The End of an Era: Censure of Neutral Politics in Turkey

By now we’ve all heard of the most recent bout of witch hunts in Turkey, this time rooting out “supporters” of the July 16 coup attempt.  Campaigns in the past have almost always targeted extreme liberals and Gulenists (former supporters of President Erdogan tossed out of favor in a power struggle/split within the AKP a few years back). But this time it’s different.

Up until yesterday I was working part time editing news and articles for a politically-neutral internationally-oriented think tank based in Ankara. I was going to pick up payment for editing (and visit everyone with the baby) after her one month checkup at the nearby Gazi University hospital on July 19.  But after hearing fighter jets screeching overhead all right and moving our plane tickets forward two weeks I decided to bring her to the local family clinic instead of Gazi (Dikmen doesn’t have anything interesting enough for anyone to bomb and certainly I wasn’t going to run into any government-orchestrated street protests on my way past chatty grandmothers sitting on their stoops while walking to the clinic) and asked them to transfer the money to my husband’s bank account.

The last piece I edited was a brief condemnation of the coup intended for the website.  I didn’t receive anything last week, but I was too busy running around (and catching up on sleep) to really take much notice.  I assumed the head editor assumed I was busy with crossing continents, or the organization had become very busy with something following the coup attempt.  But payment was pretty late, so yesterday I e-mailed asking what was happening and saying that I was settled in and ready to start editing again.

But apparently USAK was shut down by the government last week: their bank accounts seized, the USAK house seized by the police.  A ten-year organization headed by a former ambassador, staffed by experts who also act as advisors to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focused on international/Turkey-external affairs, and committed to taking a pragmatic neutral stance working for the interests of Turkey and giving Turkey a greater stake in international dialogues.  This was not a partisan organization: regardless of the views of individuals working within the organization or howevermuch anyone might have wanted to criticize (or praise) the reigning government, they took great pains to remain objective and neutral.  This also wasn’t an organization examining Turkey’s inner politics (or really Turkish politics at all); while some research concerned Turkey’s involvement in international affairs or relation to external actors, and certainly some dialogue pushed to create a space for Turkey at the international table (such as hosting panel discussions on the roles of Turkey and the EU in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis), the people working at USAK never strayed into internal politics.  So an organization unrelated to the Gulenist movement holding a neutral-party stance and not even focusing on internal issues or Turkish politics in any form was shut down by the government in an anti-terrorist supporter sweep.

This is what actually scares me.  More than fighter jets flying overhead, more than protesters being tear-gassed on the streets, more than Gulenist schools being closed and graduates of Gulenist schools being fired from their jobs, more than closure of news outlets taking a stance critical of the government or having police armed with assault weapons and bulletproof vests sipping tea and giving directions with a smile on every downtown corner.  Because if the government will go after an organization that has not been but might, possibly, be slightly critical of it by being neutral  – if taking a neutral stance in and of itself is viewed as criticism – then I have very, very little hope for the political recovery of the country.



My Pregnant Ramazan

First off, let me just say that being pregnant during Ramazan is fantastic.  Visibly pregnant, that is.  For I can eat and drink whatever/whenever I want wherever I want without receiving the eyes of shame.  In fact, the only glances I’ve encountered so far (while sipping water on a stroll) were those of longing tinged with envy and occasional sympathy.

Approximately 60% of Ankara’s population fasts during Ramazan (and approximately 90% feasts).  Due to the ruling party’s religious politics, even though Turkey is constitutionally a secular state, it’s considered rather rude to eat or drink in public during the entire month.  Unless you’re very old, ill, very young, or [jackpot!] pregnant/breastfeeding. I don’t think a single person in my husband’s entire extended family fasts (they, like me, don’t quite see the “pious” nature of fasting when daytime abstinence is followed by nighttime gluttony buoyed by a month-long obsession with food, nor the practicality of the matter when it means everyone fasting walks around like zombies in the summer heat, and productivity falls to a yearlong low).

