all images ©missyweimer 2015

all images ©missyweimer 2016

Thursday, July 6, 2017

I Married a Muslim - Love, google and three intercultural weddings

"Included here you will see photos of my husband and I, but I chose not to share the image of our union which is the most special to me. An image from my third wedding, my “Imam nikahı ” or Imam wedding service."

Friday, May 12, 2017

From: Annelerimize Mektuplar (Letters to Our Mothers) – A Mother’s Day Tribute

Written for and originally posted on

I am lucky – I have awesome mom. She patiently put up with me as an “energetic” child. She has been my biggest advocate, from taking me to the emergency room close to 20 times, to encouraging me to pursue my dreams to study, write and make art. She is always there for me. 

I can say that she is a great cook, a great baker of cookies and cakes and great at giving baths to dogs and babies – always asking, “What’s the best part about taking a bath?” (the answer is, “Hugs when you’re done!”) She’s great at braiding hair. She is a surprisingly accurate webMD and she has an uncanny intuition. She has a great eye for art and colors. She is great at running numbers. Between my sister and myself, she has sat through at least 1,000 gymnastics meets, track meets and basketball games. She is one of 8 kids and has a twin brother. She is a grandmother to three. At the age of 60 she had heart surgery and started to train – she started boxing, and lifting weights. My sister and I, who have always wondered from where we got our athletic acumen were somewhat surprised to learn that, along with our freckles and thick wavy hair, we got it from our mom.

Last year, at the age of 69, she took her first solo trip abroad – to Turkey, to help me care for my new baby. In so many ways, she has traveled quite a long way from her tiny hometown in Wisconsin. Now that I have a child of my own, I realize the thing I most want to give him, is also the most important thing my mom has given to me – A deep dedication to service and fairness.

My mom goes to her numerous volunteer gigs like she’s getting paid to be there. Like many women, she is doing the unpaid and under-paid work of the world – even well into “retirement.” She has modeled an open-minded life of service through her diverse group of friends, which transverses race, class, gender and physical ability, something I now understand to be rare in this world. I could not possibly list all of the things which she as done to serve her community but it ranges from scoring track meets to volunteering for the deaf-blind community, where she spent most of her career. Today she works what is basically an unpaid, part-time job helping seniors navigate their medical bills and the new and ever-changing laws pertaining to their care, some of them younger than herself. She has taught me to, “Bloom where I am planted.”

She is awesome. She is strong. She is funny, kind and fair.

I want to be just like her. Happy Mother’s Day, mom!

I love you, and thanks.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Wishing You a Long Life (MAGA)

First they came for the Native Americans,  and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Native.
Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Black.
They came for the Sick, the Poor and the Elderly, and I did not speak out—
Because I was Healthy, Middle Class and still Young.
They came for the Women, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Woman.
They came for my LGBTQ family members and friends, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Queer.
They came for Muslims, but as a Christian, I did not speak out.
They came for the Immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because, while I was an Immigrant, I Did Not Identify as such.
Then they came for the long suffering Refugees. But I did not speak out—
because I was not a REFUGEE.
Finally, they came for me. And there was no one left to speak for me.

The above is my play on the enigmatic words of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). Niemöller was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. 

Below, one iteration of his famous quote (which he stated and restated in variation during his life):

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Martin Niemöller

To all of you who say, "Well, wait and see!"
You are next.
To the people who say, "But, it doesn't effect you (me, them)."
You are next.
To the people with the money, status and privilege to ignore what is happening -
May you live long enough to be NEXT.


*Instead of using images in this post, as I am wont to do, please allow your mind to view the images of the above atrocities which it conjures while you read. If they appear in a flash, let them linger. If you're unmoved, stop for a moment and imagine the sound. The screams. The sobs. The ear piercing shrieks and low primal moans of the suffering. The soft last words and urgent declaration of prayer from the dying. This is the suffering of millions of people who need and deserve the freedoms and protections enjoyed by the select and privileged few, who have put Capital above human life and dignity.

