Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stranger in a strange land

Sittin' up in my room, on my last night in the ghetto, munching on peanut butter flavoured Cheetos, sipping
3-in-1 instant nescafe at 7pm. I wonder to myself, what exactly to write about - I suppose I could begin by explaining that in Turkey there does indeed exist peanut butter flavoured cheetos (why? who would come up with such a concept?), and because the idea of simple standard drip coffee is still somewhat foreign here, most caffeine-craving but lazy expats such as myself simply buy little 1-cup packets of 15 cent instant coffee, which come pre-sweetened and whitened (hence the "3" in the title), in little red sachets at every single corner store, to be mixed with boiling water at home.

Turkey: it's a strange place, and these snacks are simple evidence of that. Much is made of Istanbul being the place where East meets West, but more than that it seems to me a country rather insecure and unsure of its identity ("Am I Eastern or Western??" "Help me sort this identity crisis!")- and thus often parades around with a rather sizeable chip on its shoulder, at worst evidenced by its somewhat xenophobic nature; suspicious of anyone who comes from a place firmly Eastern or Western. Anti-arabesque (I had a Turkish woman run away from me when I told her I was Syrian, at a Rock festival last weekend), yet not particularly welcoming of those who hail from that mythical "West" -beyond those who come as tourists.  I say these generalizations with caution of course; there are plenty of cool Turks, I know a few of them. I am speaking of a culture, the way one might speak of Canadians all being beer drinking hockey fans who like to go camping, or French people as cheese-eating snobs. I know not all Canadians are like this, or French people for that matter, but its also a fair statement to make for the general populace, not the minority subcultures, the goths or artists or poets or whomever. Turkey's most well known writer has made similar observations of Turks in his wonderful book "Istanbul, Memories and the city", but I suppose he was allowed to say so, because he himself is a Turk. Then again, I've been thinking a lot about stereotypes and how absurdly politically correct the (so-called western) world has become- these are my observations, and you can take them, or leave them, your choice.

Take for instance, my day to day place of employment. My preschool gig has morphed from a pleasant enough part-time summer romper room of playing with kids and doing random art projects, into a "serious school format" (lets keep in mind some of these kids are barely 2 years), wherein I am expected to construct a formal planned curriculum, with zero prep time, not to mention advice or training. For 1500 lira a month (about 800 bucks). It's laughable, and I don't appreciate the simple lack of appreciation I am given; it would be one thing to criticize every little thing I do (forgetting to change the shirt of one child after lunch, even though I was never trained to do so, for example), if they were able to give some praise when I pull off amazing art project after amazing art project -but again with the shoulder chip that prevents them from giving any positive re-inforcement whatsoever. Every wealthy family wants their child to speak English and pays through the nose to enroll them at these elite preschools, everyone wants to be so chi-chi and "European" - and yet when a real English-speaking born-and-bred gal such as myself shows up, its always a rather transparent indignance that rears its ugly head; that I dont speak Turkish, or that I dont understand the "culture" that might require me to simply innately KNOW to change a child's shirt after he eats (a culture that spoils its children insanely and lets them do whatever they want), and constantly being treated as one might treat a slave - desperate, willing to work for completely subpar pay, for whatever strange reason they have come up with these (incorrect) assumptions. And my situation is not unique- virtually every other ex-pat English speaker I know here works in a similar absurd setting, treated poorly and taken advantage of. And yet, we stay, simply because we "love this city". But how does one really seperate the en masse culture from the city? Are we all completely out of touch, or are we all just exceedingly patient?

I actually didn't intend this post to be ranty or whiny, but perhaps I have just soaked up the communal frustrations that all my friends have been experiencing as of late. Corrupt Emlaks not turning on the electricity even when the bill is paid, taxis ripping you off left and right, insufferable and catty bosses who berate teachers for not dressing "feminine enough" - I've had it up to here with this shiz!!. At least I know I can leave whenever I want -if i ever escape great Constantinople's siren-like ghetto tethers, that is.

The sun is setting, my apartment is rather empty, (with the Syrian refugees having found a place to rent way out past Bakirkoy, out on the coast of the Marmara sea) , and I don't know what else to say. The call to prayer just sounded, and its echo is mingling with the sounds of birds, as they sky goes pink and all grows dark. The streets go quiet for about 15 minutes at this time, as it is the dinner hour and Tarlabasi's Kurdish and Roma families gather around the table. I will miss the unique-ness of this neighbourhood, and all I got to witness and experience (even the children with their cap guns), while living here.

And me? I sit with these godawful peanut butter puffs and sip overty sweet coffee. Good night.