There is finally some attention being paid to the massive protests currently being staged across Turkey. I’ve got my opinions on the ruling government (just flip through some of my old posts), and I’m so excited to see a populace standing for their democratic rights.

In my hiatus, I’ve worked a bit at a little college you may or may not have heard of, but I’ve also been volunteering with an advocacy group here in Cambridge that works to promote safer streets and civic engagement with the city planning process. I’ll be starting grad school at UC Berkeley this fall (as a FLAS Fellow studying Turkish!!) pursuing my Master of City Planning degree.

I have the city of Istanbul to thank for helping me realize my passion for city planning, transportation planning to be precise. This blog’s title, Dolmus, has become a flaming passion of mine. I’m fascinated with the way in which these little vans connect communities in ways that the myopic city government simply can’t comprehend.  Just one more anthill of activity that many overlook.

These protests came out of nowhere for the central government, but for the rest of Turkey, for the rest of us, those who love Turkey and who have called Istanbul home, they seem like a logical progression of events. The tighter the government squeezes, the bigger the explosion.

Turkey is not coming apart at the seams. This is a democracy functioning. The reactions of many members of the central government simply illustrate how out of touch they are with the wants and needs of the people.  I am so proud of my students, my friends, and my community for standing up for their beliefs.



The Novelty of Deposed Dictators

One of the strangest things about my time spent in Turkey, was my geographic proximity to the Arab Spring uprisings. I remember having to constantly explain to concerned friends and family the fundamental differences between Turkey and these dictatorships. All Muslim countries are not created equal. And, that while I love to deplore the state of Turkish politics, it is true, Turkey is a representative democracy with a generally functioning rule of law. While Erdogan fancies himself indestructible and his power indisputable, it is not so.

I remember the day that Mubarak ceded power in Egypt. I was sitting on the top floor of the Istiklal Cd. Starbucks looking out over the street, feeling sorry for myself. I had just gotten the worst haircut of my life, and burst into tears every time I caught my reflection. It was like Justin Bieber was staring back at me. The horror.

I was on twitter when the news broke. Mubarak was stepping down. I felt ashamed of my ridiculous first-world problems. It didn’t have a hash-tag then or I would have been all over it.

I found that one of the hardest things about living during such a period was mitigating the horrors of the human rights abuses, the death, the destruction with life. There is nothing funny about people being beaten in the streets. We shouldn’t ignore it. But, we can look, with some cynical humor/shame, on the support many of these dictators received from the “great” nations of the world. I mean, remember Ghadaffi’s bedouin tent debacle in DC?

One of my closest friends in Turkey has recently started a campaign to support the Syrians. He started emailing a number of us a few months back about his plans to design and sell dictator mugs. It would be a set that could be bought, containing the faces of various, recently deposed dictators with quotes from their western supporters on the back. He corralled an artist to do the drawings, and with much support, he launched his idea. Putting aside his general aura of cynicism  he decided this project should go beyond the general capitalist agenda (that is, make dolla billz), he launched a gofundme account and plans to put 65% of all proceeds from the project towards various charities working in numerous capacities to support the displaced Syrian populace.

I hope a few of you will find this project as comical as I, and that you’ll support not only the humor that carries us through, but also the Syrian people, who need all the love and support that we can muster. For more information, click the image below.

Cynical Coffee Mugs

And I thought the Tea Party was bad…

I know they “hate” each other, but I’m constantly astonished how similar Greece and Turkey can be. They both seem to breed mercurial politicians, a bureaucratic maze so complex that even the designers themselves become lost, and a national pride that is so misplaced, and so, honestly, comical, that it really is surprising they don’t get along better.

You’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard about the recent Greek election, even if it was slightly overshadowed by the ouster of Monsieur Sarkozy. The whole Greek crisis really sounds like a farce. The disorganized, high-inflation prone country of Greece somehow convinces the rest of Europe to let them piggy back on their currency. Nobody checks up on anything… for a decade. NPR’s Planet Money did a great couple of podcasts on the Greek debt crisis and the concept of a Greek default, I can’t help but laugh.

And then I see this. The Golden Dawn has gotten some headlines recently, but I didn’t take it too seriously. This guy has me taking him seriously. He is seriously delusional, but he’s seriously committed to his delusions. Isn’t that the hallmark of lunacy? Not being able to decipher delusion from reality? If so, several hundred thousand Greeks just voted for a lunatic.

I am particularly fond of his, ehem, loose translation of “Veni, vidi, vici.”

Fancy shmancy

Today, we’re going a little off the beaten path. Recently, due primarily to my Pinterest addiction, I’ve been seeing a lot of Turkish-inspired design. It seems kılıms are about as hip as you can get (unless you count the Hudson Bay Blanket and those damn “Keep Calm” signs.) It was fun to see a new take on traditional typical Turkish housewares:

I love my cezve, apart from my kılım, it is my favorite thing that I picked up in Turkey. Though, mine is the more traditional copper-plated one (picked it up in Edirne for 2TL… what what!) I ran out of coffee not too long ago, but luckily stumbled on Turkuaz, my friendly Turkish grocer, located just around the corner from the Gulen culture center. (He his wife makes fresh yaprak sarma, kısır, and borek… but that’s another story entirely.)

I was curious who thought it was a good idea to re-invent the wheel, and, as it turns out, these folks are pretty damn creative. Here are some çay bardaklar.

And some rakı bardaklar

… though I wonder if the creators get the Jesus fish reference (I’m sure it’s meant to refer to the fish eaten with rakı…) I do love the afiyet olsun though.

