Categories
English

Hello World! Happy Inauguration Day!

After years and years of neglect, today was the day I actually felt like using this website I almost forgot I had.

In the May of 2017, I finally became a US citizen after living in the US for 18 years. Until 2017, I was a permanent US resident with a green card who didn’t have the right to vote but what happened in 2016 made me realize my permanent resident status in the US may not be so safe anymore. I applied for citizenship right after 2016 election results. Becoming a US citizen was enlightening. I had to study the US Constitution and the political system and got to admire the brilliance of the forefathers. If you are born here, you don’t have to know any of this but if you are not born here, you have to take an oral exam on civics and pass it, to deserve being a US citizen. I had to answer all the questions about how the government works, how many Senators we have, how often do we elect them, how does the Congress work, etc. I passed and now, I was to take an oath to defend this constitution and I was happy to do so. My citizenship ceremony was a more emotional experience than I thought it would be. Our judge spoke so beautifully that ‘the greatness of America comes from its diversity, that we, all these different colors and cultures, are what makes America strong and beautiful’ and I felt truly welcomed. I couldn’t stop thinking about how a similar ceremony would go in my home Turkey. Would it be this welcoming and emotional? I realized we don’t even have a ceremony for new citizens there.


My citizenship test made it clear that voting was one of the duties of every US citizen. As someone coming from a country where we have 85% voter turnout in every election, I was shocked to find out voter turnout was less than 50% in the US. Maybe if everyone had to go through civics tests and citizenship ceremonies, they would take their voter duties more seriously. Nevertheless, I took my voting rights seriously and began following US politics a lot more than I ever did after 2017.

A couple of years ago, Joe Biden came to Youngstown and spoke on my campus. Him becoming a presidential candidate was just a rumor back then. I volunteered at that event and got a chance to listen to him from the front rows. I didn’t know much about him until that day to be honest but after listening to him, I remember thinking “this guy is way too nice for a politician. He will never get elected.” He was a human being with real emotions. Very kind, thoughtful, emotional at times. Being introduced to US politics after 2016, I didn’t think he had a chance. Assholes always have a better chance of getting elected because they have no boundaries to stop them from deceiving people. Their rudeness is perceived as toughness. Their arrogance is perceived as greatness. Human beings tend to fall for these things. I know that from Turkey. If a person is too honest and isn’t exploiting the government resources, many people think he is an idiot. If a person is humble, people think he is not good enough. If they don’t shout and insult and brag, they don’t think he is tough. Not everyone of course but people who are rude, arrogant and corrupt will always support people who mirror their philosophy in life. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of your position and taking care of yourself according to many. As I always believed, every nation is lead by someone they deserve.

This time, the United States of America proved to the whole world that they deserve a better person. Well, to be fair, when you look at the popular vote, it was clear American people never deserved a corrupt, arrogant, rude, selfish leader but things happen sometimes.

In Turkey, our democracy wasn’t strong enough to notice or stop the erosion in just four years! We made the mistake of going for eight years over there and it turned into 20 years and became completely unstoppable. If you still have any doubts, let me tell you from experience, you have no idea how bad it could have gotten!

I’m so glad the United States re-calibrated itself with its strong institutions at the end of just four years and we are just starting the day on a beautiful winter morning which feels like Christmas!

Happy New Year everybody!

Categories
English

The Story of Toteh: A Syrian Refugee

Toteh

Turkcesi icin buraya tiklayin.

As we all want to go back to the good old days when we used to share cute cat and dog videos instead of stressful and alarming political posts, I decided to share with you the touching story of this cute little dog; Toteh.

I met her last October, while I was doing research for a talk I had volunteered to do for the annual Diversity Day event at my university. I was supposed to talk about Syrian refugees but I knew nothing about them other than what I was hearing from the news feeds and seeing them on the streets of Turkey during my vacation over the summer. A friend of mine introduced me to Christiane, a German lady, working with Syrian refugees through the United Nations in Geneva. When Christiane became aware that I was preparing a talk about refugees, she said: “You have to hear this story.” And that’s how I met Maen, Toteh’s owner.

