Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Rape and Murder of Turkish University Student Ozgecan Aslan

Ozgecan Aslan
Last week, a bright, beautiful 20-year-old Turkish university student named Ozgecan Aslan was the last person on her shared taxi known as a dolmuş. It's a common form of transportation in Turkey. A dolmuş, much like an airport shuttle van, carries up to 10 people at a time. Everyone in Turkey uses them. It would never have occurred to me to think of one as unsafe. Last week riding in a dolmuş cost Ozgecan Aslan her life. She was raped, stabbed, dismembered, and burned by a dolmuş driver, his friend, and the dolmuş driver's own father.
Turkish Women refused
to let men near her casket
At the funeral, the imam signalled for men to pick up the casket and Turkish women were having none of it. They refused to step away and carried her casket out themselves, a shockingly unusual act in patriarchal Turkish culture. It was an incredibly healthy response of contempt that signalled to the entire nation, this problem of violence against women MUST be addressed. Ozgecan Aslan, and her fate, was on the lips of every Turkish woman with fury and sorrow all week long. 

Turkey, a country famous for its denial of so many of its historic problems, is not in denial on this one. Turkey knows it has a problem with domestic violence and violence against women. The President himself called it "Turkey's bleeding wound." Last year, 281 women were killed in Turkey (that are known of - with honor killings and such you can't be sure of accurate reporting).

A Turkish actress started a hashtag called #Sendeanlat (tell your story), asking women to take to Twitter to tell their stories of how they had been harassed in daily life. Last I looked it had close to 1,000,000 tweets in two or three days. Even though the men of Turkey, know there is a problem,  I'm not sure they care enough to fix it
Murder of females is political
Graffiti about Ozgecan Aslan's murder filled the streets. It wouldn't have occurred to me to think of Ozgecan Aslan's murder as political until I saw the graffiti above that declared it so. Then I couldn't get it out of my mind once seeing it. There were so many ways it could be. Like the victims of so much state violence this year, Ozgecan was both Kurdish (an ethnic minority) and Alevi (a religious minority). Was her death going to be used by authorities to further restrict the freedom of women in the country, the way terrorism is used to justify the end of civil liberties for citizens in the West? Immediately, there were calls for women to be segregated into 'pink buses.' Others pointed to the misogynist statements by politicians that devalued women. The pattern of peeling women away from public life is underway in Turkey.

Our rebellion is for murdered women!

What fascinates me is the similarity of toxic cultures for women -- no matter where they are located. For example, I have always thought of the American state South Carolina as a state badly in need of the fresh breezes of change -- a state still nursing grievances from the Civil War. 

Just the other day, one of South Carolina's lawmakers referred to women as a "lesser cut of meat." It's easy to condemn the lawmaker, but it must be assumed that this attitude represents the population and it sells. These kind of statements diminishing women are common in both Turkey and South Carolina. Diminishing statements about women sell to the masses in Turkey too.

Recently, the Post and Courier newspaper in South Carolina examined how the good 'ole boy culture of patriarchal policy makers contribute to South Carolina leading the nation in dead women murdered by men. Despite another woman dying every 12 days at double the national rate, (and at three times the rate of South Carolina men who served in Iraq and Afghanistan combined), policy makers actively ignored a dozen initiatives to do something about the problem.

Who matters more?
The woman or the dog?
You'd be surprised --
or maybe not.
According to the Post and Courier, the only policy initiative related to domestic violence that got acted on in South Carolina was a proposal to make sure pets were taken care of when domestic violence happens. Indeed, South Carolina must value animals higher than women as 46 shelters for animals exist (one in every county) in the state, while only 18 shelters exist for women state-wide. According to the reporters who wrote the award-winning Post and Courier series "Til Death Do Us Part," a man in South Carolina can get five years for abusing his dog, but will only have to serve 30 days in jail for the first time he abuses his wife or girlfriend. 

One of the sad aspects to the Ozgecan Aslan murder in Turkey, is that the mother/wife (same woman) of the alleged murders said she had been a battered woman for years. If she had received help, and this battery had been taken seriously in Turkey, would 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan be alive today? According to the investigative journalism of the four reporters in South Carolina, incarceration saves lives as men are separated from women. That may be, but in South Carolina and in Turkey, there appears to be no interest in helping women in that situation as men choose to view them with morality judgements as "those women."

