Monday, August 31, 2009

Snow Sale

Lest any of you think that all I ever do is bitch and complain talk about Ramadan, I'll take a break from this obsession theme and pull a little something from the now-isn't-that-interesting vault.

So, in spite of the fact that it's 30-something degrees today (although Larry the Lobster - our accuracy-challenged ceramic lobster with a thermometer in its thorax - claims that's it's 49 °C), I offer you a wintery tale from the village of Eruh, here in Turkey.

Now Eruh is a village in the province of Siirt, in the southeastern part of Turkey. The majority of people living in this area are Arabs and Kurds with a handful of Assyrians tossed in - personally, I thought the Assyrians went the way of all flesh under the Babylonians about 2500 years ago, but shit!, they're still around. Eruh isn't much of a tourist destination since it's rife with Kurdish activists "terrorists"; indeed, asking a Turk about any place in eastern Turkey is tantamount to giving a WWII German soldier his transfer papers to Stalingrad.

But huzzah! in the last two years, "terrorist" activities - my students' favourite tales involve newborn babies and bayonet-wielding terrorists (seriously) -
have calmed down a bit which has allowed the annual summer tradition of snow-selling to resume.

The annual summer tradition of snow-selling? you ask.

Indeedy. It seems that for the villagers from Eruh, summer means scaling the precipitous nei
ghbouring mountains - mules in tow - and collecting the snow which accumulates in the caves there. Packing the snow into sacks, these snow-istas (I don't know what else to call them) and mules make the trek back down down down to sell their wares to anxiously awaiting snow-gourmands in the provincial capital.

The snow is used to make snow cones the colourfully named dish
cellat yemi ("executioner’s meal"), an ice-cream-like dessert made by pouring grape molasses (yes, I know, molasses isn't made from grapes) over a tray of snow, and then mixed with a spoon. Aren't the best dishes simple in design? Why the insides of freezers can't be scraped to make the same dish eludes me ...

In any case, snow from the Çırav mountains generally sells like hotcakes and in last week's haul, the snow sold out in 10 minutes flat. I would add that villagers make this arduous and often treacherous trek into the mountains in order to supplement their meagre incomes - and of course to satisfy their hankering for a nice big helping of "executioner's meal". Of course, at 1 lira a kilo - roughly 75 cents - I'd rather beg. True, I have no pride and absolutely no work ethic to speak of and I really hate the cold.

For your recipe of
"executioner's meal" and other local menu suggestions, email me at:

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Fast & the Furious

What were those fateful words?

I may actually not want to kill anyone by month's end. I just might make it through the next four weeks without the words I fucking hate Ramadan passing my lips.

And how did I end those fateful words?

(although I highly doubt it).

And when did I write those fateful words?

Six days ago.

So, Ramadan is one-week old and yes, I fucking hate Ramadan. There, I've said it. And If I'm going to be brutally honest, those dreaded words passed my lips several days ago.

Seven days into the holiest month of the Islamic calendar and I want to kill every one of my students who is fasting with my bare hands and a pair of salad tongs. Just the thought of facing another three weeks of pious devout listless cr
anky somnolent bitching (I'm tired, I'm hot, I'm cold, I'm thirsty, I'm, I'm, I'm ...) zombies sets my teeth on edge. Students are falling asleep in class, forgetting to bring pens, pencils, books and paper, and the likelihood of getting them to actually do anything that tests their mental ability (answer the question 'how are you?' with more than a grunt) and physical prowess (open a book) is hovering around (i.e., below) nil. For Christ's sake, offer it up to God - isn't that the whole point?

Am I exaggerating? Last night, thirty minutes before sunset, one of my adult students put his head down on his desk and went to sleep. Personally, I voted for not waking him up for his dinner break at 7:50. Apparently my other students thought I was joking.

That I haven't stood up on a chair in the middle of the room and screamed why the fuck did you sign up for classes during Ramadan?!! at the top of my lungs is a testament to my deeply ingrained if not innate sensitivity for those of God's suffering creatures who sacrifice themselves for their beliefs. And most of my students are clinically brain dead now anyway and wouldn't be able to register the woman standing on the chair.

