Tag Archives: Turkey

Keeping silent – but when?

“One must either keep silent, or be able to utter a word more valuable than silence.”  This quote is attributed to Pythagoras, as far as the facebook platform where I found it.  Yet, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states the following on the philosopher: “Pythagoras himself wrote nothing, so our knowledge of Pythagoras’ views is entirely derived from the reports of others.”  My only intent here is to dwell on the consequences of keeping silent in some circumstances.  I, therefore, take the liberty of opting out on any argument on the unsettled issue around Pythagoras’ work.

Writing from the cultural angle of my home country of choice, I think back only few short days when there was frenzy over what food offerings to prepare for Thanksgiving.  While my daughter and I were reaching for essentials and non-essentials alike to put into our grocery cart before the holiday, the thought of hunger for too many in the world came back to me again.  The way it had before I became an adult in Turkey.  My brother and I were sitting in the front balcony of our flat, enjoying the delicious hot lunch my mother had prepared for us.  I don’t remember how old we were.  All I know for sure is that we were still going to the elementary school.  Our daily morning study period had just ended.  My mother wasn’t eating, only looking at us with her beautiful happy smile and, on occasion, down to the side street in front of our apartment building.  All of a sudden, her facial expression changed.  Then she told us in a hurry to keep eating our meal, that she would be back very soon.  A few minutes later, we heard the house door shut.  We got up to see what was going on.  She wasn’t in any of the rooms, the kitchen or the bathrooms.  We walked back onto the balcony, looked down and saw her: we were relieved but still curious.  She was holding a pot in her hands and a large spoon or ladle, and on her one arm, a large plastic bag was hanging.  She started talking to a woman in rags, with three children – also in rags.  Then, she opened the lid of the pot, took out some bowls from the bag, spoons, a loaf of bread and apples.  When all she took for those people emptied, she started back.  “They needed to eat,” she said to us.  Nothing else.

Our flat was on the fourth floor and the balcony’s front section had a rectangular metal plate for privacy.  No one could have seen us eating; or doing anything else, for that matter.  As for the aroma possibly soaring from our plates, it could not have traveled that far down.  But all that mattered to my mom was that “they needed to eat”.

Maybe it is this particular memory as to why I started to think of hungry people during all feast-focused celebrations in my country of birth.  And then again, long after I began to live in the States my most adult years, observing and living many Thanksgiving and other holidays.  I have never had to feel the pain of hunger, nor have I ever had to watch my child suffer from it at any point in our lives.  Still, the urge to feed anyone in need has always accompanied me.  The children, foremost.  Have I ever stepped out of my own environment to do so?  No.  Tragically, no.  Have I wanted to act out on my urge?  Yes.  An unconditional yes.  This yearning in me is the reason as to why my focus was stuck on two other recent facebook posts: another quote and one poem – two sources by famous authors of different national realms.

The quote I am referring to is claimed to have originated from Charles Bukowski and was posted together with an image (below) in association to his words: “We had decided to send medicine to Africa; however, the instructions on all said ‘take on full stomach’.”

The poem with the same sharp impact on me, once again, is about the adults-to-be, as composed by Aziz Nesin:

I want to weep,

I want to weep to such extent, children

that no tear is left for you to shed

I want to stay hungry

I want to stay hungry to such extent, children

that there is no hunger for you to endure

I want to die,

I want to die to such extent, children

that there is no death left for you.

Also the link where I ran into my lyrical inspiration had an image associated with it and the intended message – as in the Bukowski statement – speaks for itself:  

Not only risking but also actually deserving the brand as a hypocrite, I must say one thing out loud for once – breaking my own silence for whatever it is worth:  Whether it is for a holiday or a regular day, the amount of food and beverages I buy or consume is excessive.  Excessive to the point that many a times I could have walked out of my home, with my arms and hands filled with food I don’t need and taken them to others paining in hunger.  Not to have anything edible shipped to a far place, though.  For that step toward a larger scale is, to me, something that discourages many, forcing the mind to only note the immensity of such reach-out, and therefore, to abandon any and all desires to help altogether.  I rather envision myself on the next feast-oriented occasion doing what my mother has done for that mother and her children, a mere total of four individuals: Be present in person while enabling one hot meal in an actual human-to-human exchange.  I imagine the number increasing in affordable steps…

Keeping silent?  By all means; that is, when we don’t have anything to say that is worth listening or our time.  But not when we need a reminder to ourselves how breaking the silence may help us to stop for a brief moment in our whirl of self-indulgence to pander to those beyond our families, friends and acquaintances who are always well fed in the first place.


