Freewheeling reports

Note: wrote this on Saturday, but passed out before I could post it.

It is now 3 a.m. in the morning. Eighteen hours ago, I woke up. Ate yogurt and coffee for breakfast. Attended a class in which we discussed the fraught and never-ending “headscarf controversy.” Ate çorba and salata at the villa for lunch. Went down into town where I joked around with tourist shop guys and played with two adorable Kurdish children (aged 4 and 6!) whose parents operate a neighboring shop. Took a drive with my local friend to the Dimçayı, and breathed the fresh air and felt the chill emanate from the surface of the cold mountain creek. Attended a cocktail party back up at the villa where I met my Turkish quasi-host-family. Returned to town, chatted, laughed, and drank some more tea with local friends. Strolled up harbor, along the pier, and sat at the fener (lighthouse) with one of said friends. Studied the boisterous club boats and contemplated the silent full moon. Admired the nightclubs’ rainbow spears of light that pierce the surface of the dark water. Talked about romance and Turkish politics (related?) until 2 a.m. Got back into the lojman at half past 2 a.m.

In four and a half hours, I will board a bus with my classmates and once again trundle through the Taurus Mountains. After a four hour bus drive with a layover in Çatalhöyük (a Neolithic archaeological site) we will arrive in Konya, a historical city in central Turkey where we will sample Seljuk architecture and Sufi culture. More about that later, but first, a recap of the past week.
A week ago I had the opportunity to attend a sünnet dügünü, the party honoring a boy’s circumcision. In Turkey, it is customary for boys to be circumcised at the ripe age of anywhere between two to fourteen years old. This practice is not a pre-Islamic shamanistic holdover, as I assumed, but rather is found throughout the Muslim world (Note that circumcision is not mentioned in the Q’uran and therefore not considered formally obligatory for Muslims).

A circumcision costume available for purchase in an Istanbul shop.

Yet Turkey has its own flamboyant manner in which it commemorates the event that is usually ascribed to Ottoman tradition. Ottoman sultans used the occasion of their sons’ circumcisions to throw gigantic festivals, lasting anywhere from 10 to 50 days, that spilled out of the palace and embraced commoners, skilled guildsmen, Janissaries, one and all. These festivities were, of course, another venue for the sultan to legitimize his rule by manifesting his power and munificence. (Read more here if you like.)

As for modern day celebrations, a professor of mine described a Turkish circumcision as “all of a boy’s birthdays put together” (of course, birthday parties are a Western importation). The kid gets an exorbitant amount of attention, sweets, gifts, and generally gets to run wild. The sünnet I attended began with a raucous caravan of twenty passenger jeeps festooned with balloons and blasting their car alarms, horns, and radios (paralleling the Ottoman-era processions, perhaps?). For a quarter of an hour, the jeeps paraded cacophonously up and down the main commercial avenue. Each one bore a good ten people, some looking somber and others yelling and cheering madly.

Then as we started ascending the hill up to where the restaurant, the automobile carrying the celebrated kid drove up next to where we were sitting. Circumcised boys wear a costume based on that of a sultan, thus making explicit the boy’s status as “king for a day.” The kid was wearing this costume, his hat, holding his staff, and waving equanimously to the public, and looked ever so precious.

(Just to clarify: no, this family did not perform “the act” publicly during this party. Although it is not unheard of to do so–and also common to do it sans anesthetic, unfortunately–more and more families have their sons circumcised as infants and then celebrate the sünnet at a later age. I assume/hope that is what happened in this case.)

Anyway, in the end we arrived at a large restaurant where there was a dinner party, music, and dancing, with maybe 150 people in attendance. The mood struck me as an Indian wedding: The more people attending the better, the more food and munificence doled out the better. Good times.

In other news, the entire program went on a three-hour boat tour last week. Jumping 15 meters off a boat into the warm Mediterranean? Fun as hell. Swimming in coves where the angle of incoming light makes the water shimmer like iridescent crystal? Also fun. Clambering around inside cliffside caves with silly names like “Pirate’s Cave” or “Lovers’ Cave” and leaping off into the water? You get the idea.

A friend of mine who runs a tour agency in Alanya took me to the Dim River, aka Dimçayı (in addition to meaning “tea,” çay also means “a small river” in Turkish). The Dim is about a 20 minute drive out of Alanya city center. The elevation is higher, so the air feels fresher, the mountain-fed river is surprisingly chilly, and the whole place is a refreshing contrast to hot, humid, frenetic Alanya. The little creek is studded with lokanta, cay evi, and waterparks. I was initially disappointed to see the quaint natural area so commodified, but once we sat down at one of the restaurants I could see the appeal. The seating areas are all on these floating divan rooms. As we sipped our colas, we could feel ourselves sway with the current (which, if you look at the photo, you can see is actually quite strong.)

Continuing past this section of the creek, you eventually come to a large turbine and then a huge dam, immediately beyond which is the lake you see above. Supposedly there are waterfalls and hiking trails, but those were too many kilometers away for us to travel to at the time.

…And that’s all I’ve got for now. Have a lovely weekend week! Hope yours holds adorable children, generous friendships, charming adventures, and other loveliness.

PS. The title of this post is inspired by Kahraman Bey’s syllabus 😉


One thought on “Freewheeling reports

  1. Martin Huennekens September 27, 2010 / 1:14 am

    Hope you have another great week. Read a banned book. The American Library Association has declared this “Banned Books Week” to celebrate the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s