TotehandMAen

While I was vacationing in the beach towns of the Mediterranean in Turkey last summer, I saw many refugees. They always stood out. They hung out with their families, speaking in a language nobody understood, alone and alienated. Many people were not happy about their presence. I was hearing in the news that in towns close to the Syrian border, the number of refugees were surpassing the number of Turkish residents. While this was the case, Maen was the first Syrian refugee I ever spoke to. He could speak English and Christiane was gracious enough to arrange us a Skype meeting so that I could hear his story directly from him.

ChrisandMaen

Maen told me he used to be an engineer, specialized in wind power. He was also an artist. He showed me his paintings and bird sculptures he made out of clay, which kept him company. He told me the story of how Syria turned into a chaotic place because of the corruption in the Assad administration. In Syria, everything was controlled by Assad and his family. Every ministry was headed by either Assad’s uncle or one of his relatives or loyalists. The guards would come to the stores and collect money from the shop-owners regularly. Maen bought land to build a home years ago. The government said he had to pay 15,000 liras to apply for a permit to build the house. He paid and applied for the permit. But nothing would get done in the government. After 7 years of chasing his application, he still didn’t have a permit. However, one of the top generals in the military was allowed to build himself a house in a protected site where people were not allowed to build homes. Maen said: “it all started when two officers came to collect money from the shop owners again. People were already suffering because of Assad’s oppressive rule and corrupt administration.” This time, the shop owners refused to pay. When one of the officers tried to attack them, people became completely outraged. They’ve had enough. They started to fight the officers and managed to kidnap them and take them inside their store. This was the beginning of the resistance movement against the regime. Of course, Assad’s response was disproportional. He sent out his army and killed many people in one day. That instilled enough fear that the resistance died for a while. But the story of the shop owners spread all over the country. After a while, other parts of the country started to rise up against Assad. With each protest and uprising, Assad became more and more ruthless. His TV channels and media outlets were portraying the protesters as terrorists, to justify Assad’s brutal fight against them.

Maen said; “I used to live in Zabadani. But, I had to move from there because of projectiles passing over my house day and night.” He bought a house in the Artoz village and moved there. But, after a while, bombings intensified around his new modest home, too. “There was horror in the region” he said. “Most of the neighbors left their homes. I spent a lot of lonely nights. Sometimes, darkness and suspicious silence surrounded the area and silence became the status of psychological abnormal.” Maen said; “I was not afraid to die. In those days, death would be mercy. I even thought about ending my life. But, I was afraid to die and leave Toteh alone. If I died, she would be helpless. She would either be abused by other animals and people, or die of starvation. It was the most terrifying thought.” For Maen, the only thing that made him going was Toteh. He said that after a while he almost got used to missile attacks. He was waiting for the rumbling to end so that he could go to the kitchen and make coffee. In the evenings, he would put a helmet on himself and on Toteh and cover her with blankets in case a shell dropped or the ceiling fell down. He already had a hole on his wall, through which he could see the neighbors’ houses in the village.

“One day, the soldiers raided the region, broke doors and burnt many houses” said Maen. “My house was the last one in the neighborhood. Neighbors came to me and said that I had to leave. They offered me to flee to their safe places before the arrival of the soldiers. But they hardly had room for themselves. They would not allow me to take my dog. I could not leave her alone. So I preferred to stay and die with her. When the soldiers came to the door, I begged them not to kill my dog. I said ‘If you want to kill her, please kill me with her.’ The soldiers did not do anything. Because I had my paintings on the wall and a dog in the house, they thought I was not a Muslim and decided to leave me alone. Toteh saved my life that day.”

Maen had a daughter who lived in Geneva with her husband. She was calling him every day in panic, pressuring him to go to Geneva. His daughter had applied for a visa for him but with Toteh, it was complicated. Toteh had to be tested and vaccinated and even then she had to wait for 3 months after the blood tests before she could enter Europe and they didn’t have that kind of time. Maen decided to find a way to get Toteh out of Syria first, make sure she was safe, and only then would he leave for Europe. While searching for a way, he met an amazing girl, Rawaa, who lived close to the same village and was personally interested in rescuing animals. She helped Maen find a veterinarian who could do Toteh’s shots and the paperwork. Maen called an Animal Shelter in Lebanon, which agreed to keep Toteh until the expiration date. He met the vet in the worst conditions in the middle of a highway but under these unusual conditions, the vet was still able to test her, give her shots and even managed to get a chip underneath Toteh’s skin so that she wouldn’t get lost. Rawaa was leaving for Beirut and Maen thought it was a good idea to send Toteh with her.

