Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Apiology 101

What I expected would be a pretty low key afternoon of getting caught up on many things turned out to be an experiment in apiology, the science of bee keeping...well, ok, not quite.

As I sat at my desk working, I felt something was going on outside, so I looked up and there were hundreds, possibly a thousand or so bees swarming around my balcony. I have seen this happen before outside, and even three years ago I had a bees nest on one of the trees on my balcony so I knew that they were around. The gardeners probably founds a bees nest and moved it and they were looking for a new home.

Yes, there are bees in the Middle East. Yemen has quite a bit of honey and I also see a lot of honey from Saudi Arabia for sale. It tastes a bit more amberish and not as floral I we are used to in the West. My personal favorite is the pine honey that is made in the mountains in Turkey. Yum!

They were lingering. I can't blame them as bees. I take pride in my balcony and always have tons of flowers and plants outside in the winter when the weather permits. I am always shocked by the number of apartments here that do not have any flowers at all when there is so much potential to do so.

The bees were busily swarming around my bouganvilla....I just had a feeling what was going to happen next. In a matter of minutes, they were congregating under one of the good branches that was nice and had good shade. Uh oh. In the next five minutes, there was the start of a small hive. In the next 10 - 15 minutes I had a fairly decent size hive and it seemed word was out and everyone decided to relocate there. Word spreads very fast among bees an I was amazed at how quickly they did this.

I went down to our apartment office to ask if they could call one of the gardeners up to help move it. As I am never really sure if they follow up on things, I decided to be a little more proactive and find the gardner myself. I saw one right away. They unfortunately don't really speak English, but he followed me back home so I could show him.

Standing inside I tried to point the hive out to him - how could it be missed, it was huge and even bigger than when I left. My bouganvilla leans and needs to be tied back, so he went up and pulled it straight. This scared me for him b/c I thought, the wrong shake and that's going to upset them. He came back in and asked "You want a cut?". No! So now I am trying to buzz and do my best bee impression. Not working.

I ask him to come with me again to see if we can find the security guard who maybe will help me translate. He's not around. So he then seems to get it and asks me if I want spray. I don't really want spray because I don't want to kill bees, but now that I have a son, I certainly don't want to risk him getting stung. Yes please!

After I left him in the lobby and went back home, a very happy man named Mohammed rang my door bell. I know he worked in the complex, but I'm not sure what he was responsible for - perhaps overseeing the cleaners or maintenance. He went outside to see my new tenants and said "This is nice. This is no problem."

He went outside as I stayed in safely behind my sliding glass doors. He had only brought a long green stick with him. It was thinner than a straw really. He proceeded to stick it into the center of the bee colony!! There were many things going through my mind at that point and "this guy is nutts" was one of them.

Just before he did this another man came - perhaps his boss. He also stepped outside to help. So as the bees were swarming around mad, Mohammed and his colleague were outside in short sleeves. Mohammed swinging his stick around at the trees and his boss found my dust pan and started waving that around. :-o His boss got a phone call to go off to tend to another matter, so he left Mohammed with the dust pan and stick. I watched as he stood there waving the two around as though he was conducting and orchestra. Perhaps some "Flight of the Bumblebee" would have been appropriate for watching this.

This was insane. They weren't going anywhere. Just flying around. I'm there watching helplessly thinking this will take the entire afternoon if this keeps up. Thinking, thinking, thinking...There was a candle burning on the dining room table that I decided to blow out since I was there. It was very smokey. Aha!

I have a drawer full of incense. When we went to Vietnam several years ago, there were many people selling incense in large packages for dirt cheap. They were very persistent and kind. I bought a lot of it. Although several years ago, I still have plenty that was never used. Lightbulb moment, bees do not like smoke! All that incense burning at once could maybe smoke them out. - I must be watching the "Imagination Movers" with my son too much because I sure felt like one of them.

So, I started to light up these bunches of incense sticks and have them to Mohammed. They replaced the dust pan technique. So with smoke and stick, we started to see some relief from the bees. Since the storm seemed to be lifting, I then turned on the water to the hose and started to water down the area and surrounding plants where they still lingered. Finally, after a good 45 minutes, the majority were gone. There were a few curious ones lingering, but I anticipated they had moved on to bigger and better places. Thankfully!

Mohammed felt is was okay too and left me his mobile number in case they came back. If so, then he would bag them up and cut the branch and move them. Thankfully I didn't have to kill any bees in the process. Just to make sure they didn't plan to come back I lit some more incense after he left. Even still at 10:00 p.m., my balcony was smelling like a temple shrine.

So this morning as I sit and write this. No bees. The occasional one which I see as I look out as I write this, but I think they are just coming to the flowers, which is fine. I even saw a butterfly this morning which was nice. However, I am sure the occasional one means they didn't move that far away. So apologies to the next apartment over if they have set up shop on your balcony. I guess we'll just keep them moving around the complex until one of us decides to do an online bee keeper course!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Turkish Kuafors

I have learned many lessons from living in Turkey. One of those is, there is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself to look good. Turkish women always look beautiful and well manicured. I quickly learned this is with a little help. They all go to the salons to their hairdresser, or kuafor, regularly. I am not sure of the history of this or how this came about. In the past there was a regular trip to the hamam. Since the word kuafor is French, I do not know if there is any influence from there. However, many Western countries were often influenced by what they found when visiting the Ottoman Empire.