According to experts quoted in the "Till Death do us Part" series on domestic violence, South Carolina has the most traditionalist culture in the entire nation of the United States, preserving a status quo that benefits the needs and values of the elite. Wow, does that sound like Turkey. And here's what sounds EXACTLY like Turkey, "honor culture:"
"Surprisingly little research has examined the role South Carolina’s culture plays in domestic abuse and homicides, considering the state’s rate of men killing women is more than twice the national average.One often-cited study about violent tendencies in Southern men came from Richard E. Nisbett, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
His research revealed a Southern “culture of honor,” one in which for generations a man’s reputation has been central to his economic survival — and in which insults to that justify a violent response.
“We have very good evidence that southerners and northerners react differently to insults,”Nisbett says. “In the South, if someone insults you, you should respond. If the grievance is enough, you react with violence or the threat of violence.”
In a clinical study, Nisbett subjected northern and southern men to a test. Someone bumped into them and called them a profane term. The reaction: stress hormones and testosterone levels elevated far more in southern men.
“He gets ready to fight,” says Nisbett, coauthor of “Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in The South.”
How does it apply to domestic violence? Men who perceive their women have insulted them — by not keeping up the house, by talking back or flirting with someone else — launch into attack mode to preserve their power."      
 
 ~South Carolina Post and Courier, 2014 
Here are examples of that same hypersensitivity to insult in Turkey here, and here, and here.

The response of disgust that Turkish women felt and voiced about the murder of Ozgecan Aslan was the healthiest human response to this whole sad story. The challenge for Turkish women and those who love them, will be to turn their social media energy and disgust into real lasting change. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci describes this inability to make lasting change from social media power in her TED Talk here.


Turkish women took to the streets
throughout Turkey to protest
Turkey's pattern of
violence against women
If the first step, is to drag the whole country out of denial that there is a problem, the women of Turkey, have passed that test with flying colors and not let their nation descend any further (hello, Egypt). Respect, Turkish ladies! You have my total respect!   

May the women of South Carolina find the same strength. According to the journalists in South Carolina who wrote the award-winning series, "Till Death Do Us Part," 30 women's lives and families will depend upon it in the coming year.

What I would want the women of Turkey and South Carolina to know is, you are not in this alone. One billion women across the planet are rising up each year to ask the world to change this paradigm where violence against women is acceptable. Eve Ensler began this movement three years ago and each year it gets bigger and bigger. Luckily, the President of Turkey criticized women for participating so now everyone in Turkey has probably learned what the "One Billion Rising" is all about.  Next year, may the criticisms of women dancing for change sing out across the land! Strike! Rise! Dance! One billion rising! Break the chain!
You may be interested in these other posts about domestic violence and violence against women in Turkey:

#1billionrising in Istanbul






My First Turkish Movie -‘Kurtuluş Son Durak’


You can follow 'Empty Nest Expat' on Facebook, or just sign up for RSS Feed at the right. Care about domestic violence and violence against women? Why not share this blog post to broaden the conversation.

Thanks for reading. Don't forget to Strike! Rise! Dance!

Heaps and heaps of gratitude to the amazing journalists in South Carolina whose journalism will save lives, move their state forward, and result in a more equitable environment for the citizens of South Carolina. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Istanbul Food Tour with Olga from 'Delicious Istanbul'

Olga and me
"I'll tell you a secret," my Russian friend Olga Tikhanova Irez said. My husband and I are moving from Istanbul." 

I was shocked. Olga had built a business known all over the world giving culinary walks in Istanbul. She had foodies beating a path to her door. The seats for her monthly breakfast cafes were so coveted, Istanbullians were lucky to get a spot. How could she give that up? 

"We purchased a place in Alaçatı, Turkey and we're going to create a restaurant there. I want to feature the food of our grandmothers," she added.

Alaçatı is a well-known resort area on Turkey's North Aegean coast where many Turks go to vacation. Every year it hosts the world wind-surfing championships because its bay has the perfect conditions for windsurfing.

I had been to Alaçatı and knew how fantastic its open-air produce market was, how the relaxed resort atmosphere would contribute to joyful gastronomy and a wonderful experience for her future diners. "I haven't announced it yet," she added. 

I was so grateful to know! I simply had to go on one of Olga's culinary walks before she left Istanbul and began her new life. I immediately cleared the next day of any other activities. This was an Istanbul experience on my bucket list that I simply could not miss.

"Try not to eat before you come. Come hungry." Olga advised with understatement.
"Let's take a group photo
while we're all still skinny!"
My fellow foodies on the walk were two couples from Hong Kong, fast friends for twenty years, who had travelled the world together. They were in town for a medical convention where the two doctors would be presenting. The couples' warm friendship and enthusiasm for life added to the joy of the day. 
Three different kinds of menemen,
wonderful Turkish comfort food.
We started at the dock in Kadiköy, a beautiful neighborhood for culinary exploration because so much of what makes Istanbul famous for Turkish food is all available within a couple blocks. Our first stop was a breakfast featuring two Turkish classics: menemen and Turkish tea.

