Thursday, May 14, 2015

The bureaucratic hitch

Two things happened in rapid succession: 1) Vera was born and 2) I was given notice that I had been fired from Izmitkilbasa University for not returning to work. The notice that I had been fired came in an email that confused me. Returning to work? But I was not supposed to return to work until mid-July.

In the week before flying back to the United States, I had met with the Dean of Arts and Sciences expressly to have a form signed that would extend my maternity leave 30 days beyond the government mandated four months. The thirty days were a part of my contract as they were annually-given vacation days. I had left the form with her to sign and in that meeting she also indicated to me that my contract would not be renewed.

"Full-time will be a lot for you with a new baby. Why not part time?" she asked.

"Well, I would like to work full-time."

"We have had 9 full-time faculty go on maternity leave this year alone. It's hard on the university. I would suggest you think seriously abut part-time."

She was trying to prepare me, but what abut the form? How stupid I had been about that form? I found a photocopy of the correct form but without her signature. Idiocy, I should not have left the form with her, but should have insisted on her signing it then and there and then personally walked it along. What had I been thinking?

"Yes, I will take care of it," she had said, but she had not taken care of it.

Drafting my response letter had taken some time. My father, who is a retired lawyer, had helped me draft the thing, and I was proud of the result. We had many facts via email correspondence to verify that when I had left Turkey repeatedly in emails to our department head, to the Dean, and to HR. I had said I would return in mid-July. This missing form was a technicality on which they sought to hang me. In an email they had also claimed that I had missed a departmental meeting, but in all my email accounts, I had received no notice of such a meeting.

When Vera and I came back to Turkey, she was just ten weeks old and the rising credit card debt loomed large. Would the Turkish government really pay me four months of my pay or would there be some bureaucratic hitch that I could not get out of, some blasted form that I had neglected to fill out. I called HR more than once and was reassured that all the proper paper work had been completed.

My levels of trust of those around me had dropped to new lows. There was a running commentary of criticism for Vera not being breast fed. Would you like to breast feed at your parents' house with your father working in an office next door? I felt outraged that Mustafa and his friends would even deign to criticize me. If Mustafa had just asked the friends to leave, then maybe I would not have gone back to the States to have the baby; then, maybe I would have had Vera in a more comfortable, more private living situation.

Mustafa's roommate, Huseyin, had a girlfriend who spoke English after spending a few years in Ocean City, Maryland. She loved children and was available for babysitting whenever. Babysitter? A babysitter was the last thing I needed or wanted. I just wanted enough money to stay home with Vera for another six months. Once the maternity leave money came through and I paid my debt, perhaps I could live cheaply enough as long as I could live cheaply enough, as long as I could contain my rage against Mustafa. Much of it was unfair, but so much of it was unbridled and uncontained.

"You need to save, save, save--now is the time, because you don't know how you will feel when the baby comes, maybe you won't want to work, maybe you will just want to work part-time, who knows?" said Mustafa.

Everyone was talking to me in a new way than before. The distance between me and other people had narrowed and people who before did not seem to care too much now had an opinion on my and my baby's well-being.

Another popular thing to give advice on was the dangers of leaving the windows open. July in Istanbul, and there is not a Turk around who does not stop to tell me that leaving multiple windows open in the apartment is dangerous for the baby because of the cross breeze.

There are even some who race through the apartment closing the windows if Vera and I are there alone. But Vera is usually below window level, so she is not directly in the cross breeze. Huseyin's girlfriend is among those closing windows and talking of how bad this is for Vera. It is odd and confusing to experience this synchronized view of baby care when in the U.S. the battle over how to take care of a baby is anything but synchronized.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Alevism and Judaism

There are a couple of websites that promote the idea that Alevis are "crypto-Jews" who outwardly act as Muslims but inwardly keep Jewish laws and only marry other Alevis to prevent the dilution of their values.

The word Alevi, according to one of the websites, is a variation of the Jewish last name and the priestly caste: Levi. It is a wild possibility as, from what I have seen, Alevis really do adorn their houses with images of Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and the fourth caliph of Islam. That this adornment would be a front would be shocking and difficult to pull off, unless Alevism has been passed down orally for all these years in order to prevent the Ottomans in the past and the Turks in the nearer past and present from persecuting them. 

Other support for this theory seems more circumstantial. Practicing Alevis are strictly monogamous. They do not condone "marrying out" and consider the children of those who "marry out" not fully Alevi. The "dede" functions much like a rabbi in that he is chosen from within the community and is consulted when there are spiritual, political or social questions within the community.

