Showing posts with label journalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label journalism. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Rape and Murder of Turkish University Student Ozgecan Aslan

Ozgecan Aslan
Last week, a bright, beautiful 20-year-old Turkish university student named Ozgecan Aslan was the last person on her shared taxi known as a dolmuş. It's a common form of transportation in Turkey. A dolmuş, much like an airport shuttle van, carries up to 10 people at a time. Everyone in Turkey uses them. It would never have occurred to me to think of one as unsafe. Last week riding in a dolmuş cost Ozgecan Aslan her life. She was raped, stabbed, dismembered, and burned by a dolmuş driver, his friend, and the dolmuş driver's own father.
Turkish Women refused
to let men near her casket
At the funeral, the imam signalled for men to pick up the casket and Turkish women were having none of it. They refused to step away and carried her casket out themselves, a shockingly unusual act in patriarchal Turkish culture. It was an incredibly healthy response of contempt that signalled to the entire nation, this problem of violence against women MUST be addressed. Ozgecan Aslan, and her fate, was on the lips of every Turkish woman with fury and sorrow all week long. 

Turkey, a country famous for its denial of so many of its historic problems, is not in denial on this one. Turkey knows it has a problem with domestic violence and violence against women. The President himself called it "Turkey's bleeding wound." Last year, 281 women were killed in Turkey (that are known of - with honor killings and such you can't be sure of accurate reporting).

A Turkish actress started a hashtag called #Sendeanlat (tell your story), asking women to take to Twitter to tell their stories of how they had been harassed in daily life. Last I looked it had close to 1,000,000 tweets in two or three days. Even though the men of Turkey, know there is a problem,  I'm not sure they care enough to fix it
Murder of females is political
Graffiti about Ozgecan Aslan's murder filled the streets. It wouldn't have occurred to me to think of Ozgecan Aslan's murder as political until I saw the graffiti above that declared it so. Then I couldn't get it out of my mind once seeing it. There were so many ways it could be. Like the victims of so much state violence this year, Ozgecan was both Kurdish (an ethnic minority) and Alevi (a religious minority). Was her death going to be used by authorities to further restrict the freedom of women in the country, the way terrorism is used to justify the end of civil liberties for citizens in the West? Immediately, there were calls for women to be segregated into 'pink buses.' Others pointed to the misogynist statements by politicians that devalued women. The pattern of peeling women away from public life is underway in Turkey.

Our rebellion is for murdered women!

What fascinates me is the similarity of toxic cultures for women -- no matter where they are located. For example, I have always thought of the American state South Carolina as a state badly in need of the fresh breezes of change -- a state still nursing grievances from the Civil War. 

Just the other day, one of South Carolina's lawmakers referred to women as a "lesser cut of meat." It's easy to condemn the lawmaker, but it must be assumed that this attitude represents the population and it sells. These kind of statements diminishing women are common in both Turkey and South Carolina. Diminishing statements about women sell to the masses in Turkey too.

Recently, the Post and Courier newspaper in South Carolina examined how the good 'ole boy culture of patriarchal policy makers contribute to South Carolina leading the nation in dead women murdered by men. Despite another woman dying every 12 days at double the national rate, (and at three times the rate of South Carolina men who served in Iraq and Afghanistan combined), policy makers actively ignored a dozen initiatives to do something about the problem.

Who matters more?
The woman or the dog?
You'd be surprised --
or maybe not.
According to the Post and Courier, the only policy initiative related to domestic violence that got acted on in South Carolina was a proposal to make sure pets were taken care of when domestic violence happens. Indeed, South Carolina must value animals higher than women as 46 shelters for animals exist (one in every county) in the state, while only 18 shelters exist for women state-wide. According to the reporters who wrote the award-winning Post and Courier series "Til Death Do Us Part," a man in South Carolina can get five years for abusing his dog, but will only have to serve 30 days in jail for the first time he abuses his wife or girlfriend. 

One of the sad aspects to the Ozgecan Aslan murder in Turkey, is that the mother/wife (same woman) of the alleged murders said she had been a battered woman for years. If she had received help, and this battery had been taken seriously in Turkey, would 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan be alive today? According to the investigative journalism of the four reporters in South Carolina, incarceration saves lives as men are separated from women. That may be, but in South Carolina and in Turkey, there appears to be no interest in helping women in that situation as men choose to view them with morality judgements as "those women."