And yes, I admit that I'm getting a tad tetchy too. That 3 a.m. Wake-Up Call to Allah's All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast Buffet followed an hour and three-quarters later by thunderous cannon fire and the extendo-mix of the pre-dawn call to prayer - signalling both the beginning of the day's fast and the official end to my night's sleep - is all wearing a bit thin.

So this is what I know:

I have developed a huge and warm & fuzzy respect for those of my students whom I see smoking and having a coffee during break. Thank you. Thank you for nourishing your body with life-giving nutrients like sugar and caffeine and nicotine. I cannot overstate my appreciation. Have you caught on to the fact that I'm only teaching to you? Don't worry - my other students (those who were once your colleagues) won't have noticed anything because their brainwaves have dipped well below 5 Hertz cycles per second, so they're processing absolutely nothing these days. We'll meet them again toward the end of September.

I also know that I am quickly becoming a Tylenol PM addict since,
in my pea-sized brain, drugging myself at 11:30 somehow guarantees me an uninterrupted sleep. Except that it doesn't because I am still roused by that 3 a.m. Wake-Up Call to Allah's All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast Buffet followed an hour and three-quarters later by thunderous cannon fire and the extendo-mix of the pre-dawn call to prayer - signalling both the beginning of the day's fast and the official end to my night's sleep.

So just to recap: I fucking hate Ramadan.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rama Lama Ding Dong

We hadn't heard the cannon fire or the call from the neighbourhood minaret signifying that the day's fasting had come to an end, but the other passengers on our train seemed to sense the end of the day and opened up their sealed bottles of water and called for the simit-man - the simit being Turkey's unbiquitous bagel-like street food - to sell them one - quickly. Taking our cue from them, we retrieved the water bottles from our bags and opened up a package of cookies to break our fast with them on this, the first day of Ramadan - or Ramazan, as it's known here. Such is the sense of solidarity, community, and brotherhood that Ramadan instills in its observers.

Of course, fasting 'til sunset was made a whole lot more doable by having lunch four hours earlier. Yes, those frosted glasses of wheat beer and pizza we had on the terrace at Taps brew-pub in Istanbul made that last stretch of not eating and drinking
considerably less taxing.

So yes, in spite of repeated declarations that I would never 'do' another Ramadan - and having successfully kept to my word for a grand total of two Ramadans - Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I once again find ourselves in the throes of yet another month of hungry, thirsty, nicotine-deprived, sex-starved
Muslims. But this isn't Morocco - to which I offer Allah a hearty and resounding al humdullah.

But I confess that I did have my doubts: it would seem that, as in Morocco, the traditional wake-the-fuck-up pre-dawn breakfast call - is alive and well in Turkey. And whereas in our neighbourhood in Rabat, the
Last Call to Allah's All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast Buffet is ushered in by a drum - albeit a jarring cacaphonous one - the dinner bell which greeted us Friday morning was decidedly less melodic. And believe me when I say that the bar was already set quite low. In Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's words, it sounded like someone beating a plastic pail. But a very very loud one. One that could rouse me from a drug-induced sleep.

At - sweet mother of God - 3 in the goddamn morning.

But things aren't always as they seem and that's not just my sleep deprivation (it's only Day 2 of 30) mumbling incoherently talking. My first indication that Turks might observe Ramadan in - shall I say - a more unconventional if not unorthodox manner than their co-religionists in North Africa came when we were told that liquor shops wouldn't close or even limit their hours of operation during Ramadan. Of course, we dismissed such talk as the absurd tales of a fabulist. Then yesterday, we saw a number of our students sucking away on cigarettes and drinking coffees on the first morning of fasting. And no one was screaming at them. Berating them. Spitting on them.
And were there not simit-men walking up and down the aisle of our train yesterday selling their simits? Reader, they were.

