Monday, April 23, 2012

Turkish Teens Out for a Zombie Walk in Istanbul

Turkish teenage zombies

Last weekend I was traveling from one side of Istanbul to another. That takes a few hours. I know the mainstream thing to do is to be armed with one of Steve Job's IPods for company, but for heaven sakes, I'm in Istanbul! If I just keep my eyes and ears open, entertainment will present itself.

Henry James said we should aspire to be "one of those on whom nothing is lost.” You can't very well do that with earbuds blaring. If you look around at bus passengers quite a few of them will have silenced the world deliberately with their earbuds. Yet, the average bus is full of people bursting with their stories.  Somehow, I usually sit next to someone who tells me an interesting tale.

There was the pretty 17-year-old Turkish girl, dressed in a tutu, coming home from volunteering at Istanbul Fashion Week and dreaming of being "Carrie" in New York City. Then there was the Turkish man whose wife had left him. He told me all about the Russian woman he was in love with and showed me pictures of her and her friends. There was a young woman who served as a translator for her father's Turkish business. The parent in me easily imagined his pride hearing her describe how she translated for him as he pursued international contracts. There was a young architect wanting to try out his ideas about public spaces on a Westerner. A college student, inquiring where I was from, soon to interview with an American company for a work/study program and nervous about his English, gratefully accepting my offer of practice interview questions as we rode along our route. What is one CD of music on an IPod compared to this fascinating parade of my fellow human beings and their hopes and dreams?

Walking through the Metro last weekend, I was taken aback to see a young person with rivulets of blood running down his face coming right toward me. I drew back shocked. Then I saw another equally bloody. I realized this wasn't people who were actually injured. "Hey Zombies?" I called out, "are you Turkish? Can I take your picture?"

"Of course." Their whole contingent appeared, splattered in blood, dripping expertly-placed eyeballs and pieces of fake flesh. They stopped, posed, and were off. I wouldn't even have had my earbuds out had I been wearing them before they passed by. It is way more fun to keep my eyes, my ears, and my mind open to the city to see and hear the people, and zombies, out enjoying their weekend.

Friday, April 20, 2012

100 Friends

I remember when I hit 50 friends on my blog. I was so excited! I'm just shy of 100 now and I would love to move into triple digits. Could you help me do that by following my blog? I would be ever so grateful. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

VDay 2013: One Billion Women Rising Globally & .... Dancing!

Istanbul cast of the 2012 English-language version
of "The Vagina Monologues"
What a delight it was to gather one last time with my fellow cast members of the 2012 Istanbul English-language "Vagina Monologues" and meet their families, boyfriends, and friends at our cast dinner. We reunited at an Indian restaurant near Taksim Square in the Tamirhane area.
Musafir Indian Restaurant
in the Tamirhane Neighborhood
Near Taksim

This doesn't strike me
as an evil eye, how about you?
Surprisingly, our beautiful waitress
was not Indian,
she was Turkish.
Fooled you, didn't she?

Harika and her beau were off on a
photography safari of Nepal after the play.

We enjoyed delicious Indian food. Most importantly, we enjoyed each other's company and discussed what was next for each of us. Harika was off to photograph Nepal. Tara was leaving for scuba in Egypt the next day. One cast member was flying back to Rome where she lived full-time. I must admit, the more I read about Eve Ensler and her cause the more involved I wanted to become in the future. I wasn't ready to let go of the VDay cause.

"The Vagina Monologues" is coming up on its 15th anniversary next year. It makes a statement, it has been produced in over 140 countries and raised money for local charities (over $100 million since it was first written), yet still the world if full of violence against women. If anything, it's become worse. What will change the paradigm, Eve asks? What would make everyone in our buildings, on our streets, in our cities, in our nations wake up and not take it anymore? To demand a safer world for all women? Something even bigger, even bolder is needed! Listen to her yourself (prepare yourself, its an awfully tough listen):

Eve Ensler
on Democracy Now
discussing "1BillionRising"

Eve Ensler says:
"V-Day is calling the 1 billion survivors of violence on every continent of the planet to join and RISE. On February 14, 2013, we are inviting, challenging, and calling women and the people who love them to walk out of their homes, schools, jobs to strike and dance. To dance with our bodies, our lives, our heart. To dance with our rage and our joy and love. To dance with whoever we want, wherever we can until the violence stops. We know our brothers, husbands, sons and lovers will join us in the dancing. Imagine 1 billion women and those that love them dancing. Imagine us taking up space, expanding our borders and possibilities, expressing the depth of our desire for peace and change. Dancing, 1 Billion Dancing. The earth will surely move and violence against women and girls will end. Because it can."
Imagine trying to organize one billion people to end violence against half the population of the world! I love the scope and breadth of her ambition. What audacity! I can only ask myself "what can I do to help make this happen?" I ask you, is there something you can do as well in your corner of the world to help Eve reach her goal? Can we help Eve make the earth move together?

Here is one thing we can do immediately:

 follow #1BillionRising on Twitter

Here is a second thing we can do immediately:

 sign up to receive email about her goal

Here is a third thing we can do longterm:

 organize some sort of dancing for February 14, 2013

And lastly, on VDay 2013 we can DANCE!

