More is Happening in Istanbul

Dear Friends,

So much has happened in Turkey since I wrote to you last.

As I type my heart is pounding and my fingers are rushing on the keyboard to tell you the news. I am in the midst of emotions. I follow the news on social media and from the personal accounts of my friends who are out there in Istanbul and Ankara diligently and persistently working to have their voices heard by the State and the mass media.

Something BIG is happening in Turkey. I feel joy, fear, hope… This is how a revolution must feel. I am so lucky to experience it in my lifetime.

From Occupy Gezi's Facebook Page
From Occupy Gezi’s Facebook Page

Although I am geographically far from the heart of the resistance, that is Taksim Square in Istanbul, my heart leapt with the crowds when I hear that the police once again entered the Gezi Park and are spraying people with tear gas and pressured water.

Our Prime Minister says that the people in Gezi Park and the protestors in other parts of Turkey who support the Gezi Park Movement are looters, a bunch of vandals and alcoholics. Obviously our PM didn’t go to the Park. Because the people who are resisting in the park are the most well educated, most creative, most open-minded and progressive people of Turkey. They have the wit and humor to turn the Prime Minister’s insults into a tool for identity politics. They are not unlawful citizens as the media broadcasts.

They have the ability to differentiate the common cause from their personal beliefs. The differences between religious, ideological, socio-economic status are put aside in the Park. The common cause has become the most important thing now. They demand recognition and respect as dignified citizens of the country.

Since this morning my heart has been pounding like crazy.

Pasifist Activists of Gezi Park
Pasifist Activists of Gezi Park
http://www.internethaber.com

I got on the Internet and saw that police intervention has begun again in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.  A group of so-called “protestors” threw a Molotov cocktail at the police and the police responded by weakly pressurized water to the “protestors”. All the mainstream media was there with their live TV equipment ready to broadcast the act of “Gezi Park protestors attacking the police. It was planned by the government and the security forces to provoke the resistance movement. The Molotov cocktail bombs being thrown by plain clothed policemen at other security forces around Gezi Park were explosive and loud.

When the “provocation” started the Occupy Gezi protestors came out of their tents to see what all the noise was.

Then something unexpected happened. The people who make up the Occupy Gezi movement, instead joining the provocation against the police, they remained calm and joined their hands to make a large human circle around the provocateurs.  Police remained outside of the circle and the provocateurs were stopped by the real protestors.

Meanwhile the unrest has spread to the whole country. The Prime Minister Erdogan has been arrogantly misinforming the nation about what is actually going on. The State is acting indifferent and completely ignoring the people who are out there. Mass media continues to broadcast Prime Minister Erdogan’s speeches (four or five times a day) where he marginalizes and humiliates the people who are protesting and declares them to be looters, vandals, unethical people who have no respect for religion or the law.

If Turkey has one soft spot, it is religion. If you want to divide the country into two camps all you have to use is religion. Many politicians have been using religion successfully to create polarity and hatred in Turkey. So now, the Prime Minister is telling to the rest of the nation that these people drank beer inside the mosque even though soon after his speech, the Imam of that mosque came out and denied the statement. Then, PM Erdogan said that the ladies who wear headscarves were harassed by the people who protest. Again women in headscarves stood up and denied PM’s statement.

These are known tricks. People from all walks of life are streaming into Taksim Square to demonstrate that they are not buying the lies.

During last 5 days, when there was no police intervention, the park became the home for all kinds of groups in Turkey. People from different religious, ideological and economic backgrounds are camping together in the Park. They are curious about each other and have learned to listen. There were mass yoga classes being taught. There is a free library created. A medial clinic for anybody who needs care. All kinds of volunteers are there. Doctors, teachers, lawyers, writers, artists…

Some political parties and ideological organizations are there in the Park as well, trying to capitalize on and possibly hijack the Gezi Park movement. They hope to appropriate the momentum and energy of the people for their own agendas. Yet what I have seen up to this point is that people will not accept to be reduced and be used as a tool for any exiting ideology.

There is now one organization called Taksim Solidarity, which aims to represent all the people in Gezi Protest movement. They submitted the demands of people in the Gezi Park movement to the state. In their declaration they demanded freedom to use and defend the public spaces without being considered as a threat.  There has been no response from the government’s side so far.

As I write you this I am receiving messages, hundreds of messages written by my friends and family that police attacked the Park with pepper sprays, tear gas and water cannons again. So many people are injured and one is having an asthma crisis. Gezi people were going to give a speech to the press today but now they can’t even open their mouth to say a word. The Park is under such a gas cloud that people from Bosporus Bridge (5 km away) can see it. Meanwhile the attorneys at the main courthouse who wanted to defend the Gezi Park Movement and talk to the press have been attacked by the police and fifty of them been arrested and detained. During the arrest of the attorneys a lot of police brutality has been witnessed by everyone around the courthouse.

https://twitter.com/glrdamla/status/344416998840741888/photo/1
In front of the courthouse-today

The brutal attack to the lawyers and their arrest is viewed by the Gezi Park movement people as a clear message, that they have no legal protection and that they should stop resisting in no time. There is not a word from the Prime Minister about the future of the Gezi Park; neither an apology for the disproportionate violence police exercised over people for the last two weeks.

Yet something has changed and there is no going back. I can feel the pulse of the whole nation from here, across from the sea. Gezi People and their supporters all around Turkey need your help and support more than ever. Please keep spreading the word and telling the truth about what is actually going on in Turkey.

This is another struggle between people who believe in power and people who believe in dignity.

I believe dignity will win soon or later.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said: 

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Human Circle
Human Circle
human circle
human circle

RESIST ISTANBUL: A personal story

This is a piece -her personal story- written by my dear friend Deniz Erkmen on the recent Social Protest Movement (Occupy Gezi).  If you are still curious about what is happenning in Istanbul (well by now it is whole Turkey) please keep reading!

Thank you so much for your support! 

Görsel
From Occupy Gezi’s Facebook Page

 WHEN THERE IS NO OTHER WAY BUT RESISTANCE! 

A personal account of the early days of OccupyGezi

Deniz Erkmen

At home in Istanbul, grading student papers while trying to follow a continuous facebook updates of events, I am getting more and more anxious to leave. It is impossible to concentrate. I read few lines from the paper, stop and think “do I have vinegar at home”? I read a few more lines, stop and wonder “does the pharmacy sell gas masks?” Not able to sit any longer, I call, text and facebook message a few friends; a marine biologist first, a graduate student in history second, then a film director and an environmental engineer… Everyone is planning to head to the Taksim square. I pack some vinegar and a bandanna into my backpack; I make sure I wear sneakers so I can run fast and I leave home not quite sure what is ahead of me.

At the ferry terminal, I greet my friend who just walked there from a meditation workshop. Aslı and I originally met at a yoga class. A month ago, we were at a yoga retreat together, in a small peaceful green campground next to the Mediterrenean. We look at each other, half worry-half smile. Life is, indeed, strange. I notice that her friend has flip flops on; in my mind I go “who will wear flip flops to a demonstration like this?” But this is what happens when you have young writers, yoga teachers, and filmmakers in an uprising. We are not that experienced when it comes to fighting police on the streets; it has not really been our cup of tea until now. But in the next few days, we’ll get our training.

