Saturday, February 26, 2011



Subtitle—Why the Turkish Marriage Process Will Give You a Better Understanding of Kafka Novels

I have had my head in the clouds. Literally. The weather in Istanbul has been rather indecisive lately—am I rain or am I fog? And so the air is teeming with tiny, itsy bitsy swirling drops of powdery droplets that no umbrella can defend you against. They belt you in the wind. They go down and then swirl up in an assault from the pavement. They settle when you’re not looking. They are small enough to slip through and inside any sort of protection you might muster, and yet large enough to soak you thoroughly in ten minutes. It’s like a mist with balls, and this is the weather that Delal and I were priveleged enough to navigate the Turkish bureacracy in.

Everything started off brightly enough. We both took the afternoon off together so that we could go down to the Evlendirme Dairesi and register a date for the wedding. Oh right, back up.

The Hallowed Evlendirme Dairesi

To get married legally in Turkey, you have to register for an official to marry you—whether at a place of your choosing (for which they charge transportation fees) or at the Evlendirme Dairesi.

‘Evlendirme Dairesi’ means ‘Wedding Bureau’. Each section of the city government has one (a fact which will plunge us into the mire of government red tape very very soon). The one in Kadıköy is a gigantic complex near the train station—it has four large wings that sprawl over the land like an octopus and is easily larger than City Hall which sits right next to it.

The Dairesi on a nicer day--imagine this under water

Turkey is obsessed with weddings—at times it seems that its the only socially acceptable question to ask—‘Are you married? When are you getting married? How long have you been married?’ An average Turkish street has a million different little eateries, yes, but is also flooded with wedding dress shops, with frightening benippled (Turkish mannequins have headlights) and faceless mannequins in the display windows spookily guarding the street. Perhaps the marriage questions are a slick marketing ploy by the wedding dress makers—how else could they hawk their billions of gowns to a population of millions without employing intense social pressure?

An elite cadre of Turkish wedding gown mannequins, waiting to be dressed unsinfully and patrol the streets

Kadıköy’s Evlenme Dairesi is conveniently located in one of the worst traffic nightmares the city has to offer. It cowers on the confluence of an entrance ramp to a major highway, a major station in the railway system for all trains East, an exit ramp for another major highway, two city bus stops, a pick up place for the minibusses all driven by people freshly released from the country’s mental health facilities, and one of the only public parking lots for miles and miles. And oh yes, the stadium for Fenerbahçe’s soccer club—one of the most popular in the country--is also right there. Running through all this is also the sparkling brown Shit River—which floats all sorts of cultural refuse to the sea and smells of a sewer. A quaint silver bridge crosses the river between Wedding Salon 1 and Wedding Salon 2.

My journey to the Dairesi to meet Delal is complicated by the fact that my school is about an hour away in the best of traffic. In the worst of traffic, and using public transportation (I normally go by a private school-sponsored van service), it can take two hours to get back to Kadıköy. I left school after my last morning class—around 12:30. I arrived in Kadıköy around 2:30. Now the Dairesi conveniently closes around 3:30, so while I appeared to have plenty of time, we hit our first snag....

The Paper Work—Turkey’s Contribution to Global Warming

To register a date to get married, both Delal and I had to assemble a mountain of paperwork which easily put several forests on the endangered list (Sorry Western Canada!). First, we had to procure twelve passport sized photos each. Then we had to have a full battery of medical tests and bring the results along with with an affidavit from the doctor officially certifying what the printout it was stapled to already clearly stated—namely that we were negative for Syphylis, HIV, Hepatitis B and C. Interestingly—if your interested in ignorance at least-- a few years ago, you only had to take these tests if you were a foreigner or marrying one—the assumption being that only slutty Westerners could get AIDS. In fact, one reporter apparently disguised herself as a prostitute and combed the streets of Istanbul offering random men very cheap sex (5 bucks). ‘I have to warn you, though!’ she said. ‘I have AIDS!’. The grinning boys’ responses were, ‘So what? I’m Turkish! I can’t get AIDS.’ This story could be an urban myth—I can’t imagine any woman in her right mind posing as a prostitute here for any reason--but knowing young Turkish men, and young men in general, and the Turkish attitude toward being Turkish, it’s in the realm of the believable.


