Thursday, 28 July 2011


As she chopped vegetables, simultaneously preparing four dishes for the ten people she had invited to our flat for improvised music and dinner that evening, Kebire told me the story of how she scared a man with a gun.
“We were walking.  Asli (her daughter) was little.  Maybe 10.  We were on one street and nobody was there.  Then one man came.  He pointed one gun at us and said, ‘Give me your bag.’ I ran toward him with my hands out like claws screaming—Why you make this in front of my daughter and scare her???  I will eat you!!!  And he ran away.  Ha ha ha ha ha!”

It’s a true story. 
Kebire my dearest Turkish friend is a fierce Black Sea women. Big of heart. Big of spirit.  Generous. Afraid of nothing.  A mama bear.  A child of the socialist days of protest.

It is Kebire who accompanied me to my appointment at the Taksim Ilk Yardim Hastanesi today.

My appointment was for 9:30 but we first needed to first pick up a receipt and pay.

Like Moses parting the Red Sea, Kebire cleared a path to the registration desk. Talking to everyone in line, she immediately learnt the correct destination and steered me where I needed to go.  At   9:45 I entered the doctor’s cubby hole of an examination room.  He wrote a paper designating an ultra sound and some blood tests.  We exited the hospital at 10:30.  I paid the equivalent of $40 for an examination, blood tests and an ultra sound. 

By the time we exited, Kebire had lodged a formal complaint concerning the necessity of a screen that would allow all patients to view which patient’s examination was next in line.  She had helped a seriously obese woman in pain by getting her a slip for an immediate appointment.  And had talked to at least twenty people on various topics.
I return in one week to discuss the results of my tests with the doctor.  Alas, I’ll have to go without Kebire.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bus Accients, Earthquakes and Strikes


I have no health insurance.  It hasn’t posed a problem.  I haven’t needed a doctor for eight years, since I left the states. 
Well, I lie.  Actually I had five treatments from an acupuncturist in Thailand.  And while in Malaysia, had a Chinese doctor remove the tube in my ear which my body had decided to reject.  Other than that – I’ve lived without problems, doctors, or treatments.

But thanks to genetics, I’ve inherited my mother’s gallbladder condition.  She had hers removed at the age of thirty-four.  Through healthy living, I’ve lived symptom-free since two initial attacks when in my early thirties.

It was Prague that done me in.  It only seemed right that I sample the local delicacy: fried cheese, fried potato pancakes and beer.  Enough cholesterol, fat, and grease to wreak disaster in the healthiest of systems.  Let alone a genetically vulnerable one. I had no idea upon ordering that I would be presented with two rounds of Czech’s equivalent of brie, breaded and fried, alongside three fat, deep-fried potato pancakes. 

The outcome: six hours of intense pain, swelling, difficulty breathing and a litany of self-remorse.
“Why did I eat all that fatty, greasy food?  It didn’t even taste that good.”

Back in Istanbul, I was back to my regular discipline of fruits and vegetables, but even so suffered a mild attack and realized it was time to seek professional help.

Through the help of the internet, I diagnosed myself and looked into treatments.  It was clear that I needed an ultra sound to discern how many stones I may have as well as their size.

But apparently, you can’t walk into a hospital and announce: “I want to have a gallbladder ultrasound.”  You have to make an appointment with a general practitioner who then refers you to a specialist who then orders the ultra sound.  I guess it would be like walking into surgery and saying: “I’ve checked things out and I’m pretty damn sure I need by-pass surgery, so I’ll be waiting out here in the corridor and anytime you’re ready, I’m available.  I’m paying for it and it’s what I want.”

Without insurance Turkish friends advised me to go to the public hospital, and my roommate, Mustafa accompanied me.  “No one there will speak English,” he said.

Because I’m a “Yabanci” foreigner, I, of course, don’t have a Turkish identity card.  This causes utter mayhem.  On every form there’s a space in which an identity card number must be written.
“Could I just use my passport number,” I ask hopefully.

No, it doesn’t fit the format.
 Nobody knows what to do with me.  We’re sent from one department to the next.