Central Asia Ramadan Feast

In Kyrgyzstan some people celebrate…some don’t.  Kyrgyz are generally a pragmatic people, and Ramazan/Ramadan in summer (when fasting can stretch from 3:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night and temperatures can soar above 100F) is just generally not very pragmatic.  But some people still fast, and attending university employees walk around like the living dead and snooze behind closed doors the better part of the day.  The most ironic part of Ramazan in Kygyzstan?  Pre-teen kids out on summer holiday hang around grocery store parking lots all day banging on car windows and doing the “Ramazan chant” clamoring for money (a tradition apparently unique to Bishkek).  Coins clasped, them  scramble inside the air conditioned store to buy whatever sweets they can – and then sit outside eating them in broad daylight, hours before the fast-breaking coming of dusk.

Here in Turkey all the stores have been stocking “Razaman supplies” for the past few weeks – mostly meat and cookies and 25 kg bags of sugar and sweet fizzy sodas.  Not unrelatedly, most people gain weight during Ramazan (because how much can your body digest in those 7 hours of darkness?), and I wouldn’t be surprised if blood sugar levels were also at an all time high from all the desserts consumed (maybe ensuring the sugar crash has more to do with the zombie effect than the heat?).

But anyway, an uneventful holiday for us.  Here the streets are almost empty, first of all because it’s Monday (and everyone who works is at their offices), and second because the people who stay home (housewives and retirees) are also the most likely segment of the population to be fasting, and thus either napping or food-preparing.  I’ll wave my (still not very significant) bulk and merrily munch along.

The Hierarchy of Hospitals

I chose my doctor based off of recommendations from an in-law – and a bit of online research done by a sister-in-law confirming that her past patients were all extremely satisfied with her work.  I also chose to go to a (giant) public (university) hospital because that meant that everything I could possibly need would be there – and 90% of it would be covered by my fresh-pressed Turkish government health insurance.

For my first two prenatal visits I went to GBD Clinic – a private clinic run by the former professor of Hacetepe University who had previously overseen my other sister-in-law’s two births (some 10 and 20 years ago).  The clinic was nice – spacious and white, in a converted apartment building up the leafy green boulevard from some of our favorite bookstores, cafes, and restaurants.  Free tea and coffee; a waiting area fitted with white leather chairs, glass tables and plenty of magazines.  The doctor spoke quite excellent English, and gave quiet 30 minute consultations.  But we also paid 400+ TL (about $140 US) for every visit, and then had to go running around the city getting blood samples from different hospitals and clinics as none of that could be processed at the clinic.  He only worked with private hospitals – which meant that we would have to find a hospital for birth too.  And he was occasionally abroad for conferences or seminars – so it was possible he wouldn’t be there at the moment when I was giving birth.

Finding a fully-fitted hospital seemed like a better idea.  And once I got my Turkish health insurance (following my residence permit, obtained under my husband’s name) it seemed sensible to check out government hospitals as well.  Which is how I ended up at Gazi.

GAZINow Gazi isn’t much to look at.  The campus where the hospital(s) are located is just a corner filled with trees, taxis, and giant tower buildings.  The inside of the polyclinic is nearly always crowded, the slightly dim hallway lighting makes it look like a prime setting for a B-grade zombie flic, the line for the elevators is usually so long that we generally take the stairs (to the 9th floor), and the only comfortable place to sit is really only the cafes downstairs. But they have absolutely everything and – perhaps it’s just a vein running through our joint families – I think we trust professors and medical students more than non-academic medical personnel.  I mean, someone who has written six books on the subject should know what they’re doing, right?  I don’t really care if I have to pay for my tea or coffee and wait in a pleather purple chair.

And so far my experience has been pretty good.  I go in.  The nurse who knows up (which is how we got our first appointment) always gives us a warm smile.  I show my ID, get checked in, and then pay the 122 TL ($40) for an appointment with a professor (docent appointments are about $20), wait a bit, get weighed and measured, and then see the doctor. If I need to, I go downstairs for blood work or urine samples, results from both of which are sent directly to their secretary by 4pm the same day.  Their recommendations and analysis have always been spot-on, and I appreciate that the farthest I have to go is up or down stairs – and not across the city.  Coming from a country where insurance is not that simple, it’s also great that basically everything is covered and we aren’t constantly shelling out money here and there.  The basics are covered and all you have to pay for is special treatment – appointments with a professor, a private room for birth.

gazi hospital

A normal room at Gazi

This past Wednesday during my appointment the doctor noticed that my amniotic fluid levels had dropped more than they should, and I was told to stay in the hospital hooked up to an IV overnight.  Which is when I noticed something.  I was put in a room with two other women with late pregnancy complications in the birthing wing.  The two other women were both about my age – but both were (quite friendly) headscarf-covered housewives, both with children at home, ages 4 and 7.  Similarly, the other women staying in the hospital wing were generally younger, non-professionals belonging to a socio-economic class one or two steps down from our families.