According to experts quoted in the "Till Death do us Part" series on domestic violence, South Carolina has the most traditionalist culture in the entire nation of the United States, preserving a status quo that benefits the needs and values of the elite. Wow, does that sound like Turkey. And here's what sounds EXACTLY like Turkey, "honor culture:"
"Surprisingly little research has examined the role South Carolina’s culture plays in domestic abuse and homicides, considering the state’s rate of men killing women is more than twice the national average.One often-cited study about violent tendencies in Southern men came from Richard E. Nisbett, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
His research revealed a Southern “culture of honor,” one in which for generations a man’s reputation has been central to his economic survival — and in which insults to that justify a violent response.
“We have very good evidence that southerners and northerners react differently to insults,”Nisbett says. “In the South, if someone insults you, you should respond. If the grievance is enough, you react with violence or the threat of violence.”
In a clinical study, Nisbett subjected northern and southern men to a test. Someone bumped into them and called them a profane term. The reaction: stress hormones and testosterone levels elevated far more in southern men.
“He gets ready to fight,” says Nisbett, coauthor of “Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in The South.”
How does it apply to domestic violence? Men who perceive their women have insulted them — by not keeping up the house, by talking back or flirting with someone else — launch into attack mode to preserve their power."      
 ~South Carolina Post and Courier, 2014 
Here are examples of that same hypersensitivity to insult in Turkey here, and here, and here.

The response of disgust that Turkish women felt and voiced about the murder of Ozgecan Aslan was the healthiest human response to this whole sad story. The challenge for Turkish women and those who love them, will be to turn their social media energy and disgust into real lasting change. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci describes this inability to make lasting change from social media power in her TED Talk here.

Turkish women took to the streets
throughout Turkey to protest
Turkey's pattern of
violence against women
If the first step, is to drag the whole country out of denial that there is a problem, the women of Turkey, have passed that test with flying colors and not let their nation descend any further (hello, Egypt). Respect, Turkish ladies! You have my total respect!   

May the women of South Carolina find the same strength. According to the journalists in South Carolina who wrote the award-winning series, "Till Death Do Us Part," 30 women's lives and families will depend upon it in the coming year.

What I would want the women of Turkey and South Carolina to know is, you are not in this alone. One billion women across the planet are rising up each year to ask the world to change this paradigm where violence against women is acceptable. Eve Ensler began this movement three years ago and each year it gets bigger and bigger. Luckily, the President of Turkey criticized women for participating so now everyone in Turkey has probably learned what the "One Billion Rising" is all about.  Next year, may the criticisms of women dancing for change sing out across the land! Strike! Rise! Dance! One billion rising! Break the chain!
You may be interested in these other posts about domestic violence and violence against women in Turkey:

#1billionrising in Istanbul

My First Turkish Movie -‘Kurtuluş Son Durak’

You can follow 'Empty Nest Expat' on Facebook, or just sign up for RSS Feed at the right. Care about domestic violence and violence against women? Why not share this blog post to broaden the conversation.

Thanks for reading. Don't forget to Strike! Rise! Dance!

Heaps and heaps of gratitude to the amazing journalists in South Carolina whose journalism will save lives, move their state forward, and result in a more equitable environment for the citizens of South Carolina. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Midnight at the Pera Palace" with the Istanbul Global Minds Book Club

If ever there was a book that was a perfect match for my Istanbul "Global Minds Book Club" it is this one: "Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul" by Georgetown International Relations and Government professor Charles King.

We selected it for our January read this month, because a reporter and photographer from Ankara, Turkey, were flying into Istanbul to do a photo shoot and cover story on our book club for Tempo Magazine.

We wanted to pick a book that Turkish readers of the magazine would also find interesting, so that we as a book club had done everything we could to help promote reading culture in Turkey.
Red carpet? Of course.
The dapper staff
immediately greets everyone
who walks in the door,
happy to help you make the most
of your visit
to the Pera Palace
of Istanbul"
To make our day and the photo shoot extra special, we decided to meet at the glorious, historic Pera Palace itself. The Pera Palace is the hotel that was built by the creator of the luxury train line, the Orient Express, which used to transport glamorous passengers in style from Paris to Istanbul. Upon arriving in Istanbul, passengers would be hand-carried to the hotel from the Sirkeci train station, in a Turkish tahtırevan, or palanquin, as it is known in English.
Imagine seeing Istanbul
for the first time
through the windows of a
Turkish tahtırevan
The Pera Palace Hotel
boasts of the second-oldest elevator
in all of Europe,
installed in 1892,
only three years
after the elevator
in the Eiffel Tower.
It's still operational.
One special little nook
in the hotel
is the Patisserie de Pera
We didn't meet here,
but the little patisserie
is such a happy room
I can't resist
sharing photos of it.
 The colors!