It seems this is a little shop run out of Ayvalık, the creative pair Tulya and Fırat are designers, and do this on the side. So, if any of you find yourself in Ayvalık any time soon, please pick me up a few of these!

If Santa Were Decent He Would Come through the Door.

So I’ve been back stateside for a while, but Turkey has remained in my heart and on my mind. Though, I will say, this holiday season I was extremely excited to be in the Land of Unrestrained Holiday Excitement, and for the first time in years, I was secretly psyched when I heard the first holiday song of the season… in October.

As the weather got (slightly) cooler, I became progressively more excited. I moved into my new apartment on December 1,  we had a Christmas tree before we had a shower curtain. At my new job I got to know my colleagues through the typical series of holiday events. First our lunch where we had a Secret Santa (I got a wine glass), and then at our holiday party at our department head’s home. All the lights and wine and cheesy foods had me quite in the mood.

Then over wine one ehem afternoon ehem at work… (are you sensing a pattern?) I learned the depth of one colleague’s hatred for Santa Claus. I had thought it strange that she had a “Le Père Noel est une Ordure” film poster on her door… in September (loose film name translation: Santa Claus Sucks). Everyone had alluded to how this fun, young, happy colleague harbored a deep seated hatred for Father Christmas. I thought back to my classes last year in Turkey, where I spent time explaining our celebrations to my students. One group of students was appalled when I told them Christmas was indeed a Christian holiday. The horror!

“No, my teacher.” they responded, “this is not true, we have Christmas.”

“No,” I would respond, “you have New Year.”

“Yes, that’s what we said, Christmas.”

We went in this circle for a few minutes until I realized that they had co-opted our Christmas celebrations for their New Year. It all had made sense. This was why Santa Claus and his holiday village had appeared the week leading up to the New Year outside the Carrefour in our Maxi Center.

So the last day before breaking for Christmas, we all sat around my desk sipping wine when she started up about Santa. “It’s a cultural conspiracy to brainwash our youth, and not just about the holiday, which should be about the birth of a religious figure, but also about physics. We mislead children into believing the impossible. No person could possibly visit every Christian child’s house in one night. And what about the kids that get nothing, because their parents can’t afford it. Is that fair? We give them a complex. Even the news teams are in on it, tracking Santa as he flies across the globe.”

Well, I thought, she is the real deal. We tried for a while to get her to confess to some traumatic experience with a shopping mall Santa, or divulge what exactly it was that made her come to the traumatic realization that Santa does not, in fact, exist. But, to no avail, she wouldn’t give it up. I went home from work that day laughing to myself about this hatred to find this article sitting in my inbox, forwarded by a glorious friend:

Thank you SO MUCH Hurriyet for continuing to be a beacon of journalistic integrity and the epitome of quality in reporting. Without you, I would have never found the only person in the world who harbors a hatred of Santa as deep and as firm as that of my colleague. I particularly enjoyed this bit:

Why indeed? The conspiracy continues.

Turks and Tampons

I recently sent a piece over to Perking the Pansies blogger Jack Scott. He’s on holiday and was looking for other Turkey-based bloggers to fill the gaping hole left by his absence.


My third Guest blogger is Alexandra from Death by Dolmuş. Alexandra is a Yankee lass who teaches in Istanbul. She writes about the quirky side of life in the ancient city and has a mild obsession with public transport. Alexandra also publishes an amazing photoblog. If you don’t like discussions about women’s itty bitty parts, don’t read the following (oh, go on).


There are strange things that occur in Turkey. I am pretty on top of most of it, but from time to time things do catch me off guard. I’m unfazed when a man brings a 12 foot (4 meter) ladder into an over-packed dolmuş(roughly 5 meters long itself.) I’m unfazed when my bank calls to ask permission of my employer when I wish to close my account (obviously a mere mortal like me can’t be trusted with such a serious decision.)

I was caught off guard when my colleague, a punk, riot-grrrl feminist with red hair (not Irish red, but like, the color red) and combat boots, moans to me, doubled over in pain, ‘Gahh, I wish I hadn’t left the window open last night.’ It had been a sweltering 80 degrees (25 C) and I couldn’t understand what that had to do with her abdominal pain. ‘The wind, the night air, you know, it gives me cramps.’ Efendim?

Now, I’m fairly certain that cramps are caused by your uterine walls contracting to expel the lining. But, you know, who can say for certain…

I was constantly appalled by the lack of knowledge these university educated women displayed about their own bodies and the science contained in them. I know Freud thought that hysteria (that vague, female-ish complaint) was caused by a ‘disturbance’ to the uterus, but I’m pretty sure somewhere in my 6th grade sex-ed class, I remember learning something different…

As I was moving out, I had an enormous amount of tampons that my roommate and I had hoarded like we were preparing for the apocalypse. God knows when we would be able to find tampons again, so every time we ventured out of the Islamic Republic of Turkey, we bought up the store like they were going out of style.

Not having space in my luggage for 47 boxes of Tampax Pearls, and with the confidence that I could pick some up any time nature called at my nearest pharmacy (that’s a chemist’s for you Brits), when back in the US, I decided to give them away. Because honestly, who doesn’t like free tampons? Apparently, Turkish women.

So that’s how I found myself, on my last day of work, sitting in a locked office with my colleague, demonstrating how to use a tampon. I unwrapped it, showed how the applicator worked, as she dissected the tampon I had handed her, checking that the string was in fact well secured at the center. I extolled the tampon’s virtues: you can go swimming! (Her face lit up, what do you mean? She asked in disbelief.) You can wear white pants with no fear! Thinking back to all those tampon commercials of my youth, you can go shopping with your fresh-faced friends and laugh to your heart’s desire while spinning around in circles to demonstrate your new-found freedom!