Monday, November 30, 2009

On Kasım and AFS camp in Antakya- Kürban Bayram

On Kasım, or in English November 10th, is the day in Turkey that marks the death of Atatürk. Atatürk in Turkey, can be compared to Moa Zedong of China, or Gandhi of İndia. The savoir and light of Turkey- no sarcasm intended. From what was a rubble after the fall of the Ottoman empire, he formed a country that has developed extremely well and fast. In the beginning he was a revolutionist, later a war hero. He stood for equal rights for everyone,and a government that supports them, and is now known for founding 'kemalist ideaology' and the nation that follows it. In the beginning years of establishing Turkey he was even able to establish voting rights for women- just ten or so years after the USA. Today in sprit Atatürk still runs this country. Photos of him are found everywhere, and his beliefs live on. Not to mention he is completely worshiped by the Turkish people. Far more than any Prime Minister or President of present day.
At 9 o'clock we went out side and stood in our daily morning lines,everyone wearing the complete school uniform unlike usual and little Atatürk photos pinned to our hearts. Different students took turns reading Atatürk quotes in this majestic voice they always use involving Atatürk. We were ordered to prepare to show our respects when the horns when off. All around Turkey, at exactly 9:10 AM, the exact time he died, everyone stands with their arms at their sides, head straight, silently, while horns go off. After a few minutes we sang the national anthem- everyone more loud than most mornings as they put the flag at half and put flowers on our Atatürk statue. In National security class we closed our eyes for the entire period and imagined different photos of Atatürk and discussed his legacy.
My favorite Atatürk quote for you guys- 'When walking, it is not enough to be able to see the horizon; What is beyond the horizon must be seen and understood too.'
After that me and Sadie (the other American exchange student in Çanakkale) jumped on midnight bus to Istanbul and then later off to Atakya. Antakya is in southern Turkey, near the border of Syria,on the Med. Sea. There was the location of our 1\4 stay AFS camp. The first day of our adventure we landed in Adana, greeted all our friends from other cities, and began on a 2 hour drive to our hotel. I fell in love with Turkey once again as we watch through the windows the country side of cotton fields and what looked like rice patties, extremely green in color fly by. Sometimes the sea would even poke out between the rakity little villages. I wish I could describe the landscape here in Turkey better. Its one of a kind- not quite like anything ive seen before. When we arrived at the hotel (the only building in sight, right on the sea) there we little boys playing soccer outside on a dirt patch. The excitement rose as me and the girls I consider sisters got pumped for yet another adventure!
For the next few days we had sleepless nights full of non-stop laughter as well as helpful sessions discussing what we had experience on our exchanges so far. It was a lot less formal than the AFS USA camps, and even with the staff we laughed and cried. One night at sunset we went out and skipped on the beach, later put our feet in the water, later tried to jump over the waves, and finally ended up tripping and falling into the water still fully clothed. The water of the Med. was so warm, our AFS advisors really didn't need to warn that we were going to get sick. Thats just turks for you! :P Another night we got up in the middle of the dinner we got up, and with the hotel staff danced traditional turkish dance.
3 days later and our meetings were done an we were ready to go into Antakya to play tourists. Our liaisons prepared a scavenger hunt leading us to cultural places around the city, requiring us to ask people on the street directions in Turkish frequently. We ended up wandering the only a few feet wide, much more arab streets than Çanakkale for hours,in between colored buildings with big wooden colored doors (or cloth at times)leading into the lives of the wonderful Turkish people. On our scavenger hunt we tried lots of INCREDIBLE new foods, like a hot pink desert made from roses only found in Antakya, hummoses, and spicy sauces to dip hot fresh bread in. We also many saw many sights. Antakya was a really interesting city because it is a lot more middle eastern than Çanakkale, but at the same time is a city visited by St.Paul, with more Christian influences than most of Turkey. At one point along our scavenger hunt we climbed a Cathothic bell tower, only to get a few the big columns found on mosques just a few buildings away. The contrast of the two religions so close was so interesting.
After a few more great days of learning to read Turkish coffee, trying new foods, and touring Antakya it was time to say goodbye to speaking English and the comfort you create when you stick a bunch of exchange students in the same room. After a long night of flight delays and missing buses, Sadie and I watched the sea and the towns dotting by as we winded along the road that we couldn't see on the night time bus. As we drove into the sunset, dropping below the water, we braced ourselves once again return to a world we dont quite yet have a grasp on. Continue learning and practicing a new language. Making friends. And knocking down that 'host' part of 'host family'.

What a wonderful world it is.

This next part gets a little graphic. Sorry guys.