My generation – people born mid 70s to 90s in Turkey have been categorically defined by their apoliticalness. Born around and after the military coup where many activists have been jailed and tortured brutally, many of us, unless their families were activists, have been socialized to avoid “politics.” Demonstrations have been dangerous affairs in Turkey and we have been taught by our families to stay away as much as possible. While this has changed over time to a certain extent, that socialization is strong and has created certain political habits of avoidance. Combine that with the general distrust towards established political institutions that is the trademark of the postindustrial generations and an unresponsive system without many functioning channels for participation, you have people who are not very positive about the possibilities of change through participation.

Then why are all my friends walking towards Taksim? What happened? Why would someone like me, someone who hates crowds, feels slightly awkward when she chants the slogans of the Turkish leftist parties, who flees the city whenever she can to rockclimb, would pack vinegar and a bandanna and walk towards a square where she is pretty sure she will get tear-gassed, maybe even worse?

https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net
https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net

At this point, I have already been part of the activities that have been going on to protect the small park, Gezi Parkı, at Taksim square, which is the social and political center of Istanbul. The park is, comparatively, tiny. Don’t think Central Park or Hyde Park; it is probably not even 1/10th of those. But it is the only green space in this very busy, very urban square. The Justice and Development party (JDP) government has decided unilaterally that they were to turn the park into a shopping mall in a replica of an Ottoman military barrack, even though there are multiple malls in walking distance or a few metro stops away. An association and a platform was formed around the issue and they started organizing and gathering signatures to protect the park.

This attempt to destroy the park was not an isolated case of transferring public property for private development. It was just one incident among the ongoing attacks from the JDP party directed towards public spaces, including not just historical buildings, city squares and neighborhoods, but also forests and national parks. We have been witnessing an ongoing destruction over the years. Just in the last few months, amidsts protests, a beloved pastry shop in a historical building was closed and a cherished movie theater was torn down because they were in a historical building that was sold to be turned into a shopping and entertainment complex. The groundbreaking for the third bridge over Bosphorus which is expected to cause enourmous environmental damage took place against opposition from citizen initiatives and professional bodies. The law to open up national parks to development was just waiting to be discussed at the parliament. We were sharing our concerns among friends and on social media, but were joking about how we couldn’t keep up with the speed of destruction.

Nor was the style new: pushing a big urban project that has no public support, that does not make sense from a public service or urban planning perspective, without any regard for objections coming from the civil society. Tayyip Erdoğan’s version of “democracy” meant that since he was elected and has majority in the parliament, he could do whatever he wanted, however he wanted it.

The governing style was indicative of an increasingly authoritarian and arrogant JDP party that was single-handedly pushing a conservative and neoliberal agenda. On the one hand, there were ongoing series of policies that were enacted that caused fear about state intervention in people’s lives and choices. There was the discussion about banning abortions and stories about women being mistreated in state-hospitals when they went in to get abortions; then the PM demanding families to have three kids. There was the overhaul of the education system with the goal of raising “a religious generation.” There was the ban on alcohol consumption between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am along with a ban on all alcohol advertisement. There was a growing sense that the government was trying to push a life-style and fit the public into a conservative mold.

On the other hand, the problem was not just about our fear for our life-styles. It also looked like the PM was using these interventions to distract everyone from major issues and to woo his followers by emphasizing the party’s conservativeness. In the meantime, democratic deficits of Turkey just continued to exacerbate. Turkey became the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalist in the world. The mainstream media was silenced and the judiciary became an ally for the executive. There was no way to oppose the JDP. Lastly, on May 11, there was a bombing in Reyhanlı, a town on Syrian border, already tense as a result of the civil war in Syria and Turkish government’s support for the opposition forces. 51 people were killed and the goverment reacted by banning the media from reporting on Reyhanlı. 51 people dead, 140 injured and we couldn’t even read about it in the papers.

While these were happening, people around me were getting more and more frustrated. We joked among our friends about how we couldn’t read the newspapers in the morning because we got too depressed to do work; and how we coudn’t read them at night because we lost our sleep. I felt like I was pushed into a corner by the increasingly conservative and authoritarian politics of the JDP, that I had no place to live and breathe in this country. I was feeling suffocated. Suffocated in this once majestic city where I was born and grew up, whose streets I have walked for years. Constantly afraid that any building, any street, and any nature area in other parts of the country that I loved and cherished was about to be destroyed. Voiceless, powerless; I felt helpless and I was angry not just at the government but at my helplessness. Gezi Parkı felt like a corner that we were pushed into. It was the last corner. It was small; but I could fight to save it.

So I followed the activities of the Taksim platform; I tried to spread the word over the social media. Then last week, on May 27, we got the news that the government sent bulldozers to start the construction. A small group stopped the bulldozers and on May 28 the police tried to push them out. The Gezi Parkı Watch was organized so some activists started sleeping at the park to fend off the bulldozers. People started to go to the park, including myself. The demonstrations were relatively small at first. In fact, I was not quite sure if they would ever get bigger. It was fun; people cheering, singing. A young, educated, colorful crowd, made mostly of anarchists, feminists, socialists, students, LGBT movement… Knowing that we are doing our best to show that we care about our right to this city felt good – but I also was not sure if we got any support beyond the park. And I was not sure what I would do if the police just kicked us out and tore the park down.

But when on the morning of May 31st the police raided the park at 5am, teargassed the demonstrators and burnt their tents down; when they continued to brutally teargas and spray people with water, even during the press release at the Taksim square couple of hours later, when a young woman was shot by tear-gas cannisters in her head, I instictively knew that there was no going back. To protest or not to protest was not a question anymore. The brutality, the arrogance, the sense of injustice was so strong and so in our faces that at last it boiled over. You push people back into a corner, and you keep on attacking, they would have to push back. There is a point where political protest is a defense as much as voice.

http://s3-ec.buzzfed.com
http://s3-ec.buzzfed.com

What has transpired after that has just been incredible. That night, on the ferry, we could already smell the teargas blowing in the wind from Taksim. We were afraid but we knew what we had to do. We joined others who were coming from all directions as we walked up Cihangir to Sıraselviler with thousands of people, people who looked, how should I put it, very regular. They have finished their work day, walked off their offices and met their friends. They were frustrated with the brutality, with the sense that their lives, their choices, their voices did not matter. They were frustrated about the arrogance of the primeminister. They were tired of feeling helpless. They wanted to breathe, live in freedom.

So they walked and chanted, in solidarity. I had friends who were walking from different directions towards Taksim Square that night and we all had similar stories to tell. Stories of cooperation and kindness amidst chaos. It was scary but incredibly uplifting. Are all street uprisings against police this friendly? These demonstrators were saying “sorry” when they bumped into each other while running away from a tear-gas cannisters. They were sharing their food and water, spraying each others’ teary burning faces with homemade antihistamine-water mixtures, carying one another, shouting “do not panic” while trying to remain calm under tear- gas fire, building barricades together. People were opening their doors and letting strangers in. Older people were shouting words of support from windows and giving protestors lemon, milk and vinegar (to help with the effects of the teargas). It felt like the people of Istanbul, who normally grunt and grind their teeth at each other in public, who elbow their way in and out of public transportation have realized that they actually live in the same city, that they can actually help each other and cooperate… That was the feeling – a moment of enlightenment: Yes, we live in the same city. Yes, we have the right to live like dignified human beings. And yes, we can.