In addition to the doctors report, we had to have our Identity Cards of course (for me a passport and a residence permit), and I had to provide a paper from my consulate that certified I was, in fact, single, which then had to be taken across town to the Istanbul Municipal Government office to be stamped by a series of zombie like officials—three in all, lined up in a row so that I could walk assembly-line like from desk to desk until I came to the frowny official in the middle of the room who had to sign off on all these stamps.

Well, when I arrived in Kadıköy, Delal informed me that the Dairesi had informed her that our medical reports had to be reconfirmed by a doctor at City Hall, even though the doctor who had run the original tests was officially recommended and connected to the city government. So we dashed over to City Hall, took a number, and waited for our turn so that a doctor in office four could ask us ‘Do you have AIDS?’ , stamp a paper, then send us to office number 7 so that a zombie woman there could finger type something into her computer, put another stamp on our paper, and then moan ‘Goooood Luck’ (She wanted me to offer her a fresh brain, I could tell, but alas, none was on me. And believe me she could have used one, either to eat or put in her head.)

So off we go, braving the traffic snarl to cross the street and return to the Evlendirme Dairesi where we take another number and wait our turn. Remember, it closes at 3:30. It is now 3:00. Also, in the Turkish government system ‘Closes at 3:30’ loosely means, hoping to have the building vacated sometime before 3:30—times subject to change--so they often stop serving you much earlier, without warning (as they did when Delal went to get her passport). We get a rather chipper woman with piles of curls pinned to her head who has apparently taken one fingered typing classes with the zombie woman who last handled my health report.

‘May I have your paperwork and IDs please?’

We hand the mound over with an audible sigh of relief—we were both sick of having to keep track of all of this.

‘May I have your names?’

She only speaks to Delal, of course, since all foreigners are mute clowns who can’t understand a word of Turkish much less be useful in any way. And I suppose she’s often right.

‘They’re on the passport and ID cards we just handed you,’ Delal answers.

‘Right. And how do you spell them?’

‘They’re on the passport and ID cards we just handed you.’

‘And where is the gentleman from?’

‘The United States,’ Delal says. ‘It’s in big gold letters on the front of his passport.’

There is a computer screen conveniently on the counter in front of us that allows us to follow everything she’s doing. She has to select my country’s name from a menu and has scrolled down to the U’s for ‘United’ I guess.

‘Excuse me,’ I say. ‘But the menu is all in Turkish. Shouldn’t you be looking under the Turkish name?’

‘Oh! You speak Turkish!’ she exclaims though Delal and I have been speaking Turkish the whole time.

‘Yes, and you need to go to the A’s for Amerika Birleşik Devletleri...’

She stays in the U’s. What does a slutty Westerner know anyway? Delal also encourages her to go the A’s. She wanders about in the U’s for a while and then finally relents and starts at the top.

‘Oh there it is!’

Around 3:25 she announces that we can finally select the day and time we want to get married and pulls up a list. We decide on the 17th, at 3:00 and miraculously, it’s available. (There’s a rush in the summer months—everyone clamouring for the weekends of June and July) Elated to be finished with this whole process we enter our selection at the same moment the woman says, ‘Oh no! Your residence permit is not enough to register you in Kadıköy! I’m sorry. Do you live in Kadıköy, Miss?’

Delal sighs, ‘Like my paperwork says, I live in Üskudar.’

‘Well then you’ll have to register in Üskudar, get a permission slip from them, and bring it back to us I’m afraid.’

‘But we both took off work to come here! ‘ Delal protests. ‘It’s 3:30! How difficult can it be? Üsküdar and Kadıköy are the same city!’

‘A woman at my school just registered last month using the same document!’ I protest.

‘There was a change in policy last week.’


‘There’s nothing I can do,’ she says smiling. ‘But the good news is Üsküdar’s office closes at 3:45. You have 15 minutes.’