And imagine our delight as we walked down Bağdat Caddesi in Istanbul taking in the sights and sounds of İstanbullus sitting outside - outside where Allah could see them! - at streetside cafés, eating and drinking - drinking alcohol no less - in the full light of day! And dear reader, it was daylight - I can swear to it. The light which enveloped these beer-drinking Ramadan iconoclasts was not the blinding light of Allah's smiting lightning bolt (or is that Zeus?), incinerating them to crispy critters but pure sunshine. Honest-to-goodness sunshine. And Allah turned a blind eye.

This is not to suggest that there aren't Turks who are strictly observing Ramadan - for whom swallowing even a globule of toothpaste is anathema - because there are. But at least they aren't ramming their views down the non-fasting throats of others - to which I offer Allah a hearty and resounding al humdullah.

This bodes well. I may actually not want to kill anyone by month's end. I just might make it through the next four weeks without the words I fucking hate Ramadan passing my lips (although I highly doubt it). So to celebrate Ramazan 2009, Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I will go out for a beer tonight - something we could never do outside of an overpriced Western hotel (indoors where we wouldn't offend observing Muslims) in Morocco during Ramadan. Once again, I offer Allah a hearty and resounding al humdullah.

Of course, that won't make tomorrow's breakfast/dinner bell any less strident and earsplitting.

At - sweet mother of God - 3 in the goddamn morning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Today's Earful

I'm the first one to admit that I see nothing inherently wrong in enjoying a balanced supper of nourishing popcorn - lightly salted and without butter (because adding butter would just be foolish - from a nutritional standpoint). So this blog might seem a little odd coming from someone eager to promote the addition of popcorn to the Canada Food Guide - at its rightful place at the tippy-top apex of its food pyramid.

The truth is, I don't like corn - apart from its popped incarnation and its candied namesake which fleetingly populates the planet at Hallowe'en. If pushed, I'll grudgingly eat an ear of corn (if slippery with butter and gritty with salt) but that's the extent of both my politeness and desire to eat corn.

In Turkey, corn is everywhere. It is not just dumped on a perfectly lovely green salad or s
prinkled far too liberally on top of a pizza - which in most civilized societies would be considered bad form- but it's eaten as a snack. Yes, peppered across the country are boiled corn carts which, for 1 lira (slightly more if you want your corn grilled) you can buy an ear of corn.

Who, I ask you, eats boiled corn for a snack? Besides Turks. I suppose I should commend them for not stuffing their faces and their arteries with junk
but still - corn? Corn just doesn't lend itself well to a walking street food. You need both hands - or so I thought until I saw a nation gnawing away with an ear of corn in one hand and holding cell phones to their faces with the other hand. How dexterous these people are!

If this isn't bad enough, corn has infiltrated shopping malls. Where any self-respecting mall would encourage hot dog stands to poison its patrons' bodies with carcinogenic chemicals, corn stands have popped up. And not selling ears of corn but Styrofoam cups of niblet corn.

But not just any niblet corn - noncut niblet corn. I don't even know what that means. Who cuts a kernel of corn? Does it have something to do with circumcision?

Indeed, corn-in-cup (sic) - which I believe is a registered trademark - was first created in a (and I quote) "bold step" by Malaysian corn-aficionado and bearer of "hybrid seed Nelson's 28", Nelson Kwak, who created Nelson's: a corn-pushing fast-food stand. Bold step indeed because I still can't figure out who wants to wander through the Gap or Zara's chewing on flavoured noncut kernel corn and getting the hulls stuck between their teeth.

There are over 500 Nelson's (formerly known as KTT Product Corporation Sdn Bhd) most of which are (not too surprisingly) in the Far East - and, if you go to their website, you can view a list of outlets and a highlighted map of the world to see where they're located - except that the list doesn't correspond to the map at all. And North America is missing.

Curiosity piqued? Wondering if actual chickadees are ground up in the production of their "
Chickedees (sic) corn flavour"? Thrilled at the possibility of offering your community a snack that's "safe to eat"? Have some spare cash under the mattress? You too could open your own Nelson's franchise and become a Korn King yourself. But please - please - choose a country other than Turkey. There are far too many corn stands in this country as it is (boiled or noncut) and quite frankly, corn kernels are - shall we say - malodorous. The US is wide open: only Seattle has signed on to stink up its malls.