Görsel

I am pretty sure that this is a turning-point in Turkish political history. A game-changer. Not because of what will come out of it as a result. I have no idea what will come out of these protests. I know that the aftermath of any uprising is chaotic; those that are the most organized have a way of hijacking the process; and established practices and habits do not disappear quickly. Moreover, a lot depends on the primeminister, whose reaction until this point has just been unbelievably, infuriatingly uncompromising. He is transforming himself into a dictator in front of our eyes and provoking his supporters in a very dangerous and irresponsible manner. So, who knows what will happen? I cannot claim to be overly hopeful – if things go downhill from here, there can also be a lot of disappointment.

But I believe that what we have witnessed in the past week was a break of political tradition in Turkey. There has been nothing similar in recent Turkish history, where so many people of different stripes came out on the streets voluntarily, spontenously, and have cooperated, coexisted and resisted together. This was a huge learning experience for all these “apolitical” professionals and youth who saw and experienced first-hand that if they act in solidarity – and they acted in solidarity; the socialists, the secularists, the soccer fans, the feminists, the Kurds – they can achieve something. That there is joy in solidarity and cooperation when you are fighting against injustice. That they can, in fact, use their strongests assets – their wit, creativity and love – against police brutality. Finally, we took to the streets and finally we are not afraid or helpless anymore. Now even my three year old niece says she wants to go out and join the resistance. That gives me some hope.

http://mashallahnews.com/
http://mashallahnews.com/

What is Happenning in Istanbul?

To my friends who live outside of Turkey:

I am writing to let you know what is going on in Istanbul for the last five days. I personally have to write this because at the time of my writing most of the media sources are shut down by the government and the word of mouth and the internet are the only ways left for us to explain ourselves and call for help and support.

Last week of May 2013 a group of people most of whom did not belong to any specific organization or ideology got together in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Among them there were many of my friends and yoga students. Their reason was simple: To prevent and protest the upcoming demolishing of the park for the sake of building yet another shopping mall at very center of the city. There are numerous shopping malls in Istanbul, at least one in every neighborhood! The tearing down of the trees was supposed to begin early Thursday morning. People went to the park with their blankets, books and children. They put their tents down and spent the night under the trees. Early in the morning when the bulldozers started to pull the hundred-year-old trees out of the ground, they stood up against them to stop the operation.

They did nothing other than standing in front of the machines.

No newspaper, no television channel was there to report the protest. It was a complete media black out.

But the police arrived with water cannon vehicles and pepper spray. They chased the crowds out of the park.

In the evening of May 31st the number of protesters multiplied. So did the number of police forces around the park. Meanwhile local government of Istanbul shut down all the ways leading up to Taksim square where the Gezi Park is located. The metro was shut down, ferries were cancelled, roads were blocked.

Yet more and more people made their way up to the center of the city by walking.

They came from all around Istanbul. They came from all different backgrounds, different ideologies, different religions. They all gathered to prevent the demolition of something bigger than the park:

The right to live as honorable citizens of this country.

They gathered and continued sitting in the park. The riot police set fire to the demonstrators’ tents and attacked them with pressurized water, pepper and tear gas during a night raid. Two young people were run over by the vehicles and were killed. Another young woman, a friend of mine, was hit in the head by one of the incoming tear gas canisters. The police were shooting them straight into the crowd. After a three hour operation she is still in Intensive Care Unit and in very critical condition. As I write this we don’t know if she is going to make it. This blog is dedicated to her.

These people are my friends. They are my students, my relatives. They have no «hidden agenda» as the state likes to say. Their agenda is out there. It is very clear. The whole country is being sold to corporations by the government, for the construction of malls, luxury condominiums, freeways, dams and nuclear plants. The government is looking for (and creating when necessary) any excuse to attack Syria against Turkish people’s will.

On top of all that, the government control over its people’s personal lives has become unbearable as of late. The state, under its conservative agenda passed many laws and regulations concerning abortion, cesarean birth, sale and use of alcohol and even the color of lipstick worn by the airline stewardesses.

People who are marching to the center of Istanbul are demanding their right to live freely and receive justice, protection and respect from the State. They demand to be involved in the decision-making processes about the city they live in.

What they have received instead is excessive force and enormous amounts of tear gas shot straight into their faces. Three people lost their eyes.

Yet they still march. Hundreds and thousands of citizens from all walks of life then joined them to support for the protestors. Couple of more thousand passed the Bosporus Bridge on foot to support the people of Taksim. They were met with more water cannons and more pepper spray, more hostility. Four people died, thousands of people were injured.

No newspaper or TV channel was there to report the events. They were busy with broadcasting news about Miss Turkey and “the strangest cat of the world”.

Police kept chasing people and spraying them with pepper spray to an extent that stray dogs and cats were poisoned and died by it.

Schools, hospitals and even 5 star hotels around Taksim Square opened their doors to the injured. Doctors filled the classrooms and hotel rooms to provide first aid. Some police officers refused to spray innocent people with tear gas and quit their jobs. Around the square they placed jammers to prevent internet connection and 3g networks were blocked. Residents and businesses in the area provided free wireless network for the people on the streets. Restaurants offered food and water for free.

People in Ankara and İzmir gathered on the streets to support the resistance in Istanbul. Demonstations spread to other cities where citizens were faced more brutality and hostiliy from police. Hundred of thousands kept joining.

Mainstream media kept showing Miss Turkey and “the strangest cat of the world”.

***

I am writing this letter so that you know what is going on in Istanbul. Mass media will not tell you any of this. Not in my country at least. Please post as many as articles as you see on the Internet and spread the word.

I do not belong to a political party. I don’t believe in politics. I don’t defend any ideology and I am not on the side of any regime. Like many others in Turkey I am tired and frustrated from the polarization between Kemalist seculars and the Islamists. I don’t belong to any of them. I believe in moving away from polarization and towards a new way of relating. I know many people who are out on the streets of Istanbul share the way I think and I know we are not the only ones. We just want to live our lives with human dignity.

As I was posting articles that explained what is happening in Istanbul on my Facebook page last night someone asked me the following question:

«What are you hoping to gain by complaining about our country to foreigners?»

This blog is my answer to her.

By so called «complaining» about my country I am hoping to gain:

Freedom of expression and speech,

Respect for human rights,

Control over the decisions I make concerning my on my body,

The right to legally congregate in any part of the city without being considered a terrorist.

But most of all by spreading the word to you, my friends who live in other parts of the world, I am hoping to get your awareness, support and help!

Please spread the word and share this blog.

Thank you!

For futher info and things you can do for help please see Amnesty International’s Call for Urgent Help

Görsel
Taken from Occupy Gezi Facebook page. Also used by Reuters

Remains of the Funeral

So we buried my father.

In the past I always thought that when people go through such emotional traumas, their minds would be so clouded that they couldn’t be aware of anything that was happening around them. A haze, I thought, would have surrounded them and they wouldn’t remember a thing once it is all over.

I was mistaken.

