Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Being Included

"Do you have any prayers for the road?" My host father asked me as he started the car

"Yes," I answered "I already said them"

"Your prayers are very fast" said one of my host sisters, gesturing toward her mother and Esra.  They were still using their hands to count their prayers, moving their thumbs from finger to finger as they finished each.

The above is just one example of many traditions. I got to observe many more family, religious, and national traditions during my family's trip to Samsun for Bayram

I ran into one of my first traditions on a pit stop between my home in Edirne and Samsun. This came to me in the form of a pink towel given to me by my host mother's mother, Ilhame teyze. After I accepted,I thanked her and kissed her on both sides of the face. Looking up, I realised my host father was trying to get my attention. Curiously, I watched his charades until I realised he was reminding me of an important part of accepting a gift from an older person. I quickly rectified my mistake by taking Ilhame's hand and kissing it, then touching it to my forehead.

I left feeling gratefuland happy, but I didn't understand the significance of what had happened until I was back in the car with Tuba.

"My Grandmother got you a chaste gift?" asked Tuba, clearly amused.

"Well, she gave me a towel" I answered

"That's a chaste gift" Tuba explained "It's meant to be used only after you are married. Older women like to give girls little things like towels and blankets in chaste."

Usually, I would fined something like "chaste gifts" a big jump out of my comfort zone, but under the circumstances it seemed very thoughtful, a genuine attempt to include me in Turkey's culture.

Since we were at my sister's for Bayram, I also got to witness bayram-specific traditions

The first traition I participated in was dressing up. For the first day, I borrowed a dress from Tuba, who also did my hair and nails.

Next was the kissing part, which I didn't particularly enjoy, but it was followed by the recieiving of money, which I didn't mind at all.

In more detail, Turkish children are supposed to kiss the hand of an older relative, put the hand to their forehead, and say "iyi bayramlar". In return, the relative will give the child money. In my family at least, you are considered a child until you are married, or even longer!

Another important Bayram tradition is visiting. During Bayram, it's assumedthat guests will come unannounced, and they will be expecting a feast!

The influx of guests meant I was exposed to even more traditions, especially religious. One visit sticks out in my mind where a more conservative muslim family came to visit, and we arranged two rooms to entertain them, one for the men and one for the women. The oldest woman had come in a burka, and only took it off once we were in a room with only women.

Luckily, the tradition of visiting goes both ways, meaning that we were able to pop in on any number of turkish families, and that meant we were fed a lot. Baklava and tea were the main feature on every menu, but I also got to try borek, dolmus, and homemade grape juice among other things.

The final tradition I will mention is one that is particular to my family. It involves the youngest girl in the fmaily going around and giving everyone in the family hand sanitiser. Since I'm the youngest girl in the family, I got the honor. Yes, it did occur to me that they mihgt have made that up just to see me running around offering family members hand sanitiser. It was fun regardless.

I was very greatful to exerience all of these traditions in such a short space of time! I hope there are many more to come.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Samsun we a'go
"What's that?" I asked my host sister, Tuba as she unloaded three bags of cheese from the other car.

"More cheese" Tuba answered

"Oh, good, I was just thinking we didn't have enough cheese."

"You'll be surprised"  was her response to my sarcasm.

We were packing up for the family's road trip to Samsun, and I'm pretty sure the last thing we needed was another bag of cheese. Despite my personal feelings, however, I helped stuff over half of the trunk with the special white cheese found only in Edirne, and then filled the other half with our personal belongings.

After kissing Asli (she had to stay behind to study) and the maid goodbye. My host father started the car, and we were off. Our first stop was going to be in Istanbul, to spend the night at my host sister's apartment.
As it turns out, the term "apartment" only very loosely describes the place we spent the night in. In my experience, all Turkish dwellings are pretty nice, but Esra's was more like a palace, or a page out of a high end furiture catalog.

However, the power was out at Esra's place, so we went to spend the evening at her in-law's apartment, which was, if possible, even nicer. The living room was gold-themed, meaning that everything but the tv was gold: gold rugs, gold tablecloths, gold glasses in the gold cabinet. Sitting on gold couches we were served Turkish coffee from gold coffee cups.

Before we came, Esra's in-laws had already been expecting guests, so after a bit of rest. I went with the other young women to the kitchen to prepeare for the other guests.  I mostly watched as unbeilevable amounts of assorted baklava was arranged on plates and tea and coffee was prepared. Guests began to arrive and everytime the doorbell rang, we would emerge from the kitchen to greet them. I quickly became used to the routine.

When it was time to serve the food, I followed shyly behind Tuba, carrying two plates of baklava.  Finding the guests rather intimidating, I attempted to slip in and out unnoticed, but it wasn't to be. A few minutes later I was informed that they wanted to see me again.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Tuba asked, kindly.

"That's alright" I replied "I'm fine." Bravely, I made my way back to the room where several women in headscarves were sitting.  I put on my exchange student smile and attmepted to answer a bunch of questions in Turkish.

Afterwards, I came back to the kitchen, where Tuba congratulated me on my survival.  "I thought they were going to eat you alive" she admitted.

In the kitchen, we enjoyed baklava, then I helped make fruit salad.

Overall, My evening in Istanbul was a very nice experiece. I spent the night with Tuba on Esra's couch, and we woke up early the next morning ready for our last leg to Samsun.