The friendly workforce
know how to make
every visit fun,
and who doesn't fancy a
festive fascinator?
Spring flowers
abound in the lobby.
 What could be more dazzling
to a book club
than a spectacular library
between the lobby and the bar?
 Our group was meeting in
the Orient Bar
Who else has enjoyed
the Orient Bar
before we arrived
for our special day?
the founder of the Turkish Republic,
Ernest Hemingway,
adventurer and famous macho man,
plus Agatha Christie,
bestselling mystery writer
 Giggling with friends
before everyone else arrives
Our second generation
club organizers,
Matt Howell
and Nilüfer Tufanoğlu
Our club member
Filiz Kavak,
made the day a delight
by arranging press coverage
and booking our spectacular setting
With triple our normal turnout
it was nice that the bar
had been set up
in small discussion groups
Bookish brain food!
The Global Minds Book Club
prides itself on being
 people from around the world,
discussing books
from around the world.
On this day,
with thirty people present,
we had five continents represented
and fourteen different countries.
It helped to have at least
one Turk at every table.
We had such a
riveting, spirited discussion.
Nationalities represented
in my group:
Turkish, Russian, Polish,
Netherlands, Venezuelan,
American, and Chinese.
What made "Midnight at the Pera Palace: the Modern History of Istanbul" such a fun read is that it was written by a yabancı (a foreigner to Turkey). All of the angst that would go into the description of one's own history wasn't there; it was the fantastic storytelling that remained.

I describe 'Midnight' as an expat history of expat and refugee Istanbul. The book felt so alive and relevant when I was reading about White Russians refugees in Istanbul during the 1920s while the ruble was crashing this month. The club loved reading about the musicians, diplomats, spies, feminists, and future statesmen who contributed in their way to the city Napoleon described as the capital of the world, if the world had one.

I found the central metaphor of why the book was called "Midnight at the Pera Palace" stunning. I won't spoil it by sharing it. Some of our members wanted more Pera Palace stories in the book, and one of our Turkish members said she was surprised that there were no historical surprises. The history in 'Midnight' of 20th-century Istanbul and Turkey was more-or-less as she had been taught. 

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Istanbul and Turkey. One of our members said "sequel, please!" Personally, I think this author needs a movie contract. The cinematography of this setting, this time, and this history would be irresistible.

Would you like to learn more about the Global Minds Book Club? I am so proud of our book club founder and inspiration, Clarence Lomot Nartey, of Ghana. It isn't easy to create a lasting legacy as an expat. Clarence did. Global Minds Book Club is now starting its fourth year. Clarence, you would have been deeply pleased with yesterday's success.

Here are some posts about past discussions:

Want to find out how you can help promote reading culture in Turkey? Read this post:

Want to learn more about the Pera Palace Hotel, now owned by the Sheikh of Dubai? Check out the web site. Their memorable video actually does a great job of capturing what our day was like.

Want to know where 'Midnight' author, Charles King, goes to eat first when he comes to Istanbul? Culinary Backstreets blog has the lowdown.

Looking for another great book from this side of the world?
Here's three I recommend:

Why not follow this blog, Empty Nest Expat? You can do so by signing up for RSS feed, to the right, or 'liking' the Empty Nest Expat page on Facebook. Your choice.

Like this blog post? Share it! Thank you.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Polarization is a Choice

 A photo of the Beşiktaş Forum,
a nightly neighborhood discussion
happening in my neighborhood park
and twenty other parks throughout Istanbul
where citizens discuss the future of the protests
and the future of their country.
I feel deeply lucky to have experienced the Turkish protests and to watch citizen engagement on a level never before experienced in Turkey. I plan to write about the experience, but frankly, it has been so interesting, I couldn't even tear myself away from watching it long enough to write about it. It makes me appreciate that real journalists get that done and do it on deadline too.

As an expat, I am constantly reflecting on how events in the country I am living in are related to the events from my country of origin. One of the most astounding experiences of the whole Gezi Park protests has been the level of polarization (which I wrote about here in my last post).