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Autobiographical Fiction, “Huban” – Part 3

Another picture: goodbye Afyon, welcome Sinop!  Goodbye black and white photographs, hello color!  My aunt (my father’s only sister, who could have used some physical features of her oldest brother) still underneath her head and shoulder cover as in the Afyon photograph, was looking up with eyes half-closed.  She was sitting next to my mom who had my newborn brother in her arms.  Several photos later, though, my aunt’s hair was in full sight, her face was a canvas for color-rich make-up and she was clad in a notably fabric-shy dress.  Sinop, however, was a tiny town!  “How come my aunt shed her head-and shoulder cover?” I asked my father the minute I got a chance.

“Well, Huban, the Turkish sea towns have always been different in many aspects.  Afyon is what it is: a place right in the heart of the rugged Anatolian land.  If my family had lived in southern Turkey, or at the Aegean coast, they would have dressed like those in Sinop.  That’s how populations adopted to the different landscapes of our country.  But in all honesty, I must tell you how I always coveted to be like the Sinopians: very comfortable with their way of life and what their women and men wear.  Afyon was never accepting to any variety in clothing for women.  So, when your aunt came to live with us, she didn’t know anything beyond what was there in Afyon to see and to do; she hadn’t seen anything beyond her birthplace.  Unlike me.  I lived and worked in Istanbul.  You know that.  I changed quite a lot after my life in the big city.  Especially, after meeting your mom, long before we were married, during our long waiting period.  Living with your mom changed your aunt also.  She opened up.  By the way, did you know your mom made her that summer dress?”


“She wanted my sister to keep up with the times.”

“I had no idea she could do that!”

“She could and did.  However, she wouldn’t even put it on at first.  Then, a couple of days later she wanted to try it on, only in her room and only to show your mom.  After a while, she wore it all the time!”

“What about your parents, Dad, and your brothers?  Weren’t they mad about how different she began to look?”

“Oh yes, they were all upset to get such pictures of your aunt.  But you see, as the only college graduate in my family, everyone always respected me very much, in what I did and was doing.  In any situation, for that matter.  So, they let your mom and me be; and let your aunt dress and live like the Sinopians.  You know your grandmother and all her female cousins were wearing skimpy bathing suits whenever they went on a boat ride with boys?  Not only your mother but her grandmother before her as well?  And this, not only as children but also as teens and beyond?  The locals have a saying: Sinop is the best place in Turkey for a woman to live in peace and full safety.  I am happy and proud my only sister was also able to learn modernity from us and this town.”

Since the subject had just come to my mom’s sewing skills–one among her numerous other talents-my father said: “In summer, when you have no classes, you should learn how to saw, to knit, to cook and to bake from your mom.  Like your mom.”  A proper upbringing must also mean to have sawing, knitting, cooking and baking abilities, I had concluded back then and wondered what my father’s advice was for my brother.  Didn’t Tamo deserve a proper upbringing?

My brother…With his birth weight of close to ten pounds, his simply beautiful, unwrinkled and white face, cute little nose –almost a duplicate of my mom’s, fully developed body –unlike my premature one, and gorgeously bald head (yes, baldness in babies was a must attraction back then, I was told many times), I was no contest for this darling creature who arrived here three years ahead of me.  At some point in my early years–but only after I had safely grown out of my ugly, hideous, hairy and skinny birth-shell, had my father confessed how my mother first greeted me in an almost muted utterance: “Oh, my unfortunate girl!”