Like the Jewish tradition, the Alevis also encourage questioning. From what I understand at the end of the weekly cem ceremony, there is an open discussion abut some issue of relevance to the community and every member (both men and women) is invited to join in and participate in the discussion.

Proselytizing is discouraged. Non-Alevis can not convert into the faith. Curiosity surrounding Alevism is regarded with suspicion. I have experienced this personally when I asked whether I could attend a cem ceremony. Even though I have asked more than once, not one of the many Alevis I have met have ever followed through on helping me to oberve an Alevi cem ceremony. I am sure it would be possible but my sincerity and motives would have to be sussed out thoroughly first. 

The abortion clinic

The abortion clinic in Dallas where I got my abortion has since shut down. Since that time, just two years ago, 10 of the 14 abortion clinics in the state of Texas have closed. When I got my abortion, of course. there were signs that the clinic was besieged, but I did not expect the shut down of these clinics to be quite so fast.

The abortion doctor had once taught at my college before attending medical school. We chatted about his experience of my college and about the Turks in his platoon while fighting in the Korean War. By law he was required to talk to me about the possibility of infertility, hemorrhaging, long term mental illness, etc as a result of the abortion, which he did. The "etcetera" was terrifying.  What could be worse than the possibility that between these various ailments was not "or" but "and"--in other words, the result of abortion would be infertility, hemorrhaging, and long-term mental illness. The religious right surely wished this was the case. Then, they could put a stop to the whole practice for good.

There is a documentary called Lake of Fire (2006) about the various polemics surrounding the abortion issue. A woman interviewed observes that so many of the stalwart anti-abortion activists are single males without any real family ties. She speculates  that these men get "a libidinous thrill" from standing outside the abortion clinic observing these women seeking abortion because in their imagination these were women who had had sex. The libidinous thrill came from a sense of condemnatory closeness to these sexually active women. 

I did not really believe what the doctor told me. The internet had made containing the facts about the dangers of abortion almost impossible. A quick google search revealed that almost all the most reputable medical websites said the statistical dangers of abortion were far, far lower than those who carry a baby to term. There were also statistics on the number of women who seek an abortion in their fertile years. Apparently, one in three women will seek an abortion at least once in her lifetime. If so many women were also suffering long term mental illness, we would hear more about it, and we would see the negative effects around us. Instead, women wisely seek an abortion when necessary and then keep their mouths shut, knowing the condemnation they are likely to receive, ranging from mild disapproval to the all-out judgment of the woman as guilty of murder.  

Converting to Judaism

 Why I want to become Jewish (reasons I mentioned and reasons I didn't)

1) Because I don't believe that only Christians who believe in Christ go to heaven.

This would mean that bad people who believe in Christ would gain admittance into the afterlife while good people who do not would be refused. It is a silly tenet and fundamentally unfair. Just as instructors should not give A's to students who merely rave about their class on evaluation forms but don't do any work. Admittance to any heaven should be based on works and behavior not on belief alone. 

2) Because I don't believe in a place called hell, purgatory or heaven. 

I simply don't know if there is an afterlife and it does not matter to me. Since I don't believe in an afterlife, some might say, "Well, what is to stop me from doing x, y or z?," since there is no heaven or hell to encourage me to right behavior. What a silly argument! I am encouraged to right behavior because God put a conscience in my soul to remind me to behave rightly, and I know that the result of disobeying the laws would be my unhappiness and my estrangement from God, closeness to whom leads to happiness and a sense of fulfillment. That is ultimately why one tries to behave rightly--to feel a closeness to God

3) Because from my father, I have gained an awareness of Jewish values.

Many members of my family are at least part Jewish, and culturally, through college, Yaafa, Ben, Art, I have become more Jewish. 

4) Why else? Because of Vera. 

Because she is not really going to be an Alevi child and the Catholic baptism that I did did not mean much because we did not believe in it. There was no real study involved, no mental or spiritual challenge to meet, so I cannot say there was any accomplishment in her being baptized.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

School memories

My father has decided to take my sister and me to a dude ranch in Arizona. I am in the third grade, eleven years old; my sister is in the fifth grade and thirteen years old. We play poker in the evening for real money. We go on a guided walking tour of the desert. On the tour the guide warns us about the types of cacti not to touch. Even though we have been told which ones not to touch, one boy disregards the warnings and now howls his head off about the pain.

My father brings out his Swiss army knife that, miraculously enough, has tweezers. Within minutes the howling stops. I feel very proud that it is my father who has had the Swiss army knife that stopped the boy's crying.

