. government and military would not let Turkey deal with PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. They asked why the U.S. was allowed to deal with its terrorists, but Turkey was forced to sit by idly. Some expressed a feeling of being used by the U.S. for very little in return.
The news earlier this month about guns from the U.S. intended for Iraqi forces ending up in Turkey, even being used in criminal activities there according to the Turkish government, will certainly and understandably not help things.


The Next War

UPDATE: Everybody should be keeping up with the Informed Comment Global Affairs Blog. There's more on this each day.

A U.S. attack on Iran is starting to sound like a matter of when, not if.

Average people I talk to here do not believe the Bush administration would attack and/or invade Iran for a variety of reasons: the U.S. military is already spread too thin; the growing public unease about the war in Iraq; lack of public support for a third war; it's just too crazy an idea, even for these loons...
I usually nod and acknowledge the logic of those arguments, which would certainly give better leaders pause. However, I do not believe this administration acts on logic. I think they have proven that time and again.

While the idea of an attack on Iran has been brought up before, the tone seems to be changing from the theoretical to the inevitable. Recent weeks have brought some disturbing writings concerning a U.S. strike on Iran. These are not the rantings of wild-eyed, tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists. Read Juan Cole, Barnett Rubin, McClatchy, The New Yorker ("Test Marketing"), Scott Horton of Harper's, Glenn Greenwald of Salon, and Chris Floyd for yourself. Maccabee on Daily Kos has an interesting entry in his diary, as well.

The Raw Story has a piece about a report issued by Dr. Dan Plesch, the Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies' Center for International Studies and Diplomacy, and Martin Butcher, an international security politics consultant, that analyzes the potential for a U.S. war with Iran and how it might unfold. You can download the actual report from a link in the story.

The administration, neocons, and their supporters are ratcheting up their rhetoric and it is sounding somewhat familiar. This follows Senate passage of the Lieberman amendment to the defense spending bill and revelation of U.S. plans to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

As Jon Stewart says, "cue the fear music"...

Bill O'Rielley was again claiming on his show this week that what war critics really want the U.S. to lose in Iraq. The "dissent is treason" thing is so tired, absurd, offensive. At this point, I am not even sure what the U.S. losing means in practical terms. What to we call the situation now? Bill, I would love to be proven wrong. I would love to have a stable, safe, functioning Iraq where people can return home to live in peace. I just don't see that happening. And I wouldn't believe the people running my government telling me they had to fight the school bully because he was taking milk money from the other kids if I saw it with my own eyes.

I was in Morocco in 2004 and the question friends kept asking was "why are the people in your country not out in the streets (about the Iraq war)?" That was before many of the big reveals of lies and manipulations. I didn't have many good responses for that question then. I don't feel I do now, either. I just hope it's not too late to stop the next war.