Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Young Turks

The old windmill stands unused and overlooks the windless waters of Foça. The town is silent on a Sunday and from the top of the hill where the windmill sits, the sounds of the call to prayer waft over the still water through the afternoon haze.  A soccer game is starting nearby.  The field is clear from atop the hill and the players scuttle about like crabs along the shore, tiny from this vantage point. 

There are some youths loitering near the windmill, aimless.  They smoke cigarettes to make themselves feel older, more in charge of their own destinies, confident that they will never die.  The posture with each other and slap each other into their places in the pecking order of Turkish masculinity, a loud and confident type of movement that is unapologetic and unafraid. 

Recently in my class a student had to memorize a 5 line poem and he chose “We Real Cool.”  He found it on the website I gave them, one of the few who followed instructions.  I asked him why he liked it, and he said that it reminded him of the older boys he knows.  But when he recited the poem, it became clear to me that the ironies were lost on him.  “We die soon,” he said, with a huge smile. 

The Turkish kids by the windmill overlooking the bay of the town of Foça wish to escape this little fishing village where their headscarf wearing mothers and grandmothers coax gelatinous squid out of the water near the dock each night for their dinners, defeated squid that turn angry colors and discharge inky blackness that mingles with the emptiness of the small town, no lights on, nothing doing.  They are inhaling something inside a bag, breathing deeply in and out, their faces melting into expressionless puddles staring at the ground.  Empty bottles of sealant and glue lie there sticky in the sand at the base of large sandstone boulders that sit as witnesses. 

The soccer game is starting, and the first notes of the Turkish national anthem float out into the air across the boulders.  Its plodding dirge copulates with something inside the boys and they stand quickly erect and form a line.  One stands at attention with a salute, but they all stand silent and face the noise.  The bags and the glue and the cigarettes, broken bottles and tossed rocks sit silently on the ground.  The last note sits plaintively and seems to hang in the haze of afternoon.

I climb off my stony perch and march past the truculent gang of boys.  They stare at the girls that I am with and then address me, the man of the group, as is customary.  They say “where from?” and I tell them America.  But I walk past and pretend that I have somewhere to go.  “Problem?” he says.
“problem YOK! Memnun Oldum.” Nice to meet you. And then I motion to his bag and say “Afiyet Olsun.” This is not really appropriate as it basically means “enjoy your food” or “Bon appetite” but it is something I say when I’m leaving a place where I have to speak Turkish—often a restaurant or a place where people are eating.  This comment seems to shame him or anger him or something and he tails me for about 20 steps, then watches me go and turns away.  I don’t look back.  These kids make me think of school, which is something I don’t want to do on a Sunday. 

The trail snakes down the hill next to a big tin cutout of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk trudging uphill wearing his World War I uniform, his shoulders burdened by many obligations, a definite weight which is seen in his posture.  He is younger in this picture, which I see often, then in the photos you see in offices and in private homes—an image of the elder statesman conducting the duties of office.  There is an old cannon that rests beside a big pile of horse manure.  The date reads 1857-- engraved on the weathered steel.  It points out toward Greece, toward the island of Lesbos, which is not quite visible in the distance.