MOTHER *&%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Üsküdar Part 1

Delal makes a quick phonecall to Üsküdar’s Evlendirme Dairesi and asks their closing time and whether or not if we actually arrive before that time, they will serve us. They assure us that they will, and so we leap in a taxi and tell him to ‘Hurry!’

This, in my opinion, is a word you should never say to a Turkish taxi driver. I said something about Turkey’s minibus driver’s in an earlier sentence. The taxi drivers are culled from a similar group of people. Turkey takes its most hopelessly insane mental patients, its most recalcitrant criminals—all its incorrigible maniacs essentially—and closes them in a small room without food or water until they start to devour one another with claw and tooth—then it releases them into the city with a cab. Our driver races so violently through the city along the slick streets in rush hour traffic that I am sure both our lives will end here and now—I love you honey! We were beautiful while we lived!-- but somehow he gets us to Üsküdar by 3:40 undecapitated. We rush into the office, completely out of breath and throw our papers on the counter in front of a startled head scarved woman.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘We’re closing.’

‘We have five minutes!’ Delal says. ‘I called and you said that as long as we get here before 3:45, you’ll help us!’

The woman sighs, glances at our papers, and then tells us to go next door to Mr. Kudret for a stamp to get the ball rolling. We thank her and rush next door. ‘Excuse me,’ Delal starts, ‘But we need a stamp or something from you to...’

Without looking up, the man says ‘You will come tomorrow.’

‘But we both took off work to...’

Still not looking up, in the same undead monotone. ‘You will come tomorrow.’

‘Please. We...’

‘You will come tomorrow.’

‘Thanks for nothing!’ I mutter. And then Delal and I stare at each other in utter rage, defeat, humiliation and frustration, our mounting mountain of paperwork clutched to our mutual bosoms.


We have a consolation nice dinner at a restaurant in the center of Üsküdar and take turns raging, as we eat our İşkembe Çorbası (Turkish menudo, that is, intestine soup—hey, it’s good!) This is part of our relationship that works like a well oiled machine. I will rave like a madman (or a taxi driver) and she will keep positive and tell me things will work out and blow things off, and then she’ll start raving and I will play the keep-it-cool nothing-worries-me guy until we are both raged out. We each get to let off steam, but are both calmed down by the end. If we raged together, we might end up burning down something.


Üsküdar is pretty in the rain. Above the shop rooftops, the spires of centures old minarets rise into the darkening sky. I watch a gang of cats crawl single file along the eaves of an electronics store. Right in front of the window where we sit a man charged a lira to refill lighters for passers by.

‘Why don’t we just do the ceremony in Üsküdar?’ I suggeset. ‘We have to register here anyway and it will save us the trip back to Kadıköy.’

‘Makes no difference to me,’ she says.

Well that will be more convenient.


I don’t sleep well. I’m reading a book about the history of the PKK to have an informed opinion about it. I have dream after dream of my house being raided by Turkish police who accuse me and Delal of being terrorists. They throw us in jail for murder. We insist we did nothing. But they have films of people who look nothing like us setting bombs and firing machine guns on Turkish troops. ‘This is you!’ they say. ‘You murdered Turkish soldiers!’

THE NEXT MORNING—Üsküdar, Part 2

The weather is the same. Gray. Dark. Wind and the fog that wants to be rain—occasionally turning to sleet.

I have only an hour before I have to leave for work (I have weasled the morning off and could have had the whole day except two other teachers are out—so I HAVE to be there) My timely arrival depends on me catching all sorts of dubious connections from Metrobus to normal bus to a possible taxi.

