Just when you thought you couldn’t add another thing….

I tied a wish to this wishing tree, next to the 12,000 year old neolithic shrine of Gobeklitepe near Urfa.
A few months back, as our wedding plans were in full swing, I was feeling overwhelmed. I’ve been learning to share about these things at Quaker meeting, living into the honest exchange I hope to build in community. After I shared, a Friend came up to me and said “when you feel like you’ve got too much going on, take on just one more thing to push yourself over the tipping point. I’ve found it helps me put everything back into perspective.” I shrugged off the advice, not really knowing what to make of it at the time.

But as my wedding thank you notes still sat waiting and the grant project at my work drew to a close in a flurry last week, I got a surprise offer: How would I like to go to Southern Turkey to accept an award on behalf of the Rachel Corrie Foundation, my former employer? I sprang at the opportunity and quickly understood the earlier advice.

It was an amazing experience, accepting an award on behalf of an organization that means a lot to me. I worked very hard for the Foundation, and sometimes it was challenging from Olympia to feel the wider impact of our global mission. Going all the way to Sanliurfa, Turkey, to accept an International Abraham Meetings “Goodness” award, had a big impact on me regardless of its larger purpose for the organization. For one, Turkey is very close to my heart and even in the few short days I was there I got to see old friends, speak a language that I still love to learn, and eat amazing food. I also had a fascinating experience as I learned about the award the Foundation was receiving, part of a clear effort within Turkey to raise up the history and heritage of Abrahamic faith traditions from an Eastern perspective. Thirdly, and probably most importantly in some ways, I reoriented my perspective on what I am doing now and the responsibility of the blessings all around me.

In the afterglow of my wedding, as I enjoy a great job and live a comfortable life, I’ve really felt blessed. I’ve been thankful every day for all the blessings I have. But I had not reminded myself about the responsibility I have because of these blessings. My blessings are only as meaningful as the way I share them, like my lesson from Quaker meeting. As I spoke with my good friends in Turkey about their fears of an impending war with Syria, of destroyed homes and refugee situations that were “at least a little better than Iraq”, I remembered that I could take on one more thing. I take my blessings with me no matter what I do, but carrying them and sharing them where I am led takes one more bit of effort. I believe that effort is worth it.

Rest in peace

I mentioned the Freedom Flotilla in my last post, before anyone who wasn’t interested in Israel or Palestine or justice was paying much attention to it.  In my last days in Turkey, as I’m sure most people know by now, Israel attacked the Turkish ship in the flotilla and killed nine Turkish activists on board, the youngest of whom was a 19 year old high school student.  Turks, needless to say, were furious, and in a totally different way than my shrill liberal internet community.

On the bus to the beautiful town of Amasra the night before the attack, I read the proud account in a Islamist newspaper of some British guys’ conversion to Islam while aboard the flotilla.  They lingered on the details and his rather inarticulate explanation of his convincement. “Well, I thought a lot about it and it seemed like the thing I wanted to do” (as best I could translate from Turkish) An early victory!

Turks, in my general experience, are terribly fatalistic.   I’ll try to justify that sweepingly general statement in the context of this event.  People were pissed, sure.  People did not see any reason, as a confirmed pacifist such as myself deigned suggest, why the activists on board shouldn’t have tried to kick the shit out of soldiers landing on their boat at 4 in the morning because……why should they? Weren’t they going to get shot at and killed anyway?  Didn’t they realize this was probably, in some ways, the most spectacular outcome they could hope for out of their whole hopeless effort?  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of overkill, but I’m shocked that despite tremendous effort on the part of the activists, and complete tacit approval of their cause in the media, in my conversations with friends, etc. NOBODY seemed to think their efforts nor their horrible deaths would change much.  How depressing.