Because [almost] everyone at our economic level (and E’s salary is definitely puts us in the “comfortable” zone in Turkey) goes to a private hospital.  Even families with half of our combined income go to private hospitals, at least for birth.  Why?


A private room at TOBB – one of Ankara’s nicer hospitals

Private hospitals aren’t necessarily nicer.  Some of them are – some of them have extraordinarily well-qualified doctors and nice, comfortable facilities.  But most of them exist because, since the advent of Turkey’s current ruling party, doctors in public hospitals have faced more and more pressure to take on an increasing number of patients (an eye doctor I talked to can see up to 50 patients for glasses fittings in a single day) and when they get burned out/want to make more money, they open private clinics (like my first doctor who had found it more profitable not to be a professor) or find employment in private hospitals.  Private hospitals are thus more expensive primarily because they aren’t covered by government insurance, and because their employees aren’t on the government payroll.  The service you are paying for may be no different – and may not actually be up to the same [medical] standards. The same goes for the rooms – many are not nicer than those at public hospitals.

So going to a private hospital really seems to be a sort of status symbol – a signifier that you can pay.  But just as I prefer the trolleybus over taxis in Bishkek (some taxis are nice, but it’s rather a gamble and at least the trolley is predictably safe,  clean, and runs at a set speed along a set line), I don’t see the need to pay more for a private hospital.  Medical education in Turkey is generally considered to be very high quality.  My doctor is excellent, the medical students looking after patients are motivated, and I’ve gotten everything I’ve needed.  Even the hospital food isn’t bad.  I’ll pay $100 extra to stay in a private room for birth – but I don’t see the need to pay a lot more to stay in a private hospital, just for the outfit. Interesting thing from the photos above – the room decoration may be different, but the hospital beds are exactly the same.  I’d rather use our insurance and save the money to pay for other things that actually make a difference – like going on a seaside vacation in July or sending our kid to art classes a few years down the line.



Formulaic Pre-Wedding Celebrations: Turkish Henna Night

DSC_0061First off, I realize it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything – like a month.  I’m still in Ankara, still waiting for the baby, and still have things to talk about 🙂  However, I’ve also been really busy this past month – despite not going to USAK every day.  Lots of classes, lots of editing – and, quite honestly, after editing any more than 4,000 words in a day I really don’t want to open my computer again.  But the pace of everything is slowing down – only 10 pages to edit and one class to give today! – and you’ll probably see more posts as the summer progresses (provided I’m not, you know, completely swamped by being both a PT editor and a brand new FT parent).

So, Henna Night (Kina Gecesi):

Last Friday I accompanied one of my sister-in-laws on a ‘picnic field trip’ outside of Ankara organized by her work unit (a Hanim Locale/State-run Woman’s Club – somewhat similar to the original YWCAs in that, for a minimal annual fee, it offers study spaces and classes in everything from interior design and painting to English to step aerobics to cooking and jewelry making).  On the trip (which should be another post, if only because it involves a disco-bus) I was invited to the wedding – and all the pre-wedding celebrations – of one of her younger co-workers.  The hamam night had already passed, but this Tuesday saw “Henna Night”.

DSC_0075Now Henna Night is a traditional Turkish pre-wedding celebration, basically a preparing of and sending off of the bride involving dancing, singing, cookie nibbling and pressing of henna into the bride and groom’s hands.  Apparently (nearly) everybody still has a henna night, and the locale where the event was held was actually a “Kina Konagi” (Henna Konak – Konak being an architectural term describing traditional Ottoman structures) in the revitalized HamamOnu neighborhood.