I have been going to the same kuafor for at least 10 years now. When I first moved to Turkey I was a typical American and did my own hair and make up. I found it quite frivolous to always be done up for nights out on the weekend. I was quite okay with myself and dried my own hair. I would get it colored and cut as needed, but that was about it.

For the first few years I was in Istanbul, I took Turkish lessons a few times a week. I worked, so I always took evening classes. However, since Istanbul has so much traffic, timing is everything. I had a very short window of opportunity to get to my 6:00pm class before the evening traffic began, which would make me very late for class if I got stuck in it. Its amazing what a difference 30 minutes could make. I hated to get there so early, but if I didn't leave around that same time every day, I would be better off staying at work.

Some days I was amazed and there would be less traffic for no obvious reason and I would have more time to use than usual. Not really sure what to do, one day, I got up enough courage to walk into a salon to try out having a manicure and pedicure. I had done it a few times when I had my hair cut and it looked quite nice. Well, I still didn't know Turkish very well so it was a challenge to communicate. Fortunately, the basics were easy - manicure, pedicure, color, but any discussion beyond that was out of the question.

Every time I would go, I would ask for the same girl who was very good. Her name is Senay. Slowly she began to understand me and my poor Turkish. As I learned a few more words everyday, we could slowly communicate more. One day she told me she was going to another salon. I really appreciated her work, and it was just a few blocks away, so I followed her there and went on the weekends whenever I could. She was great, and really one of the first people I could converse with in Turkish - granted I was doing it badly, but I was doing it.

One day I had somewhere to go, so I decided to get my hair done. That was a nice experience and it would look 10 times better than anything I would even attempt, so for a special occasion every now and then, I would do it. The challenge then becomes that you get used to seeing your hair that way and you prefer it to look that way all the time. It was also not very expensive, so that made it even more tempting.

I was still not very enthusiastic about getting a hair cut though. Any kind of blow-dry or up-do that you wanted, it was always amazing, but my experience with hair cuts was awful. Friends would take me to the most well reputed places and the cuts I would get were just awful. At one point I wanted a shorter hair cut - kind of a long short hair cut. In what Turkish I knew, I explained, took pictures. Even showed the guy what I did NOT want - a mushroom. What did I get? A mushroom. I made him do it again and cut even more off because I did not want that haircut. He wasn' t happy and neither was I. I didn't want shorter hair, but that was better than looking like a mushroom.

I tried to have my hair cut where Senay worked, but it still wasn't quite getting to where I wanted. For years after that I went to the woman who did my husband's hair. Men and women's salons are a very separate thing in Turkey, but after probably at least three or possibly four years, I was fed up and had enough bad hair days. She agreed to do it. Usually men cut hair in Turkey - this is both the case for men and women. So when I would come to the men's side of the salon to have her cut my hair, it was all a big deal. She was great and would always tell the guys working there I went to her because none of them, the men, could do a good job.

Well, one day Senay changed salons again. I quickly learned that people in the beauty industry move around quite a bit in Istanbul. In many ways this doesn't surprise me. They start very young - as soon as they finish the required level of grade school, or sometimes even younger. They work under someone as kind of an apprenticeship. Girls who wish to do manicures and pedicures will work as an assistant to someone and get their supplies, water or whatever is needed. The guys who wish to cut hair start at the bottom, sweeping up the hair, washing hair, etc. There is no training on paper. For those who have become successful and can afford it, they travel to Paris once a year for a course in new techniques. Something probably sponsored by Loreal or some other name brand. In addition to the education, I am sure it is a great thing for them to travel as well since getting a tourist visa to enter Western countries with a Turkish passport isn't always the easiest thing to achieve.

There were new guys who were fixing hair and that was fine. I would still get my occasional blow dry and still get a cut from my husband's place. Then, one day Senay convinced me to let this guy named Suat cut my hair. She said he was very good and wouldn't cut too much. - Another thing I knew from experience about the average Turkish kuafor, they are heavy handed with the scissors. At that point I had known Senay for several years, and I had to trust her. I mean after all, she convinced me that it was okay to be a little daring and wear red nail polish sometimes and that waxing was much better than shaving! Ouch! I must say though, she was right and I do not miss shaving at all.

So, I agreed. Before Suat took the scissors to my hair, she warned him: "Don't cut too much or Pam will never come back again". He paused, not sure if she was joking or not. I also thought he might actually do a good job because I had watched him do many hair colors, highlights and cuts when I was getting my manicure and pedicure. Honestly, I was always so impressed. All the women looked fabulous. I was also a wee bit envious of their beautiful auburn hair and the colors he applied to enrich that were gorgeous.