We arrive at the Üsküdar Evlendirme Dairesi about 7:45, soaked to the marrow. We had to walk there from the bus stop because all the construction for the subway line that will go under the Bosporous Straits is happening between the busses and the Dairesi, so the roads are closed and lined with ugly tin sheeting. We are forced to walk along the coast and right into the wind and rain raging off the sea. Waves pound. Ships rock dangerously in the docks. I am carrying a cheap umbrella, one that you can buy from Gypsies on any rainy day in the city for three bucks. ‘How many of those have you had since coming here?’ Delal asks with a smirk. ‘Oh I don’t know, five or six or...’ At that moment, as if she had cast a spell with her question, a gust of wind comes off the Marmara Sea, rips the umbrella out of my hands and smashes it against a sea wall. The handle breaks, the wires bend upward, and it gives one screech of metal against rock as it skips across the sidewalk and into the water.

‘Thanks,’ I say.

The only person in the Dairesi when we arrive is the janitor. He wears what looks like pink scrubs and has a bushy red moustache. He is surprised at anyone else being in the building. ‘Welcome!’ he says, putting down his broom. ‘You two are soaked!’ He is round like a hotair balloon with high girlish voice. He walks with a small skip and quickly takes it upon himself to give us a tour of the building. He shows us the ‘wedding salon’, a huge room that looks vaguely like a cross between a planetarium and a church. There is a stage draped in white and a huge dome of windows arcing over auditorium seating. Across the way is a ‘Garden Wedding Salon’ that looks vaguely like a traditional Japanese mansion. Windows look out on the Marmara Sea and the Palace of the Sultan across the water.

‘I like it here,’ I tell Delal. ‘I’m glad we decided to do it here instead.’

The wedding hall in Üsküdar

‘Actually,’ she says. ‘My Dad says we need to do it in Kadıköy. He thinks my relatives will have a hard time coming to Üsküdar from Kadıköy.’

Anyone remember the ten minute taxi ride? There are also about ten different buses, two or three shared taxis and several minibusses that go there in the same amount of time. But, of course, the Diaspora of her entire village lives a two minute walk from the Kadıköy Dairesi so Üsküdar basically feels like Texas for them (Texas by the way, is the default for Turkish speakers trying to say ‘the Sticks’) What can I say? It’s ridiculously provincial, but then one of my cousins back in Florida refers to anyone north of the Florida state line (even Georgians) as ‘Yankees’, so I have no room to rage about the extreme localism of relatives. In any case, if the officials arrive on time and there are no new problems and they speed us along our way, I should be able to make it to Kadıköy and work on time. (Fool! Fool! Fool!)

The woman arrives on time—the same head scarved woman as yesterday. Her scarf today is a bright pink pattern of roses. (Üsküdar is notorious for its religious conservatism by the way). She’s surprised to see anyone there so early. We give her our whole story in hopes of arousing some kind of sympathy that turns into speedy processing. She takes our papers one by one, tells us to have a seat, and proceeds to finger type the information into her computer, all the while carrying on two conversations with women on either side of her who have nothing to do.

Peck peck peck

After about fifteen minutes , she calls me up to the counter and says,

‘Your health report is from a Kadıköy doctor.’

I don’t like where this is going.


‘We need one from an Üsküdar doctor.’

A wide variety of murder options flash through my mind—my favorite being to stuff gas stained documents down her throat and then setting it on fire, or, covering her in raw meat and tossing to our vicious Kadıköy street hounds--but Delal leaps up, smiles ingratiatingly and begins to argue. ‘We are trying to register in Kadıköy but we have to register here first because his residency permit turned out not to be sufficient so we were sent over here with MY documents so that we could pick up a permit from YOU...’

And all the while I am sending a rather different tone toward the rose scarved woman with ‘angry thoughts’ as the school counselor calls them.

‘Are you crazy you stupid f%&%% twat? Is this a different goddamn country or two neighborhoods in the same F&%& city? Did I change blood when I crossed the heavily mined border into Üsküdar? Did I have sex with the AIDS infected army you keep there to guard against incursions from Kadıköy? Is that what you are f%% afraid of you sick, twister, bureaucratic, b&%&? DIE! DIE! DIE!’

Instead I give a strained chuckle and say, ‘The paperwork between America and Turkey is nothing compared to the paperwork between Üsküdar and Kadıköy.’ This is true. My paper from the consulate took five minutes and it was the only thing anyone wanted.

