Monday, November 9, 2009

Tattoos for Turks

In a desperate attempt to introduce a topic which might just possibly, sort of, perhaps appeal to my weekend class of under 22-year olds (having judged the 5-page biography of Helen Keller as a sure-fire egg bomber), I wrote "tattoo" on the board. Love them or hate them, at the very least everyone has an opinion about tats. I inwardly giggled in glee at the hours and hours I could milk out of this topic - for surely this is every teacher's dream - the passing of time without exerting any effort. In my case, it was 4 very long hours to kill on a very long Sunday morning.

Yes, we would talk about everything from Maori face tattoos to nautical themes to hula girls to tribal designs to prison tats.
I am so freaking brilliant. And I am (under normal circumstances), but not, as it turns out, in my weekend class of under 22-year olds.

Does anyone have a tattoo? Silence
What do you think about tattoos?
Is there a tattoo parlour here in Izmit? Silence
Have you ever seen a really interesting tattoo? Silence.

O sweet mother of god. Don't they watch Prison Break?!!

This did not bode well. It turns out that, for the most part, Turks are not big tattoo people. One student went so far as to say that it is anti-Islam to sport an "I heart Mom" tattoo because, since it is permanent, it cann
ot be washed away in pre-prayer ablutions and therefore its very presence would nullify one's prayers to Allah. Yeesh.

Yes, The Prophet (pbuh) is said to have said "May Allah curse the women who do tattoos and those for whom tattoos are done." In the same breath he vilified women who plucked their eyebrows, but that doesn't seem to have made much of an impact in Turkey - the land of the stencil-perfect eyebrows.

As I watched my particularly clever topic circle 'round the bowl, I mentioned the spiffy tattoos of North Africa's indigenous people: the dots and crosshatches and geometric designs which can be found on the faces of Berber women. And yes, I know that these are pre-Islamic in origin but I really don't care at this point. Yes, one girl conceded, there *are* tribes in the east of Turkey who tattoo scimitars on their faces, but .... Are they Muslim? I asked. Yes, she admitted, but they're barbarians. Barbarians. Great.

Do you know anyone who has a tattoo? One student raised her hand. Hallelujah! I cried (inside my head). My friend has a tattoo, she said. What of? His arm. No,
not where, what? (yeesh). His name. His name? Yes, his name. Where? On his arm, she said, pointing to her forearm. Why did he tattoo his name? I asked. Is he prone to forgetting his name? He likes his name, she replied.

In one last charitable effort to save my class from having to plough through 5 pages of Helen bumping into furniture, I asked each student, would you like to get a tattoo some day? Of course, everyone said no. But then one added, our parents wouldn't allow it. Unless .... Unless? I asked perhaps a little too hopefully. Unless we get a tattoo of Atatürk. Seriously? She nodded, most parents won't get too upset if we come home with an Atatürk tattoo.

Of course, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, Atatürk is about as close to being a god as you can in these parts. And what God-fearing Atatürk-loving Turkish parent would (or could) raise an eyebrow to the Father of Modern Turkey appearing on their child's body? Now that would be sacrilege. After all, so revered is he that you can buy fridge magnets and cigarette lighters which bear his hallowed image.

So it turns out that getting a tat of Atatürk's signature - normally on the forearm - is not totally uncommon in Turkey. The heavily slanted, very masculine I'm-going-to-found-the-Republic-of-Turkey signature is de rigueur; his face is optional. His bottle of raki is, presumably, optional as well. Really, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. When, in another class, I asked a young girl what one thing she would change about the world if she could (I'm anticipating obliterating world hunger & disease) she replied, I would like to give my life up for Atatürk, so he would be alive now. Fuck almighty. You know he'd be 128 years old if he were alive? I asked. Silence.

But back to Sunday morning. So an Atatürk tattoo, I resumed, would any of you consider getting one? Several heads nodded. That, ladies and gentlemen, is youthful rebellion at its finest. Now let's turn our books to page 163 where Helen campaigns for women's suffrage ...


Jillian said...

Seriously, WHERE did you find the picture of the Ataturk tattoo? I'm in love, I might just have to get one...y'know, out of irony. Or perhaps I'll choose a different leader - Bashar al-Assad perhaps, or MoVI?

This Cat's Abroad said...

Google images for Ataturk tattoos and have fun!

Lauren Quinn said...

Super interesting post. I was just traveling in Morocco, where I choose to keep my tattoos covered, but was intrigued by the Berber facial tattoos. Nice work getting the kids engaged--and getting a bad-ass post out of it. Ataturk tattoo! I love it.

Miss Footloose said...

I love this story! You just never know what you come across in people's heads or actions when you mess around in another country and culture.

Your students are a great source to mine for story material.

Anonymous said...

yo man where did you get that picture of ataturk can you letme kno the link to that picture cuz i would like to get this done as well.

This Cat's Abroad said...

Anonymous: just google Ataturk tattoo.

Shelby Aslaner said...

I know this post is a couple of years old, but I was on Google search for K. Ataturk's signature to actually get it tattooed on my shoulder. I'm only half Turkish and I live in the U.S. (Georgia at that). I really loved this article. It made me smile and I understand it completely considering my visit to Turkey. I noticed a lot of people had it on their forearm. I wonder what the significance of it is? Anyway, I just wanted to comment and say how much I enjoyed this post. Happy trails. :)

axel phoby said...

I live in australia but nationality is turkish and want to get that tattoo aswell and the quote:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.