How polarized has it been? So polarized that the Turkish government talks about bringing in the military to restore order. Citizens discuss the possibility that there could be a civil war. I thought that I had experienced polarization in America during George W. Bush's Presidency, but this makes the Bush Presidency look like child's play. Even the clothes are different, as if each team has a uniform.

Shockingly, it wasn't until I watched this play out among the Turks that it occurred to me that polarization is a choice. When the American people were polarized, we allowed ourselves to be manipulated into doing that. We didn't have to buy that, but we did. We chose to respond to manipulative language and to allow ourselves to demonize our fellow citizens, even though we know in our hearts that what makes our country great is the range of contributions from everyone.

How boring and "trailing edge" Americans must have been during that period. One constant verbal or online sledgehammer to each other for eight years. It's so unproductive and dehumanizing. As we, the American people, beat up on each other by choosing polarized news sources and polarized web sites, other countries have gotten on with business while we spent our billions indulging in a war in Iraq America wishes it could forget. In a globalized world, the country that chooses to be divided, falls behind.

If I could offer advice to my Turkish friends based on my eight years of living through the George W. Bush presidency it would be to understand that polarizing language is manipulative language. If you buy into it, you're allowing yourself to be manipulated. Take care of your personal relationships, invite your most opposite philosophically-different friend over for dinner and break bread together. Just because dialogue doesn't occur at your highest level, doesn't mean dialogue can't occur at the citizen level.
(the meal where Muslims break their fast
after a day of no food or water)
Official White House Photo
by Chuck Kennedy
Breaking bread together is such a fundamental practice. That's why it means so much to me to see my President celebrate Ramadan or Diwali or Passover. During that meal time, my President is contemplating and learning from someone who is different than him. He is respecting and celebrating their traditions. He is honoring them. Is there any reason we, the people who live all over the world, can't do that too?

I read recently that members of the American Congress are so polarized, and there is so much money at stake in each decision, that they no longer undertake this practice of breaking bread with their opposite. It shows. Congressional approval ratings hover around 10% and they famously work to keep the status quo rather than move the country forward.

Polarization is a choice. I'm no longer going to buy it. How about you?

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

'Backwards Day' in Istanbul: a news junkie's paradise

I have a Kurdish friend, now of European citizenship, who says, "when I lived in Germany, I tried to be interested in everything happening there but it was all so boring. It just wasn't engaging." Having lived in Istanbul for a couple years now, I completely understand.

The Levantine area is a news junkie paradise. There is more absolutely fascinating news happening in any one week here, than in a year somewhere else. This last week had to be THE MOST fascinating week since I first came here in 2010.

Indeed, it felt like an event teenagers often create called "Backwards Day." The teens do everything backwards for one day from wearing their clothes backward to saying the opposite of what they usually do. The news that happened last week was so unexpected and so "backwards" of what one normally hears and it all happened in the same week!

An Israeli apology

The Mavi Marmara
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the Mavi Marmara incident. As an American citizen, I frequently feel that if a US citizen ever has an opinion that is contrary to the Israeli point-of-view and they publically express that view, they will be bullied into silence. The American media never has an honest dialogue about Israel and it rarely explains to Americans that Israelis are settling on land that belongs to someone else in violation of international law.

So when Israeli military forces boarded the Mavi Marmara and shot Americans and Turks at close range, killing nine of them, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded an apology.

An apology never seemed like an unreasonable request. Erdoğan's been demanding an apology for three years. He sought justice for the Americans and Turks killed much more vocally than my own government did.

This week, Erdoğan got that apology when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him up and expressed regret. Apologies are so powerful! It was like hearing Netanyahu and his nation say "we accept responsibility for this. We were wrong." It was the exact opposite of what a bully would do.

Backwards Day.

The PKK declares a cease-fire

The PKK, declared a terrorist group by both the Turkish and American governments, declared a cease-fire with the Turkish State. This opinion piece from Friday, March 23rd,  "Hurriety Daily News" explains just how different this is than the normal course of events in Turkey.

Backwards Day.

The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church attends the Ordination of the New Pope

When something happens for the first time in 959 years, that's amazing. Such was the excitement with the Istanbul-based Patriarch of the Orthodox Church was welcomed so warmly by the new Pope Francis when Barthalomew went to the ordination. Just even the idea being expressed that various strands of the Christian Church could be reunited is fascinating. Also worthy of note, Turkish newspapers expressed not one iota of anxiety over this. In America, if there was specualtions about Sunnis and Shia reuniting in some future generation, it would send Islamaphobia anxiety into overdrive.