Now I know how the memory of every single word, and each and every hug remains in the mind crystal-clear. In the past when I went to funerals I used to think that my presence could not make a difference in the midst of the crowd. There was always this long line of people in front of the family of the deceased, everyone shaking hands and hugging them and saying how sorry they are. Most of the time I didn’t stay on that line and instead watched the family receive the condolences from a safe distance. I thought my presence would not make a difference.

Now I know that I was wrong.

Tesvikiye Mosque

My father’s funeral at Istanbul’s Tesvikiye Mosque was so crowded. It was crammed with people. Hundreds of friends came to say goodbye from all around the country. My dear father-in-law traveled from Athens early in the morning to be by our side. As I stood under the old chestnut tree to receive condolences, I saw so many old faces, some of them I have not seen since my childhood. In the eyes of them I saw my own grief. My friends from every stage of life were there in the courtyard of the mosque and I saw my dear students who always stand by me gathered in some corner.  There I met for the first time many friends and acquaintances of my dad whom I didn’t know. They shook my hand and offered their condolences.  I wanted them, all of them, to come and hug me. If they didn’t I searched for familiar faces of students and friends in the crowd so that I can have them next to me and give them a hug.

In the future when I go to a funeral I will know that my presence does matter. I will go to the front of the line and give a big hug to those who are in grief. Then I will say the words. Because now I know words  do matter. They matter A LOT.

I will say:

My Condolences,

May he Rest in Peace,

May he rest in Light,

May God bless his Soul.

My God, I never knew how these words were important! I knew never the power behind them. How they can make you feel better!

Now I as stand in the shady courtyard of the mosque under the chestnut tree, I am looking at the lips of people, with my eyes begging them. Please say the words. Not that I care about the meaning so much. The words become symbols for something. At least for me.  Now they mean something like Namaste.

“I recognize the suffering in you. My condolences.”

Then I want all of them to say: “May God Bless His Soul”.

What if one of them forgets to say it? I am scared. The more I hear people saying it, the easier would be my father’s passage. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter much. All I need is to hear it.

In the future, in every funeral I will go to,  I will generously speak of those words. I will say as often as I can “my condolences”, “may God bless his soul”, “may he rest in peace.”

Then from the mosque we are going to the cemetery. They will bury my father. No, it is not my father who they are going to bury. It is my father’s earthly body which he decided to leave behind. He left it behind and I don’t know where he went to. Nobody does. This is the biggest mystery of humanity. No science, no religion, no mystical system can answer my question. We the living, we are not supposed to know the answer anyway. That is how we are designed. Destined NOT to know.

Where is my father now? I don’t know.

Before we arrive to the cemetery they already dug a pit, which will become the grave. Now they are bringing the coffin nearby. They will open the coffin and lower the body into the pit.  I hear someone is saying, “The son should go down the grave, send his son down the grave!” There are men in front of me. I am moving them aside. I should be by the side of the den. They don’t want me to come close to the grave. It is not appropriate for women to see the dead body being lowered to the grave.

But I have to look at it.

I have to see it!

I have to make sure it is not my father who they are about to bury under the earth. For he never wanted to go under the earth. “When I die, please cremate me,” he said to us. “Then throw my ashes over to the Bosporus, over to the Aegean sea from Halicarnassus.”

That is not your body, Baba. We could not cremate it anyway. We stick with the traditional. Forgive us. For I needed the traditional Baba. For I needed to hear the words of condolences, I needed to stand next to bright faced Imam and pray, I needed a tombstone that I could visit in the future. I needed the mosque, the prayer, the cemetery….everything that is traditional about the funerals.  Call me selfish Baba. I needed them all.

Anyway, like I told you Baba, that thing they are burying under the earth, it is not you. You know, I walked to the edge of the den and looked carefully to make sure. They wrapped it with a white cloth. Head to toe all covered. It is actually a sack with strings on both ends. One above the head and the other around the ankles.  That white bag has nothing to do with you Baba. It could be a flour sack or something. So don’t worry. They are now lowering it from the coffin down to the den. It is a chaos down there, you should see. Are you watching? Everybody is saying something diferent. They are all shouting. They all have their own opinion about how to lower the body down to the grave. Now more people are saying,  “his son, his son should go down.”

They are pushing Selim forward. Selim, my dear brother, is a young man now. He is still as beautiful as a little boy. He is too young, he is too unprepared for all this. I should go down to the den, not Selim, but me. I am the one who is supposed to  place the body in the grave, not Selim. He is too little. Too young. Too pretty for all that .

But now before I know it, Selim  is already there, deep down in the grave.

Then my dear Baba, I don’t know if you can laugh up where you are, but if you can and if you were watching us I am sure you had a good laugh! Then two cousins of ours, second cousins but I don’t know them, they jumped into the den. You know that the grave is too narrow for a body plus three men. One should go apperantly. So for a while they argued about who is going to stay and who is going to leave. They argued like two boys, they pulled and pushed each other to win over. They wanted to bury their dear Dayi (uncle) together.

Selim is standing by head and these two are standing by the feet and all the hustle bustle is taking place next to your earthly body which you decided to leave behind! I want to pull both of those cousins out of the grave and jump in myself. I should be there by the feet. Not them. Selim should be by the head and I should be by the feet. Yes, that feels like the most appropriate way.

But I am not moving. I am not going anywhere. I don’t want to intimidate the bright-faced Imam. He is already tolerating my presence among men, watching the burial scene from the edge of the pit. But I so want to touch the body. I want to touch and make sure, one more time, that white flour sack  is not containing anything similar to you.

But I am not going anywhere. I can’t The tradition is holding me back, keeping me on the edge of the grave.

Later when I asked my brother, “how did the body feel inside the bag Selim? Anything similar to our Baba?” he replied  “No”. “It was hard and cold. Nothing like our Baba.”

You were always warm and soft Baba and your flexible ankles moved in their joints with such ease and softness. There was nothing hard and cold about you. Everybody knows that.

The sun is burning our skin in the quiet cemetery. Bosporus is ahead of us, down the hill. Its waters are summer blue and I can see the boats go by, I can feel the northern breeze coming from Black Sea. My silk headscarf is blowing with the Northern winds. Now they are throwing earth over the body. I am not watching anymore. I am standing next to bright-faced Imam. He has a beautiful voice. He is chanting in Arabic. My hands are open to the summer-blue sky, I am praying. I am not crying. If I don’t know where his soul went to, how can I cry for him? I can only cry for myself and at that instance I don’t feel like crying for myself.

We invited the Imam to our house for more prayers. It is right before sunset. Days are long. Now I remember how beautiful the summer nights in Istanbul were.  The winds bring the smell of seaweed and salt from Black Sea. Venus is on the horizon, moon is ready to take stage.

We put tables out on the lawn. Family and friends are all sitting together. I want more people to come. More more more. If more people pray for my father’s soul, he will find peace faster. I am worried that my dad’s soul has not found the peace yet. I can’t keep my eyes off  the gate. Why didn’t I invite more people? Why didn’t I insist? Still many of them are there. The more friends I have on our table, happier I am. I am also happy that nobody is crying. I want to say our goodbyes in peace and quiet. My mother and Mete babam is sitting on another table acroos from us, Selim is sitting with his friends. Where is Selva? Oh, how I wish Kokia was here with us tonight.

