Thursday, July 30, 2009

That which we call a rose...

There’s a few things about living in Turkey that I don’t like; the habit of ‘turkifying’ names being one of them. So Catherine is sometimes changed to Kadriye, a completely different name. I don’t understand why anyone would want to change a perfectly good name to another one, isn’t changing countries/cultures/languages enough?

Plus there was more than enough name-changing when I was growing up. In school for Irish class all our names were translated into Irish. I became Caitriona, a very nice name; it just wasn’t mine. Calling into my Dad’s office was nerve-wracking.

Dad’s office was right outside the wall of the university in the centre of Dublin, but I’d never had any reason to visit. I have a vague recollection of going to a Christmas party there many years before but it’s very hazy. On this particular day I had some good news to share. I knew my Mam wouldn’t be home so I couldn’t ring her and this was before mobile phones were so widespread. So I thought I’d pop in to Dad and share it with him.

I walked in through the revolving door and was confronted by two security guards behind a desk. One looked at me expectantly as I muttered something about my Dad working there.“Alright, what’s his name?”

A perfectly reasonable question in the circumstances.

I gave the name my mother called him, the one most of his close friends use.The security guard looked at the computer screen in front of him “Sorry, nobody of that name works here.”

I probably stared at the man for about thirty seconds. Then I remembered that Dad’s brother and sisters translate his first name to Irish. It’s a hangover from a time when an English name on a birth cert was an advantage if someone emigrated, but a family would use the Irish version in daily life. I tried that.

Another glance at the computer screen. “Sorry. No one of that name here.” By now the second security guard was taking a keen interest.

Stumped again, I had visions of being frogmarched out of the building for wasting time. It would be embarrassing to be tossed out by the Revenue Commissioners before I’d even had a chance to defraud them. The penny dropped. Dad joined the Irish civil service at a time when all names were translated completely into Irish. Our surname jumped from the very end to the beginning of the alphabet. I tried both first and surname in Irish.
“Ah we have one of them, he’s on the second floor.”

I climbed the stairs a little shakily. I may have just gotten a scholarship but I didn’t even know my own father’s name!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The whole truth

I took some photos recently and was criticised for it. An example: a man sits on a tree stump in front of a cobbled wall. Beside him on another tree stump is a glass of tea. He has grey hair, a weathered face and is dressed in well-used work clothes. The knees of his trousers are dirty and his rolled-up sleeves are grubby. His expression is a little bemused, there may even be a hint of mischief in his eye. The criticism: 'That doesn't reflect his social status.'

You see he looked like a villager. He didn't look like an apartment owner and landlord, or a shopkeeper, or father to teachers and other educated children.

Being seen as a villager in Turkey is the highest of praise according to Ataturk but more likely it's a dismissal in modern Turkey. It could mean someone hardworking or lazy, crafty or slow, noble or not. It can refer to a mindset that is superstitious, introverted and traditionalist. As Turkey has urbanised so quickly this divide is seen more in the cities than in the villages themselves. Virtual ghettos form, where people from neighbouring villages live close to each other and bring the village with them to the city. Any patch of land is used to grow vegetables, clothes are shaken over balconies without regard for the fancy cafe below and the village network takes over shops and businesses. This may clash with the established order in the city, an order created by people only a generation or so from the village themselves.

To judge a person based on a single photo may indicate there are self-esteem issues linked to this divide that Turkey will have to face.