Backwards Day.

Cyprus Decides to Give Bank Depositors a Hair Cut

The Flag of Cyprus
Holy Cow, what a fascinating story. It was incredible to watch it unfold and of course, it's still unfolding. If you need any proof that one should never trust a government that says "your deposits are insured" this is the story. The depositors in Cyprus banks, who had thought their deposits were insured up to 100,000 Euros, were told instead that there would be a tax on all deposits held in Cypriot banks because of all the bad loans these banks made to Greece. The depositors didn't make those choices, the bank's owners did!

As Planet Money put it, "it is like your car insurance company, like Allstate, running up to your Suburu, smashing the window, and stealing your stereo."

The odd place this put this Cypriots with their money is beautifully summarized here.

The EU was supposed to make the Cypriots feel safer.

Backwards Day.

Does this mean I want drama in my own domestic news? It does not.

I agree with Rolling Stone Magazine writer Matt Taibbi (who is so eloquent on all things financial-crisis related) who wrote this about the American budget sequestration:  "The whole situation reminds one of a family so dysfunctional that its members can't communicate except through desperate acts."

 I want my domestic news to be boring. That means there are adults in the room, taking care of business, and the citizens can spend their time creating, discovering, and solving problems in a way that moves the economy forward and not worrying about stuff like whether or not their money is safe in a bank.

In case anyone hasn't noticed, those Germans with their boring news, are kicking everyone's butt economically.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Friday, February 15, 2013

#1billionrising in Istanbul

"Everyday Five Women Are Killed
through Domestic Violence"
Yesterday was so delightful. The enormity of Eve Ensler's imagination blew me away. It was just glorious to participate in the largest global happening on the planet to date. Turkish media was 100% there for the event. Many newspapers featured it on their front page the day it was to happen and the day after. My local neighborhood municipality actually sponsored a rising themselves and offered people free dance classes. I wasn't able to go because it was during the day but the joy of those who did attend is self-evident! The anthem was perfect as it created and communicated the joyousness of the feminist tsunami circling the world.
New friend and fellow protester
Betül. She was a delight!

I thought there was a rising at 6 p.m. in Taksim Square, but when I got there, the square was empty. I looked around and guessed who would be the most likely to be attending a rising that night. I guessed exactly right on my first try. The young German lady said, "yes, my roommate has organized the one in Kadikoy on the Asian side at 7 p.m." I guess it's been all those years of guessing who speaks English to ask questions that helped me pick the right female to ask! We gathered a Canadian friend of hers and took the ferry over to Asia.

There were all kinds of people there, at least 500 if not more. One young woman had hand-lettered signs on both sides with magic marker and gladly shared them with people she didn't know. I marveled at the time investment, but hey, I had done the same in my own way, with non-stop promotion of #1billionrising in the weeks prior to everybody I could think of.

I realized when I got there, that this was an event that was tailor-made for Turkey. Most Turks dance with abandon and they have wonderful, wonderful folk dances that are easy to learn and enable people of all ages to participate. We started doing the halay in a big circle and gorgeous young women would make that ululating sound as loud as they could with incredible joy. It was FABULOUS.
 Someone translated this to me that night as:
"Hallelujah, the women are united!"
The administrator in me started thinking "well, if I had done this promotion, I would have done this different and that different, starting with designing a dance as easy to learn as the Turkish halay so it could go viral and all ages would dance it up." The official #1billionrising choreography was intimidating to nondancers as a time investment. It looked like it would take multiple rehearsals to learn. That makes it hard for folks to identify with so that they join in up until the last minute. I would also would have waited for a year to do this when Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday so the maximum number of people could join. Had it happened on a weekend, I would have just gone to risings all day, one after the other.

I also wish the President of the United States had given #1billionrising a shoutout in the State of the Union speech the night before. I mean, it's not every single day that 1 billion people decide to organize themselves into mass action. A single "I hear ya!" would have sufficed.

The State Department, which prides itself on social media saavy, seemed like complete nonparticipants on Twitter. I would have thought Hillary Clinton's State Department would have had risings organized at all embassies and consulates. Women's rights were supposed to be hallmark of Hillary's time as Secretary of State. The United Nations, the UK Prime Minister, and the Australian PM were all over #1billionrising on V-Day. America missed a wonderful opportunity to brag about all the work it has done on behalf of women over the last four years. This could have been the capstone event!

