It’s that time already, the second religious bayram, which roughly translates as festival but in reality what festivities there are seem very subdued, this is certainly not some mad Spanish event. Being Islamic (sorry to say) but it is rather dull. This time it’s Kurban Bayram, or the ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’, supposedly a time to celebrate Abraham’s commitment to God when asked to sacrifice Issac (? oh dear read the bible), so needless to say this is done through the slaughter of animals–usually sheep. For a veggie this is not a very exciting feast but at least the city authorities have for some time banned the public sacrifice of the poor animals in the streets, as used to happen. Unless you go to some remote village the whole process is now pretty clinical and even supermarkets have got in on the act, even advertising families going to pick up their box of nicely cut up animal.
The thing is being a religious event this is also meant to incorporate charity. The idea is that once the family has eaten their share the rest will be donated to orphanages, school dormitories or other organisations who can distribute the meat to those who otherwise could not afford it. Trouble is that it often becomes a bit of a show off session with some people trying to purchase extremely expensive pedigree animals, especially bulls, and paying thousands of lira, but that does seem to be universal thing when people have money. The worst bit is that people see it as compulsory but in reality Islam is very strict and does not encourage people to spend more than they can afford, in fact if you are in debt buying and sacrificing an animal is forbidden.
It’s not all bad, some compare it to Christmas, but that’s not very accurate either. The similarity only really lies in the fact that it’s a time for family to come together. Over here, extended family is still big, so this means the gatherings are too. Bayram doesn’t really leave much time for lazing around on sofa’s after the dinner is eaten as in the UK after Christmas dinner. Family here is very structured and there are rules and obligations. As such Bayram means visits, and with the larger the family, the more visits. The younger members of the family are duty bound to do the visiting to the elders and sometimes this can be compared to those visits you made as a young child to the smelly old great-aunt in her slightly grubby, very out dated house.
This year though, Bayram is due to be even more subdued than normal. There has been a death in the family, a very close relative. This is not going to be one where there is lots of laughter.
I had been hoping to avoid being dragged down to Mersin, where the majority of Husband’s family and elders live. It’s a 6 hour drive and the Bayram itself is only 4 days. So a long way to go with young children one of whom has to be back in school the next day, so most of our time will be in the car. It’s the combination of driving all that way for such a short time and the place I dislike, not the family. It also means that we have to go and stay with Husband’s relatives and that’s not quite the same as staying with family back home.
Mersin is an extremely faceless city, to put it bluntly it’s dog ugly. What remains of the old city is extremely pretty and the architecture is amazing, but unfortunately not a lot remains. What’s still there is surrounded by acres of concrete monstrosities. All hail the concrete God. The city plan has been to replace the old houses with wide roads and large apartments. Virtually all the new build apartment blocks are the same height and size, their only distinguishing feature–the balconies, rows upon rows of them. It’s a coastal town but unless you are on the top floor or driving down from the mountains you wouldn’t know it. Where the city beach used to be the land has been reclaimed, apartments built, a large busy road and then a lengthy promenade along the newly completed sea wall. Very little opportunity to dip your toes in the sea, and the fountains stretching the length of the promenade are accompanied with signs warning you not to play or paddle in them, and half of them aren’t even filled. If you want to swim then it would only be in the chlorinated water of a complex’s pool if you are lucky enough to have family living there.
I’m not quite sure who we’ll be staying with this year, but with children newly married there are a couple more options. In the past it was a toss-up between brother or sister, neither of which were particularly comfortable options. I don’t mind putting up with being cramped or uncomfortable beds/sofa beds whatever, but my Western bourgeois attitude comes out each morning when I like a shower to start the day. A simple request you may think, but they never seem to have hot water and I’m made to feel like such an inconsiderate person for requesting it. Most Turks still have the once a week bathing ritual rather than a daily shower, and being down south they tend to have solar systems meaning water is hot after midday or later in winter. Their back up is a bottle gas boiler, and often there is no bottle of gas hooked up. So then begins a farce of finding or purchasing one and such a fuss is made that I appear like a real pain in the bum. I just continue to stand there in disbelief that in a supposedly modern city hot water is not considered very important.
Then there’s the other problem, me the vegetarian, Not having my own kitchen and not feeling free to use theirs it becomes a case of ‘what can we cook for her?’ Turkish food does not have to contain meat but that which officially doesn’t is classified as zeytin yagli (olive oil dishes). I like stuffed peppers and vine leaves but after a couple of days it drags on. Last time we went to Mersin, everyone and I mean EVERYONE decided to make beans for me, borlotti beans or green beans, I think after the fourth set of beans I screamed ‘NO more bloody beans’. This is also coupled with the problem of the Turks love of salt. Many of Husband’s family are now health freaks and so do saltless stuff for me, but those who haven’t figured out the link to heart disease and stroke oh dear me, add to those the bad cooks. It often tends to be take one bite, smile, say thank you and pass on to husband who then later takes me out to a supermarket for an unhealthy snack or to a restaurant. That’s not easy either as Mersnites love their meat so asking a restauranteur if they serve anything without meat brings on a face that can only be described as priceless, so cheese pide then (basically cheese on toast).
So, we head off tomorrow, with any luck before ten. We’ll try to break up the journey for Smelly and Fatso so we don’t have bored screaming kids in the back. I’ll leave the packing to husband because it always stresses me out and I’ll whizz round trying to clean the house before we go because I can’t stand returning to a dirty home. I’ll gear myself up for visits to people I barely know, fix the smile so as to avoid engaging in conversation ( I can do that as a foreigner, there are some perks), try to force husband into letting the kids have some time for fun, steel myself for the rigmarol that is obtaining hot water, and at least enjoy the fact that the weather is considerably warmer down there.
Having said all this there is one reason I don’t mind the trip to Mersin too much. I get to go to the cemetary which is extremely peaceful and a bit of a haven, and visit my eldest son-Enis