To the complicit, silent, unbothered and (yes, we see you) the amused and entertained,
History will remember your silence and your cruelty. It will lament your inability to think critically, to know and remember the past and to own up to your wrongs.
Your ignorance is your shame.
Your fear, while palpable, does not entitle you to your many misdeeds.

Wishing you a long (enough) life that you, too, may see them come for you.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Having a Baby in Turkey - reposted from

It’s amazing how things can change in just a few short years. Three years ago, I accepted a job in Turkey. Six months later I met my husband, and a year after that we were honeymooning in Rome. Today, I am at a cafe, one block from my home in Istanbul, drinking coffee and catching up on emails. This is especially delightful for me because it is one of the few times in the six months since my baby was born that I am alone. I am living my past, pre-baby life, if only for an hour. But, honestly, who am I kidding? That life is gone forever. When I was younger, I did think I would get married and maybe even have a child, but I never day dreamed over the details. Single at 35, I figured that I may be heading in a slightly less conventional direction. I certainly never pictured myself as a ‘yabanci gelin’ or ‘foreign bride.’ I never pictured a life in Turkey.

The first thing I did after accepting a job in Turkey was google “Country of Turkey.” I had only the vaguest ideas about the place. What language do they speak? Is it a secular country? Is it a ‘first world’ country? Is it safe? The answers are not always so clear cut and, indeed, have shifted even in my short time here.

Kaya & I
Getting pregnant opened up a whole new field of research for me. Many well-to-do Turks go abroad, many to the US, to have their babies. They do this for the Passport and not because the care is better or more advanced. In fact, both Turkey and the US have similar ideas about childbirth and share some of the highest C-section rates in the world. Practical differences in Turkey include access to affordable healthcare, maternity leave, “milk pay” and other baby benefits undreamed of in the States. Of course, there are some cultural differences, many private hospitals in Turkey include hairdressers and photographers as part of your birthing suite package. Accommodations for relatives and extended family are available, as they are expected to parade through the hospital during labor and childbirth. As a US citizen, my baby will not need to be born in the US to get an American passport. As a American citizen, I can apply at the embassy with a certificate of foreign birth. Many Turks seemed surprised that I chose to have my baby here, in Istanbul. Besides the expense, the inconvenience of it made it a non option for us. I wanted to take our baby from the hospital to our home. Not on a 12 hour flight back to Turkey.

When I was 4 months pregnant we took a trip to see my in-laws. My mother and sisters-in-law shared their birth stories with me. My mother-in-law has 8 children, all born in the East of Turkey in Diyarbakır. My husband, her last, was the only one born in a clinic. At over 4 kilos, and breech, it’s no wonder she decided to stop there. The baby of this big beautiful family, my husband wants a lot of kids. But, I remind him, we’re getting a late start and we have agreed to take it one baby at a time.

The summer of my pregnancy was hot and full of political drama here in Turkey. Our little hot box of an apartment near Taksim Square gave us a front row seat to the failed coup attempt. Nearby buildings were riddled with bullet holes and shattered glass from sonic booms. With just a little over a month to go, we moved across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. We found a new doctor and a hospital walking distance from our new home.

Pre-baby, with my husband and in-laws.

I spent the first few days at our new place unpacking, washing baby clothes and napping in front of our glorious air conditioner. We knew our baby was on the small side so I was hoping to go late, maybe 41 or 42 weeks. One morning, not even two weeks after our move, at 38 weeks exactly, while assembling my new IKEA desk, my water broke. It was not like the movies. Thinking we had another two weeks at least, it was quite a surprise.

