Celebrations, Part One

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

For a European (is it really?) nation, Turkey ranks on the bottom of the list for number of holidays.  It’s no France or Spain, for sure.  But when a bayram does come, be ready.  Students extend their holidays for a few days on either side, and the air at the university is rich with the promise of travel and too many family members.

Let’s step way back to the last weekend of October.  Halloween for the Americans, yes, but also Republic Day for the Turks, a celebration of the founding of the modern Turkish Republic.  Say bye-bye to the Ottoman Empire with flags, flags, folk dancing, and massive Ataturk portraits.  Terrifying rain and winds cancelled parades in Tekirdag and Istanbul, so I wasn’t able to truly appreciate the fervent pride that accompanies this holiday.  I did, however, impress my students by correctly pronouncing “Cumhurriyet Bayrami” and knowing of its existence.  It’s pretty hard not to, though, when every main drag in every town has huge signs wishing Turkey a happy 87th bday.

I taught a Halloween lesson that week for my students—apparently it’s known as “Witch’s Holiday” here and some of them had a basic familiarity with the topic.  We talked about Celtic traditions, candy, pumpkins, and costumes.  It’s not easy to explain a holiday as, well, different as Halloween, but seeing as how the word ‘zombie’ is the same in both languages, we were able to reach some common ground.  I think they especially enjoyed my zombie impressions, though I was a bit disappointed not more of them wanted to spit pumpkin seeds with me.  There’s always a brave few souls who will volunteer for Sherri Teacher’s bizarre cross-cultural connection moments, but most were content to eat their seeds at their desks and cheer me on in my attempts to spit at the garbage can.  Oh, there’s another great moment.  If you want Turks to be absolutely baffled by you, carry a garbage can around all day.  No number of explanations of needing it for class will suffice—you will still be the crazy yabanci.

Afternoon classes on the 29th of October were cancelled, so Alex and I headed to Istanbul to prepare for some Halloween fun.  We were running low on cash (thanks, Fulbright!) so our costumes were pretty low-budget—I made a newspaper hat and a cardboard sword as a piss-poor pirate, and Alex rolled up her sleeves as Rosie the Riveter.  We debuted our costumes at the Marine’s Halloween Ball, held at the Marine’s House on the grounds of the American Consulate in Istanbul.  Although the rest of our crew didn’t feel the need to dress up, my friend Rebecca (former Fulbrighter, met on a blog, the most welcoming host ever) created the best makeshift Minnie Mouse costume I’ve seen yet, and her blogging partner Asher went as Hipster Ahmedinejad.  If you’re confused by that costume, so were the rest of us.  It consisted of a hipster get-up and an Arabic tattoo.  Yes.

Rebecca, Alex, and me. Newspaper hat courtesy of Rebecca's job.

I felt pretty special that night—it’s the only party I’ve ever needed a passport to enter—until I entered what could only be considered an international frat party.  The beer selection included such gems as Budweiser and Sam Adams—under normal circumstances this would be relatively disappointing, but the Efes-Tuborg monotony needed to end.

So frat party—imagine slutty nurses and angels dancing on pool tables to Amy Winehouse and you’ve got what the night devolved into around 12.  But there were some lovely conversations to be had with teachers, journalists, scholars, and Consulate workers.  Someone who, under normal circumstances, is quite ordinary in job and activities, instantly becomes more intriguing in Istanbul—basically, I spent the night trying to figure out what circumstances brought us all together in this hot strobe-lit room.  Given the plentiful libations people were more than willing to talk, and overall it was one of the more eclectic and entertaining Halloween celebrations I’ve attended.

When Ahmedinejad ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

The next night was Asher’s Halloween party, in which he wisely changed his costume to a recently procured Turkish military get-up, and Rebecca dressed up as Prime Minister Erdogan’s wife (political costume that I won’t get into here right now).  The international company was lovely and drunk, and I was happily surprised when many of the interesting but far-gone guests I met still remembered me weeks later.  The party ended early due to a washing machine mishap and a roommate who seemed just about ready to snap, but I’d like to think we did Halloween in Turkey right.

Good night, boys.

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