But what was lacking was authenticity.  It was one of those events that seems done and carried through simply because this is the way things are done, and not because the actions continue to carry any significance for the participants and organizers.  It was almost as if we were spectators in a carefully planned – but somewhat empty – program, watching rather than creating the event.  Guests came, kissed cheeks, sat; there was music (electronic, from speakers propped up by the door) and dances led by four professional dancers in gypsy-Ottoman costumes.  The bride-to-be was henna’d and surrounded by a circle of women with their smart phones out; everyone gathered for photographs and sipped from juice boxes. But the event seemed to lack body, like it wasn’t a natural internally-originated expression from those attending.

And a Post-Wedding Update:

Mygod, the wedding was boring.

There, now I’ve gotten that off my chest. Like the henna night, the wedding felt formulaic – although even more lacking in substance and active audience participation.

The wedding hall was literally on the edge of Ankara, in this wedding complex topping a hill overlooking fields and an outlet mall. But it might have as well been in the city center because all the windows were closed and the tight high-ceilinged hall shone with cold blue lights beaming down from the white chandeliers to bounce off the round mirrors we had in place of placemats. And I thought Kyrgyz weddings were shiny.

We arrived around 7:30.  We sat.  We sat some more.  Other co-workers arrived and we somehow contrived to find a table to fit all of us, though it was at the edge.  The bride and groom descended, the veil was lifted and vows were said – but the sound system was so bad that we couldn’t really hear anything.  And then there was an hour and a half of guests going up (waiting in a line) to give the new couple their congratulations and pin the traditional gold coins.  Inedible appetizers came out (only wedding where I’ve ever been served chicken nuggets…) along with fruit juice and cola.  Then the couple danced and people started to leave. There was a bit of dancing on the small space of open floor, but… this was an alcohol-free wedding.  It’s surprising how little activity can come from one room packed with 450 people. If you’re going to have a wedding, I think ti should at least be fun and at least a partial reflection of the things you enjoy.  I’ll admit, our wedding didn’t include all the elements we would have wanted (we did arrive in Ankara 2 weeks prior), but at least it had more the sense of being a good dinner with people we know and whose company we value.  The purpose of last night’s wedding (judging by when people left and the lack of interaction otherwise) seemed to be to stand in line and pin the gold coin on the bride’s dress. Not my kind of event.  Also, Henna Night was comparatively a lot more fun.


Not Quite Xinjiang’s Security Forces

Urumqi, 2012: after mysterious incomplete news reports of “terrorist activities” hitting small towns in the regions interiors and an unconfirmed gunning at a local police station (The Bachu Incident, A Gentle Comparison) armored vans filled with black-cloaked security personnel supped to the teeth with weapons and bullet-proof (probably bomb-proof) garments became so common across the city we eventually stopped noticing them.  There were armored vans at all the downtown bus stops, at our university entrance, and dozens of gun-swaddling security forces surrounding the central mosques during Friday prayers.  These were not friendly guys – not government employees you might, for example, walk up to and ask about the bus schedules or directions to the nearest post.  In fact, they weren’t people you would walk up to at all – they were there to intimidate, and intimate that they could gun you down at any time.

From the government stance, it was obvious that the state mistrusted the people – and by people here I mean Uyghurs.  Uyghurs residing in Xinjiang tend to lump all Han together as suppressive government supporters, but the fact is that most people in China, regardless of ethnicity, don’t like the government.  Even most people working in the government don’t like the government – and the security forces are probably it’s least popular arm (after the chenguan – the “city management” bureau whose hooliganesque members regularly smash up street stalls).

Anyway – Chinese security forces in Xinjiang: not exactly going to give anyone warm fuzzy feelings.

In Turkey, on the other hand, the police are actual people.

Since the Ankara Bombing(s) they’ve become rather ubiquitous across the central part of the city – white and blue police vans parked in the middle of traffic (to the curses of everyday drivers), cloth-clad police standing on more of the corners.

Every morning now I pass a police minivan and half-a-dozen automatic gun-toting bullet-proof-vest-wearing police officers at the Demir Tepe Bridge.  Usually they’re standing around chatting, joking, catching up on the news.  Today one was ‘standing guard’ at the corner cafe, masticating a toothpick, while his companions lounged at a table in the cafe’s side garden, letting their guard [very much] down as they drank cups of tea.  Whatever your stance is on the reigning party’s politics (or on the police’s parking practices…) they’re definitely a more friendly, fuzzy bunch.  It’s not Xinjiang – and I hope it never will be.