Our doctor said to meet her at the hospital. We took our time, I cleaned the kitchen and packed a bag while my husband finished the desk. I expected to be sent home until I was properly in labor, but we were admitted. For two days we waited for me to go into labor. We watched the Olympics in what we joked was our “expensive hotel with shitty food and no pool.” We ignored calls from our moms (how do they know?!) and generally laid low, hoping to avoid the crush of calls and visits. The risk of water breaking before labor is infection for the mother and or child. The accepted time frame before interventions maxes out around 48 hours. At the end of the second day things were finally happening. After 35 hours of waiting, blood draws and antibiotic shots, we were finally on a roll. At 11 PM on the second day I was in early labor when we decided to go to bed and rest up for the impending main event.

I turned off our mood music and blew out the candles. My husband and I got into bed feeling relaxed and ready. Seemingly even before my eyes closed an orderly barged in. Holding electric hair clippers she announced, in Turkish, that she was here to prep me for my C-section. I figured that she had the wrong room, I understood her just fine, but I was confused. The lights came on, the nurse came in and while my husband translated, it became clear that my doctor was on the way. My last blood test had shown a dramatic rise in my white blood cell count indicating the risk of infection was now high. Our doctor who literally wrote the book on “natural birth” was recommending a C-section. Even though I was in labor it could still be many hours until delivery. “We have waited as long as we can safely wait.” she explained, “The baby is not in distress, so now is the time.” Even though a C-section was not our “Plan A” we had discussed our wishes if that is how things turned out. It was an easy decision to take her advice, but the transition was a little overwhelming. The doctor left to prep for surgery and the nurse handed me a gown (I had been wearing my own clothes up until now). I got on the bed and suddenly, I felt like a patient, a sick person, not a pregnant lady. I cried for a second, but only a second as a big Turkish man with a big round belly and big broom mustache came in and lifted me onto what felt like a wooden slab. Naked except for my thin hospital gown, he wheeled me down the hall and we rode the elevator into the frigid, basement operating room. I could not understand a word he said – was this guy even speaking Turkish? He transferred me to the operating table – anesthesiologists, nurses and tech prep, were all business, speaking muffled Turkish to each other through their masks. No one talked to me. It was so bright. It was so cold. I missed our cuddly maternity suite. Just then my doula arrived in blue scrubs. She translated and talked me through the epidural. I was having contractions every few minutes, shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering violently. “OK,” she said, “hold perfectly still. It’s very important.”

They threaded the epidural into my spine and I was going numb in no time. They strapped my arms down tightly to the table. My doula said, ”Ok, I’m leaving now but your husband is coming, he’s dressed like me, but blonde.” This gave me a much needed laugh. I somehow knew what she meant. My husband, with his black hair and big black beard, came in all calm and cool in his yellow (blonde) scrubs. A few moments later our baby came out screaming, eyes wide open. It was amazing and surreal. I couldn’t see anything so I watched my husband watch our new baby. “Boy or girl?” he asked. “Erkek.” They said, in Turkish. A boy. After a quick clean-up they brought him over to me and put his cheek to mine. He stopped crying while I talked to him. “He recognizes your voice,” my husband said. They handed our tiny son to him and they left the room together.
My husband & Kaya
Now it’s just me again, and the workers. The techs were cleaning up and I could feel my body getting jerked around. The nurse told me in her best-effort English that they were cleaning my body. I was suddenly profoundly lonely. The big guy came back in, draped me with a sheet and wheeled me into the basement hallway. He left me there alone for a few minutes. Numb from the chest down, on my wooden slab. I could see into the operating room where they were removing bloody sheets and instruments, and chatting to each other. I didn’t understand one word. For a moment it felt like a sci-fi horror movie where I had been abducted by aliens, paralyzed and experimented on. “It’s over,” I told myself, “the worst is over.”

It was the last time in 6 months that I have felt alone and to be sure, I will never be truly alone again. Because even for one hour, in a coffee shop, 15 meters from my front door, I can’t stop thinking about him, my son. What is he doing? Is everything alright with him? Is he cold, hot, hungry? Does he miss me?

