“I’m not Turkish anymore” is what she kept hearing. I’m not sure if it was an argument but my cousin and I argued about Turkishness frequently. I sensed I was rejecting something about my identity in only wanting to be thought of as a “writer”and not a person of any country of origin or allegiance. I am Turkish by birth to Turkish parents and spend my formative years in Turkey but was uprooted in 1989 when Dad decided we should pursue the American Dream.
When one finds themselves in a new country, especially as a youngster, the most natural thing is to try to fit in. This was not the case for me. I always felt like an outsider in the U.S. The ideals on which the country was found – liberty, independence, free market, the pursuit of happiness (often with material one-upmanship) and the right to bear arms seemed alien. This was because though my family wanted to become the envy of their friends and family through living in “the best country in the world” they also thought the American ways evil, so behind closed doors they badmouthed the country that we took pains to move to. It was very confusing to me.
I remember watching the Eurythmics video for King and Queen of America – I was obsessed with them in my teenage years – and being struck by the imagery of a man and a woman in their tracksuits shopping in a supermarket with the look of utter emptiness on their faces. The other images from the video were of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart dressed as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. From where I’m standing today, those images sum up the U.S. in my eyes.
A country that’s brought us the most recognisable icons of the 20th century, which I appreciate but the wild consumerism and the relentless pursuit of anything, be it the dollar, happiness, cars, women, images of Jesus and simply anything and everything that’s superficial and material does not honour the human spirit as I see it.
We are not natural-born predators or go-getters to go and get ’em, tiger.
Maybe this is why I quit my plum job at the U.S. Consulate and came to Australia around the time I turned 30. I decided I just couldn’t go and get ’em. And what was it for me that I was supposed to go out and get? I had no clue.
I knew I was three things…
Introspective. Complicated. Wanting love above all.
I was wonderful when inspired and miserable and destructive when my connection with my creativity was cut off. I enjoyed doodling, writing and conspiracy theories, that favourite Turkish passtime.
Back to my struggle with Turkish-ness. It hurt when my dearest friend and cousin – I’ve known her since we were 7 or so – kept telling me I’m Turkish as if that was something I was trying to forget. I’d come so far, obtained a U.S. citizenship and now on my way to Australian citizenship and I’m still Turkish, what gives? In a way, I was trying to wash the Turkishness off me as if it were dirt and I wasn’t aware of it. I was looking down on all the “primitive” Turkish customs like forming a circle at weddings and dancing it out, gossiping, smoking and all those other things ingrained in me during my formative years.
Then in the mirror, my dark roots made themselves very apparent.
A few months before, my hair was bleached blonde. I was at my hairdressers to get my roots done and after the shampoo, I ran my fingers through my hair and found in my hands large clumps of thin, bleached hair. I looked at my hairdresser and he looked back seeing my hair in my hands but he had a job to do and he wasn’t about to let the fact that he was doing damage stop him.
That was the breaking point for me.
It showed me that my hair could no longer take going against its nature. Also, it broke off the relationship I had with my hairdresser. He didn’t care that I was about to run out of hair, which was the very root of my relationship with my hairdresser, ironically. My hair’s roots had shown me the way forward in keeping my relationship with my cousin, my best friend. My hair is determined by my DNA. I’m very Turkish, have very dark hair and nature demanded that I go back to my roots and restore my dark hair.
So yes, cousin, Turkey is always with me and when I look at things, I will always look through a Turkish lens.
When I went to another hairdresser to dye my hair to match my roots so that I can go back to my original colour, we had an insightful chat. Person to person.
He’s an Englishman from London and has been living in Australia for 6 years. When he and his wife go back to London, they pick and choose the people they spend time with. Otherwise, it’s torture.
So, the emotional burden of visiting over ten households spread out all across Istanbul’s population of 20 million is now out of the question. I will make it a priority to only visit those who feel me.
I have three people I must see while I’m in Turkey and if you’re reading this, you’re one (Menek, Nergiz and not sure who the third one is ;))
For others, I will see you if I can find the time.
I hope this is an agreeable solution to the problem we face with too much to do and too little time.
And yes, my new hairdresser observed my hair carefully and I got every sense that he wanted to do right by me and by my hair. Unfortunately, when we moved house, I found another hairdresser, a lady from Hong Kong, who also cares for my hair as if it were her own.
You can be from the same country or even the same family as someone, but if you don’t listen, observe and care for the relationship, you may be more distant than their hairdresser.
Over to you…
Have you let your relationships with relatives go over the years? Do you feel guilty for this or accept it as life’s way of sorting everyone out?