Maen told me about his many struggles after that. Eventually he was approved and he left for Europe. He stayed with his daughter and her family for a long time. But, after a while, it felt embarrassing for him to live with them without being able to work or pay bills. He applied for the refugee program in Geneva and eventually was given a room in a refugee center in the countryside. One fortunate day, he got news that a friend of his in Beirut was coming to Paris and he was able to bring Toteh. Maen and Toteh were finally united but he was not allowed to keep her in the refugee camp with him. He kept her in another animal shelter in Geneva where he would take two buses from the camp to visit every day. He said; “Every time I left, Toteh looked at me with sad eyes, wondering why I was leaving her. It broke my heart every day.” He wrote letters to the director of the refugee camp and left flyers everywhere to no avail. “There was a horse club next to the camp area” he said. “People were coming there with their dogs to ride horses. I thought they would allow me to keep my dog there. But, every time I approached their cars to ask for the manager, they would feel threatened and pull their windows up. Finally, I found out that the manager was a lady called Madam Aurelia. I went to her office and told her that I did not want any money.” Maen told her the story of his dog and Aurelia agreed to keep the dog in the barn. For 7 months, in the cold, rain, and snow, he united with Toteh in the mornings and left her again in the afternoons. He continued writing letters and leaving flyers all over the city. One day, they had a new director at the refugee camp, a woman who loved animals. She called Maen to her office. She had heard his story. She told him that he would be allowed to keep his dog with him. Maen couldn’t believe it. He asked her again, “You mean, I can keep her in my room?” She said “yes”. He was in tears with happiness. He hadn’t been that happy in such a long time.

Today, he is given a private room in Geneva. He makes birds out of clay and sells them. He also volunteers at the refugee camp and gives painting lessons to Syrian children.

birds

He is still reminded of his days in Syria as he looks at his painting. “I called this Shadows of the Man” he said: “Those were the days I felt so alone and so valueless. Worth nothing more than a shadow.”

shadows of the man

Categories
English Turkce

Turkish Cartoons of the Day

This is one of my favorite cartoons by the Turkish cartoonist Selcuk Erdem. I saw it again the other day and it made me think about how most of us don’t have the ability to see the reality around us because of our subjectivity. Because our “horn” gets in the way… Our feelings, our prejudices, our habits, our baseline perceptions… We never realize it’s our “horn” in the middle of the picture which blurs our vision and blocks our perception. Sometimes, you need to move out of your country, your culture or your comfort zone and be in a completely different place to be able to see clearly…

I put together a few more of my favorite cartoons for today! Enjoy!

Selfishness:


“It was blocking my view so I had it cut.”

Ego Crush:

Monday Syndrome:

“I don’t know why but I hate Mondays.”

Opportunists:

“Our condolences! We heard about your loss. We are very sorry.”
“Screw you!”

Delusionals:

“OMG! I’m flying!”

Communication:

“Are you not gonna go cock-a’doodle-doo?”
“I’ll text.”

Killing Love:

“Let her go! If she comes back, she’s yours.”

 

Categories
English

Before And After

Being a huge HGTV and DIY fan, I’ve always wanted to get those before and after pictures of my little design projects around the house and be proud of my accomplishments.

Finally, it’s time!

But first, I want to tell you the story of my house-hunting process, which ended when I found this home sweet home:

I had all these dreams about growing fruits and vegetables in my garden, so I was only looking for houses with a yard. But, considering all the facts and costs, I had a drastic change of mind and bought a condominium instead. The bad thing about condos is that you don’t have a yard and you can’t plant things in the ground. You can also not ride horses in your back-yard which is such a deal-breaker!!! But the good thing is; you don’t have a stand-alone house so your gas and electric bills are cheaper thanks to your neighbors and if you travel a lot like me, you don’t have to worry about mowing the lawn or shoveling snow!

