Wednesday, 24 March 2010

d.o.b. and pamuk

found out two surprising things about turkey.

1. most children's date of births are fake.
it is common to "register" births with three, four, five, six months of delay.
some people, when asked when their birthday is say "i don't know" with a shrug and a smile and the all star of all comments i always get "IT IS NOT IMPORTANT".
the older the people are the wackier the stories are about their birthdays.
on this issue - some of the feedback i have received so far includes:

"i do not know when my father's birthday is. nobody knows. he does not know. he says he was born in the spring, sometime";

"my mother was born on some day in july - but they registered her on 1st January of the year after";

"i was born in december - but my official birthday is 1st Jan 1980";

"i was born in november - but my parents registered me on 21st January";

"i work as a nurse and once a patient came to reception with his identity card. his date of birth was day:00 - month:00 - year:00. we did not know how to help!"

interestingly - 9 turks out of 10 seem to be born on 1st January.

2. the number of pupils in a typical primary school class (in a single room, that is) is 50 to 60.
a typical primary school in the east of the country puts in the same room all grades and levels - with one teacher trying to teach six things at the same time.

our housekeeper's mother came to visit.
she looks like the witch in snow white. she wears a black dress, a black headscarf. she is short - with very thick olive skin and the eyes of a fierce lemur.
as i open the door she hugs me and takes my head in her hands kissing both sides of it.
"may god bless you - may god bless you" she says - but i am distracted by the stubble i feel on her left cheek.
"you are very sweet" i say - but she looks anything but sweet.
she must be a total dragon, actually.
"you are toooo young" she squeals, with a hint of offence in her voice and scanning me from head to toes as if she had x rays super powers.
"no... no... you are very sweet. god bless. god bless" i say back.

thinking about the seven dwarves and the poisonous apple.

had a class with three of my favourite students last night.

as i could not ask them for an opinion on obama's health reform - which nobody seemed to be aware about - i decided to ask them about "change" and what changes they wished for - in their country, in their lives.
"i wish i could change turkey's education system" one of them, a young woman doctor said - "and if i could change something in my life... i would go never go back to university in ankara. i hate the city. it is dull. people are boring and cold there".

then z. spoke. he is a salesman - looking very much like robert de niro in "raging bull".
first he said he would try to tell people here to stop having so much prejudice "about everything" and then... talking about himself he comically added "before getting married i had a girlfriend for six years. if i could go back i would never waste so much time with someone like that. she was jealous, controlling, self absorbed. she had no sense of humour. she was not happy at all. can you imagine? can you imagine six years with someone like that?? i could have had sooo many other girls in those six years!!!"

then a very serious guy spoke. he is a lawyer. he wants to be a university professor.
he explained he hated "the lack of conscience in today's turkey" since "people do not even know they are on earth...they live... day after day... and do not even realise they are living".

which i thought was kind of deep - perhaps a tad too much.
so i went on to say "can i ask you something...? when is your birthday?"
"on 1st January" he said.
" that your real birthday?" i asked again.
"no, actually i was born a couple of months before that" he added in a rather matter of fact way.

galvanised by the uptenth case of twisted d.o.b. - i turned to the g., the doctor and asked when her mother's birthday was.
"1st January... but she was born some time at the beginning of the summer actually".
"i think it is a bit crazy" i replied.
"no... not crazy" she smiled "birthdays... i mean... IT IS NOT IMPORTANT" she concluded.
then her pager next to her hand went off.
"you need to answer that? any problem?" i checked.
and she smiled again.
"no, no problem..." she told me, quietly and then explained with a very soft, sweet voice:
and kept on smiling.

my turkish is flying.
so to speak.

my vocabulary is expanding beyond any reasonable expectation - with funky new entries like:

after the visit from the mother of our housekeeper i now know how to say "snow white" in turkish.
"pamuk prenses"
which literally translates into "the cotton princess"

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