As the chanting starts I am moving into a comfortable position so that I can stay still during the chanting. If I sit still, people around me will calm down as well. I know that from my classes.

Then we all surrender to the prayer. Bright-faced imam is chanting Yasin. He says during the chanting of Yasin, whatever we pray for, God grants it to us. I pray for an easy transition  for my father and wisdom and insight for us the living so that we can differentiate reality from illusion. I want us to chant all together. I wish he chanted the simple prayers that we all know so that we can all chant together. He is doing only a few of them. We are chanting with him.

Hak la ilahe illallah, illallah

La ilahe illallah, illallah

Aylin is sitting next to me. She knows the Arabic prayers by heart. She knows not only the words but also the melody. Listening to her reciting the prayer next to me is so soothing, so relaxing. I hope she chants and makes us chant these prayers when it is 40th day of my father’s death.

After the prayer, it is time to break of the fast (we are in Ramadan month). We are offering food to our young Imam and then eating all together. On our table we are chatting and laughing. We are eating sweet Halva. We all know life still goes on long as it goes on. My mom is wrapping her arms behind me and kissing me as I chew the sweet halva. Halva of my father. Who would have known? I am looking at Selva, my father’s dear wife for 30 years, his soul mate. There is acceptance in her big brown eyes. Selim is smiling at something that his friends are telling him.

It is dark now. The moon is hanging above us, some kittens running around to eat the food we left on our plates. The lights are turned on around the swimming pool. Imam is gone. It is just us now. Minus my father.

Ah, if only we were able to differentiate reality from illusion!   For now all we have to do is  to keep on walking while thinking dream we are living is the reality. That is what we the living is designed for at the first place. To  live  in a dream.

For the next couple of days I am living as an addict. I am addicted to my phone and to my laptop. I am thirsty for every single message, email, any comment under my blog-post, phone calls. Anything would take my thirst away. My phone keeps ringing. I have no energy to answer neither to speak but seeing the names of friends flashing on the screen of the phone is enough to make me happy and strong. I want my inbox to be overloaded with messages, my blog-post to be read by the entire world.

That is how I am feeling.

If the father of a friend dies in the future I will overwhelm her with my messages, that is for sure!

And slowly I am realizing the death around me. So many of my friends had lost their fathers and mothers and siblings and other loved ones. There is not a single household where death has not paid a visit. I am realizing this slowly. Now I want everyone to tell me his or her story. How did you father die? How old were you? What did you do? Tell me. I need to hear, over and over, that this pain is not mine, it is shared by the entire humanity. Tell me how your father died. And they do tell. They say it is like losing your ground, they say it is the like being an orphan, they say there is so much to learn, they say that I will feel him next to you the more than ever, they say it is the biggest gift he can give to me…They know. They are the daugthers, they are the sons of the fathers who died.

But on  the other hand, I know and they know that my pain is my pain. I am alone in my grief. My father was my father. The bond I lost is one and only in the universe. It was between him and I only. Now in the absence of that special bond and I am lonelier than ever. We are all alone when we suffer for our unique losses. That is why I want to stay on my own at nights. I lay on my bed in darkness. I am hung loose in space. Then I am crying. Only when it is night.

Now I am back in Portland. I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop as I write you this. Earlier this morning I did the usual things. First I did my own practice, then I taught my class, then I came for coffee and I am writing. Things I do are the same but life is not. I know that life will not continue in the same track anymore.

Tracks are switched.

I will not get used to it.

I should not get used it.

It is time to start all over. A brand new life. Clean and fresh. Softeneby the loss . Colored by the grief. 

Now I know how much I need other people…

A new life with more love in it.

Photo: Aisha Harley

Farewell to my Baba

My father is dead.

I am staring at this sentence that I have just typed.

My father is dead.

This is my own father whom I am taking about. Not the father of a character from my novel.

My father.

“Come on,” says a voice in me. “There is NO way!”

The voice in me has been telling this since yesterday.

My brother, my mom, my friends, newspapers, they all claim the opposite but the voice in me does not stop.

“Come on, there is no way. There must be a mistake. My father, the Arab Kemal, who is always active, funny, social, who is always full of life… How can you think of him and death together in one sentence?”

No, the more I write the more I lose the connection with reality. These lines that I am typing must be from a story that I am writing. Soon I will send him the story and he will make one of his comments,

“Oh, you are so mean again Defnosh, you killed the poor father at the end of the story.”

No.

My father is waiting for me at the airport right now. He is wearing a dark blue Lacoste t-shirt which is showing his belly a bit and underneath he has his loose jeans with side pockets. He is sweating and hating it. He is huffing and puffing as he dries his forehead with a tissue.

I am all alone on a plane and travelling across the north pole.

My father is waiting for me at Istanbul airport.

While he is a waiting he is chatting with a friend whom he ran into at the airport. When I come out of the sliding doors he will stop the conversation and will look at me with a smile on his face. I will worry about the smile. Is he laughing at my hair, my eyebrows or at something I’m wearing? He is going to wrap his arm around me and we will walk outside. As if I have been there the whole time, as if we have been chatting for the last couple of hours, he will say,

“I am building this new bike Defnosh. It is turning out something magnificent. Wait until you see it. You are going to lose your mind!”

Then all of a sudden he will stop and ask in a serious tone,

“You did bring my lemon peppers didn’t you?”

As if Lawry’s lemon peppers are the most original thing one can receive as a gift from America.

“So how is your Greek now? Are you able to translate the lyrics of my favorite songs? You know I have been waiting to sing with my dear Eleftheria in the car.”

How on earth will I land at an airport where my father is not waiting for me?

May this flight never end.

May it roam over the poles until the time I am ready to land into a world in which my father does not exist anymore.

*

-“Defnosh, supergirl?”

-“Yes Baba?”

-“Do you remember I once brought you a bicycle from Greece? Nobody else had bikes back then. Only you had one.”

-“Yes?”

-“Remember I was teaching you how to ride it in the garden. As you were riding it I was holding you from behind so that you don’t fall.”

-“Yes?”

-“Then one day I let you go. You did not notice, you just kept on pedalling. I watched you as you pedaled along. Do you remember? It is going to be just like that my dear daugther. You will keep on going without noticing. I will alway watch you from afar. Okay?”

….

-“Okay?”

-“OK.”

-“Good girl. Now get out of that plane and carry on. You’ll see that you won’t fall. Trust your dear father.”

*

I landed and my dad were right, I did not fall.

I will carry on Baba. With your voice in my ears telling me that happiness is hidden in the funny, little, sweet moments of life, I will push the pedals forward.

This world will always be missing something without you but don’t worry about us.

In the path you took may you walk smoothly in peace and may you arrive to the heavens.

We are fine here.

May you travel well my dear Babish.

Bicycle Pump Part 3

Photo: Aisha Harley

(this way to the  previous chapters…)

They did not have swimming suits, so we brought an extra pair with us.  They always wore our clothes anyway.  They were so small compared to me and Esin, so when our clothes did not fit us anymore our moms gave them to Ruya and Mina. Every time they received a heap of t-shirts, shorts, skirts and shoes they knew the proper thank you words and how to show respect to the elderly.  Behind their polite silence around the adults I could see how they were exhilarated to own the clothing that was once mine and Esin’s. I always felt like a heroine, a rock star when I was around them. They admired me and loved me so much! Maybe a little too much sometimes!

