How Not to Cause an International Incident

L. and I went to a Thanksgiving pot-luck this past weekend, at the home of one of the Fulbrighters. Our host was a sculptor and part-time sculpting professor at a school in Philly, and he and his wife are living in a gorgeous house in a very conservative section of town while he researches Muslim art. He arranged a study-abroad program for some of his students, so along with the regular assortment of Fulbrighters and a smattering of Istanbul ex-pat artist types, there were 10 or so 20-year-old art students. I got a glass of wine and a plate of food and perched on a chair. There was a couple twined around each other on the couch next to me: a girl with waist length locks and a taller girl with a head all shaved except for a clump at the top.
“So you guys are from Philly?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said the Locks. “Well, not originally. I’m from Baltimore.”
“No shit! Me too! Where’d you go to school?”
“Carver.”
“Oh man, I had so many friends who went to Carver. Older than you, though. First graduating class. Hey, do you know….” and I rattled off some teachers, and she said which ones she’d had classes with.
“Crazy!” I said. “So where are you from?” I asked Shaved Head.
“L.A.”
“Oh. What part?”
She said a neighborhood. I nodded with polite interest and she asked me if I’d ever been there and I said, “No.”
There was a pause.
“Yeah,” said Locks with devastating condescension, “so that’s where we’re from.”
Shaved Head snorted.
But I am a finely tuned chit-chat machine and do not quell before adolescents who think polite conversation is complete bullshit. I asked about what they were doing, what they were working on, what they liked best about Istanbul so far. In the way of young people who are used to adults asking them about themselves and finding everything they say remarkable, they didn’t ask anything back, but happily rattled on until it was reasonably polite for them to get up and find somewhere else to sit.
I turned my attention to another group of kids who were standing by the window looking at something on the street, exclaiming.
“What’s going on?” I asked, and walked over.
What was going on was there was a huge street party beneath us. Two boys were leaving for their compulsory military service in the morning, and they were having a send-off. Clumps of covered women and men lined the streets, spilled out of doorways, hung out of windows. Children from toddling age on up ran around shrieking. Folding tables were set up. Kids were gathered around a laptop, fiddling with the music list, and a kid in a pink shirt was standing in the middle of the street, doing the illest pop-n-lock shit I think I have ever seen. Kid had moves! Another boy joined him and they started dancing together.
“I have to get a picture of this,” I said. I ran back into the kitchen, where I’d dumped my purse, and grabbed my camera. I pulled a beer out of the fridge while I was there and ran back to the window. I leaned out and tried to get pictures, but the kids were slowing down and my angle wasn’t very good. I moved to another window, hung out, and waited for them to start again. L. came over to tell me my skirt was far to be short to be bending over quite so much. I straightened up and we both perched on the sill, watching and waiting. Some covered girls were hanging out of a window on the other side of the street and they waved at us and we waved back.
“Oh, hold on, they’re starting again!” I said, and excitedly leaned out farther to get a better angle and in doing so I brushed against the brand new can of beer…
which teetered…
and fell…
seemingly in slow motion…
to the ground…
where it exploded…
and sprayed beer onto everyone who was standing nearby…
“Oh SHIT!” L. and I ducked our heads back in and slammed the window shut and immediately collapsed into nervous giggles.
“What happened?” someone asked.
“I just dropped my beer out the window,” I said. “I just poured beer onto observant Muslims!”
“Oh dear God.”

It turned out to be okay. When the hosts went down to apologize they were brushed off by people more interested in dancing. Eventually half our party wound up downstairs on the steps, where the children taught us how to do the dances and the teenage boys made us take pictures with them. I bummed a cigarette off a man standing nearby who spoke a few dozen words of English, and he got me a glass of orange squash that turned out to be liberally dosed with whiskey, which most of the men seemed to be drinking. The boys who were going off to the military the next day and their buddies sang songs at the top of their lungs and threw each other up in the air, and all the man and boys danced in circles while we danced with the children. They set off fireworks in a way that would get you arrested in America, and we all had a very good time.

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Filed under Special Occassions, Turkish Culture

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