“No, I can’t help you here,” says the beleaguered man with the comb-over and rheumy eyes.
“Where do we go?’
“Try the ----- department.”
“We’ve already been there.  They said they can’t give us an appointment without a special number.  Where do we get this number?”
Mustafa’s inquiry gets cut off by an aggressive bowling bowl of a woman who pushes him aside like a tottering pin.
“Excuse me,” the polite Mustafa tries to regain his allotted speaking space.
“Go to the secretary,” Mr. Comb-over redirects his watery eyes from the bowling ball to the pin.
“We’ve been to the secretary.  She told us to come here.”
Meanwhile, waddling side to side like obese ducks, other disgruntled Turkish women in headscarves thrust receipts in front of us, wave pieces of paper shout questions.

At last we enter a little trailer parked behind the hospital.
Patience eroding, Mustafa asks the six men slouched behind computers, wearing jeans and t-shirts, playing computer games and checking face book, if they know how to get a foreigner a special registration number.

Bingo!  A chubby goat-teed guy with a Japanese top knot, wearing a yellow Brutus t-shirt gets me a number and makes me an appointment.


The day before my appointment, the bus I’m riding in is hit by a truck.  The window where I’m sitting smashed.  Glass fragments pelt me and the young woman seated opposite me.  In our hair, covering our skin, our clothes, imbedded in the scalp line at the back of my neck.  Women pick glass shards off of us.  Men offer the lemon cologne wet wipes given out at all restaurants.  And I thank and re-thank the person responsible for inventing shatter- proof glass, without which I would be in very serious shape. 

I make my way to my school.  Take a shower in the basement shower (only cold water) and rinse the tiny specks of glass off my body.

I manage to relax for an hour before I teach.

The first hour of class goes well.  Then the classroom starts to shake back and forth.

Deprem.”  Earthquake, says one of my students.

The classroom jiggles about like a gypsy dancer for one minute.  Then all is still.  The students opt to continue the lesson. 


At 9 am Tuesday morning I meet my dear Turkish friend E who prefers to remain anonymous.  We walk through the streets of Beyoglu dodging vans delivering goods to shops and arrive at the Taksim IlkYardim Hastanesi (Taksim FIrst Aid Hospital) only to find all the workers outside chanting, whistling, clapping, and singing songs.  All hospital personel: doctors, nurses, secretaries, clerks, everyone is on STRIKE.
Not fully comprehending the ramifications of this, we tromp into the hospital and go to the registration desk to get the official paper I’ll need to present in order to be seen by a doctor.  Of course there is no one behind the registration desk.  Lines of people stand before five empty counters.  People in the line discuss the strike and the implications for them.

Realizing that the strike will probably last all day, we decide to go back to “Brutus” in the trailer and make an appointment for another day.

Back in the trailer Big Brutus is busy on the internet changing his photo by rearranging facial properties like beards and moustaches.  He looks up as we stand by his desk.

“I need to make a new appointment because of the strike.” I say.

“Yeah,” he smiles, “probably won’t get seen today.”

So, he saves his newly handlebar moustached photograph and enters the appointment system.

“You know,” he says, “I’m not sure if you really should have an appointment in Urology or some other department.”

From the beginning I’d try to tell him that it should be gastroenterology not urology, but he insisted that if there were actually gallstones, it would be the urology department where I would need to be seen, but no stones, another department.

Since I couldn’t swear that I had stones, having never had an ultrasound, which was why I had come in the first place, he told us to go to the “Emergency Room,” and ask a doctor there.

But the doctors in the emergency room were the only docs not on strike and they were running around trying to help the people in varying states of medical emergencies.  E stopped and asked a cleaning man but he knew nothing, so we left.

Standing outside and looking at the groups of doctors sitting around, sipping tea and chatting, E suggested I ask one of them.  I walked over to a group of pale green jacketed people I assumed were doctors and asked in my sweetest Turkish if any of them knew English.  Most ignored me but one young woman answered.

I explained that I needed to know which department I needed an appointment for and she assured me that I should be seen in General Surgery.

E and I walked back to the trailer and big Brutus made me an appointment for Thursday at 9:30 for General Surgery.