At some point in the last few months, mom recounted a story of one of the conversations she had had with a Turkish friend. They were talking about death, and the best ways to go.  Mom’s friend suggested that, for a Turk, the best way to go was in a blaze of glory, ideally in violent defeat.  Mom’s look as she recounted the story told me she shared my desire for a quiet, peaceful death after a sense of glorious accomplishment, concluded nonviolently years earlier.   Has this got something to do with Turkey’s cultural connections to Islam, often portrayed as bloodthirsty and harsh?  Maybe our disconnect comes from naive Western optimism that believes results come from a stoic protestant work ethic?  Perhaps it’s about a sense of personal fulfillment and differing cultural myths of sacrifice? Regardless, it is clear in the bloodthirsty, Western-sponsored and USA-protestant-approved actions of Israel on Monday that the real problem is not culture, religion, whatever.  The problem is national pride. Nation is identifying so heavily with a collectively-enforced wrong headed hammer that everything looks like a nail.  Those Turks were killed because Israel didn’t want egg on its face for it’s unjust blockade of Gaza.  Life is so cheap in the borders we build around ourselves.  My only hope is that those folks that died felt they went out in the way they wanted.  May they rest in peace, and may their work not be in vane.


I’m in my last week in Turkey now, returned to Istanbul to pick up my brother on Friday night.  I missed the departure of the Freedom Flotilla, a massive blockade-running project bringing aid to Gaza on ships.  I am not participating in anything massive, though I went down to the Bosphorus today and watched the ships churn by. I sat on an empty bench, undesirable for its place in the blazing sun, and watched old men fish in the ships’ wake.  I’m always amazed how they can cast over and around each other and rarely get their lines tangled.  I felt awfully lazy, knowing that I had nowhere to go and nothing to do and remembering the ball of knotted line I created the last time I fished with these guys.

One man in particular staked out the little platform built over the surf.  He found a sweet spot, where the wake hit a crosscurrent and swirled up and around a rock wall, and pulled in string after string of little writhing bodies.  Their tackle is a long string of decorated hooks with a sinker that each man has a different technique for jerking and and reeling through the surf.  If I didn’t know any better I’d see it as semi-sexual, especially when they yell “You’re on fire!” after particularly good casts with a rod between their legs and a cigarette on their lips.

I spent my last days in Ankara doling out spiritual advice to everyone, trying not to sound overly qualified but also casting about for my own comfort.  I’m want my own flotilla, but I still feel caught watching folks troll the wake without so much as a fish to show for it.  It’s my chronic obsession with doing something grand and notable that’s keeping me from getting my feet wet as a first step to anything.  Perhaps I really need to be appreciating my own peace of mind, warm sunshine and new adventures ahead as a first step to everything.

The fish in question, "İstavrit" from wikipedia

The Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival

I mentioned that I was working for the festival, but I didn’t talk about what that was like.  It’s been oddly familiar in the “chaotic NGO atmosphere” sense, but oddly unfamiliar in the “getting death threats from a radical newspaper” sense.

Actually that’s not true, the RCF has been threatened plenty of times, but usually those threats are vague intellectual blatherings or clearly idiotic rants. This time I couldn’t really tell, because it was in Turkish and I certainly wasn’t going to go out and BUY a copy anyway.  I was busily doing this or that in the office last week when I overheard people talking about threats being made against the organization because of the film festival.   It seems one of the radical Islamist newspapers in town has taken offense at the pornstars-turned-serial killers content of one of the films (really). Even some of the festival organizers have admitted the film in question is a bit extreme; by their descriptions I would assume even our radical American fundamentalists would take offense.  But suddenly one can feel very exposed and vulnerable when the threats are coming from the much demonized, but often disembodied and distant seeming, “Islamists” who are openly doing their thing across town.  As a bleeding heart, prone to questioning venom spitters from WITHIN my own country first and challenging their constructions of who my enemies are, this gives me pause.  Apparently both film festivals and newspapers enjoy similar free speech protections here as they do in the US. Too bad the same can’t be said for “the only democracy in the Middle East”(my apologies if you’re not already familiar with this case)  I didn’t really want to see the movie anyway though, which is also my right in this Islamic republic.

Electric Avenue

I’ve been inspired to make an art project to fill up the empty time and one of the 2 broken TV’s at Kenan’s place. I first thought something of a shrine/alter that could sit in the living room where the TV was to reorient the mindless entertainment energy to meaningful reflection time. But that idea was struck down.

Charging ahead regardless, a breakthrough came last night during coffee with some of Kenan’s recently graduated English students. One of them, Can, works at the Electric Utility in town. When I visited this class the other day (“Ankara”), I thought he was a typical representative of the many government workers that come through that school. We all know my opinions of the effects of government on the soul and the report from teachers sounded bleak. Not so with Can. In the short time we talked over coffee I learned he also loves the lake and frequently volunteers his time to pick up trash there (+10), is an artist who paints and makes mosaics (+20) and, most importantly, has electricity in his soul. (I proposed, he’s already married with children.)