The next day my father wants my sister and me to go out on horses together, but that requires me to lie about my age. I stand there nodding vigorously when the guide asks if I am really 13 years old, but when it is time to get on the horse, the tears run down my face. I can not get on the horse, and my father who is standing there asks to see me in private.

"Just get on the horse! You'll have more fun if you're with your sister."

"No, I can't. They're older than me."

He and I go back to the cabin, and I can feel from his silence a confusion over why his child can't lie about even the simplest things. From what I understand, my father lied his head off in school. All the kids cheated their way through exams and would have never considered turning a classmate in for such an offense. There is enough pre-war chaos in 1930s Vienna that everyone behaves in whatever way will keep them clear of trouble and require the least amount of work possible.

At my private school in Atlanta, I must right down a pledge of honor on every major test, exam or essay. I am deeply convinced that an all powerful God can see any lies and cheating and feels displeasure when we act in a dishonorable way.

We say little as we wait to pick up my sister from her horse ride through the desert. Tomorrow there will be a long car ride to the Grand Canyon, and the day after we are home.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Barbecue, pt. 1

Every one of Mustafa's siblings (except for his brother who lives in London) plans to attend the barbecue to celebrate their meeting Vera for the first time. All except the youngest of Mustafa's eight siblings are in their thirties or forties, married, with one child. Only one of the eight siblings, one brother, has had more than one child.

The first day I overhear Mustafa's grandmother lamenting the absence of grandchildren. My daughter Vera lives far away and will not grow up to be an Alevi child, she says. She repeats herself and talks of the burning of her village and the family members that were killed when the village was burned. Sometimes she cries remembering her forgotten dead. She speaks in Turkish and I understand much but not all of  what she says. Sometimes my responses clue her in to some incomprehension and she asks me again, "Do you speak Turkish?"

Mustafa's mother speaks primarily Kurdish and a little Turkish. I glean from the others that in raising her eight children, she has been mostly home bound and therefore hasn't had much contact with Turks or Turkish. Her situation as a linguistic outsider reminds me of my own and I feel that I am beginning to understand the powerful communication conveyed by her first hug. I understand the fear of being forgotten because one can not entertain through words, and I want Vera to kiss and love her in a simple way as my daughter too does not yet have a vocabulary to communicate powerful feelings through words.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mustafa's relations in Izmir

To reach Izmir we had traveled by bus through the night for close to nine hours. Around midnight the bus boarded a ship. Mustafa and I, pushing Vera in her stroller, walked up and down the ship deck, admiring the moon's reflection on the water.

My purpose as I saw it was to be the middleman between Vera and Mustafa because she still refused to interact with him. She would not let him hold her. She would not respond to his questions. She simply did not acknowledge him. It was difficult to know what could be done to help him find his way into her emotional landscape. She was a fickle two-year-old and she acknowledged whomever she felt like acknowledging.

We arrived in Izmir early the next morning after driving through most of the night. The Turkish bus we took was far above our comparable American Greyhound busses. The seats were large and comfortable. Every passenger had his or her own television monitor with a choice of at least 40 feature length films to watch. At the bus terminals, there were nicely decorated and clean separate changing rooms, equipped with wipes, clean disposable paper cloths to cover the changing tables, and nice sturdy padded changing tables.

His youngest brother picked us up at the bus terminal. He was just 21 years old, and he drove his Hyundai Accent at a furious speed, tailgating and weaving on the highway. Vera was in my arms because that is how children are transported in Turkey. There are no car seat laws and I think that I have never seen Turks use one.  This brother of Mustafa's seemed alright, but I never trusted him after this. He had broken the cardinal rule: "Do not drive like an idiot with a toddler in the car."

We walked up a steeply inclined paved road to the first wrought iron gate on the left hand side that was open. Inside stood Mustafa's mother and grandmother holding bowls of black and green berries picked from the fruit tree shading their lovely garden. They both had beautiful, open faces. His mother had wide cheekbones, dark eyelashes, and beautiful green eyes. His grandmother had the same eyes but smaller cheekbones, and was at least a head shorter than his mother.

They kissed and hugged me and said how glad they were that Vera and I came.

Their warm embrace reminded me of the smile and wave from Mustafa on the balcony--acknowledgement that we were not alone, that we were loved.

Vera and I had not even said anything yet.  Love was conditional when I grew up. One had to perform. There were risks. We were first-generation immigrants. We only had what we had because we performed to the satisfaction of others--teachers, parents, employers, you name it.  But the embrace coming from these women was an embrace that came from a joy in your existence. It was unconditional and therefore moving to me as I had trained myself to view love as always strictly conditional and retractable.