‘Let me check,’ the woman says and disappears for ten minutes. She returns with a sour face but good news. They will except my foreign Kadıköy doctor's report.

When all is done, we go next door to the accursed Mr. Kudret from yesterday who has reformed from the moisture and nutrients that gather in his predawn office. He’s a bald man with a shiny domed head who doesn’t look up when we come in and only mumbles a guttural oturun ‘sit’ in acknowledgement of our existence. He bends far down over our paper work and over the papers the woman next door has just prepared and goes over each line with a dull pencil with teethmarks on the eraser end.

‘There’s a mistake on the gentleman’s passport,’ he announces to Delal though I am sitting right there.

‘No there’s not,’ I say.

‘On his application form his last name is spelled Gibbs. On his passport it’s GIBBS. This could be a problem.’

‘Those are CAPITAL letters,’ I tell him.

‘Well is it an i or an ı?’

Oh yes, ha ha. Back in the first days of the Republic when Atatürk was getting rid of the Arabic alphabet and adopting a Roman one, he created a new letter, ı, the decapitated i, completely out of his own head to stand for a back vowel in Turkish. The capital ı is I and the capital i is İ. So my name Gibbs should look like GİBBS in Mr. Kudret’s world. But where’s that precious nanometer dot? Now everyone in Turkey has a compulsory 12 year education in English. Not everyone can learn the language, fine, but you would think a general awareness of the alphabet would be widespread among government officials, who also need a university education on top of that.

‘That letter only exists in Turkish,’ I explain. ‘No one else uses it. My passport is correct.’

After an agonizingly long moment of hesitation, he sighs, signs, and still without looking at us once says ‘May you have a happy marriage!’ And sends us on our way. This is the ‘Sevk’ form, a permission pack of papers from Üsküdar that we now have to take to Kadıköy in another harrowing taxi ride so that they can prepare a similar set of papers there and then let us register for a day to get married.

The woman at the Kadıköy Dairesi laughs at our troubles. ‘There has always been a little enmity between our two sections of the city!’ she says. ‘I’m surprised they didn’t send you both packing.’ She then pulls out her trust index finger and begins to type.

Peck Peck Peck.

A typing class! A typing class! Our first born child to give these people a typing class! But then comes our second and last piece of good news. I don’t have to stay. I’ve shown my face. I can run off to work and Delal can choose our date and time alone.

At lunch—three hours later!--she sends me a text message that informs me the deed is finally done.

‘We are getting married at 3:00, Sunday, July 17th.’


And all of you are invited.

And it's in Kadıköy

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Kurdo-Turko-Southern Engagement Party


Nişan—the engagement. I have been traveling the States with a ring on my finger these past few days. My seatmate on the plane—a woman going to Tucson to hit the Gem Show—schooled me on the system here. She says a ring on my finger indicates marriage, and it should be on the left. She also said that according to her very good girlfriend who studied in Turkey all the women wore burkhas and thank God I’m American. She also said I should have babies as quickly as possible.

There are certain ingredients that every successful nişan must have. Unfortunately, neither I nor Delal really seemed to have any idea what they were. Her grandfather, for instance, gave me the idea of providing gifts for her parents as explained in previous blogs. Of course, Delal had a better idea than I.

The first thing required was parents, in particular a father to say the all-important words to the bride’s father,’ Allah'ın emri Peygamber'in kavliyle kızınız Delal'ı oğlumuz Jeff’e istiyoruz.’ In English, ‘by the command of God and with the consent of the prophets, we request your daughter Delal for our son, Jeff.’ (This bit necessary despite the fact that her father is an atheist and grandfather an Alevi) With my mother in Alabama and my father ‘with the mercy of God’, as the Turkish euphemism goes, we had to find a proxy. Delal chose my good friend and housemate Padraic. Ideally, the man speaking as my father should have been older than me, but elders are getting harder and harder to come by and since Padraic was taller and had more gray hair than me, it amounted to the same thing. It was between him and Ekrem, who often acts as if he is everyone’s wizened grandfather, but I was not a hundred percent sure what Delal wanted done, so I mentioned nothing to Ekrem and left the recruiting to her. In any case, I will, to the day I die, always assume that people shorter than me are younger, and people taller than me are older, so Padraic was a good choice. He spent two weeks memorizing and practicing the phrase—which also involves some ruminating and ‘the love that has sprung up between these two young people’.