My son is a Kurdish, Turkish, American. He is adorable and at 6.5 months he can say “mom” in 2 languages.


Thanks, again, to for giving me a platform to write about art and life in Turkey.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aleppo Falls and 2 Babies Meet

As winter sets in I am constantly looking for new daily adventures with my new baby. We walk around the neighborhood, we take public transit to neighborhoods we have never been to and sometimes we just end up at the mall. The mall is not great, but it will do. We wander around, try not to buy things, and sometimes get lunch. Yesterday was one of these days.  My husband has been out of town working and it’s just me and the baby 24/7. We took the train to a new part of the city and it was a bust. Nothing to do there and it was so much colder than I had anticipated. Feeling a bit defeated, we stopped at the mall on our way home. My plan was to get some food and maybe even try to speak Turkish to someone. We went straight to the food court and made a bee-line for Carl’s Jr. I hoped my dour mood was mostly because I was getting hangry. I had forgotten to eat breakfast, something I never did before I had a baby.

I placed my order, got my drink and sat down at the closest open table. It didn’t notice at first, but the young couple I was sitting next to had a stroller parked on the other side of their table. They were speaking Arabic and I recognized them to be Syrian. They seemed about my age or a bit younger. They looked cool, both wearing jeans. Him - big guy, with big wild hair. Her - head covered, but not extravagantly, a touch of makeup and that new mom glow.  They were clearly enjoying each other's company. While I watched them I missed my husband. I wished they were my friends. I wished I had someone nice to enjoy my meal with, someone besides my sleeping baby, still strapped to my chest. My food came and I was shifting around, trying to figure out the best way to avoid dripping burger juice onto my baby’s head, when I heard the man say (in Turkish), ”Look, he’s awake.”  My son, now awake, was taking in this giant man with his dark, wide-eyed stare. I looked over at him and smiled. He asked me in Turkish, “How old is he?” “Uc aylik,” (3 months) I replied. “You seem like a foreigner, “ he continued. “Yes,” we switch to English, "I am." “Our son is three months old, too!” he said, clearly delighted. He carefully took his son out of the stroller and proudly hoisted him. A beautiful little boy, he looked even smaller in the arms of this giant man. Their baby looked not unlike my son. Big dark eyes and a barely any hair. We laughed that they could be brothers, twins even. His, Adam, mine Kaya. We talked about parenthood, how hard it is, how awesome it is. How challenging. And if the babies looked like us. Which baby carrier is best. All the while our babies stared into each other’s eyes.

He told me they are in town from Gaziantep, a Turkish city near the Syrian border, just a two hour drive from Aleppo. “We’re Syrian,” he said, “Obviously. We’re here to get his passport and documents.” My heart sank and I nodded my head. My typical reply would have been, “Oh, Kaya has his passport, too!” But I stopped myself.

My son has an American passport. The best passport in the world. He won’t be turned away at borders, or humiliated at airports. He won’t be profiled or interrogated. He won’t even need a visa most of the time. The world is his! It is wide open to him and my husband and I are so glad for it. But not Adam. Tiny Adam with the big, dark eyes will not get very far with a Syrian passport in today's world. A virtual twin to my own son, he will not be welcome in Europe, or the United States. He will be automatically judged and discriminated against. At just 3 months old, he will be labeled unwanted, unwelcome or even a threat. He was born here in Turkey, but he will never be Turkish. Will he ever set foot in his “home” country, Syria? The border just a one hour drive from his current home in Turkey.  

And if Adam does return to Syria one day, what will he find? Today, Aleppo, an extensive world heritage site, a city since the 23rd century BC, Syria’s (former) largest city (the size of Chicago), is no more. The city is a ruin of ruble, most residents gone. No longer hospitable for life -schools and hospitals are long gone, along with the ancient ruins - food, water and electricity are scarce. Today only the most desperate and vulnerable remain. They are alone with the bombs and the fighters. They are being killed while the world watches. The war rages in real-time on my TV. A young woman calls into Al-Jazeera from a basement where she is hiding with a number of women and children. She is matter of fact, she is resolute. She admits that she will likely die or be taken captive by her own government. What will be left of Syria by the time Adam is old enough to understand what it is to be Syrian? To be from the place where history begins.