Olga knows her menemen; her own recipe for the dish had been featured in the Guardian. So if she said "this is the place where you should come for menemen," I knew it had to be incredibly special. To preserve her 'secrets' I won't show you the names of any of the places she took us.
A beautiful Turkish tradition:
soldiers write notes on napkins here
and pin them to the wall,
as they come to eat
one last menemen
before leaving for their service,
or return for one
in celebration
 of surviving it!
I loved the pride of these men -
all proud menemenciler!
Fıstıklı dürüm.
Dürüm is a Turkish word
used to describe
anything rolled,
making this
rolled-pistachio baklava.
Next up was a specialty of Gaziantep, Turkey, baklava. Gaziantep is famous as the culinary capital of Turkey. The number one thing to eat there, on a very long list of gastronomic treasures, is baklava. I had never tried fıstıklı dürüm baklava before this day. It has become my new dessert obsession.

How good is this baklava? Just to learn about this one particular type of baklava would be enough of a culinary education to make the whole day a success. I love it that much. Yet, we were just getting started!
The walnut-based baklava in back
is topped with kaymak,
a very fragile Turkish
clotted cream
that can make one swoon.
Kaymak,
a pillow of extraordinary excellence,
must be eaten
the day it is made.
There are no words.
The taste! The perfection!
The tradition!
I love all of the imagination
Turks bring to making nuts sing
in their desserts.
 And then they add: kaymak!
People travel
from all over the world
to eat this.
The green baklava
is fıstıklı ezme.
Think of it as pistachio marzipan.
Isn't that a brilliant idea?
Pistachio marzipan?
It is every bit as fantastic as it looks.
What brilliant imagination!
The other baklava
features a bit of crunch
paired with the pistachio goodness.
As global as
Western markets have become,
there are still
many, many produce surprises
to discover via travel.
Here are three offerings
I had never seen
until moving to Turkey.
I love the mystery of them.
What does one do with them?
We passed many mysteries
as we walked around
Kadiköy's open-air market.
Olga would
patiently explain each one.
Next up, was one of the most beautiful of Turkish food ideas:
mezes. Mezes are usually the appetizer to a meal and Turks have hundreds and hundreds of different recipes for them.

The meze tradition is to offer a little taste of this and a little taste of that. I have always thought it was the perfect way to acclimatize children to more sophisticated tastes. "Just try a bite," I can imagine Turkish parents saying.

We popped into one of my favorite spots in the open-air market of Kadiköy, a great gastronimical shop showcasing tantalizing mezes and superb regional food products.
Olga had her favorites
she wanted us to taste.
There were so many choices!
Olga assembled a
model meze masterpiece.
Most of these mezes
are vegetable-based.
You can't go wrong
they are so delicious and healthy.

I love the taste combinations
new to my American palate
like the carrot and eggplant meze
right in the middle of the plate.
I've gone back for it again and again.

If I could popularize
one vegetable
back home in America
it would be eggplant.
I never grow tired
of all the different ways
Turkish cooks use it.
It's fantastic!
If you had told me that,
I would never have believed it
because I really
hadn't experienced it before.
The meat on the left is pastirma,
a specialty of Kayseri, Turkey.
I lived in Turkey a year before
I had the guts to try it.
It seemed so different:
dried meat with a paste around it?
How could that be good?
Sounds like something
mountain men
would pack in a duffle.
Then I had pastirma in menemen.
Wow. I'm hooked. 
On the right
a meatball new to me
that was a more subtle
taste sensation.
The mezeci loved giving
Olga a hard time
as they posed for photos.
All kinds of Turkish cheeses
vacuum-packed
to take home to Asia.
Next stop: a UNESCO
"intangible cultural heritage"
'Turkish kitchen' isn't just about the food. Yes, the food is fabulous. 'Turkish kitchen' is also about the rituals that go with each different food. Our next stop was to try a Turkish ritual so globally cherished UNESCO has labeled it "an intangible cultural heritage."
Around the corner
from our meze shop
was one of Istanbul's
most beloved Turkish coffeeshops.
It was the perfect spot
to wind down
from an exciting morning
before venturing out
for more discovery.
Each Turkish coffee
is accompanied by a
glass of water
and a single bite
of sweetness.
See the lokum?
In English,
it's known as 'Turkish Delight.'
Turkish coffee is exquisitely satisfying. The first steaming hot sip of the foamy concoction sends a signal to all nerve endings: slow down, enjoy, relax.
Me telling fortunes
Photo by Olga
Each sip is savored as simply as the conversation and fortune telling that ensue when the cup of coffee is finished. The cup is turned over and the pattern of the coffee grounds fortell one's future as a friend 'reads' the inside of the cup.

The ritual of it all is enough to make an overseas Turk cry out with homesickness at a mere photograph of Turkish food rituals.

 
Pickled cabbage
There were more specialty food stores to explore after our coffee. We were off to the pickle place next. It seems everything can be pickled!