Börek Günü

On Saturday my younger sister-in-law tried to explain börek günü to me as a group of people going to one person’s house, eating börek, and giving them a hundred lira as a way to save up money.  Like me, you’re probably a bit confused: what does a flaky pastry have to do with savings?  And why are we going to someone’s house to give them money?

peynirli borekFirst of all, börek: börek is a pastry made from layers of filo dough wrapped around or covering various savory fillings such as spinach, spinach and white cheese, mushrooms, potatoes, or minced meat.  It’s baked in the oven and served at breakfast…or lunch…or dinner.

A “börek day” can be described as somewhat of a book club (without the books) and a savings club rolled in one. If there are ten women  in a group, then each month they all gather at one person’s home, eat börek and other foods, sit around drinking tea and gossiping, and each give the host 100 lira.  The next month they gather at someone else’s home and do the same, rotating on until each person has played host (and received 900 lira). It’s really an excuse for a socializing.

IMG_3715So Sunday morning after breakfast my mother-in-law and I went out the door with the younger sister-in-law’s government-issued bus card, met up with my older sister-in-law, took the dolmus to the city center, the metro to Batikent, then switched to the extension metro line, and got off literally at the edge of the city among rolling hills and suburban apartment complexes interspersed with chain grocery stores and clusters of shops.

Suburban living usually means apartment-living in Ankara.  Compared to the city center and older neighborhoods the apartments are larger and the sites are complete with parking lots, playgrounds, and paths meandering among the grass.  But other than that I can’t see much appeal, at least on the north end of town.  Sure, the apartments are more comfortable (for the same price), but it’s a long way to work (45 minutes tot he citycenter by metro) and the surroundings don’t have much to offer.  (On the other side of town, however, we had friends who were renting an older house house – with a garden – in a quiet leafy green site directly behind the mammoth Gordion shopping mall and Çayyolu subways station [a straight 25 minute shot to Kizilay], within walking distance and 10 minute driving distance to shops and restaurants and cafes – so it’s hard for me to see the appeal of suburban apartment living on the far northern side of the city).

slider-borek-ispanakWe arrived around 1:30, were greeted by my cheerful sister-in-law’s husband’s cousin and her three year old daughter who promptly gave me a tour of her bedroom, showed me her mother’s wedding album (twice), and sat me down to make-believe tea with her plastic dishes set.  The other guests slowly, delinquently arrived in couples and small flocks, all relatives – my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law, her other daughters-in-law and daughters and cousins and cousins of cousins and daughters of cousins of cousins.  Relatives, in other words, with too many relations for me to keep track after the first few introductions.  Not only are relative-networks rather wide, but I’ve also realized that a lot of social activities in Turkey are still family-based.

gul borekOnce everybody arrived we sat down to eat – a centerpiece of dried fruit and chocolates, plain and spinach börek, a dried green bean dish, great glass bowls of yogurt and carrot salad, an overly fluffy tiramisu-looking cake, homemade baklava stiff and burnt at the edges, and salad.  Like a number of non-specific-meal gatherings I’ve gone to in Turkey there was a [for me] conspicuous lack of protein and an over-abundance of breads.  There is always a salad, always mixed appetizers, always some baked goods – but rarely meat or beans or eggs.  I’ve noticed that even at home: sometimes my mother-in-law will have pilaf topped with a vegetable dish cooked with olive oil – but no clear source of protein.  When we cook or have barbeques with E’s friends, however, it’s completely the opposite: the meal always centers around the fish we’re grilling or the kofte (meatballs), or steak or other meat.

