Turkish pumpkins are as hard as a rock on the outside, but the same as American pumpkins inside (top: choir robes at Catholic monastery in Mardin)
Three Christians, two Hindus, a Jew and a Muslim sit down for a meal . . .
Sounds like the start of a joke, but it isn’t. It was my Thanksgiving. I threw the guest list together just days before the event, inviting a professor from Penn State here on a Fulbright scholarship; a South African woman and her daughter here on a 3M transfer (the 3M employee/husband/father was away on business); an American teaching colleague; and Cem, her Turkish boyfriend.
The conversation at the table ranged from childrearing rules to traveling in Pakistan to Turkish politics. Perhaps the most interesting moment came as we discussed Turkey’s current president. The Western press refers to Prime Minister Erdogan as a “mild Islamist,” but most of us foreigners see little, if anything, alarming about his leadership. But with Iran right next door, many Turks feel differently. Their worst nightmare is that one day their country will turn into Iran—and they seem to have that nightmare every night. Thus, as the professor and I were insisting that life in Turkey appears to be governed by moderation, Cem, the lone Muslim at the table, insisted that we didn’t understand, that “Islam is like a virus.”
Teacher’s Day was the same day as Thanksgiving, and one of my
colleagues received this chocolate-carrot cake bouquet
There are now two Turkish teachers at work who have ties to Alabama. One has a daughter who attended Northern Alabama University, and the other is married to an Alabaman. One day recently, the two guys began rhapsodizing about country-western music and the delights of the Cracker Barrel Restaurant. A fellow Midwesterner and I gave them dubious looks and, okay, we might have snickered. The next day we saw them exchanging country-western CDs. As we walked by, they gave us baleful glances.
Another Teacher’s Day gift: cookie lollipops
Our university has officially been diversified. First, let me back up. Although Turkey is historically diverse, its citizens hailing from both the east and the west; it is now essentially a country of white people. It is rare to see anyone of color here. But now we have five Somalistudents at our university, part of a larger group of refugees that Turkey accepted recently.
It has been interesting to observe these young men, and to note Turkish reactions to them. I have one of the Somalis, Abdi, in my class, and on the first day, he asked me if he could come five minutes late to class on Fridays because that is the Islamic day of prayer. He told me he planned to use the prayer room in the basement of our building, but the week before several Somalis had skipped classes to catch a bus to the mosque.
I have never been asked that question from Turkish students, even the headscarfed female students who are considered religiously conservative. I told Abdi yes, but when I informed my Turkish supervisor, she rolled her eyes and said, “it will be more than five minutes.” “Don’t let him take advantage of this,” a Turkish colleague warned.
It is unusual and interesting to be around Muslims whose ideas differ — and run counter to — my stereotypes. But these incidents keep me on my toes, thinking and stretching my brain and always, always, adjusting my perceptions.