24 January, 2010


backdate: 23 January

One of Seçil's relatives arrived at Asti to pick up the carry-on i brought from America for them, and kindly gave Emin and i ride to his home on Mesnevi street. The Okutans welcomed me warmly with traditional Turkish hospitality and a delicious dinner. First came a lettuce salad and hot yogurt soup, followed by potatoes stewed with meatballs in a delicious sauce. Broccoli was cooked with lemon juice and garlic. Emin's mother set before me a plate of pilav, the traditionally prepared white rice dish, and then a pudding made of rice and milk. By custom, it is impolite to refuse food. Emin's family is a bit more progressive, but still, it was nefisti - delicious. Dinner conversation was mostly in English - since i had arrived just hours before, they said they didn't expect me to show much skill with Turkish.

After the meal we sat for a while around the television - discussing the pervasive role of politics in Turkish society - a role felt more deeply here than in America, perhaps. In 1923, following the defeat of the Ottoman empire in WWI, general Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern Turkish Republic, moving the national capital from Istanbul to Ankara, at that time a small provincial town, to escape old-regime associations. The belief that the Turkish government should be wholly secular is referred to as 'Kemalism' - and has, since its foundation, been continually challenged by the pervasive role Islam in daily life. In addition, the drastic gradient in development and economic prosperity from east to west within the country, and the presence of Kurdish, Alevi, and other minorities within society creates a diversity of voices: while only four parties hold seats in the national assembly, a total of fifteen were represented in 2007 elections.

Of course, politics isn't the only thing on TV. Music programming is common - and it only took ten seconds to recognize Turkish public television. Some things look the same the world over.

Later that evening Emin, his brother Ozgür, and i met with Arda, a UMaine graduate student who lives just up the block from them, and walked the streets of the Çankaya neighborhood. Emin observed this as a strange convergence in his life - describing the feeling when people from one period appear in a new context, blurring lines between social circles and overlapping threads of time. "It feels like i'm walking to Woodman's again," he said.

We sat and drank tea at a cafe, then moved to a basement bar with a clientele not unlike Woodmans: for the first time i saw long hair and dreadlocks. Turns out there is only one Turkish beer, Efes, though it comes in several flavors - including Efes dark brown Kahve aromalı. Yep, coffee flavored. Alcohol and caffeine merged neatly in one drink.

Back at Mesnevi street, i called home for the first time. Emin and i planned for the next day, and i rolled into the bottom bunk in his room. When he climbed into the top bunk i couldn't tell if it was reality or a strange dream.