As the women came in they sat around the living room in a circle and caught up on each other’s lives since the last gathering.  Unlike a book club, however, the women jested – mostly in fun – about how the latecomer’s should be punished.  I suggested they be made to clear the table and do the dishes, but the others were more bent on they paying a 10 lira fine.  This same vein went through their transactions after the meal was complete: one woman acted as a bookkeeper, sitting down to collect all the bills and tally who paid what, and who had paid what last month.  They they got into a huge discussion after discovering that one person not only didn’t show, but also hadn’t given the money to someone else to take on her behalf – and had apparently done this a month or two before as well.  Because they are all relatives, the conversation got even more feisty.  I suppose it’s more akin to a [competitive] bridge club where people play for stakes than book club.

maxresdefaultWhile sitting one kid – a boy of three-and-a-half – was running around, stripping the pillows from the chairs and throwing them on the floor, climbing on top of the sofa, grabbing a puzzle and then, five minutes later, moving to something else.  His grandmother said he was just hyperactive, didn’t get out of the house much due to last week’s cold weather.  But I noticed something else: he wasn’t looking at people.  He wasn’t responding to people, or taking in their reactions to anything he did.  He didn’t seem to understand – or even know that he should understand – how his actions affected others.  For example, I was sitting on a chair, leaning against a pillow, when he decided he needed that pillow, came up (without looking at me), snatched the pillow, and threw it on the floor.  My two-and-a-half year old niece can be yaramaz (mischievous, naughty) – but it’s a whole different breed of the behavior: 90% of the time she knows when she’s done something naughty and she either looks guilty when caught and cries or (more often) flashes this wide “I-know-I’ve-done-something-bad-but-let’s-see-if-I-can-get-away-with-it” smile.  She is acutely aware of other people’s reactions.  This kid wasn’t even aware that he should be aware.

We talked about him after leaving – it seems like he has autism and people in his family are mistaking it for normal troublesome three-year-old behavior.  The contrast was even greater when we met up with my mother-in-law’s youngest brother slick in a pony tail, CAT boots and slim jeans (age 45 – one year older than the sister-in-law present) who lives in the site opposite and came to say hello with his six-year-old son.  The kid seemed shy and quiet, but there was nothing obtrusive.  As we left my mother-in-law told me that he had autism, but his parents had realized that something was off by his first birthday, sent him to treatments and a special preschool, read up on it as much as they could, and ensured that everyone in the family was participating in his education and development.  The doctors said he would be probably be perfectly fine by age 10, and completely able to attend a normal middle school. Quite a contrast to the first, who will, if nothing is done soon, probably grow up to be largely uncontrolled and unable to regulate his own actions and emotions.

On the long (long, long) subway ride back we also talked about when I should leave Ankara after the birth (maybe one month after, in the first week of August), when my mother-in-law can come and the logistics of all that, how we’ll try to find a part-time nanny, and how I’ll be trying to get a contract from the university that allows me to work part-time starting from September.  As I mentioned, I don’t need  to work – but I’d like to for the sake of my psychology and creating a well-balanced life.  My mother-in-law, who chugged along the whole day and had just been commenting on how refreshing it was to get some air, see a few different faces, spend time in adult company, and talk to non-two-year-olds, gave me a one word reply: “Work!”.

To close, here’s a borek recipe, just in case you want to make your own “borek day”.

Ankara in the Sun

On a [much] lighter note, here are some photos of a warm and lively Ankara taken around Tunali during my Saturday street photography class (hosted by the Fuji Film Showroom), including plenty of photos of one very determined toddler stalking pigeons in the park.

For all my nicely edited photos (the ones below aren’t edited, as unfortunately I can’t add photos directly to wordpress from google drive), click here.

Black and White portraits are of one of the photography course instructors (we were supposed to use him as a model while experimenting with depth of field) and some of the other students in the class.

On Our Generation’s Cold War (And the Second Bombing in Ankara)

Last night another car bomb went off in Ankara.  It sounded like thunder – either hailing the rain that came this morning in a quiet, grey drizzle or the greater storm to come.  Unlike all previous attacks in Ankara and Istanbul, which were on political protests or government buildings/vehicles, this was an attack against anonymous everyday citizens.  One car laden with bombs drove into the side of a bus – bus 284, a normal, everyday bus filled with a random sampling of 20 normal, everyday people – and exploded.  Near the temporarily-permanent Police center on the top half of Guven Park cordoned-off in blue chainlink fence, near several ministries and important government buildings – but not an attack directly on the government, or government employees, or protesters, or foreign tourists (Istanbul).

