NO 31 MAY 2003
The Journey of Being Human
Voss No. 30 May 2003
At long last, that feeling of the possible is in the air. Yup! In spite of everything, including a war, horrible economic fallout, and a horribly cold, rainy winter, that feeling is around again and you can't ignore it. It is enough to penetrate even the worst depression, at least a little bit, and I should know, since I've been suffering from this and that for a while now. Spring has finally, definitively come
.I mentioned last month that I had gotten caught up in a flurry of domestic things and this continues, as does my writing. But the topic I would like to raise this month will be introduced in the form of a question. Why is it that many Turkish people I run into don't know about their own traditions? A good example happened just the other day during a private English lesson I was giving to two very well educated women. It turns out that until they read a small article in the English language pull out section of this month's Time Out magazine they hadn't know what the Hýdýrellez festival was. The article (on p. 16 of the May issue, if you are interested) is short but quite informative. It explains how on May 5 it is believed that the ground is warm enough to sit on and so people traditionally celebrate with picnics. More interesting (at least to me) is the fact that this festival has pre-Islamic roots and is connected with the meeting of Hýzýr, "the protector of the land," and Ýlyas, the protector "of water and the animals." This is the time of year when it is believed that evil spirits (read: bad energy) can be driven out and it is also considered a propitious time to write out one’s wishes on scraps of paper and tie them to the branches of trees. People traditionally wear white and eat white food on this day and in the evening light huge bonfires and leap over them. As is my wont, I dug a bit further and discovered that in one version of the myth Hýdýr and Ýlyas were two brothers who drank of the waters of immortality and subsequently promised to meet each other on this night every year in order to enable the rebirth of nature. A version that comes through the Islamic tradition states that they were brothers who once displeased Allah who separated them as a punishiment. One of them was made the Lord of the Earth and the other the Lord of the Seas, and they were only permitted to meet on this one day each year.
any case, I cannot count the times I’ve talked with Turkish people
about some tradition and discovered that they hadn’t known about
it or knew about it and had decided (a decision based on what, pray
tell? Some misunderstanding of the concepts of “modernism” and
“rationality” perhaps?) to abandon it.
One good example is the custom or throwing water behind a
vehicle or person setting out on a journey and saying "Ýyi
The idea behind it is to wish for you to travel as smoothly
as water flows. There's certainly rich meaning there. Another example
is the meaning of ‘Þerefe.’
Long, long ago, when you raised your glass at table and said
you were drinking to the honor of the table and everybody
knew that. Today, it is
a rare person who knows this. Moreover,
the very idea of drinking to the honor of the table itself is so
fraught with the Turkish equivalent of chivalry that when I hear
people saying that ‘Þerefe’
is basically the same as the English ‘Cheers’ it makes me
me to give a personal example.
I was born an American citizen, but I have always tended to
look at the world using what my partner calls “big eyes.”
In other words, while I was fascinated with many aspects of
my own culture and delved deeply into things like the lore of the
songs sung by the people who lived in the Appalachian Mountains, and
when I was a child in New Jersey, the old legends beloved of the
Dutch and German peoples who first settled there, at the same time I
was attracted by what lay beyond my own culture.
While still very young, I had an opportunity to go and live
in Australia for five years and I jumped at the chance.
I will never forget the first time I listened to the world
news on an Australian television channel.
I became conscious of how the news was being told from an
entirely different perspective than the one I was used to and it
dawned on me then—for the very first time—that the United States
was not the center of the world.
Not. I continued
to develop and years later I lived in France for a couple of years
and now I’ve been here in Turkey for ten years.
As of this writing I have spent a total of seventeen years of
my adult life living outside my native country.
One result of this is that I can no longer exclusively
identify myself—more precisely, feel myself—as American.
Since I have been here in Turkey so long, and have absorbed
so much of this culture, I feel at least half Turk.
My spoken Turkish is still comically awful—deplorable,
actually—but it’s clear that I’ve really “caught” the
sound of it, the nuances of it, so much so that now, sometimes, when
I think of moving back to the U.S. and no longer being able to hear
it, or speak it, or to listen to this music that I love so much (3),
or smell the rich odors wafting on the breeze, or watch the sea, or
listen to the gulls, or soak up all the exuberant abundance of one
of the street markets, I find that I literally cannot imagine being
able to live without being in proximity to these things.
My head, as I am fond of saying to my friends, is permanently
altered. More than
that, though—I have the sense that most of my daily lived
experience happens in that space that is beyond culture—the space
of transculture—which I referred to earlier.
I now tend mostly to think of myself as a human being
inhabiting the planet Earth rather than as an America, or as an
American who has been assimilated into Turkish culture.
This experience of being human is THE universal.
We all have hopes, beliefs, feelings, sorrows, and joys.
We all of us bear children and love them. We all of us set goals for ourselves and strive to reach
them. And each and
every one of us has looked up at the stars in the night sky and
wondered about our own place in the mysterious infinity of the
experience has nothing to do with such small things as economics or
politics. It is this
that goes beyond all of our languages and cultures and it is this
experience that can form the basis for genuine dialogue and sharing.
the sublime experience of simply being human, of being a finite
being inhabiting infinitude forms the basis for communication rather
than merely shared economic or other interests the result will be
that separate cultures can open up to the world and allow themselves
to be enriched by what is on offer (and here I am thinking
especially about technological advances) but will not make the
mistake of abandoning the “old ways” that are meaningful and
valuable. Then, the
process of globalization will be transformed.
It will become a process that has depth and meaning and
the loss of age-old cultural values and traditions will no longer
take place. When a
culture embarks on this form of globalization they will be embarking
on a journey of discovery through the “Valley of Astonishment,”
(4) a wondrous journey of discovery in which they will celebrate
rather than denigrate their own culture because their encounter with
the Other—that is, with whatever new technology or idea they are
encountering—will function to reveal hitherto unsuspected facets
of themselves. And as
cultures set out on this journey we can say “Ýyi yolculuklar” (4) and truly mean it.
Farewell, or Have a good trip.
Literally, "good roads." l
See Column No. 3 (July/August 2001) where I wrote at length
about my experience of Turkish music.
|No.1- April 2000||No.11 April 2001||No. 20 July 2002||No 29 April 2003|
|No.2 June 2000||No.12 May 2001||No. 22 September 2002||NO 30 MAY 2003|
|No.3 July/August 2000||No. 13 June 2001||No. 23 October 2002||NO 31 JUNE 2003|
|No.5 October 2000||No.14 July 2001||No 24 November 2002||NO 32 JULY 2003|
|No.7 December 2000||No.15 August 2001||No 25 DECEMBER 2002||NO 33 August|
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - Türkçe tercume
|NO 16 September 2001||No 26 January 2003||No 34 September|
|No.9 February 2001||No. 17 April 2002||No 27 February 2003||No 35 October|
|No.10 March 2001||NO 19 JUNE 2002||No 28 March 2003||No
36 January 2004
|No 37 February - March 2004||No 38 April 2004|
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