I always concluded her reaction was about the obvious difference between Tamo’s beauty and my intense ugliness.  My father, though, would not say much on this matter.  Every time the subject of my birth came up, he was overcome with sadness for his wife and for his mother-in-law whom he had dearly loved and respected.  I, too, was overcome by sadness: my grandmother–only 48 years old–was at her deathbed with ovarian cancer at the onset of my mom’s pregnancy with me.  There had been too many records of deaths by this type of cancer on my mother’s side.  Still, she could not have ever imagined her own mother as a victim to this disease.  She could not talk with us about those days without stopping in the middle of her first sentence, not being able to collect herself to go on beyond.  She must have been traumatized by severe sadness, fearing her mother’s fate would also be mine–or her own, as it turned out to be.  This morbid sentence had struck her three female cousins around the same age as my grandmother.  I would have to eventually encounter the tremendous loss of my mother–she must have concluded, an ordeal she herself was facing when she was supposed to feel elated for expecting a new life.  In the way she must have felt while she was pregnant with my brother.

Ach, Tamo…

My brother’s favorite pass-time activity was to make fun of me about the type of novels I read (not very different than what I later found out to be our mother’s all-time favorite–pre-dating my birth).  It didn’t matter to him whether my choices were translations of the world classics, or the work of our own classical literary greats.  Sometimes he would almost scold me, announcing my disappointment would be of tragic dimensions if I kept dreaming up life’s realities under the influence of those “ridiculous stories,” as he called them again and again to my face.

I am no longer in contact with my brother and haven’t been for a long while.  If I had been, I would have told him in what striking ways my life events mirrored and continue to mirror those “ridiculous stories” he persistently frowned upon.  Moreover, I would have let him in on one most vital fact about me, one for which his most imaginative moment won’t suffice.  What a surreal extent our mother’s affection for and sorrow over the fate of the protagonist in her most favorite novel did and continue to intertwine with his sister’s–the life of his one and only sibling…

(Only this essay stops here.  As for Huban’s tale, it will continue.)

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Autobiographical Fiction, “Huban” – Part 1

I knew the story of my father’s successful pursuit of my mother too well.  How could I forget?  He told it so many times!  With his entire face engaged into what he was about to say, his hazel eyes larger than usual, faint eyebrows drawn upward, his mouth collecting water – almost to a short-distance spit, as it did most of the time while talking:

“The first time I saw your mother in her school uniform, I knew she was the one for me.  Soon after that very day, I saw her again.  In my boss’ office of all the places – yes, your grandfather’s!  His other assistant, seeing my dumbstruck expression, said in a flash: ‘She is Baytar Bey’s daughter.’  (Bey in Turkish functions like “Mr.”, though it cannot precede a name but rather must follow it.)  Not much later than a few weeks time, I was standing in front of your grandfather.  I looked him straight in the eye and told him I would never marry anyone else, if I could not have the hand of his daughter!”

A critical detail in my father’s story would somehow escape his recollection, namely my grandfather’s repeated rejections: “I have no daughter to give to that man!”  The insight into this minor nuance, as my father called it, was a true gift to me from my uncle, the oldest brother of my mother:

“We all forgot the count of how many times Father said ‘no’ or ‘absolutely not’ to your father, Huban.  But your father just wouldn’t give up.  Finally, months later, I believe it was even close to a year’s time, our father caved in and told your mom of your father’s quest to marry her.  By that time, she had been told the persistence of a suitor by one of her school spies.  She was naïve.  She had no such experience ever before in her life.  So, she was intrigued, even felt proud, I guess, and gave our mother the signal to tell our father her suitor could come forward.  None of us males in the family was supposed to know about this exchange between the two ladies in the open.  You know, I told you many times: it was just not proper to communicate about such things in mixed company.  Neither our father nor our mother would, of course, go ahead with any engagement plans before your mom graduated from high school.  They waited in the hope your mom would change her mind and reject this suitor too.  They were against this union for many reasons.  A fresh graduate with limited financial means, ten years older than your mom but also from a very large family with a conservative traditional household.  But hey, he turned out to be okay.  Still, don’t let him ever tell you or your brother how willing his in-laws were to have their daughter marry him!”