It was amazing how hard it was to know about all of the aspects of this. I didn't realize you could order a T-shirt. I didn't know that my municipality was organizing their own rising. I didn't know that there was a #1billionrisingIstanbul Facebook page (the ladies of Izmir, Turkey had over 4,000 likes on theirs). I didn't understand how there would be #1billionrising when @eveensler only had around 22,000 Twitter followers and @vday only had 23,000 followers. There is a Twitter account called @obr that seems to be owned by a very non-active Norwegian, not One Billion Rising. Had information on all the groups organizing been more centralized, it could have been even exponentially larger.

But then I just remembered to myself the wonderful quote by Teddy Roosevelt. "It is not the critic who counts, but the man in the arena." My suggestions are mere quibbles.

Eve Ensler created something of immense power and beauty. My hat is off to her. I can't wait to sift through all of the incredibly diverse videos and take them in. I loved hearing this NPR Talk-of -he-Nation interview with her from the Congo where she expressed her optimism for the future. Most importantly, she talked about when she started with the Vagina Monologues, it was with a theatre of 100 seats. She had no idea the power of her voice. None of us do - all we have to do is take the first step. In my opinion, Eve Ensler deserves the American Medal of Freedom for her service to America and all humanity.

This is one of the most powerful #1billionrisings videos I've seen so far: #1billionrising in jail.

You may be interested in my earlier posts about #1billionrising:


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Never Regret the Pain" by Sel Erder Yackley


I love a good memoir. About the time, "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls (a memoir of really bad parenting) was on the bestseller list week-after-week, I began a memoir kick, and read about 10 in a row. They always seemed to be infused with wonderful and personal storytelling.

Around this time, a sophisticated lady with a slight accent was trying to give a reading of her book at a Chicago-area Barnes and Noble. She didn't have any interest from those seated in the cafe, and the polite book lover in me couldn't bear that. I had to make her feel welcome by sitting down and listening to what she shared. She was Turkish-American, an immigrant and now a citizen of America, and she was sharing her memories of living with a bipolar spouse.
The black and white book cover looked awfully grim, the title even grimmer, and the subject did nothing to make me say, "gee, I can't wait to read that." Yet the author, Sel Erder Yackley, was so nice and friendly and most importantly, smart and courageous in telling her story, that I just felt I had to buy her slim book. I was so glad I did!
Her book wasn't just about her life with a bipolar spouse; it included her incredible story of immigration to America. I would shake my head in admiration, as I read, at Ms. Yackley's gift for making the most of every single opportunity that ever presented itself to her as a new resident of America. 
She also brought her journalist's impartiality and detachment in describing the mental illness her husband suffered from in small town Illinois when she tells her story. I use the word detachment because she feels no shame and expresses no shame in sharing her husband's downward spiral and eventual suicide due to his bipolar condition. That's so important, I believe, because it frees others to not blame themselves and just deal with these situations as the medical conditions they are.
It couldn't have been easy being a Turkish Muslim lady living in small-town Illinois. But she made boatloads of friends, even receiving recognition from the  YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), which is kind of fun since she was neither a man or a Christian.
This was just a chance encounter in a bookstore with someone from a country I knew nothing about. Her book was on a topic unfamiliar to me. I had no idea at the time it would later help influence the direction of my life.  A few years later, I was discussing with my European friends what country I should try next. My Europeans friends suggested "You should move to Turkey! The energy of the Turkish people on the street is a-m-a-z-i-n-g." This lady is the one person who represented Turkey to me. I liked what I knew. 
You can click on my title to go to the Amazon link for the book.
You can follow my adventures on Facebook by "liking" Empty Nest Expat there.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Enjoying Hometown Friends in Istanbul

 Brian Smith and me
One of the fun parts about living in Istanbul is so many friends come through town as tourists. This summer it was my  Ames, Iowa high school classmate Brian Smith and his very fun wife Fazia Ali. So many giggles! Brian is so in love with Fazia. It's moving to see. They have been married for 19 years.
Family friend Bahar
and Brian's wife Fazia
Brian is a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer. His first magazine photograph appeared in LIFE Magazine when he was a 20-year-old student at the University of Missouri.  Five years later, Brian won the Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Yes, that's right, at age 25!