Olga offered us
a cool refreshing glass
of pickle juice.
She also offered us
fresh turnip juice
called şalgam.
Don't turn it down
because it sounds odd.
It's fantastic,
especially when paired
with the
specialty meat kebabs
from the cities
out East.
Şalgam is zingy, fresh, delicious!
All of these
fresh regional food products
can be vaccum-packed
to take home in one's suitcase.
You didn't think
we would go through an
Istanbul culinary adventure
without fish, did you?
This gorgeous plate
of fried hamsi
is from the Black Sea.

The Black Sea
has its own special culture
and hamsi (fried anchovies)
makes a Black Sea Turk
puff up with pride.
Bet you can't eat just one.
I forgot the name
of this spicy chicken dish
but it was tender and juicy
and yummy over rice.

After our lunch
of fish and chicken
Olga had one last
open-air
produce market
she wanted to show us.

It was huge,
stretching for several blocks.
We walked through it all,
pausing here and there
to explain
produce new to us. 
They taste as wonderful
as they look -
Çanakkale tomatoes.
Why can't we have
tomatoes like this
back home?
Skinny green peppers
are the Turks' favorite;
They are frequently grilled
and served with kebab.
Even before I went on
this food walk
with Olga,
I think of her whenever
I see beautiful market greens.
She knows exactly
what to do with them.
Foraging for nettles
and spring greens
is a beautiful Russian
childhood tradition.
These flat beans
which I've never seen
for sale in America,
make a delicious cold salad
called Ayşe Kadin Fasulye
(the woman Ayse's beans).

Plan on buying a lot?
Porters will carry
all of it for you
as you make
your selections.
I was so grateful to experience 'Olga's Istanbul' before she moved.
I can't wait to follow her restaurant adventure. You can follow her restaurant adventure too via her blog, Delicious Istanbul, or make reservations directly at the Babushka Alaçatı website.


If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy these other foodie posts about Istanbul:

Enjoying Olga's #Istanbulbreakfastclub

The Days of Wine and Roses and Tulips: Wine Tasting at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet

Dinner on the Bosphorus at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski's Bosphorus Grill

Afternoon Tea and Pastry with Guest Chef Yann Duytsche in the Gazebo Lounge at Çırağan Palace Kempinski

"Midnight at the Pera Palace Hotel" with the Global Minds Book Club

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Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exploring Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market

Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market;
Fishmongers shout to the customers
what is on offer.
It adds to the fun.
There were so many kinds of fish,
yet I wanted to use the kind
I was most familiar with.
Where were the salmon fillets?
I saw just one lonely salmon fillet
on display.
When I said what I wanted,
the fishmonger urged me
to go behind the counter.
I did as told, not understanding.
The other fishmonger opened up
the deep freeze and went in.
Will this do?
I almost screamed
it was so fun
to see that giant fish.
A memory of watching
Martha Stewart videos
with my oldest child
came rushing back to me.
It was before Martha
became really big.
We marveled that Martha
would buy and handle
a gigantic salmon
in her kitchen.
She bought the entire fish??
We admired Martha
risking all that money
preparing one gigantic salmon. 
What if it didn't turn out right
when she cooked it?
Martha was thinking big,
obviously.
The fishmonger thought
I was German.
In my imperfect Turkish,
I tried to say,
"I'm not German, I'm American."
But like all language learners everywhere,
it wasn't exactly right.
Apparently, I said:
"The German doesn't exist!"
Custom-cut fillets.
I felt so lucky,
and so full of anticipation
to enjoy my own cooking.
I wanted to take advantage
of Turkey's incredible
nut crop
and make
pistachio-encrusted salmon.
Later, after I had my wrapped salmon fillets from the fish market, I went to the nut shop to buy fresh pistachio meats. I was asking questions in slow Turkish about the various kinds of pistachios.

A Turkish man barged into the shop, shouted out his order, oblivious to the fact that I was ordering. The shopkeeper switched to the new, louder patron. "Men get waited on before women in Turkey, even if the woman was first?" I asked, after the man left.

"Maalesef (unfortunately)," the shopkeeper replied. I said 'no thank you' to placing my order with him and took my small request (1/4 kilo) to the shopkeeper's competitor across the street.

"Roasted pistachio nuts please," I ordered in Turkish. The man reached inside a heated drawer and scooped up the warm nuts into a paper bag for me. It was so satisfying to take my business there. I swear the pistachios tasted better for the lack of sexism!
My meal turned out so well!
Martha would be proud, I think.
My finished dinner
of pistachio-encrusted salmon
and Mediterranean bakla,
pine-nuts & herbs
(Bakla is Turkey's version
of green beans).

Shopping the Üsküdar fish market
was a fun experience.
And delicious too!



Interested in other posts about homemade food in Istanbul?
Take a look at these:







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