And the results. Wow. It was the first time ever I really was so pleased with a haircut by someone at a women's salon. I could have hugged him! After that he was the main man and I kept going back to him. I would also get many compliments on my hair as a result. As my husband changed his job and moved to another company that was amazing, and still is, in supporting the arts in Turkey, we had more occasions for "special event hair" so I became more experimental with up-dos and more comfortable with him.

After several years of several shades of blonde, I decided to be daring and try something different. I went a little darker. Nothing too crazy, but a nice chestnut brown. I really enjoyed that, but what I really wanted was that amazing auburn hair color that I always saw and loved. So I did it. I really liked it. After that, I would pretty much let him do what he was in the mood to do with my hair. Of course we would discuss it, but I was always open to whatever he was thinking.

So now that I am living in Dubai, I don't really have anyone specific I prefer to do my hair. I've tried a few, and there is no one I've come across yet who is really that good. This is why almost every time I go to Istanbul, I pay him a visit for a color and cut. Since those visits are several months in between, I don't do anything too extravagant. I keep my hair long because I would not trust anyone in Dubai to do a good job of anything outside of a trim, and the color or highlights I've had have been a bit off.

So, of course on this last trip on the first day I knew I would go to Suat. He just recently left the last salon he was at and now has a place of his own, with his own name on it. Regardless, even before the service I always received from him and his team was great. This time we had an interesting thing happen. The electricity went out. Istanbul is not unknown to this happening from time to time. It decreased over the years, but still people were used to it. I was getting some highlights and needed those washed out, but they were worried because no electricity meant no hot water. I didn't mind. The weather was cold and rainy outside, but more important that my hair is not over highlighted, so I can take the cold water for that.

They wouldn't have any of that, so they washed my hair, but mixed it with hot water they boiled in the kettle. That was very nice of them. We had finished and still the electricity was not back on. In true Turkish fashion, they were quick to find a solution and called another salon a few blocks away to see if they had electricity and if we could finish up there. So, me with my head wrapped in a towel, my kuafor with his box of scissors and one of his assistants jumped in his car and went to another place. However, of course just as we were about to arrive he got a call. The electricity came back on. That wasn't so bad, and I got a little tour of the neighborhood nearby where I used to live that I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

In addition to this, I had another surprise waiting for me. Suat's birthday is the same day as my husband's, which happens to be the day after mine. Every year he remembers that and they've given me flowers, or done something to celebrate. Since I don't live in Istanbul, we celebrated early and he sent out one of his guys to buy a bottle of wine. So, I got to enjoy my hair cut with a nice glass of Turkish white wine. Very thoughtful, and very excellent, personalized service that you won't find anywhere else! When something is good in Turkey, its really good and this is a true example of how hard working and entrepreneurial they can be.

Of course we have a special relationship as we've known each other for several years and through several salons, several colors and hair styles, life events - births, deaths.... I realize Turkish women have a very special relationship with their kuafor. When they are seeing them at least once a week, or maybe more as I am not sure what the average statistic is for weekly visits, they become a part of your life. Women put a lot of trust in them - both physically and perhaps psychologically as they share a lot of personal information with them over time.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Call to Prayer

In the shopping malls of Dubai, when it is time to pray, the call for prayer is played. All stores turn off their music so that this can be heard. I am not sure if this is the same throughout the Gulf, but if a place as cosmopolitan as Dubai is doing it, then I would assume so.

In some ways, I think its kind of nice for those who want to pray. However, there are many other ways that people are reminded. Obviously they can just check their watches and see. If they want to go old school, they could look at where the sun is in the sky - at least I assume that's how it was done. Some who work at computers can probably get automated messages or set alarms. The most high techie way I've ever heard, literally, was an alarm on a telephone. When it was time to pray, Allah Akhbar would begin and it would continue until that person turned off the phone or until it was finished with the entire thing.

I don't really mind it. I do prefer the live version from a mosque. And when the Imam has a good voice, its quite nice. Recently I would also look forward to it because my son started to kind of sing along about 4 or 5 months ago. I have never drawn attention to it for him. He simply heard it one day and being the music lover he is decided to join in.

I never really gave it a second thought until today. - Of course the first few times I heard it, I was surprised, but kept going on about my business. But really, its not a bad idea to stop and pause as we are running around in the rat race of our daily life to give thanks or reflect or whatever that may be. I am sure there are people in other faiths who pray many times a day and that is cool too whatever your reminder may be.

When at work, I often find myself wondering if my colleagues come back a bit more refreshed and focussed? You know how they say if you take a break, then you can focus more. Maybe that big solution or mega idea will surface after taking a reality check.

Today what I really wanted to ask a local was: Since traditionally the call to prayer could be heard from the mosques throughout the villages or cities, I wonder if it was used for other things. For most people I know in the West, when we were young our moms said be home before dark. Did you have to be home before a certain prayer call, or at that prayer time? Thinking of this, I think thought that might be cool for the kid who could negotiate it to a few hours later for the next prayer call. Those of us who had to be home before dark had no chance - only one sunset :)