Or here's a thought: open a popcorn stand. You know, the way God intended corn to be.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When is a Turkey a Cow?

Is that not the most beguiling riddle? - in fact, I think it bears repeating.

When is a turkey a cow?
Answer: When the turkey is an Ottoman and the cow is a sacred one.

One - if not the only joys of teaching overseas is picking up those nuggets of misinformation not so much peppered along one's path but tossed overhand and aimed at your head by one's students and then lobbing it back at them (of course, overhand and aimed at their heads). In Morocco, I was inundated with the fact that Morocco was the most beautiful country in the world and that Marrakech was the most beautiful city in the most beautiful country in the world. Reader, it is not. Or that King Hussan II (you've probably never heard of him but the families of his political opponents who were jailed, killed, made to disappear, or exiled are familiar with him) was the most intelligent man in the world. Reader, he was not.

All said with a straight face and the narrow- single-mindedness of absolute indoctrination conviction.

Imagine my delight to find - because who doesn't like to take a few potshots at sacred cows? - that my Turkish students are no different in their (mis)interpretation of their own history (especially when it comes to that Supreme Herd of Sacred Cows, the Ottomans and their bleeding Empire) than my Moroccan students; in fact, I was going to write this blog posting as an open letter to my students but a number of these little gems have come my way from outside of the classroom so I'll include all Turks.

So for your reading enjoyment and general edification, I offer you, in random order, 10 servings of Sacred Cow
à la turque:

1) You are not responsible for the Alhambra in Spain or any other Moorish building because, quite simply, you were never there. Those were the Moors. You were not the Moors. The Moors were the Moors. And while we're at it, Gibraltar was never yours either. Seriously, open up a history book.

2) Formidable foe that you were, the Great Wall of China was not built to keep you out. It was built to stop the Xiongu, a confederation of Central Asian nomadic tribes, from spilling over the borders of the Chinese Empire.
The Xiongu, not you. In fact, much of the Great Wall was built before you even existed as any sort of political entity.

3) You did not conquer Europe. Remember Vienna? - that picture-postcard perfect city in Austria? No? - that's because you never got passed its gates. Twice. Granted you tried really hard, but you lost. And then you retreated. And that was the end of your World Domination Tour of Western Europe.

4) Countries and city-states which were "welcomed" into the Ottoman Empire didn't necessarily want to be. Some went screaming and kicking. Greece never seemed too thrilled about it and still chafe at, for example, their subjugation into serfdom and the atrocities committed during their War of Independence. Nor did Armenia. Speaking of Armenia ...

5) The 500,000 (you ballpark it much lower)
to 1,500,000 dead Armenians does constitute a genocide whether or not you say that the deaths didn't happen, were not planned, were the result of starvation (not your fault), or better yet - happened because Armenia was a Russian sympathizer. Or my personal favourite: the word genocide didn't enter the lexicon until 1944 and since "the events of 1915" (the Turkish term) happened several decades earlier, it can't possibly be genocide.

6) That you invented yogurt is not a verifiable fact. There is absolutely no evidence that you did. The case for baklava isn't any stronger. Are you sitting down? - raki may not be yours either. If it'll make you feel any better, you can have dibs on Turkish Delight.

7) Words like pantolon (pants), komik (funny),
şoför (driver), kuaför (hairdresser), may be used in Turkish but are not, per se, Turkish words. They are French loan words (pantalon, comique, chauffeur, coiffure) and the French loaned them to you, not the other way around. Move on.

Why must you say that "Atatürk died of cirrhosis of the liver". Full stop. Period. Please! - he died of cirrhosis of the liver due to heavy alcohol consumption. Enough with the punctuation. Why are you all so ashamed of this? The man liked to drink! - I would too if I were battling with the Ottoman legacy.

