Friday, August 17, 2012

The Turkish Law of Opposites

Its that time of year again where we make our annual summer visit to Turkey.  It feels like it has been forever since we had a break.

This year we spent a few days in Bodrum.  Instead of flying to Bodrum from Istanbul, we drove.  I figure it is time for Erin to start learning more about Turkey, and quite frankly, I miss the amazing road trips through this country.  

There are many reasons I appreciate a good road trip in Turkey.  One, the history is rich and plentiful, and if you were to stop at every ancient ruin and historical site on the way, you would never make your destination as planned.  In addition to finding the most amazing things, the interaction with the culture can sometimes be unpredictable and entertaining.

This time we stopped at Kus Cennet, or Bird Heaven on the way.  We have driven by this beautiful, protected reserve several times but never stopped.  The irony of it all is that as you turn off the main road to enter Kus Cennet, there are fields full of scarecrows.  What kind of hidden heaven is this place? 

To further complicate it, as you leave and head further south, there are nothing but chicken farms that line the road on both sides for several kilometers.  Welcome to heaven - if you are lucky enough to not land in hell on your way.

My friend, Semih, tells me this is the Turkish Law of Opposites.  I agree there is some kind of yin and yang here that keeps everything in balance, but it is not in that traditional Eastern sense.  There is something more to it that I cannot always explain. 

A slightly different type of balance is required to walk this rope.  Yin and yang are like an old married couple that constantly nags each other.  They love each other, but they can also nag at each other a lot.

The first night we arrived in Bodrum, we went to dinner at a well-known restaurant.  It is small, with maybe eight tables and serves great Agean seafood with a homemade twist. 

Shortly after we placed our order, a woman proceeds to leave from one the back tables and stops to reprimand a large group of 10 on her way.  Out of nowhere at the highest, angriest volume from her diaphragm, she informs the group as well as the rest of the restaurant, and possibly all of Bodrum that they were too loud and ruined her evening.

Her lecture went on for what seemed like several unnecessary minutes. This group was only out having a nice dinner.  They were laughing and enjoying themselves at normal decibels.  I would hardly call it disturbing the peace.

To add fuel to her fire, a man in the back corner of the restaurant then joined in.  He backs up the crazed woman as he shouts from his corner that the group was too loud and disrespectful.  Needless to say, the group was taken aback.  Considering the situation, they were calm – much more than I would be.

After the exchange of a few words, the woman left.  A foreign couple in the middle of the restaurant looked concerned as if they were wondering when the brawl was going to break loose.  My husband and I were sitting right next to them and practically in tears as we tried to conceal our laughter.  Perhaps we only frightened them more.

Things seemed to go back to normal.  Oh but wait, that would be too predictable.  The man in the back didn’t have enough.  He proceeded to continue to shout at the group about how they were making everyone in the restaurant uncomfortable.

At that point, my husband read my mind.  He jumped in and in not so many words told the guy to only speak for himself, and not speak for everyone else. The tourists looked even more concerned, but the food was worth staying for.

A bit later, I suddenly began laughing so hard I could barely explain why.  The wife of the man who was shouting at everyone for being so disrespectful and disturbing the entire city was changing their son’s clothes at the table in the restaurant.  This child was around 4 years old – not a baby, but a child.  There was nothing discrete about it.  I guess rather than go home, they just thought it would be easier to put his pajamas on at the table.  The hypocrisy and irony of it all is so funny I could barely believe it.

I never seem to experience such interesting incidents in the US or anywhere else when travelling.  Well there was that one time a guy dropped his pants at a crowded New York intersection to prove “he ain’t got nothin” as the police came after him.   My other 99% of unexplainable social observations always seem to occur in Turkey. 

While I would not call it a norm for Turkey, these public confrontations do happen, and they are always entertaining.  They are typically harmless and although terribly annoying at times, people usually go on about their business.  Living here, I gained assertiveness and street smarts very quickly.

Throughout the entire confrontation, the restaurant staff said nothing.  They just kept on working as if nothing happened.  I could not help but wonder if this was the result of regular confrontations and they were used to it, or they did not want to get involved.  Either way, I found this lack of reaction equally interesting as it seemed unusual.  Perhaps this is why the manager wore an apron with RELAX written in big bold letters across the front. 

Since that night, the rest of the trip has been fairly uneventful of social confrontation.  However, we are only halfway through.  There is still plenty of time for the yin to nag the yang a bit more.

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