When it was time to change our clothes they got shy so we resigned to different corners of the garden to change. On their skinny bodies our swimming suits looked too large. The top part of the bikini was absolutely unnecessary. I was a bit concerned about the bottom part as well. What if it floated away once they were in the water? Their legs reminded me the branches of the sour-cherry tree Nene planted the year Esin and I were born. Until the moment I saw them in bikinis, I had not noticed how big their heads were compared to their bodies. Their black eyes looked larger than ever due to the excitement and fear they were feeling.

“Malnourishment” was Nene’s explanation for their size. “These girls can’t grow because they don’t eat proper food. They should eat with us more often”.

But they never did.  At the end of the long mornings when we played in our garden when one of the adults called our names (and theirs too) from the upstairs window for lunch, they remembered that they needed to go back home and help mom to prepare lunch. They ate ice cream with us though. In the afternoon when we heard the bells of the ice cream car from the end of our street, mom gave me extra money so that I could treat the girls as well. They could not say no to ice cream. Or maybe they knew that their participation was necessary for me, for their dear heroine, to enjoy her own ice cream. They were right in a way. I could not and would not eat any if they were to stare at me with their big black eyes and empty hands.

They indeed knew so much!

***

We walked downhill in Old Lady’s garden towards the beach in one line. They followed me silently. Even the 3-year old brother was quiet. In my backpack I was carrying all the plastic swimming devices that I had sneaked out of my parent’s room earlier that day. My father was taking a nap when I tiptoed into the room. Life jackets, a pair of flippers, sleevelets and swimming suits for the 4 of us. I had carefully placed them in my backpack and quietly closed the door.  Dad murmured something in his sleep.

When we arrived to the beach I let Mina lead the way. She knew where the hole in the barbed wire was. We followed her into the sea, which reached to the level of our thighs right away. Mina was right. The hole was there but it was too small for me and Esin to pass through. Plus, the wire separating the private beach of the “Club” from Old Lady’s property was rusty.

I watched the girls and their baby brother passing through it with no difficulty.  I took a few steps further. The water has reached to the level of my groins and my short were getting wet. I looked at the other side of the barbed wire. Girls were waiting for me to do the move. They were probably expecting me to help Esin to pass through too because I always helped her. Plus this time she had this patch covering her right eye which made her look even more helpless than usual.

She had an eye operation ten days prior and she was not supposed to put her head in water. It was not like she was not supposed to go into the water at all or anything. I tried to reason with my mom and my aunt many times during the previous week. She could have kept her head above the water. We could still go to the beach right? It was ridiculous that we stayed at home the whole day because Esin had to avoid seawater.

How about we still go to the beach but she does not swim? “C’mon,” I begged them, “we always go to the beach. It is too hot to stay at home. And so BORING!!”  They did not even listen to me. I cried and yelled at them for being mean and unreasonable. My mom stormed in to the room, grabbed me by my shoulders and hissed into my ear that it would be very, very bad for me at the end if I continued to act like a spoiled brat.

That is how my perfect plan began.

We did not need the adults to go swimming. That was my first point as I later explained to Esin. As long as she kept her head above the water, she was fine. We were not babies anymore. We always spent our time between breakfast and lunch on the street or at Old Lady’s garden anyway, so none of the adults would be concerned about our whereabouts. I thought about each and every possible way that we could be caught and blocked it strategically.

“Plus” I said and stopped to increase the power of my words,

“We will be swimming not just anywhere. Not in the public beach where our moms take us all the time. No. No.”

I watched the anxiety on her one eye slowly being replaced by curiosity and excitement. Just like the clouds in the sky.

“We will swimming at the… Club beach!”

This last one had the bomb effect that I was expecting. She jumped up to her feet!  Swimming at the Club beach? Was I serious?

“Yes”, I said, “Now sit down and listen to me carefully!”

and then????

Bicycle Pump- Part 2

Haven’t read the Part 1 yet? This way please…

Photo: Aisha Harley

The plan -my plan- was perfect if the gardener’s daughters had not insisted on dragging their spoiled little brother along with them. If he had not come with us, their mother Jamila would not have freaked out and run to our house at lunchtime. I have no memory of Jamila ever coming to our house before.  Her husband worked occasionally in our garden, when our own gardener was sick or away or there was too much work for him to handle on his own. Her daughters Ruya and Mina often came to play with us but Jamila herself never showed up at our place. She stayed at home taking care of the young son, Murad, the brat who spoiled my perfect plan. He was the third child of the family, who finally arrived after the two girls; the long awaited; the most precious; the one who would carry on the lineage: The boy!

“We have to take him with us” said the girls when we showed up at Old Lady’s house. “Mom is cleaning Old Lady’s house and we are supposed to baby-sit him. This is the only way.”

I knew right away that there was no other way. Still I wanted to give them a headache.

“Then you are not coming with us. We can’t go with a baby along. He can’t swim anyway.”

I saw Mina’s eyes growing bigger and darker with disappointment. Ruya, the calmer and more sensible one of the two, who turned out to be a genius and was later accepted to some Ivy League school’s genetic engineering department with full scholarship, glimpsed at the fancy swimming devices we had brought along and gulped.

But we needed them for the plan to work. I knew it and so did they. Still they kept their mouths shut. They lived on Old Lady’s property, which went all the way down to the beach. We needed the beach access. In fact access to the beach was key to my plan. We needed them badly. I hated it.

***

Old Lady was a famous painter who lived all alone in a huge mansion with her mean black dog. She had never married, had no kids. She was not as old as Nene but much older than my mom and my aunt. She wasn’t pretty like them but there was a different kind of allure in the way she held her lean body. She had a sharp chin, tight lips and light brown straight hair, cut very short, a hairstyle I had never seen in other women. I not only found her haircut bizarre but was also amazed by the tight pants, tiny vests and the hats she wore.

Even though she was a friend of grandma’s and visited us a few times during the summer, she rarely talked to us kids and when she spoke to Nene, her tone was so low that I never knew what she sounded like. She never laughed and when she smiled she looked so uncomfortable, as if her lips were forced to do an extraordinary exercise.

We never saw any visitors at her place. Nene had mentioned a sister of hers whom she –Old Lady- hadn’t talked to for more than a decade. When I inquired about this Nene gently scolded me for snooping into the conversations of the grown ups. However I knew that it would not take very much to convince her to give me some more details. Our grandma loved telling stories.

The two sisters, both very talented artists, had loved each other very much once upon a time and were inseparable. After finishing university –where they had met my grandparents- they went to Paris for more studies and started their painting careers. They were very charming and made many friends, both men and women. At this point Nene would always lower her voice before going on with her story of “a little too bohemian choices” of the two sisters. And sometimes she’d pause to focus all her energy into kneading the raw minced meat mixed with bread, onion and parsley. Her hands would be deep into the bowl all the way down to her forearms or she would be busy cooking other delectable dishes.