Now its a couple weeks later. Life is continually steadily getting better and better as I adapt more and more to Turkey. I managed to somewhat answer 7 or the 10 questions on a health exam the other day which was a huge success. My teachers say 'We have 24 students in the class, plus Amber. Shes speical.' hahaha. Each day is wonderful and challenging at the same time. I love Turkey. I adore the people and the culture. Still each day I can barely make it through, and I keep waiting for it to get easier. I hate to think of it as an endurance test- but thats kind of what it has become. An endurance test I am capable of enduring though. My Turkish is improving, friends I am making, and the adventures keep coming.
This week was Kürban Bayram. This is the Islamic holiday where animals are sacrificed to symbolize Abraham being willing to sacrifice his own son but instead killing a goat when god's angel stopped him. Then meet is then to be given to the poor, and the animals killed are given a get in free ticket to heaven. So as you can guess, this weekend on our agenda was to kill a sheep in Grandmas yard. A great activity for an x-vegetarian like myself I might add. We arrived at grandmas and my host dad changed his clothes. Then out of the car came our sheep. Gizem ran into the house so she couldnt see, but I stayed long enough to catch a glimpse of the poor little guy. He fought as much as he could from his bound legs, and looking back I think he knew his fate.
My family kept telling me I shouldnt watch. 'Bad show' is what my host mom kept warning me, but I decided to poke my head out the window occasionally below at my host dad with his knife anyways. It was going to happen if I saw it or not, So I mine as well try to learn from it. Im still pretty in shock. Im not sure how I managed to watch the little that I did, and then somehow sit and eat sheep for dinner later. I now know that to kill an animal you cut at the throat, which kills it as fast as possible. But the truth is, its still taking life,a breathing, thinking creature. Fast and humane doesnt exactly equal right. I managed to poke my head out the window at the right time to see sheep legs stilling fighting, although its head was almost completely removed, blood pouring into a hole in the ground. I may also add that the really red color of blood from the neck that we all think is fake in the movie 'Sweeny Todd' is in fact the true color of blood when sliced at the neck. At least for a sheep anyways. Again. Im still a little in shock. Because this holiday, its really not a bad thing. Its an important thing dating far back in Turkish culture, and I need to remember to look past my judgements. Killing an animal for the sake of feeding the poor is a acceptable thing to do, and it wasnt any less unhumane than a slaughter house. Still, my host mom couldnt have been more right- 'bad show'. Later, as I stood in the kitchen staring at different whole peices of a once living thing- the legs, the ribs, the heart and other organs in a blue bucket, and the full head abandoned on the sidewalk outside I caught myself counting down the days until I could return home, and at last be a vegetarian again...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What It Means to be an American.

This weeks was Cumheriyet Bayram. This means republic holiday, a national holiday to celebrate the forming of the Republic of Turkey. To celebrate we went to a parade. At the parade I was outstanded with the sprit of nationalism that Turkey has. They all share the same extreme love for their nation. You could sense their pride as you walked down the street and almost every single house had a huge flag hung from their balcony. At the parade most people had miniature flags in hand and a sea of flags was in the stadium below us. The rich red of the blood of soldiers and the white moon and star reflected from the sky displayed on the numerous flags made even me, the American, feel pride for a nation that isn't my own. But,at the same time, I couldn't help wish it were a red white and blue flag swaying instead, and the Turkish flags presence, in actuality just made me love my flag even more. At that moment I wanted to wrap my arms around our glorious star spangled banner. It makes me sad that to love America usually also labels you as a conservitive Republican. I thought back to when, before I left, Steph told me upon my return to America I would kiss the ground out of firey passion for the USA. I scoffed at that then. But as I watched the Turkish parade, I truly loved my country. The United States of America.
As soldiers marched past us, A car full of old men also drove by. Gizem explained to me that those men were the soldiers who had in fact actually seen war. That hit home. It hadn't even occurred to me that Turkey was not currently at war, and that the young men standing in front of me never have and probably never will go to battle. I cant actually personally remember a time when America was NOT at war somewhere.
Later, It was an Interesting experience celebrating an American holiday abroad. I was my first, and as I stepped out of the door dressed in all orange and black (including underwear) and felt so proud. So proud to be different, to be an American, and to flaunt that fact. What a better country to belong to than the one that liberates us by granting us freedoms and equality.
Of course, I could not stay on this Uncle sam hugging, apple pie eating, baseball watching streak for long. That night we seemed to have an interesting selection of movies at Gizems sleepover party. All of them ended up in some way showing the terrible things, the reasons why previous to coming on this exchange made me hate America, that our country has done. Scenes of cruelty from Vietnam war, to beating of homosexuals by police in San Fran. filled me with anger and hate. How could something built on such good standards as the declaration of Independence, act in such unjustly ways!? Sitting in a room full of Turks, I could not help but feel ashamed for my heritage,lost, and confused. I love my country. Just that morning I could have been caught singing the star spangled banner. But fact is fact, and history is inerasable. I simply could not deny or excuse its actions. I could not even say that things are different now, because still, we have soldiers killing over seas.
Music videos here continue to disgust me. American videos are played everywhere here. No wonder people think so badly of America. All they see of us in the media is half naked women botty dropping and films such as the ones I watched with Gizem and her friends. Come on guys, seriously? Not the best images we could convey. Sadie and I discussed how we wished America could control what music videos went out to other countries. Then we realized that would violate exactly what makes us so proud to be Americans.
So what exactly does it mean to be an American? I still don't know. I find myself at a cross roads between loving this nation, and loathing it. Maybe that's what its all about. Being an American means loving our nation because our nation allows us to hate it. Loving it for the freedoms it grants us, but hating it because sometimes these freedoms are misused and abused.

culture note- At the parade I noticed there was no woman soliders. I asked Gizem about it and she told me women never serve in the military in Turkey.