As an ordinary Turk, I love to have big windows and lots and lots of light inside. My search was quite frustrating at first since it was so hard to find such houses. I really don’t know how people live in dark places. I would probably become suicidal in Ohio’s gloomy weather. But, people must love dark around here.

I searched for months to find something I actually liked. I was just as picky with houses as I am with….. well…. everything else!! Eventually, I had a love-at-first-sight with a little 2-bedroom condo I found. I decided to buy it the same day. When you have love-at-first-sight with a place, you can’t go wrong. When you don’t, decision-making becomes too complicated. And if it does become complicated, it’s a sign you’ll probably regret later. So, don’t even start thinking about it!

Hmm… Got a little lost in there. But, I’m still talking about homes, not men! Though, that’s what I think about both…

Now, I present to you the “before and after” pictures of my place. Most of the following BEFORE pics are from the previous owner of the house. It still looked cute but AFTERs are after my touches! Yeah, I am a little boring it seems.

Living Room

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

When it comes to furniture, most people like ‘traditional’ around here and it’s hard to find multi-functional, modern furniture stores that are affordable in my area. I found these in a Turkish furniture store in New Jersey. You can check it out at istikbalfurniture.com. All my couches become beds or have storage underneath or they have some other useful function. The top parts also move up at different angles if you are tall and need to rest your head on it. I love them. The table set is from Ikea. People generally think Ikea furniture is not sturdy, but they really don’t break if you’re a tiny eco-size like me! 🙂

Kitchen

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Bedroom 1

BEFORE:




AFTER:

I turned this room into an office and I still need a lot of changes in it. It’s the one I neglect the most.

Bedroom 2

BEFORE:

AFTER:

And now, it’s time to show you my favorite place. My basement!

But before the pics, I must tell you something. When I first came to the US about 11 years ago, some of the first things I bought was plates, forks, cups and… a TV. In Turkey, a TV was considered a necessity. It still is… Nobody ever turns it off. During my visits to Turkey, which I usually do after being away from my family for at least a year and missing them greatly, even I get no attention during prime time when a favorite TV series of my family is on. Gotta admit Turkish TV shows are deadly addictive but in my new home, I decided not to have a TV. I love it. It saves me so much time and space…

But, as much as I don’t like watching TV, I love watching movies. And a few Turkish shows I have to confess… So I turned my basement into a little home-theater with the help of my good friends and with minimal budget. Got a HD 1080p projector, a Wi-Fi Built In Blu-ray player, a receiver, surround sound and there you go… Here are the pics:

Basement

BEFORE:

AFTER:

I was told that I should give credit to my LA-Z-Boy’s… Yes, I do love my boys! But, I think this is where they belong. In front of the screen, to recline and relax… They look too big and ugly in a living room.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

And this is the stairs down to the basement:

Like I said, I’ve always wanted to do this BEFORE and AFTER thing! So, one more thing of off my list of things to do before I turn 30-something!?! 🙂

Categories
English

Torn Between Two Countries

While I was in Turkey for the Christmas break, everyone back home tried to convince me to move back. Now that my brother has moved back also, I have no family left in the US. I sometimes wonder if I should go back. But, my relationship with both countries is like the Turkish lyrics from a love song: “Neither with you, nor without” can I do…

I personally think; Turkey is a country that is more similar to the US than most countries in the world. Conservatives, Liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Southerners, Northerners… There is an equivalent of all of those people in Turkey.