C'mon. It will be fun.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My First Turkish Movie -‘Kurtuluş Son Durak’

One night I was invited to a gal's night out with about six Turkish married women. My friends were organizing themselves to see a new Turkish movie with an all-female cast called ‘Kurtuluş Son Durak.’

I hadn't even yet seen the inside of our local movie theatre and was pleasantly surprised by the deluxe leather or leather-like Lazy-Boy style chairs. It was a beautiful theatre and very, very comfortable. I bought a giant popcorn to complete the experience and sat down not knowing what to expect. I didn't even know what the movie would be about.

This movie, a comedy with a theme of domestic violence, was adorable! The story starts when a glamorous woman, recently dumped by her boyfriend, moves into an Istanbul building. All of the other ladies in the building are, of course, curious about her but she resists their friendship.

The women all have their own struggles. One woman has devoted her life to her bedridden father; another has resigned herself to daily beatings from her husband so long as he doesn't touch the kids; another is facing the reality that her Mafioso boyfriend won't marry her, a young teenager hates seeing her mother beaten. Eventually, the ladies unite through their struggles, and become empowered to solve their problems. Most importantly, they have adopted a motto to "oppose all forms of violence."

The movie showcases
six skilled Turkish actresses
What I loved about the movie is that it showed absolutely beautiful parts of Turkish female culture. A Turkish woman will never let anyone starve. If food could cure cancer, there would be no cancer in Turkey! Even if a Turkish woman doesn't do the cooking herself, she has immense pride in her country's cuisine and is always quick to offer it. Turkish hospitality is awe-inspiring. They eventually wear down their new neighbor with their amazing food!

Typical Turkish Dinner with Rakı
(Turkish anise-flavored liquor),
good fellowship,
and good music
Secondly, Turkish women, actually Turkish people in general, are quick to share joy through music and dance. Have I met a bad Turkish dancer yet? I have not! Since childhood, folks in Turkey have been learning about music and folk dancing, belly dancing, and traditional dancing from their elders.

This movie was written by a man named Barış Pirhasan and directed by his son Yusuf Pirhasan. I need to give special appreciation to them as a viewer for creating this hilarious, uplifting script. Domestic violence seems like it wouldn't be a good subject for a movie, because it could seem so hopeless and dreary. There is a real accelerating problem with domestic violence in Turkey with domestic murders of women up 1400% in the last seven years. This movie seems like such a healthy way to create conversation about the problem and eliminate denial about the topic. Isn't that what is great about artists? They are always challenging us to do better, notice this, address that! Kudos, gentlemen.

This movie was a fun playful revenge fantasy similar in spirit to Dolly Parton's, Lily Tomlin's, and Jane Fonda's "9 to 5," the American movie about the glass ceiling women encounter at work. I didn't need much help during the movie to understand it since it was about the universal theme of relationships and friendship. The creators should be invited to appear at film festivals everywhere! Click on my title to visit the film's website.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Breaking the Silence on Street Harassment in Istanbul

Sessizliği Sen Boz,
Break the Silence
about Street Harassment

Street harassment is a human rights issue. It's also a business issue because street harassment costs businesses big money. I haven't felt harassed on the streets of Istanbul. I know, however, that I am not the target demographic as most young people harassed are ages 16-24. I have young friends who have experienced both rude, disgusting comments and groping.

If you think about it, street harassment is probably the number one reason women would not contemplate becoming an "Empty Nest Expat." It's an informal ghettoization of women that keeps them home: whether it be in their actual dwelling, their city, or their country because exploring their world looks too scary.

While fear of harassment has not kept me from exploring my world, street harassment still effects my spending decisions, which is why I emphasize the business consequences of street harassment in this post.

In 2011, I wanted to go to a New Year's Eve party at a friend's flat in the central Taksim area of Istanbul. When my Turkish male friends heard this, they resoundingly said, "you absolutely must not go." Why?

They said, "on New Year's Eve all the village yokels come into Istanbul. They've never seen a foreigner, they are drinking, they assume all sorts of things, and our news the next morning is filled with foreigners who were treated inappropriately on New Year's Eve because of this. Your smiling foreign face would be misunderstood by villagers."

So two hours before I was to leave, I made the decision to stay home and miss my friend's party. Between taxis and hostess gifts of wine and such, the amount I would have spent that night had I gone adds up to about $100. I am just one woman. Think of that decision multiplied by thousands of women. It becomes very easy to see what street harassment costs an economy.

In many ways, Istanbul is benefitting because street harassment is so much worse in other places. One of my friends recently moved here to Istanbul from Cairo. My friend, a highly educated and successful Arab author, said after living in Cairo for two years that it feels completely lawless. She would never move about Cairo proper using a regular taxi. It had to be her regularly-used taxi service, because a woman couldn't even trust licensed cabs in Cairo to keep her safe.

Another story of Cairo street harassment that stunned me comes from one of my favorite blog writers on Islamic spirituality. What are the business implications for a country like Egypt with so little control of its own streets?