9) Kiwifruit is not a hybrid fruit first developed in Turkey. The kiwi hails from China (the Chinese were probably cultivating it while you were being repulsed at the Great Wall) and is not a hybrid. And by the way, although you do grow it here, in 2005 Italy (of all countries) sat atop the world's Top 10 Producers of Kiwifruit list. You weren't even there.

10) You did not invent the stirrup. Please stop saying that you did. No one knows for sure but it was either those ancient horse riding Scythians from modern-day Iran or the Chinese. of course the Chinese claim they invented everything. I'm leaning towards the Scythians.

Oh, and one last thing ... not every Westerner thinks that all Turks are Islamic terrorists and no, the Jews did not all call in sick the morning of 9/11. Those were throwaways but I keep hearing them.

Phew! I feel so much better now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Like I Needed to Be Told This ...

88% of the world!
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

High Seas

It was a particularly malicious wave, that wave which knocked me on my ass felled me these three years ago, not because it was so strong (which it was) but because I believe somehow that it knew and therefore delighted in the knowledge that I'd be feeling the aftermath of that ass-skid across the floor of the Mediterranean for the next few days. Certainly, back in the bathtub of our hotel room that night, I would gladly have sold my soul to the devil (and had I not already had, I surely would have) to lay my hands on an industrial vacuum cleaner outfitted with a crevice tool to clean the sea's detritus out from my - well - crevice.

And by the time I finished showering, there were enough pebbles and sand and grit and bits of vegetation and crustacean shells to build a brand new water formation.

Nor did I get everything "out" that first night. Nor did the welts and bruising
and torn flesh along my thighs and buttocks dissipate much that first week.

And why
am I boring telling you all this? Because last Sunday night, as I found myself again wishing that I could lay my hands on an industrial vacuum cleaner outfitted with a crevice tool (and regretting having already sold my soul to the devil), my thoughts hearkened back to that fateful Escape-from-Ramadan holiday Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I took to the south of Spain. Only this time, the problem wasn't my crevice - or rather lack of a crevice tool - but my feet.

In fact, I hadn't even gone swimming on Sunday. My fateful mistake it seems, was making the rather foolish decision to walk barefoot along the beach of the Black Sea. And the price I paid for my lunacy: cement feet.

I have exhausted the internet (not really - in fact, not even close) trying to learn if the Black Sea - that inland sea bound by Europe and Asia - or more accurately, its sand, has some sort of unique chemical property which, when it comes in contact with skin, sticks to it like glue. Consider the photo (above right) taken just a few moments after extricating my dry feet from the dry sand. Conversely, consider the photo (top left) taken many many moments after (but before my excruciating ass-skid across the floor of the Med) extricating my very wet feet from the dry sand.

See the difference? Do you see cement feet in front of a gorgeous Mediterranean backdrop? No you do not.

Not only that, but by the time I got home on Sunday, so much sand had adhered to my body - I had this awful glue-sand everywhere - th
at I could have joined a circus as The Amazing Sandcastle Lady. Tack on a bit of seaweed and I could have been The Amazing Bearded Sandcastle Lady.

Dear Reader Readers, that freaking sand just would not come off. I washed, I loofah-ed, I scrubbed - finally I had to use a pumice stone to scrape away at the sand
. And by the time I finished - for in the battle of porous volcanic rock and insidious Black Sea sand, the former was the victor (but just barely), there were enough pebbles and sand and grit and bits of vegetation and crustacean shells to build a brand new water formation.

Quite frankly, I don't really care if the Black Sea is a favourite resort spot for vacat
ioning Turks. I don't think I want to go back unless I'm wearing a HazMat suit or I'm ensconced in a plastic bubble. Cleaning up afterwards isn't worth it and I swear I'm now itchy all the time.

Looking back on these two seemingly unrelated visits to the seaside, I am struck by one glaring similarity: both happened on the eve of Ramadan. If I were a betting
Amazing Bearded Sandcastle lady, I'd say that someone sometimes known as Great and Compassionate and Merciful had had a hand in this. So much for being Compassionate and Merciful - I call that being just plain mean.