But “why, why, why?” I insisted this one time. “Why are they not talking to each other anymore?” “Oh well” said Nene as she dried the sweat on her forehead with a cotton cloth she always carried in her apron pocket. She was preparing meatballs, kofte, with parsley and the kitchen was getting hot. I was sitting on the marble kitchen counter with my legs dangling and was sneaking small pieces of raw meat into my mouth.

“Upon their return, the young one –Old Lady- got more famous than the other and the older one got jealous so they had a big fight and they stopped talking. And you should stop eating the raw meat. Worms will grow in your tummy.”

“Oh come on Nene”! Not even an 8 year old would believe in a story like this. Of course there was some jealousy and some romance and some men, even maybe some women…I knew from prior eavesdropping sessions that there was a fiancé in the picture. Not Old Lady’s but her sister’s fiancé who might have fallen in love with the younger sister. But then there were rumors that the older sister liked women more than men. So why was she engaged in the first place? And the French fiancé if he was so much in love with our Old Lady, why didn’t he marry her?

I had all these questions in my head, but when we reached this point in the story, no matter how much I begged or tried to trick her into further details, Nene’s only comment was, “Don’t come on your Nene. Grandmas are not to be comeoned.”

Instead of satisfying my curiosity with further details, she used the opportunity to give me advice and switch her story telling tone –which I loved- into her advice tone –which I found boring.  Giving advice was her other favorite thing to do.

“Do you see how lonely she is up there? An old woman all alone in a huge house? No children, no grandchildren, no husband…If you don’t settle with a decent man when you are still young and pretty that’s what happens to a woman. A little too much fun and a lifetime of loneliness. No man wants a woman who had too much fun in her past. You will remember that, will you not my dear smart girl? ”

***

Ruya and Mina’s father took care of Old Lady’s infinite gardens. In return, Old Lady provided them with housing and food.  It was Old Lady who later discovered Ruya’s genius and paid for her schooling until the day she was admitted to college.

Their house was more or less a hut hidden somewhere in Old Lady’s gigantic property. They all slept in one single room that lacked fresh air desperately and smelled of dirty socks all the time. Parents and the boy slept on the only bed and the girls slept on the floor on some pads. The room was packed with rolled mattresses, blankets, and a couple of wooden chests that contained the whole family’s clothes.  There was no room to walk in it, so they went in there only for sleeping.

Their old style kitchen was big though, and a big wood stove stood in the middle. I often daydreamed of the evenings in that kitchen during winter.  Huddled together by the stove, girls doing their homework on the kitchen table, Jamila cooking dinner and saving the best piece for Murad or maybe for her husband. I wondered what it would feel like to be in that kitchen with them on winter evenings when darkness falls so early, and what it would look like when they would turn the lights on. It must have felt so different compared to the long summer days.

Summer was the only time we saw each other. During the long afternoons we spent lying around in their front porch and reading books, I often asked them to tell me about the island in the winter. Was it so empty when all the summer people were gone back to town? Were there many children in their school? How did it look when it snowed? Would they ever go to our garden to play with the swings? No, they said the swings were taken down in winter, so their wood would not swell when it rained.

Even though I read more books than they did, they knew so much more than I did. When a new children’s book arrived at the only bookstore on the island, I was the first one to know. The second person was Ruya who patiently waited for her turn to read it. I knew she wanted to keep the books to read again and again in the winter, but they didn’t have space in their house, so she returned them to me usually the day after she borrowed them. The sight of her reading always reminded me of a hungry tiger gulping down his prey.

Yet they did not think winter on the island was at all interesting. They thought they could come up with nothing to impress me. How could they? I must have been having a fantastic time in the City, going to a private school and seeing movies, buying toys, making friends, going to their birthday parties…No? “Sure, it is fun” I used to mumble, distracted. In truth their questions always touched that sour spot of loneliness of the winter nights. A winter spent all alone in my bedroom with the faint sound of TV coming from the living room and the never-ending “discussions” of my parents. “We are not fighting sweetness, we are only discussing” my mom would say when I asked them to please stop fighting. There was never enough homework to keep me busy until the evening and television programs were boring even for the grown-ups. No, the girls would have never believed me if I told them I’d rather spend the entire winter in their kitchen by the stove.

But it was summer then. The winter was so far away that it was hard to believe that it would eventually come and we would have to decide what coat to put on before leaving home.

To be continued…stay tuned..

Defne

Photo: Aisha Harley


The Back Side of the Earth

Lesvos Island, Greece
Photo: Ayse Kaya

Happy full moon everyone!

This month, beginning of the lunar and solar months -almost- coincided, so now they are peeking at the same time. Full moon and the midsummer’s dream together…This is the perfect time to be in a boat in the Mediterranean sea! If you are in the middle of the ocean in mid-August you can see the sun setting on one side of the boat and the moon rising a minute later.  On the eastern horizon the moon looks so hot and big that there has been a few times I thought I had been watching the sun-set only later to realise that it was actually the moon rise!

I always think of the middle of August as the peek point of summer. From that point onwards, it is a downfall to Fall. Many of friends and family are actually watching the sunset/moonrise over the Mediterranean sea this time of the year because they live nearby. Plus with the economic crisis in Greece, the islands have become the cheapest destinations for the Turks whose country is competing with Switzerland in terms of the prices of the boutique hotels, which were once simple family guesthouses.

Long story short, this summer’s favourite holiday pattern in Turkey is to rent a boat and hit the Greek shores, have wine and fish and swim in the unpolluted Aegean waters away from the hot political climate in the country. This is what my friends are doing now…

Here in Portland, if clouds allow we may be able see the full moon and enjoy its silver light over the pine leaves.

Maybe because we are on the “back” side of the world, I feel like we are catching everything the last minute. In terms of the time zones I mean! By the time it is morning for us, majority of the world population has already lived that day and are ready for bed. Most of the time I think I have something precious in hand, that is a fresh “today, something my friends and family on the “front” side already used up!

The full moon will salute us the last and I find it very special for some reason.

***

This morning I woke up around 7am. No yoga practice due to fullmoon. In fifteen minutes I was already on my bicycle heading towards…

Where?

Somewhere where I can write my morning pages.

Now if you are from the front side of the world, you may ask, what kind of a coffee shop opens at 7 on a Saturday morning? As oppose to Istanbul where the earliest good coffee starts to be served around 9am and Athens around 11am, in Portland, coffeeshops do open at 6am! Believe it or not! This is an American dream!

And it is not just that…If you come to Portland from a dense city like Istanbul, entire town looks like a scene from a fairy tale. I remember my first morning here, only 8 weeks ago. As I was cycling up on the Clinton street and looking at the quiet green scene around me, I kept asking to myself: Is this a movie set or some sort of a Truman show situation? Could this be real?

How is it possible that this little back corner of the world remained so green, abundant, quiet and healthy while in the rest of the world people live shoulder to shoulder in dusty, polluted cities or filthy villages where there are children with black teeth.

Every time I come back to Portland I can’t help but ask: How real can this life be?

***

Well for the people of Portland, it is real. Now, after 8 weeks of my arrival, it is real tome as well. I quickly forgot how its beauty and its ease seemed surreal at the beginning. Now I act and spend my day as if the American dream is my only life.  I live as if the front of the world with its dusty narrow streets and tiny portions of meals does not exist!