Will I ever get my ultra sound?

Tune in next week for another exciting chapter in life in Istanbul

Sunday, 24 July 2011

It's the MUSIC

Everyday it’s changing so quickly.
One day there’s a neighborhood filled with groups of Roma children, mismatched clothes, newspapers filled with leftover scraps for the hoards of street cats, fat ladies scarved in bright floral bandanas  sitting on fabric spread on the ground.  Sipping tea in tiny tulip-shaped glasses, cracking sunflower seeds between their teeth.  The concrete around them a mosaic of discarded  black and white shells.  Lines of washing waving like banners across the street.
The next day it’s unrecognizable.  Chic boutiques all hard corners and edges.  Black and off-white designer clothes displayed at odd angles.
Where the fuck am I?

 Surely the old café filled with stooped old men sitting on woven-topped low stools, drinking bittersweet Turkish coffee from tiny doll-like cups, cigarette-stained fingers throwing tiny dice and slapping down backgammon pieces will still be on the corner.

And in its place some new European-style espresso bar.

So why do I stay, when everything around me is daily morfing into a western world I left behind?


 When Dave Brubeck composed and released “Take 5,” it was hailed as a revelation.  5/4 count.  Wow! How revolutionary.

The ordinary Turkish boy sits beating 5/8, 7/8. 9/8 count on his thigh as easily as he breathes. Even the ice cream vendors, and corn-on-the-cob hawkers beat rhythms on their carts as complex as a jazz virtuoso.   Musicians here blend Greek , Armenian, Balkan and Turk music. The normal western music scale is comprised of twelve notes.  The Turkish: fifty-rwo.  Turks sing and play notes on instruments impossible for my grossly accustomed ear to even differentiate.

And when the music starts everyone leaps to his feet.  Hips swivel. Shoulders shimmy.  And young and old, Turk and foreigner dance together in  keyfi: celebration of life.

Roma Music

Selim Sessler, takes his seat, lifts his clarinet to his lips, nods his head to his musicians and transports us to his village of Kesan in  Thrace.  In the documentary film his son Bulent made about their village, it seemed like every other person was a proficient musician.  Baby boys in diapers beat sauce pans in complex rhythms.  Baby girls start wiggling their hips and shimmying their shoulders before they can stand. The men who aren’t musicians are frog catchers.                                                                 

Why wasn’t I born there?

I climb the 6 flights up to Araf (a world music club named for the place between heaven and hell).  The lifts not working again.  The wail of Selim’s clarinet pierces through to my solar plexus.  I don’t even bother to sit.  Just toss my bag onto the floor and start dancing.  Within a few minutes I’m joined by dancers in front and back of me.  Together we dance, shake, shimmy, smiling smiling.  Selim’s son Bulent strums the zither, donkey-eyes sails on the gypsy fiddle, and the darbuka player’s fingers takatakatakataka in lightning speed.


 There is no moment but now.  And this now, is my heaven.

For some videos of selim see below.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Gay Pride Istanbul

Taksim swirls in rainbow colors.  The Samba Protest Band beats drums, shakes tambourines, strikes cow bells.  Daniela decked out in a hot-pink boa, yellow, pink and green feathers like a bouquet in her wild black curls beats a Latin syncopation; Ruzgar, the 22-year-old trans Rasta, who used to call herself my “mother” (until she wrote me an email one day giving me the news that my “mother” had decided to stop shaving her/his beard and go through the world as a man and consequently was now my “father”) pounds a daval with big mallets, whistles, gestures and leads the Samba band,  his beautiful face covered with multi-colored sparkles. Men dressed in fishnet stockings, tiny cupey doll skirts, rainbow-colored headdresses strut as the parade makes its way from the square along Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue). Lesbians with painted on twirling black moustaches and ballet tutus whoop and clap.  One man wears a Mexican sombrero.  One girl is dressed in a garish Thai costume.  The street is awash in rainbow color and gay drumming, whoops and dancing and big smiles.  From the terraces along the avenue people wave and cheer, some waving rainbow flags.   
For today Istanbul is a celebration of diversity. 

istanbul gay pride march sunday june 26