For engagement day, the weather took a sudden turn for the Arctic. I met Ekrem around five o’clock down by the metrobus station.

‘So have you bought chocolates yet?’ he asked.

‘What for?’

‘The groom’s side always brings these things, Damat!’

We walked shivering and huddled toward each other in the cold toward the nearest bakery—the Kara Fırın (Black Baker). He kept calling me ‘Damat’ or ‘groom’. How do you feel, Damat? How many chocolates do we need, Damat? We settled on a box of one hundred and sixty which he generously paid for. Then we bought flowers from the Gypsy man at the bus station. I chose white daisies mixed with lavender, because I knew Delal hated red roses. The Gypsy approved then poked me with the bouquet. ‘Kommst du nach Deustchland?’

‘Whatever you say,’ I answered.

Now Delal told me to make sure everyone was there by eight. When I asked her grandfather (hereafter referred to as Dede) what time I should be there he said, in typical Dede fashion, ‘Well I am not one to tell others what to do, I mean, what do I know? But if I were you I would show up at six o’clock.’ And so I did, thinking I would find just Dede and Zelal and we’d help set up tables or move furniture or whatever, but I discovered Delal not at home (she was at the hairdressers’) and in her stead, a whole team of relatives meeting me at the door, none of whom I had ever met before. So I hit the ground running.

Or kissing.

My first task was kissing the hand of Dede who sat grinning on the couch. I completely screwed this up, of course. Though I had not been nervous all day, I suddenly felt like someone had released the world’s entire population of monarch butterflies into my stomach and they were now spreading to other organs, until my whole body felt aflutter. Normally I should bend down, kiss Dede’s hand, then touch it to my forehead, but I got so flustered I just kind of mashed his fingers into my mouth like a dog play fighting. He laughed and pulled me up into a hug. Bright red at this point, I was introduced to a whole new set of aunts, uncles and cousins I had never met before. I immediately forgot all their names.

(A word about Turkish-and Kurdish-families. While we have one word for aunt, they have three. Hala is for your father’s sister, teyze is for your mother’s, and yenge is for the wife of your uncle. Now I can keep track of who is an aunt and who is a cousin, but I find it much more challenging to figure out who is the hala, who the teyze, and who the yenge. The same goes for uncle—your father’s brother is amca, your mother’s brother is dayı and your aunt’s husband is enişte. Generally, I have no idea who is who, which makes Delal think I am simply not listening. This occasionally bears a modicum of truth. Worse, when I try to just wing it, as, for example, when one of Delal’s cousins refers to Delal’s father as ‘Dayı’—I have to back calculate. If he is her dayı then she is Delal’s what which makes her father Delal’s what?)

Anyway, with introductions made, I sat on the sofa, made small talk, and rose to greet the next thirty people to walk in. This was when the category 5 nervousness really hit. This engagement party, what I was about to do, was not just some nod to tradition (as we had been making out for weeks). It was heavy. Everyone was here for me and Delal, and our lives were about to change forever. And it was like a veil lifted—for so long we had been so off-handed in talking about this engagement party. We made it sound like a game of scrabble or a night out for beers, but I suddenly understood how much more it was, how important to me, how utterly and uniquely special. I desperately wanted some of MY other guests--my side of the family--to show—yeah, to even the sides up a little, but also to share the moment with me, to lean on in my terror, to be a part of this-- but they weren’t coming for a while. I was ruminating on all this when Delal walked in and literally took my breath away—she was that beautiful. She wore the ruby necklace I had bought her in Syria and it lay gracefully against her olive skin. (I gave her that! I wanted to shout. See? I’m no cheapo!) Her black hair was wound gracefully in a spiral around her head and she was glowing, that warm smile of hers flowing like the Southeastern sun throughout the room. She was nervous, I could tell, but hiding it from her guests, and even from herself, by playing the magnanimous host.