I loved my father.  A childhood legacy about me was proof to that.  I, as a two year old escapee from under my nanny’s hands –during a diaper changing ritual, of all possible times, marching onto the street of my parents’ temporary hometown in search of my dad’s office.  To be hugged and cuddled by him, I guess.  My mom was gone for the afternoon.  The nanny was, after all, no one to feel cuddly toward.  On the contrary, she was the cold-hearted woman who that same afternoon pierced my ears with a large pin used to sew comforter covers.  She was promptly fired, my parents told me a few times.  But, I had at least ear holes now to dangle gold earrings from, as was the nanny’s customary gift to baby girls –no matter how ripped my ear lobes looked!  Having snuck out without the nanny noticing me, I must have been dawdling from the narrow front steps of my parents’ home onto the street, when one good citizen recognized me as the little girl of the new veterinarian in town, making me into a personal delivery item.  I can only imagine the sounds I must have made as soon as my father’s arms reached out to me, most likely quickly grabbing some candy from his nearby desk to comfort me.  Yet now, I was going after this sweet man with the insight I got from my uncle long ago.

I would confront my father in loving tease at every opportunity I got with a sneaky, “I know what really happened, Dad!”  All along I knew too well the weakness he had for me.  I always suspected he would stop the world’s ills for me, if only he could.  Oh, I would play that card so often and with such mischievous pleasure.  Especially then, when he least expected one of my infamous truth attacks: the moment he dared to brag about his physical features complementing my mom’s–a natural and rare beauty.  She had blackish hair with auburn strands, flawless complexion, shapely and small nose (unlike mine), dark green eyes: an eye-catching, petite curvaceous woman –as I heard many people in and outside the family describe her looks.  As much as I loved my father, I knew –as did anyone else who ever saw both my parents together: his physique was in no way a compliment to my mom’s.

Auntie Hikmet, my mother’s best friend since childhood–a strikingly attractive woman herself–had known about my mom’s many good-looking suitors through her own connections.  Perhaps the most revealing account of my parents’ incompatibility in appearance came from her:

“I peeked behind the large wall separating the formal living room from the hallway that connected the family room to the second-floor kitchen, and I saw.  No one noticed me but I saw.  There they were, his hands, so dark, hairy and skinny.  His face, the same.  I started crying in quiet sobs.  Then, with caution, not to let the old bare wooden floor squeak under my feet, I started climbing up the steps of the first landing, then the long spiral staircase, to the top floor, into your mother’s bedroom.  I went out on the small balcony overlooking the vegetable garden, where your brother’s and your swing sets still stand.  ‘Is my best friend really about to marry this ugly man?’ was all I could think.  I let out a scream.  Your mother had no idea why I was hysterical.  She was out of herself from excitement that her promise ceremony was finally taking place.  That her soon-to-be fiancé was in her home.  Right then and there.  ‘But you only met him one time in your father’s office, amid a crowd of other strangers’, I wanted to shout to her.  She looked very happy, like I had never seen her before.  So, I told her I was crying because I had burned my hand while steeping the tea in the new teapot.  We were barely eighteen…”

A promise ceremony is a common practice, a tradition of some sorts rather, among many families in Turkey –in the countryside as well as the city.  Two involved families adopt to show each side their commitment to the intended marital union.  The men’s side is in charge of all the wedding expenses, while the woman’s side assumes the costs of the engagement ceremony.  Before any of those official steps are taken, a modest and informal rite takes place between the involved families in the woman’s home: the men’s family enters their future in-laws’ house with trays of chocolate and bouquets of flowers to the woman’s mother (only one large tray and one bouquet, if the family is small) and the promise rings for the bride- and groom-to-be as well as other jewelry items for the future daughter-in-law along with personal gifts to each member of her family.

Thistradition was something my reliable storyteller, Auntie Hikmet, never lived through.  It could not have even neared her household.  Not that she would have cared much for it in the first place.  She was quite a character.  Not into any formalities.  A bubbly personality through and through.  Had she been my biological aunt, I could not have felt closer to her.  She and my mother remained confidantes until death separated them.  I found out from her how she–after several years into my mother’s marriage, well after my brother was born–was finally able to accept my father into my mom’s family, the Sirvans.  The family that embraced her and that she took as her own after being shunned from her biological one.

(I hope you will visit again next Wednesday to read Part 2.)