But more than anything it is the availability of the space that strikes me the most! It is this space I miss the most when I am away. It is for this space that I choose the clouds over Mediterranean Sea.  And it is not just space in the physical sense. Yes, the streets are wide, houses have 2-3 bedrooms, plus a basement and an attic and a front porch and a back yard!  The bathrooms in the restaurant are so spacious two people and a wheelchair can move around freely…Abundance of physical space…That is something we have in Portland for sure. But  there is more…

There is inner space, there is space in between parked cars, space in the human relationships and there is private space, and here even time feels spacious…(maybe because the distances are near and there is no traffic to struggle through)

In the midst of all this space, I am thinking about writing a series of blogs.Let’s call it the “Space Series” and see where it takes us!

To be continued, stay tuned!

Defne Suman

The Taste of the Forbidden Fruit

Photo: Aisha Harley

Nowadays, I arrive everywhere early. Just to have a cup of coffee or to read a few pages before the next thing on my schedule. Like now for instance… I still have 40 minutes before my evening class begins and I have already arrived to the coffee shop next to my studio.

Now…How about a piece on this coffee thing?

Friends, students and readers, who recently read, heard or saw that I drink coffee, have been commenting on this, which I find interesting.  Some people who read Mavi Orman write and ask me if I am still drinking margaritas and eating chips and salsa. (yes of course I do!)

Aren’t these the “forbidden items”? (says who?) How about not eating after sunset? (how about it?) Aren’t there rules to follow and regulations to apply for a good practice?  (are there?)

I gather that there is some confusion in the minds of people who take or want to take yoga seriously into their lives, about the ways of eating and drinking in the yoga world.

***

When I started practicing yoga in Thailand, I had set rules for myself right away. I always loved setting rules for myself (and for others) anyway, so I embraced the opportunity and the soldier in me celebrated my decision!

By then I already had no zest for alcohol, cigarettes and its contents due to my overconsumption of them in the previous decade. So a ban on these was not a major change for the soldier in me. In the winter before I went to Thailand, my friend Ayşe had suggested that we follow a chicken diet which entails for duration of one month, consumption of nothing else but all kinds of birds, and nothing else. (Well, maybe plus a salad or two).

As you may guess, at the end of that one month, which was supposed make us lose 6 pounds (and didn’t) I lost ability to eat anything with wings on them. My disgust was to such a degree that I still can’t stand the site of the chicken on a plate!

Around the time I started yoga I was getting tired of my Thai-Lao breakfast which was mainly consisted of Larb – a mixture of mint, lemon and a roasted meat of some unknown animal- and sticky rice. Taking a break from being a carnivore sounded like an attractive idea.

So quitting chicken and meat was no challenge and the soldier in me had high aspirations anyway: He deemed appropriate that coffee, soy milk, sugar, salt, fish and seafood should be forbidden.

Thus, began my meals of papaya salad-white rice-green tea for eight months. When I went back to Istanbul on the eight month, the color of my skin had turned almost orange  –because of the papaya– and I had no other thought than trespassing my forbidden zone.

Ice-cream, coffee, fish, corn chips, french fries…

***

Photo: Aisha Harley

It is very well explained in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming) seminars: Whatever we focus on not to do reproduces itself. If a thought is focused on prohibition, the brain continues to produce the thought of the prohibition continuously.

A decade earlier than my papaya-sticky rice diet, my friend Yasemin’s mother had taken us to a dietician. Since we were not backing up from our obsession of losing weight, she thought we had better continued our madness in the supervision of an expert. We were seventeen. We truly believed that if we could live on half a packet of diet crakers and one (yes, in numbers 1) red mullet a day, we could lose our “extra” six pounds.

I remember my shaking hands before every dinner out of hunger-driven nervousness and I drove my mom crazy with my grumpy impatience while she cooked my single mullet. Then on the weekend when Yasemin and I got together, provoking each other easily, we used to break the fast with McChicken meals at the nearest Mc Donalds!

So Mr. Dietician handed us, the seventeen year-olds who were suffering not from any extra pounds but lack of self-confidence, lists of what to be eaten in my day:  3 fruits, 100 grams of meat, two dishes of vegetables, etc. (We did consider once, one whole water melon per person as one of the three fuits!)

And one more thing: An X.

X, he said, could be anything and it could only be consumed once a week. Ice cream, bagel (simit), chocolate, street food, hamburger, french fries, whatever it may be!

X immediately became the only dream of our dear young brains! We were constantly talking about what the X of that week would be, and making special plans for that special day of the week that we would eat the X!

X was the forbidden fruit for us and we were reproducing its idea in our minds over and over.

Isn’t this exactly the story of the forbidden fruit?

***

Yoga and Ayuverda texts present some suggestions of eating and drinking for a healthy, balanced body, calm and centered mind and a deep yoga practice. This is true. But they also draw our attention to the fact that all these suggestions should be rearranged according to one’s bodily constitution, and that each person should explore the food, which nourishes him in a wholesome way. Certain food that have the potential for agitating the mind, like meat, fish, alcohol, coffee, salt and sugar, may not have the same effect on every body. Some minds on the other hand, could be agitated not because of these food, but because they try to over-control themselves.

I repeat in my writings that yoga is not about control. Discipline –which is different from control- is necessary to acquire the ability to observe with patience what is good for one, what is not. I find that the best way is to monitor myself during the practice every morning. Unless we have the metabolism of a fifteen year-old boy, food we eat at a late hour previous night and its remains would still be occupying our inner organs the next morning.

Yogasana is a practice that deepens as the breath gets slow and long. The more space we have in the navel area the freer the breath gets and stronger the core center of the body.  Experiencing such strength and freedom make me want to reduce the amount of food intake at night-time. And of course there are some nights, when going out with friends, eating and drinking is more worthwhile then doing a deep yoga practice in the morning. Then, I don’t’ worry about my inner organs and next days practice too much.

Again, if I  feel weak, tired, stiff or reluctant while doing yoga in the morning, I take a look at the previous day’s menu. I do the same thing in the mornings when I feel flexible, strong, full of joy and enthusiasm. Whatever I did in the previous day yielded good results for me. (Bear in mind that along with what we eat and drink, factors like stress, overuse of muscles, sports, staying in the sun for too long, thirst will effect our next day’s yoga as well).

My teacher often tells us that yogic life cannot be led by control and prohibitions or by recipes that may work for others but not for us. He mentions that everyone has different needs when it comes to diet and each one of us should all arrive there slowly by exploring what kind of food suit us the most.

The thought of forbidden fruit is a great pleasure for the obsessive mind. Imposing the ways of eating/living/behaving/making love are all different forms of the same obsessive mental pattern. As discipline and control do not mean the same thing, yoga practice does not evolve with imposition either. Yoga is about exploring one’s true self through the study and understanding of his/her real needs, shadows as well as gifts. The way to go about it, I believe, is possible by staying curious and in love!

Bon appetite, all!

Defne

Photo: Aisha Harley

By the way…Yasemin, with whom we dreamed of X’s, studied psychology and holistic nutrition. She is now a successful health and wellness coach. If you would like to explore what suits you the most under  her guidance. Here is her address:

http://www.yaseminagazat.com

Translation: Ebru Salman