It was Can who gave me the hot tip on Electric Avenue in Ulus. So today we took ourselves down to the neighborhood a friend referred to as “hardcore Turkish Ankara” on a mission. Ulus is the old part of the city, where one can find pretty much every manufactured object hanging from a hook, as well as mannequins with headscarves within spitting distance of a giant statue of Ataturk. Hardcore Turkish. The obligatory period of hapless wandering didn’t bother me as we passed flag stores, commemorative crystal widget stores and weed-whacker distributers. Everything was out on the street or meticulously lined up in windows by the upteenth thousand.dscn1175

“Light emitting diodes anyone?”

“Oh yes, go up that street till you get to where the minibuses come from” dscn11731

Electric Avenue is where the minibuses are born. It’s right around the corner from were the man yells over the chainsaw in his hand. Just up from the “Leather Belts, Porn and Meat on Hooks” alley (no snickering allowed)

When I finally found a little “electric hobby shop” cowering amongst a row of subwoofer stores, I knew the Ave was magic. The shop was perfect: full of LEDs, mini-switchs, lengths of wire and, best of all, electronic hobby kits. Don’t worry, I bought some and they’re in Turkish. Nothing cultivates comprehension like small packages of parts labeled in another language just waiting to be soldiered together. Just ask Can and the friendly folks at the Electric Utility.

Weddings are a big deal

Congratulations us! Reports from friends and family of election celebrations sound positively epic. I think the appropriate word for the giddiness and elation I’m hearing is civil civil in Turkish. It’s certainly interesting to be viewing it from afar.

On election day I went to a biopic on the life of Ataturk at the theater. Its created some controversy because it depicts him in what Turks see as a very “human” light. The cult of personality around Turkey’s revolutionary founder makes even the most nuanced depictions of his alcoholism or scorn of religion something of a scandal. That evening, I sat in a cafe with Kenan and his friends as they discussed the movie and the US election. It was wild to hear them talk about how “dangerous” they see certain information to be to Ataturk’s image. If this election cycle has shown anything, it’s that we are certainly not above micromanaging and obsessing over every minute detail of our political leaders lives.

And now it’s over. Aside from a massive symbolic victory, I’m going to very curious to see what happens next.

In the mean time, the strangely normal yet bizzare life I lead here continues. Today I went wedding dress shopping with my friend Nur, her mother and Kenan. I had never been in a bridal boutique before. (weddings are where it’s at these days I guess.) We all dutiflly donned plastic booties over our shoes to shuffle around and ooh and ahh over immensely poofy, rhinestone encrusted dresses. She looked great in all of them but after two boutiques they still hadn’t made a decision and so Kenan and I begged off. After a full day of looking, they returned empty handed and despondent.

Minutes ago they just got a phone call that “the ideal dress” they couldn’t find the right size for before has been found. Another symbolic victory in this little corner of everything.


I’ve reached Ankara now and am staying with my friend Kenan. Ankara is the site of my “almost move” a year and a half ago. It’s the dusty, dry Turkish capitol with a characteristically Turkish politic. Few tourists come here much. There’s not a whole lot to see past embassy row and a historically marginal castle and I feel lucky to have Kenan and his friends to make it an unskippable destination.

Shortly after finishing college I came here to stay with Kenan and figure out whether I could live here. I knew it wasn’t for the scenery, but part of me enjoyed the genuine commitment one must have to live in a place as unromantic as this. I sought out English teaching jobs, the most obvious possible work opportunities for foreigners here, and struggled with the reality of what living here might be like. The smarmy director I spoke with at one school offering me a teaching position, a New Zealander who had left home to backpack and never came back, painted a surprisingly romantic picture of cheap living and endless freedom as an expat. Somehow it was as if the world he described, living as a foreigner in a different culture, meant less accountability and commitment to the people around you.

Coming back, I am so glad I left that English school and never went back. Kenan is an English teacher himself and I visited his class the other day. As I spoke with his class and glimpsed the life I could have lead, I know I am freer now that I have committed to myself to a different world. I am freer now that I have worked some things out with my family. Freer now that I have sought God’s direction in my life. I am free to appreciate my friend here as a more balanced visitor than a rudderless vagabond.

Now I just have to be patient for what unfolds next.