Because Brian started achieving so early and for so many years people are always asking him for advice and he is happy to provide it. Here's an example from his blog where he shares Secrets of Sports Photography: his favorite Olympic Moments.  It is great storytelling of jawdropping images we will all remember.

Lately, Brian has specialized in celebrity portrait photography. I love hearing him talk about his book project "Art and Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts." The book grew out of the desire of entertainment professionals to share in a deeply personal way how they had been impacted by the arts. Truly, some of the most iconic celebrities are featured. I dare you to look deeply into Ann Hathaway's eyes in Brian's portrait and not want to say "yes" to whatever she asks for! You can thumb through 15 of the portraits on the Amazon site and vote for the ones you like. All of these portraits were also featured at the Library of Congress. The stars hand-carried the book to Congress to advocate for more funding for the arts.

This fall Brian will have a new book coming out called "Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous." Along with instantly iconic photos like this cover shot of billionaire space entrepreneur Richard Branson, Brian shares the stories behind the photographs and how he connected with his subjects to create such unforgettable images.

I admire my classmate's work and his willingness to mentor so many young photography professionals coming up. Brian gives speeches all across America on photography topics but also on just getting started as a professional. I enjoyed the storytelling in this webinar: "Stop Waiting for Your Big Break." He frequently is invited to share on this and other topics in person.

After coming to Istanbul, Brian and Fazia went on to Athens. I LOVE this photograph he took of her there.
"My Goddess Rocks the Acropolis"

Brian Smith on Twitter: @briansmithphoto
Brian Smith on the web:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Yea! I'm the mother of two college graduates!

Me and my girls
This month I had the occasion to go home to the United States to see my youngest daughter graduate magna cum laude from the University of Missouri with a Bachelors Degree in Journalism. Her emphasis was Strategic Communications. I'm proud she graduated with honors and equally proud that she graduated debt-free. She worked really hard at that, at one time holding down two assistantships and a part-time job while going to school full-time. She plotted her classes out carefully so that she graduated in exactly four years.
My daughter "relishes" her new role
as a hotdogger

On June 3rd, she starts her new job as a hotdogger for the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.  It's been fun to learn about that opportunity as over 1,500 people apply every year and exactly 12 young people are hired to drive six different Weinermobiles around America promoting the Oscar Mayer brand of hot dogs. I'd like to think my daughter inherited a bit of my sense of adventure and desire to see parts unknown.
Suzy, the Dancing Pancake
People who have worked as a mascot are frequently hired as a hotdogger for the Oscar Mayer company. Who knew that  my child's time as IHOP's "Suzy the Dancing Pancake" or Papa Murphy's " Pizza Slice" in high school would pay off so well? Maybe, she did. Kelly makes opportunities everywhere she goes.
The Papa Murphy Pizza Slice

Two years was too long a time for me to be gone! I think it's important to probably go home once a year if that's doable. Or if I can't go home, it would be nice if my family could come visit me here. Vacation time is so short and precious in America though, I can't imagine that will be soon.

While I enjoyed my time home in America, and was pleased that every city I went to looked like it was doing great, it did feel like I was coming "home" to Istanbul when I came back after 10 days. I couldn't wait to enjoy the Turkish spring bounty of new cherries. I wondered when the Turkish peaches would hit the shelves. I hoped the climbing roses and the honeysuckle were still fragrantly blooming in my neighborhood and that I would get to enjoy them.

Yea! She finished!
I have confidence in my child's ability to thrive post-college. If she needs me, I'm just a phone call away. Maybe my highly conscious decision to designate this period of my life as my time to be an "Empty Nest Expat" has rubbed off on her highly conscious planning of how to use her most agile years.

Kelly's already set her next life goal as running a race in all 50 states of the nation by the age of 25. I think she's up to seven states now. She did her first marathon the Saturday before graduation. That's another hard part about me being an expat: I wasn't there to cheer her on. Luckily, the people of Cinncinati, where she ran the Flying Pig Marathon, made her feel like an Olympian! "Best day of my life, Mom! The people were fantastic, the neighborhoods were adorable, and they made me feel so proud."

You can read about her adventures at the University of Missouri at her freshman year blog "First Steps of a Freshman" or at her new blog "The Race for All 50 States," or at the official "Hotdogger Blog" where she will be contributing.

You might also enjoy:

Wonderful food eases newly empty nest

Happy Blog Birthday to Me!

Enjoying the Fruits of My Parenting Labors

Hello Great Big Beautiful World! (first ever blog post)

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