When I heard the thunder my immediate thought was that it might be another attack – the second within a month – the same way that I’m always now wary when walking through Kizilay.  Because we are living in a sort of cold war, one where we worry about bombs and attacks, and this general anxiety runs parallel to our everyday lives.

It’s amazing how easily we turn from serious discussion to trivial thoughts.  On Friday, by the end of a conference held here on “EU-Turkey Cooperation on ‘Refugee Crisis'” concerning Syrians and huge questions for Turkey (followed by the German EU Ambassador refuting the EU’s responsibility for the refugee crisis in Turkey), I was thinking about what I would have for lunch, the same question debated by panel speakers clustered around the front steps.  After yesterday’s bombing we flipped through 5 or 6 news channels, found what we could online (not much; the same 3 half-known facts and a few shaky video clips), my mother-in-law switched back to her favorite show, Turkish Survivor. The great debate was then on which route to take to work, as the entire downtown is closed off to private vehicles until the 25th.  Why?  Because people can’t live in constant crisis, and because there’s very little we can do, especially after the fact.  We call each other and make sure everyone is ok, we reconfigure our commutes to avoid certain areas; I talked to USAK about arriving and leaving earlier to avoid being near any government buildings around rush hour and avoid the center entirely. And we pack our lunches and we go on living.

Today we left at 7:45 – though tomorrow we’ll start leaving at 7:30 – and took the Konya road around the center, past the main bus terminal and Bahcelievler.  I got off at Besevler 45 minutes before most people arrive at the office and walked for half an hour, through quiet Monday morning streets subdued by either the downcast weather or  last night’s shake on civilization.

besevler march 14

As to who’s to blame for the attacks, This Washington Post Article makes a fair point – albeit a few days early (prophetic) in examining the effects of power under the current party.


Being Pregnant Abroad: Ankara at 5 Month

I’m in Ankara for the next six months because 1) We have health insurance here, 2) Hospitals are *way* better than in Bishkek, and 3) It’s both in the middle and easy for all concerned to get visas. In general, it’s a far better experience than being pregnant in Bishkek.
First, having health insurance. Because my husband is employed and received SGK (the national health insurance) and I now have a foreigner ID number, I am fully covered. As soon as I was registered in the system I realized that – for the first time in my life – I could go into any public hospital anywhere in the country and not pay a thing (or pay very, very little). Even the dentists and optometrist is covered. Of course I had health insurance growing up, but premiums are still very high in the US, and there’s always a lot of paperwork. No more. I think the only thing we’ll pay for is a private room post-birth at the hospital, which should run about $150. Seriously, major relief. Other said, medical service is much more in-out, get-it-done than in the US. Don’t expect to find nice spacious waiting rooms with aquariums and children’s play corners in public hospitals. The steel-benched waiting room at the Gazi University hospital is washed in these eerie fluorescent lights that make it look like the perfect set for a B-grade zombie flic. But the doctors do know what they are doing and have all the specialists and all the equipment and resources they might possibly need right there, which we decided was more important than the plush white chairs and free tea bar at the private clinic where I did my first check-up.

Second, things that are taboo (or viewed with suspicion):
– Cat hair. The mother-in-law (and other people I’ve met of her generation) is convinced that cat hair causes cancer and suggested that we should get rid of our [adorable, loving] cat before the baby comes. Apparently the daughter of her relative’s neighbor’s cousin (or some other equally tentative connection) died from accumulating pounds of cat hair in her intestines. Considering that people rarely die of pica, and even our vacuum doesn’t inhale that much cat hair within a year, I’d say that, if the story is true, the woman in question definitely had larger health issues at play. Like, even if she did manage to get that much cat hair through her nasal passage, weren’t her stomach enzymes working? In oh-so-not-related news, just two days ago Johnson & Johnson admitted that some of its products (like baby powder with talc) do contain cancer-causing components. But here cat hair causes cancer, not [apparently] cigarettes, cleaners or toxic toiletries (see below). Side note: I grew up in one household with cats, Guinea pigs, llamas and a rabbit, and another household that always had two cats and two dogs, and I 1) am not dead, and 2) have yet to develop any respiratory problems. Just saying.
– Exercise. My mother-in-law (just MIL from here on) initially viewed my propensity to exercise with suspicion. She was quite surprised when I began telling her that doctors now recommend *at least* thirty minutes of exercise a day for pregnant women. While she may now be scientifically convinced, I think she’s still personally unaccustomed to the idea and I’m still warned on occasion about not wearing myself out.
– Bending over. While stopping to fix my shoe I was told that bending over could cause miscarriages. So, apparently, can carrying children.
– Opening windows or walking (instead of taking the metro) when it’s cool, cold or rainy, as I apparently could get a cold. I think I’m more likely to get sick from not-fresh air or inhaling all the bacteria breeding in public transportation. Related to exercise (above) I’ve also had to remind people that, even if the weather is inclement, in their last few months pregnant women are at risk for edema (sling and blood pooling in the legs, ankles and feet), so it really is better if I bookend my hours of sitting at a desk with walking to and from the office.
– Coffee. Right on spot. Here I actually had to convince my MIL that I could still have some coffee, as long as I keep it below 150-200 mg a day. One of my husband’s friends, however, didn’t know that black tea had any caffeine.