For starters, a lot less tourists. At one time, Turkish and Egyptian populations and economies were roughly equal. But now, Turkey receives more than double the tourists Egypt does even though Egypt has the sphyinx and the pyramids and the Nile to offer.

There's a website called Hollaback! that works to document street harassment all over the world so that women know places to avoid within a city. It is also localized to document cases within Istanbul itself so people can see where most harassment occurs.

Avoiding places is a 20th century solution. Women won't settle for that anymore. Women deserve, demand, and will work for safe streets all around the world. We are half of the world's population. We aren't going to remain silent anymore.

Tourist and retail business people should appreciate and fund activists like the Istanbul Hollaback! team because they are working to create an environment safe for people and frankly, local businesses, to thrive.

Click on my title to check out the Istanbul Hollaback! website. You can share your story, check the map of harassment locations, and learn Turkish to help defend yourself. You can also learn how you can be a badass bystander who helps diffuse situations!

It's exciting to see tools like this develop to help women go out and explore their world. We didn't have something like this when I was in my twenties. A worldwide network of Hollaback websites helps give women courage. Set sail, explore, see parts unknown! Don't let street harassment keep you from exploring beyond your street, your city, or your country just like anybody else.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Vagina Monologues: We Did It!

Some of our fabulous cast
for "The Vagina Monologues"
Pictured left to right: Tara, Demet, Yasemin, me,
Monique, Harika, and Kendra
The play poster

One of my fellow cast members in DreamTree's production of "The Vagina Monologues," remarked at what an amazing feat it was for Donna M.E. Banks, an American and Kendra Tyre, a Canadian to move to Istanbul and within six months start up a theatre production company and put on Eve Ensler's play. These two ladies had known each other as teachers in Korea, and then discovered they were both living in Istanbul. "Why not create a VDay event?" they thought.

VDay is the movement to wake up the world to the gender-based violence women experience. It was started by American Eve Ensler.
The name of our
adorable neighborhood theatre
was Mekan.artı
It was just down the street from the entrance
of the Istanbul Hilton in Harbiye.
As I said in my last post, acting has not ever been one of my dreams. I was in this production because I believed in the cause. I walked away from the experience with new insight and respect for actors and actresses. For one thing, it takes a lot of time to learn dialogue.  As the oldest cast member, I joked that 'act' stood for 'Alzheimer's Cognitive Testing.' It seemed odd to me to devote so much time to something I would use all of three times.  At least if I was studying a school subject - say osmosis, or something, I could use it forever. I also had no idea the amount of time that actors need to devote to rehearsals. My goodness, it's like a part-time job to go to rehearsals every week.
But is this space not endearing?
It's like a little neighborhood clubhouse.
It held just under 100 seats.

As I was whining to a friend about how much more work it is to be in a play than I realized, he said, "yes, but you'll forget all that pain when you perform it." I was scared to death to act in this play, and as we prepared I felt wave after wave of vulnerability engulf me. My friends carried  me through though, and lifted me up with joy and support as I got ready. When we put the tickets on sale, it took less than a week for them to sell out. The last few days before the play all of us in the cast were fielding calls from all kinds of people asking, "please just four more seats?"

Opening night was full of drama for the cast: one member was in the hospital hoping to get discharged by 6 p.m. for our 8:30 curtain time, another went through three or four babysitters before finding one that would commit and stick. The second night, the lights were bright and I flubbed a couple of my lines. I quickly found my way back but it was a bit unnerving. The third night, one cast member forgot to get her suitcase out of the taxi trunk with all the costumes inside. Luckily, the cabbie realized it and brought it around in time for the show. Donna and Kendra goodnaturedly rolled with all of it.

The power of art to transform and cause us to think and grow is incredible. During our rehearsals, I faced my own intolerance of the transgender character in the show, and realized I was repulsed by the ambiguity everytime I heard the monologue. I didn't want to be, but I was. I don't know anyone in that situation. I always have to think, "now, are these the people who dress in the other gender's clothes? Or the people who want sex-change surgery? Or people who have had sex-change surgery?" I can never keep it straight.

"Wow, in real life, people with that issue, are a walking violence target," I realized. If I was repulsed and was doing my best to be compassionate and still struggling, I could imagine there are plenty of people who don't even bother to struggle. I just sat with my own feelings and felt the discomfort of not understanding. The play taught me how damn hard it must be to be one of those people. May they find kindness out there in the world. May I not be indifferent to the hate crimes they experience.

I hope to post more pictures and information about how much money was raised for Turkish nonprofits, but I'll end here saying how amazingly proud I am of my friends. Their biggest accomplishment was to use art to create conversations about difficult subjects. Among the cast we had fascinating discussions about what our mothers and grandmothers had taught us about avoiding gender-based violence, we discussed what monologues we identified with and what ones we did not, we talked about what part of the female experience isn't represented. We were privleged to help create the same kind of conversations among our audiences. I felt wondrous community develop full of love and support among the English-language speakers of Istanbul around this play. It was a privlege to be a part of it - next time though - I'm signing up for the publicity team - anything but acting!

A splendid story in "Today's Zaman" newspaper about our efforts and in "Milliyet" newspaper
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