I don’t often write about Delal. The subject feels a little overwhelming, and I feel like my own feelings for her are a vast secret continent which I am only just discovering, clumsily diving into the forests with a machete and a backpack full of ill-prepared provisions—potato chips in a desert-- but here I will try.

I watched her float about the room with a mix of pride, love, joy, and fear. I knew why she was there, I mean this whole thing had come about because she was going to give herself to me. The idea of this gorgeous woman surrendering her life to me (and me to her) made me shiver—was I good enough? Life seemed big all of a sudden, like when I was diving in the Philippines and I looked down and saw a deep cobalt blue below me and I knew that the bottom lay two miles down and then when I looked to the sides I saw infinite blue in all directions, forever, and I felt so small and fragile and the ocean seemed so majestic and huge and other that I felt that old, ancient feeling of awe, fear and joy and surrender and passion before something holy. I felt a little of that awe now in the face of what we were about to do. And this isn’t right, this isn’t really touching it. It was much quieter than this, the feeling I had. It was more like how in Raising Arizona Ed sits down to take a photo with the baby they’ve just kidnapped and says portentiously, ‘Now Hi, this is an awful BIG responsibility.’ She’s thrilled and terrified at the same time.

The rest of my people showed up at eight--Padraic and two other friends, Stephen and Cari. I looked around-- everyone had surreptitiously gathered into one room. ‘Canım,’ Delal said. ‘Honey, it’s time. You have to tell Padraic it’s up to him to start.’ I sent him a text message because he was so involved in conversation with Delal’s father—the two of them merrily lecturing other like mad—that I knew there would be no lull where I could discreetly hiss his name. But then miraculously a moment of silence fell.

‘I think it’s clear why we are here. Two young people have found love.’ This made me smirk—he was calling me young. But as he spoke, we all settled into a solemn silence and when he finished, asking Dede and Delal’s father for her hand, there were audible sniffles. I felt my own eyes start to water up.

‘Well Dede,’ Delal said. ‘Are you going to give me THAT easily or what?’

There was a possibility of a no. One of Delal’s cousins sitting in that very room had brought her fiancé home only to be told by her father that there was no way they were getting married. Dede smiled and said ‘I’m not sure the groom’s side has given anything worthy of you.’

Everyone whispers amongst themselves in surprise.

‘What do you mean, Dede?’ Delal asks.

He raises his hand and rubs his thumb against his fingers.

‘Money?’ I whisper to Ekrem. ‘Do I have to give money? Is that part of the tradition?’

He shrugs.

‘No one told me about this part? What the hell should I give?’

It’s been like this all night. Ever since I tried kissing Dede’s hand. No, that’s not quite right, Jeff. No, Jeff, don’t kiss her hand. Wait, why didn’t you kiss his hand? You forgot to do this, you have to do that. So here is another thing I was screwing up and no one had warned me about. With an embarrassed sigh I started digging around in my wallet and then Dede said, slapping his knee, ‘Şaka şaka!’ Just kidding! This was a little joke they had worked up at my expense. What cards! Ahem.

Then the rings were brought out, two bands of white gold (No Dedei, they are not silver!) tied together by a red ribbon with gold trim. Delal and I stood and faced each other. Dede took each ring and placed it on our fingers. Then he stretched the ribbon out and snipped it in two. This was it. We were engaged. Her father—a man not known for his gushing emotion to say the least—pulled her into a tight hug. ‘Kızım!’ he said, blinking back tears. ‘Kızım!’ He seemed at a complete loss for words. The whole room was in tears--Ekrem, her family, my friends—the all formed a line and one by one came up to us for a kiss on both cheeks and a hug for the special ones. (There was so much kissing and hugging this night that I felt it had become a kind of sport—we kissed on greeting, after the ribbon cutting, and then on leaving as well—and several times in between just for the hell of it.)