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Sinop (General pictures)

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Sinop (Pictures from my flat)

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Sinopem (on WritersCafe.org)

[The photograph is posted here with appreciation and due credit to http://www.facebook.com/SinopKuzeyYildizi%5D

the homeland enters the main vein

her incomparable scent penetrates each body cell


one stunning aroma after another

thirsting for her, beyond any measure

in hunger pangs

captive in intense longing


etched in permanence into memory

my childhood in many of her spaces

carefree years of my youth

the magic of my early adulthood


in the flesh and the blood,

distant memories,

reappearing as experiences


one corner of homeland

distinctive delight

an all-embracing town,

in unison with the sea

unlocks the long forgotten.


There, where it stretches out

onto the cheery harbor

main street peeks into ancient-old tea gardens

and more sea hugs the salt factory:

Right there, Divan café,

as alert as ever before, eyeing the old prison of the inner bay

not bothered by its maturing bent

sated with ancient echoes from devouring local specialties

on a mouth-watering decorative plate

by my childhood eyes and arousing sighs

a huge piece of revani –befitting my sweet-tooth-fame,

topped with ice cream –vanilla beans,

delighting generation after generation after generation

eight in total, the loved ones of mine


farther away lies the artery of the town

extending the slender path to Ada, the famed island

a ribbon bouquet in an April 23rd  parade

Çocuk Bayramı, Children’s Festival

flowing, in sync with streets so open, alleys so hidden

sweeping from each home

a memory of mine

making one anew


my eyes locked on the path to Ada again

the town’s highest peak

one short look away to the left and the right

the sea struts its clear blue wealth and might, unabashed

like the beauty of the town’s women, young and old


and there,

a breath away

there, right before me

with its mysteries of my childhood

that spectacular house


its paint ashen hue

wooden bricks, all worn-out

still standing high in aging humility

vies to breathe a little longer

its decades-old glances down upon the sea,

a tenderness on the soil, of a new mother’s hands

on which its roots are spread, soon to finally rest

ornate windows reaching toward the immense blue of the sky

Alas! Dear beings of mine

no longer there to warm its insides


on the entry steps

my mother

ever so young

ever so pretty

cheerful, too

my heart then wanders on to the captive past

a child of very young years on the faded print

her father arrives from work

through one of the colossal front windows

seated next to her mother:

a briefcase in one hand

on his head a wide-brimmed fedora

flattering to his stately height;

the child glued to his leg

a very dear soul of mine

my grandmother, however, remains in the dark

I cannot pick her out  – have never known her

for all but one photograph

my mom next to her, her face, in the light

but, the baby on her lap

that must be the other dear being of mine

the one beloved soul in whom none of us could take much delight,

stricken by a fatal disease

bid farewell ever so young


next to me

the unique scent of my mother

the warmest warmth of her heart


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Sinop (Sinope)

Sinop has always transformed my psyche, taking my innermost self to a place of peace.  Its thought alone from a several-days distance where I live now quiets any turmoil I may feel trapped in at any given time.  Regardless of the “hell on earth” I lived there a short few years ago.  My memory – in harmony with my power of imagination, takes me back to the eight-story apartment building where my flat was.  I haven’t been back since the sale of my home in that land of the sea and the sun.  Yet, I often transit myself out of my bedroom onto the long hallway with a direct passage into my living room overlooking the sea, the Turkish Black Sea, to be exact.  I take in the spectacular view, breathe in freedom and begin my imaginary dance that the sound of the waves accompany.  My kitchen adjacent to my living room waits for me to wake up the various aromatic nuances a region-specific breakfast will lend it soon. Then again, hunger doesn’t visit me that early in the morning.  All of this happens in the memory, after all.  Before the locals get on to their daily routines, I sneak in a walk alongside the sea, all the way to the heart of the picturesque town.  I can almost see my shadow.  I had wished desperately to stay there for years to come.  So I believe to have left my shadow there instead.  I can almost spot my spirit still walking on high heels on the bumpy and hole-rich sidewalks up to and in the “Town Square.”  Selecting fresh fruit and vegetables from each stop, I am gliding in and out of stores and cafes, taking in -with an utterly overwhelmed psyche- everything that my senses can conceive of.  Feeling elated all the time.  Bursting with a yet unmet happiness.  My entire being shouting: freedom!

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