Just in my previous Turkish post, I was talking about how the differences between the North and South of the US are similar to the differences between the West and East of Turkey. Just like the South; the East of Turkey is also more conservative. Families are closer to each other. People talk to their elders with phrases similar to “Sir” or “Ma’am”. In the West, they make fun of that, just like they do up North, here. In Turkey, the West is more modern and European, while the East listens to country songs and speaks with an Eastern accent. In my Turkish post, I was talking about the fact that I couldn’t even experience a decent culture shock when I landed in the South, the first time I came to America. Because, although I grew up in the East, I spent 6 years of my life in Izmir -a coastal town in the West- which is like the California of Turkey… Before coming here, I had prepared myself more for a “90210”, “Baywatch” or even “The Young and The Restless” kind of America. But, instead, I got:  “The Little House on the Praire”… (which we all loved watching in Turkey when I was little.) When I didn’t even see a campus infested by couples kissing each other at every corner – as was the case in Izmir-  I thought I had come home to the East, instead of Auburn, Alabama! (I shouldn’t lie, I did see one kissing couple once but the guy was Turkish!) All of these similarities are part of the reasons I love the South so much.

Even the fact that we have no idea about how similar we are is similar. Once, back in Auburn, I used a Turkish expression to make fun of a friends’ very old camera. I said “that camera must be from the time of Prophet Noah”. He was so surprised. He said: “you guys believe in Noah?” I was actually surprised that he was surprised. I told that to a friend in Turkey. He asked with astonishment: “Americans believe in Noah??”

The ignorance might be mutual but of course nobody in Turkey makes ignorant comments at an international level, as was the case with Rick Perry! The past couple of weeks, he’s been making the headlines in Turkish news. Someone made a comment about him, saying: “America must really be the land of opportunities, if a guy like this could become a governor.” Indeed, it is. In Turkey, he would probably be unemployed… a janitor, tops…

But… Enough with Rick Perry and the similarities…

I made a list of things I miss about both countries when I am away  (not counting friends and family of course)!

Here are the things in Turkey that we don’t have an equivalent of in the US and I wish we did:

1. As opposed to everything being frozen, canned or loaded with chemicals in the US, you can buy everything fresh in Turkey. E.g. here is how it looked like when we went out to buy fish one day:

http://youtu.be/GDQapI7FGq4

2. My favorite chocolates and snacks:

3. Turkish waffle: This is no ordinary waffle. It’s loaded with white or dark chocolate spread and topped with fresh fruits and nuts of your choice; such as strawberries, kiwis, bananas, chestnuts and pistachios. It’s heavenly!

4. Simit: This is similar to a bagel but oh… so, warm and yummy…

But, don’t worry. All I think about is not food. (I think!?)

5. Public transportation: Taxies, ferries, buses, minibuses, sea buses, trams, trains, etc… From wherever you are to wherever you’d like to go, there is a way… And they are even cheaper than driving your own car.

6. Health care: This is the one thing that makes me the saddest about Americans who can not afford to get their treatments or who have to walk around with terrible teeth because dental care is too expensive in the US. When I watched the documentary “Sicko”, it made me cry. The system here is based on making money, not based on curing people. In Turkey, even if you don’t have health insurance, what you pay for most hospital expenses is the fraction of the price you pay here. And most Turkish people pay absolutely nothing for hospital visits, for dental care or even for prescription glasses.

This is a hint for all Americans who have medical issues they cannot afford. Get a plane ticket, go to Turkey and get your stuff taken care of there. Not only will you get a vacation, but also you will still save a lot of money. I got two fillings and a dental implant (which my insurance won’t cover in the US) and it cost me less than $1000 total with absolutely no insurance coverage in Turkey. Add to that the $800 plane ticket and compare it to $3000 (national average for dental implants alone, in the US). I still saved a lot of money. Not to mention, the technology was cutting-edge…

However…  There are also a lot of things in the US, which you can not have in Turkey:

1. Being closer to nature (as opposed to being closer to concrete in Turkish cities, where I would end up living if I moved back.)

2. I can afford to buy a horse in the US. (In Turkey, they cost more than a Porsche!)

3. I am a great cook in American standards (as opposed to people not letting me cook in Turkey!!)

4. People don’t smoke so much in the US (in Turkey, they get offended, when you ask them not to smoke in your house!).

5. We drive cars in the US (as opposed to roller coasters in the insane Turkish traffic, where you could be dead for obeying traffic rules…or for not obeying them. You are dead either way!).

6. In the US, you don’t have to dress up to go to the grocery store (as opposed to streets looking like a runway show in Turkey).

And finally…

7. Microwave popcorn.

 

So, as you can see…. I’m torn!