Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Lets eat sweet and talk sweet"

Trying to just sit down and disseminate exactly what happened to me during last weeks trip to Turkey is very difficult for many reasons that I will not go into, yet I will try to be as precise as possible as to how Turkey has affected me beyond explanation. Lets start with what I remember; the last day, the 20th, there was only Gytis from Lithuania, the two Polish girls Sylwia and Joanna, and me left in Kilis from a group of 20 International participants. We were all terrifically tired from the going away party held the night before at a farm of pomegranate groves. Our calves were throbbing from five straight days of dancing to Turkish music and that catchy but obnoxious song ‘I Kissed a Girl’ by Katy Perry. My stomach had by this time already shut down from day after day of baklava, kadayif, kababs, and Turkish coffee. Every night we ate in different places and settings. The first night we ate in the Police Lounge.

Let me start by explaining just a little bit about how the Turkish Government treats its public servants. If you are a teacher or a policeman or any other public worker you get special benefits on places to stay and eat all around Turkey. For example the hotel we stayed at is especially for teachers who can come anytime they wish for little to no money and relax, sip tea, and play dominoes to their hearts content. The policemen get the same deal but their hotel was much nicer, overlooking all of Kilis and even the Syrian border. We dined with the police chief then spent an hour smiling for the cameras; constant flashings of cameras would be an everyday occurrence as we were seemingly all so strange and foreign to everyone.

The next night we were driven to a village on the border of Syria. As we got off the bus we were encircled by a swarm of children all repeating “hello” over and over again with great big smiles on their faces. The ratio of kids to adults was an easy 5 to 1 and large throngs of children darted in and out of every fixture. Inside a simple shelter we ate a traditional meal of some yogurt type soup, rice with sheep meat, and flat bread on the floor with the village elders, the windows caked with the faces of children trying to get a look at us from outside. We were then led to the village center where ancestral dances took place to the rhythm of African like beats and a high-pitched flute. The young men would dance hand in hand making a semi-circle, the oldest breaking apart to leap in the middle with a scarf in hand. The older men soon joined the group adding more complex kicks and hip gyrations to the mix. In time these young men will soon be handing down this traditional dance to their sons, just as their fathers had shown them, and I wondered what I might show my son from my culture.

Next, the village had planned a mock wedding involving one of us as the bride and groom. In Turkey, before a wedding, the Groom is kidnapped and taken outside of the village while his Bride is brought to the ceremony. Once there, her face is completely covered with red scarves and she sits at a table as girls dance around her passing a candle from one to another. The Groom on the other hand is partying it up with the men in the outskirts of the village then returns once everything is ready. We received word that the ceremony can begin but upon our return the bandleader stopped playing and refused to continue until I sang a song for everyone. The whole celebration suddenly turned deathly quite as 200 villagers waited for my song so the party could continue. My mind went blank, everything escaped me, I opened my mouth and what came out was the ‘I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Weener’ song sung with such emotion that it could have been our national anthem for all they knew, of course our REAL national anthem only came to mind after the fact, but they loved it anyway. After the wedding we retuned to the room for desert and live music and sat on colorful pillows sipping Roki, the Turkish liquor that tastes like liquorish. Then of course someone started dancing and soon we found ourselves hoping around like zombies until the sun came up.

The Turkish people have a beautiful culture and religion as well. My first religious experience was shortly after the first day I actually fell asleep. Earlier that night everyone in the group met for the first time, there were 4 people from Poland, 5 from Lithuania, 2 from Spain, 7 from Turkey, and some guy representing Romania who was actually an American attending a Youth in Action seminar that was only for Europeans. Everyone got along incredibly well and after sampling each other’s national drinks we all became best of friends. Anyway about half an hour after falling asleep an incredible booming voice pierced through my dreams and instantly jolted me out of bed, I was still half dreaming not knowing what the hell was happening or who was in my room singing. It turned out to be the first of five daily calls to prayer that just took a little getting used to. By the end of the week I KNEW that there was only one god and that Mohammad was his messenger. After everyone had left, Gytis my roommate and I were invited to the Hamam for a bath. The Hamam in our town of Kilis was constructed in the 16th century and still in rather good shape. The Hamam, public-bathing house, is usually situated near the mosk so you can wash yourself before you entered for prayer as a symbol of coming clean in front of god. There are certain times that men and women can go but never together and it is a very important social gathering place. Inside were three chambers, one for getting undressed, one for cooling down, and the main room where all the fun takes place. The floor is grounded with volcano stone and steam slowly vents from star and moon shaped holes in the vaulted ceiling. You enter with a plastic bowl that you use to scoop hot water from the basins that line the walls. I entered in the middle of a water fight between 7 grown men. It is the original water amusement park with people singing and laughing. You wash and sing and play your little plastic bowl like a drum and then rest on large marble slabs from all the exertion. It beats the hell out of any athletic club steam room.

At some point during mid-week we visited Gaziantep, the fifth oldest city in the world right behind some place in Syria and Jerusalem. In Gaziantep you will find the type of buildings that Jesus would have recognized, that now house the newest flat screen TV’s and multi-colored blenders. The outdoor Bazaars are a true celebration of smells and colors, spices and rugs, silver tea sets and Pashmina scarf’s. I bought some tea and a neat looking floor mat, which turned out to be a prayer rug. We visited the museum that housed all of Turkeys famous mosaics of confused looking villagers, expressionless worriers, and half naked women; I bought two post cards.

