Saturday, September 5, 2015

Orientation Day 5: History 101 & Turkish Manners

Friday, September 4, 2015

Jummah Mubarak!

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I missed my 7:15am alarm and frantically awoke at 8:32am. In panic, I brushed my teeth, threw on clothes, ran to grab some breakfast, and did my Turkish homework while stuffing watermelon and a boiled egg (I'm usually not a bad student!). I made it to class for Turkish lessons barely in time at 9:02am! Oh, it was brutal. The entire morning felt like a drag. I needed coffee to stay awake and learn the new lessons. We learned how to say different countries, nationalities, and languages, and also how to shop at the market – clearly, a very important dialogue for my next 10 months. Luckily the lessons were for only 2 hours but they felt like an eternity with my constant drowsiness. I could feel my body completely shut down from inside.

I was grateful for a coffee break, when I put more caffeine in my system to help me get through the day. I even ate a biscuit because I had a small breakfast.

We then had a very informative and interesting session by a political scientist, Assistant Professor Ilker Ayturk of the Ihsan Dogramaci Bilkent University, who shared with us the fascinating history of Turkey since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in early 20th century. Unlike the United States, which declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, the Republic of Turkey transitioned from the crumbling Ottoman Empire and was officially established in 1923. We learned about the War of Independence, battles with Greece, sweeping cultural reforms that transformed Turkish society, and the identity crisis that resulted from these visible (calendar, dress, alphabet, time) and substantive (law, penal ode, Westernization) changes. Turkey is known as the “Cradle of Civilizations” because of its rich diversity of people and cultures—Turks, Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, orthodox, Armenians, Kurds. The “Kemalists” (named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk), who fervently imposed these changes, did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Ottoman Empire and viewed the diversity of its population as a threat to nation-building.

At the same time, there were a good number of people, mainly conservative Muslims, who felt left out of this process and felt they were “wronged” during the formation of the republic. They want modernization but not Westernization and they want to keep Islam and not comprise it. This split in ideology, explained Professor Ayturk, still exists in Turkish politics today. Being the history and political science nerd that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this process. The professor went on to brief us about contemporary Turkey and important figures such as current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Kurdish issue also resurfaced and I listened carefully to all the viewpoints in the conference room, hoping to learn as much as I can before forming an opinion of my own. The professor encouraged us to stay current on Turkish politics, especially with an election approaching in November.

The next two sessions were not quite as interesting but important nonetheless. They were “English training sessions” which taught us how to use the course book, design adapting new materials, and knowing the responsibilities of teachers and students in Turkey.

The day ended on a lighter, much more entertaining note. An elegant lady by the name Ms. Ayşen Yücel led the “Turkish Way of Living” workshop, which gave us a flavor of do’s and don’ts of living in Turkey. It was essentially a run-down of the mannerism of Turkish culture. I found many of them to be similar to the Pakistani culture in which I grew up during the early party of my childhood, and still experience at home. I’ll quickly summarize them here in bullet format:
  • Sharing is caring – never return an empty plate
  • Bring a gift if invited to dinner
  • Take shoes off before entering the house
  • Football is always a conversation starter
  • Don’t leave early from a party – hosts might think you dislike them
  • Common to spay a few drops of cologne on your hands and run on your arms if the hosts offers it to you
  • Turkish way of bathing and refreshing is at a “hamam” (similar to a spa)
  • The Evil Eye – not superstitious but a cultural belief in the negative intentions of others towards you.
  • Buy a little magic blue bead to save you from the evil eye and say “MashAllah” after all good things
  • Traffic is really dangerous – be very careful
  • Always a good idea to dress conservatively if you’re not sure if the city/region where you at is liberal or not
  • Tipping – don’t have to tip taxis, but yes to barbers and waiters
  • No (french) kissing in the public – when greeting someone, you match the cheeks and kiss the open air on both sides
  • People do not respect personal space
  • Some men do not prefer to shake ladies’ hands
  • Know special holidays such as  Ramazan Bayrami (Eid al-Fitr), Kurban Bayrami (Eid al-Adha), November 10 – Commemoration of Ataturk (he died on this day in 1938), and a few others
  • Try Turkish drinks such as çai (pronounced chai), ayran (like Pakistani lassi, blended yogurt with water and ice), Turkish coffee, soda (mineral water)
  • Raki – Turkish alcoholic drink, but drink with lots of water because it is highly concentrated
  • Simit – bagel-like donut made of bread and sesame seeds
  • Foods – şiş kebap (sheesh kebab) originally Turkish, salata (salad) eaten during main course not before, Adana has the best kebaps
  •  “Afieyt olsun” (“have a good meal”) is wished before, during, after the meal
  • Avoid certain gestures which she demonstrated to us – which was hilarious

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