And things that are not:
– Cleaning. Most cleaning supplies have a lot of [toxic] chemicals in them and pregnant women are thus warned to either switch to all-natural products, or get their spouses/partners to do all the invasive cleaning. However, cleaning in Turkey is usually a woman’s responsibility. As my MIL put it, men feel embarrassed/out of place if they have to clean (her youngest son, by the way *does* clean on weeks when our cleaner doesn’t show up and does have dishes-duty three days a week, both of which he does with manly fortitude, so I’m pretty sure this “embarrassment” can be unlearned). Here, however, my brother-in-law’s wife is a bit of a cleaning fanatic, especially when guests are involved. She’s just scrubbed the entire flat (including washing the curtains) in preparation for her son’s first birthday party (and accompanying hive of relatives), and while the kids came over here to stay away from the fumes, she also cleaned all the way through both her pregnancies, which is definitely a no-no.
– Eating a lot. Pre-pregnancy I wore a US size 2-4 (around a size 26 in jeans). As I have started to expand in the last month and most of my pants are now too snug, I looked at a few stores for pregnancy pants with expandable waistbands (For the record, in Turkey LC Waikiki, Defacto and C&A all generally have expectant mother sections). In Turkey I wear a small size 36, which is about equivalent to a US size 4. In LC Waikiki it was the smallest pre-natal pant size they had, and even then some of the pants were so loose they felt they were falling off my hips. As one sister in law put it (half joking about her own post-pregnancy pudge), “Women in Turkey get huge when they’re pregnant”. Uh, gestational diabetes, big babies and pre-term/difficult births anyone?
– Smoking around pregnant women/babies. This is actually something I’ve seen more among the Turkish population in Bishkek, where men can commonly be seeing smoking at a restaurant table right next to a baby. Because, you know, second hand smoke can’t affect children. But watch out for that insidious cat hair.

Though some people really get it. Today I was getting my hair cut (quick plug-in for Loca Kuafor at 170/B on Hosdere – the interior may not look like much, but service is right on target) when the stylist suggested I get highlights too. I told him I was pregnant so couldn’t have anything chemical put in my hair, and he immediately recommended me an all-natural chemical-free shampoo.
Actually, most people are pretty health-conscious. For example, when I’m offered a giant serving of food and I turn it down reminding the offering party that I don’t actually need to eat that much and excess weight gain can be problematic for pregnant women, they *always* acknowledge that as true. It’s just a matter of cultural habit versus the slow integration of scientific knowledge into everyday life. Regardless of whether or not people practice healthy eating, they do generally have a good idea of the guidelines. Some ideas are already integrated; if we have tea at home, for example, I’m always poured a less-concentrated cup and not given a sugar spoon.
Other things are quite nice: people are generally positively receptive to pregnancy (like at work), but don’t make a big fuss about it. It doesn’t define me as a woman. [Unlike in Kyrgyzstan] I’m still first and foremost appraised for my characters, actions and input. It’s not like I’m somehow suddenly validated for fulfilling my female role.
I don’t yet look very pregnant (unless you saw me four or five months ago you probably wouldn’t notice anything), and so I have yet to see what people’s public reactions are. But we’ll get there, and I’ll write another post once we do.