As far as the actual training is concerned it was very effective at bringing us all together and establishing friendships though out the week. By the end we all felt as if we were leaving our families. The first day was just to get to know each other, sing songs, and learn about different forms of communication. English was the bridge language that everyone used to communicate with each other and every nationality had their own peculiar English dialect. Everyone could understand each other except for the only native English speaker in the group, me. My American accent baffled and delighted the group, and I was continually called upon to pronounce such words as ketchup and spoon. The Turkish participants absolutely loved the Oscar Mayer Weener song, singing it to the point of exasperation. I gave my trainer who isn’t that fond of America, though we are now good friends, my wallet made out of the Constitution. I taught the Spaniards some good American one-liners, the Polish how to twist a bottle cap inside out, and the Lithuanians how to suck the essence out of a can of beer like a Vampire. They of course showed me how to dance Flamenco and make real Sangria, sing a Lithuanian drinking song, and turn a pack of cigarettes into a vacuum amongst other important things. All in all I believe that the cultural exchange financed by the European Commission within Youth in Action Programs Action 4.3 was a tremendous success and I hope to soon write my own project that will bring people from all over Europe to Abrud, Romania for the same reason, to get piss drunk and enjoy other peoples cultures.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Don't worry, its OK if the director does it first"

Woke up this morning with music in my head, the first time in months, and I now feel rejuvenated and full of beans. This past week has been full of interesting surprises sprinkled with colorful little tidbits of change and falling apples.

Last Monday was teacher appreciation day, a day where all us teachers came together to celebrate ourselves and inveigh that relentless taskmaster known as Education. Held promptly at 1:00 pm in the schools canteen, we sat in long rows of white tables heavily stocked with bread, beer, and red chilly peppers. A live two-person band played light polka music as the principle announced how important teachers are and who will be retiring. Once the champagne was passed around and the clock stuck 2:00, the day sort of just got stretched, clipped, and spliced into another as forty middle aged teachers began dancing in karate chop type movements to their traditional polka music while the P.E teacher and I went shot for shot. By around 5 o’clock the French teacher, a woman in her mid 30’s, was on an empty table waving a wad of Romanian bills in her hand, most of them from the P.E teacher. The faculty danced hand in hand in a large circle of inebriated teachers, spinning, hopping, and performing something not unlike a Russian knife dance. Second wind hit around 8 and I found myself with a group of math and physics teachers talking about the importance of science and how to get kids interested in something they can’t immediately recognize. I floated home that night completely twisted with three chilly peppers in my left pocket.

We finally got a washing machine in our apartment a couple of days ago so to celebrate I threw in a load of clothes. Fortunately my only pink shirt made it into the mix transforming my boring white collard shirts and socks into an interesting hue of pink. Fabulousss!

Autumn is hitting full force and colors of burnt orange, gold and bronze have revamped this little town. The colors are extraordinary, a beautiful celebration on public display whose exhibition will soon be closed for the winter. On my daily running rout I jog past old men on rickety ladders picking apples on the sides of the roads, cows moo in my direction, and golden leaves sprinkle the air that is getting more and more crisp.

Tomorrow I will be leaving for a village in the South East of Turkey for a weeklong seminar on international organizations and project development. I will be the only representative for Romania attending and it will be my job to network with other organizations for some joint international youth projects. In the e-mail that I received from my contact in Turkey, Nazan Coban, that I will be expected to “show a performances such as dance, song or special actings in your culture”. What the heck would that be? The C-Walk? I will be flying out of Bucharest Otopeni Airport, which apparently was used as an air base for Hitler’s third Reich during WWII. Last night we went to the local Gypsy village in Rosia Mountana to speak with the community about potential project ideas. This village puts a whole spin on the notion of ‘crossing the tracks’ because it actually is built around the gold mining tracks which were used before the mines where shut down. You will see an entire village of sheet metal shacks and plywood shanties that stretch along a pair of rusty rails. The gypsies in this village have given me reason to be here, Abrud is like the Hamptons in comparison.

I have it then I lose it

I have it then I lose it.

At times I am liquid like water penetrating every permeable surface of my ambitions and desires. I wake up hours before sunrise to indulge in my aspirations, which linger in my mind like a song pleasantly stuck in my head. I desperately seek to play it out, to show the world some unknown beauty that is too unique to keep to myself. It digs into me like an archeologist digs for supposed artifacts. It stirs and starts to become thick like Jell-O, and I hate Jell-O. It irritates worse then a fly out of reach or a key broken off in a lock. I wake up and have slept my entire day to night, feelings of loss and guilt bubble up and spill over into my daily life. Everything is cold, hard, and plastic; my bond is broken with the world. I lose it only to find it in the murky depths of my own dejection, waiting like an outcast waits, reflective and forlorn. Lately even the outcast wont return for there is nothing to return to. An empty vessel, the captain has jumped ship, a lone dark towboat drifting further into the night.

That is I. I am that boat.

When I get like this, when I have nothing better to do then eat loafs of bread and stare off into the many cracks in my wall, I tend to become self-deprecating. Why do you drink so much coffee after 11:30 at night? Why have you given up learning another language? Why do you want to be a writer but you don’t write anything? It’s all too late anyway. If you were going to be anything you would have already been it by now, or at least had the luck to fail at it. I get confused then irritated by my lack of effort then make up for it by blindly grabbing anything that will yield an experience, no matter how reckless. This once got me brainwashed in Tennessee where I spent a summer selling education books only to end up tarring rooftops for a drug lord in Aspin, Colorado. Another time I ended up in Florence, Italy, sleeping in a 6-foot crawl space while becoming certified to teach English. Every decision becomes more certifiable than the last; clearing up why I joined the Peace Corps for a lack of a better reason not to. Purpose is a silly thing and reason isn’t any less disserving of mockery. So let this be a spectacle of my unknown purpose, a tribute to where reason has led me, to a small trace of a village in the mountains of Transylvania.