After this we ate, talked, laughed, and had an all-around good time. Surrounded by the warmth of friends and new family, I felt a feeling I rarely have in life—contentment. Stephen played guitar while Cari made up a song on the fly about mine and Delal’s first meeting. ‘He was a CIA agent!’ she crooned, in tribute to Delal’s weird assumption that I worked for the CIA when we first met. ‘And then she rocked his world! This beautiful girl.’ Zelal translated as Delal and I grinned. Delal’s dad talked about the evils of capitalism to Ekrem, perhaps capitalism’s number one fan. He also baffled the boy by quoting Socrates at one point.

The various halas, teyzes, and yenges amused themselves by piling my plate with food, and the food was excellent. I had made deviled eggs (everyone kept demanding the recipe) as my own little insertion of the South into the proceedings. Delal’s mother had made helva and Kurdish katmer—a kind of layered pastry with dried fruits and onions. Her aunts had brought börek and a Kurdish bread called pirgaç. We had cakes and salads and wine. I gave Delal’s father his book on the banality of evil and he actually beamed.

The last event of the night was the eating of the ribbon that had been tied to our rings. I gave it to the single men, Delal gave it to the single women. Traditionally they had to nibble a piece off and swallow it, but most of the girls said 'There's no way I'm doing that' and stuck it in their pockets. The boys were more daring.  Papa Padraic even gnawed off a cord and swallowed it all proper like (although he wasn't convinced that the whole ritual was not just another joke at the expense of the poor foreigners)

I had been nervous for weeks about getting married. That Friday I had broken down at school and blabbed everything I’d been thinking to one of the other teachers—another foreigner who had married a local many many years ago. I hadn’t even realized how freaked out I was. But now I was calm. And it still hurt to look at her, at Delal, but it was a good pain, one it made me happy to have.

I remember a meditation I did a long time ago with a German monk in the Thai Buddhist tradition. His name was Stardust and I thought he was a complete goofball, but he had some wisdom. He had given away his company in Berlin at 40 years of age and wandered the world seeking truth—walking with nothing but a robe and a begging bowl from the Southern tip of India to the North. This man never quit smiling. In the meditation, he told us all to imagine our hearts on the outside of our bodies instead of on the inside, completely exposed and vulnerable, fragile, delicate. We would feel every breeze and every touch of sunlight a thousand times more powerfully than we’d ever had because the exposed tissue was that sensitive, that raw. That was love, he’d said. It made everything hurt. That’s the kind of love you should strive for.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

SNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A brief break between engagement party blogs

ABD kar fırtınasına hazırlanıyor-02.02.2011
One must have a mind of winter....

Last night, I lay at the bay window of my Chicago hotel room, upside down, and watched the snow rage down. The way the flurries were lit up by the sodium lamps made the lamps look as if they were surrounded by billowing white skirts. At times, the wind was so powerful it howled around the hotel making the snow fall up rather than sideways or down and sometimes the whole window went white. It was gorgeous. On the way here in the service bus, we saw a small baby rabbit rush into the snow drifts.  One of the women on the bus with a strong Jersey accent lamented 'It's real sad.'

So I arrive in Chicago almost to the minute that the most intense storm in decades descends. There are warnings of tornados, 'thunder snow', sixty mile per hour winds, blackouts. I love storms. And I love the way these kinds of minor disasters create this camaraderie, a kind of bubble society of the people trapped together. The people at the airport were extremely helpful, rushing out into the storm to see if our bus had arrived. They set up hotel reservations for us, gave us vouchers for reduced price--sometimes American service can be the best in the world--after years of dealing with foreigners and living in foreign countries where the US is almost always an object of criticism, it's nice to come home and feel proud of something.  The Turks are fantastic hosts. We are fantastic service providers--usually.

And there's an American style of camaraderie with strangers that I like.  On the bus, everyone was talking up a storm (ahem!), cracking jokes, and making plans to have dinner together--me, a the New Jersey accented woman who, as it turned out, lived in LA; an old Texan farmer and a Mexican American business man all hanging out together...