Adam’s parents finished their food, I finish mine. We say, Goodbye. Good luck. Nice to meet you.

Last night I had a dream that I was young again and my family hosted a refugee family from Syria in our suburban Chicago home in the 80s. I could hear my dad saying, “America is the best country in the world,” from the seat behind his desk below his signed and framed headshot of President Reagan. I woke up and wondered if Adam and Kaya will ever meet again. Of course, they would never remember this meeting in a mall food court, in Istanbul on a cold December day in 2016. Would they still look alike? Will they speak a common language? Would they have read in their history books about this day in Aleppo, when the city finally falls? The day the TV showed me an elderly man in the middle of a bombed out street, dead bodies blurred out behind him, as he screams into the camera, “Muslims, where are you? Where is the world?”

Where indeed?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Selective Compassion: From 'Economic Migrants' to Refugees of the International Olympic Committee

I have always loved the Olympics. For as long as I can remember I have watched the Games. I get choked up, I yell at the TV, I set my alarm for the middle of the night to watch the action unfold in real time. The Games, despite scandal and neigh sayers, have always filled me with enthusiasm. I am forever a fan.

This year, like many people, I have been moved by the first ever inclusion of a group of refugee athletes who competed under the International Olympic Committee (IOC) flag in Rio as the Refugee Olympic Team - the 'refugee team’ as the media calls them. While their inclusion seems to fully embody the Spirit of the games:

The Olympic spirit is best expressed in the Olympic Creed: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

I bristle under the fact that many English language, mainstream news outlets from the BBC to the New York Times and beyond also referred to these same people as ‘migrants’ and less ambiguously, as ‘economic migrants.’ These terms come with the unstated context that they are economic opportunists seeking (only) your jobs, welfare and higher standard of living. Still worse, these people, many millions of them, have also been labeled as potential ‘terrorists’ and criminals, while in fact, it is these same people who are actually facing, and consequently fleeing from, terrorism and criminal violent acts in their home countries.These words, ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ are not synonyms and can only be used interchangeably in a disingenuous manner.
refugee: someone who has been forced to leave a country because of war or for religious or political reasons.
migrant: a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work (especially in harvesting crops)
a bird or animal that moves from one area to another at different times of the year

Please note, synonyms for migrant include 'fugitive' and 'nomad', but not refugee.
Make no mistake about it, these people are not migrants. And these words do matter. These refugees are fleeing a political, humanitarian crisis* which destroyed their lives. They left all of their worldly possessions, their homes, pets, neighbors, cars, careers and country because they want to LIVE and to see their kids grow up, too. But unlike a flock of birds heading south for the winter, they dream of having dignity, opportunity and peace, not just a still-beating heart.
Yusra Mardini

Simply put, to paint a refugee as a simple opportunists is grotesque. The path of many Syrian refugees (not unlike the path of many North Africans), is to trek across unwelcoming countries on foot, sleeping in the open until they reach unsuitable boats which launch into the open sea. Many refugees can't swim and many have young children and babies in tow. If they arrive at the other side (Europe) the journey is not over. More trekking, open sleeping, violence, discrimination and the purgatory of refugee camps awaits them. These desperate acts, against incredible odds are not seeking a nicer house or simply a higher standard of living, they are seeking refuge.

refuge: shelter or protection from danger or trouble
a place that provides shelter or protection**

This is the path of Yusra Mardini. Of the 10 members on the Olympic Refugee Team 8 are African and 2 are Syrian.There does not seem to be numerous feel-good stories coming out of the refugee team at this year's Olympic Games - rather, just the one. The member of the team most celebrated by the press is 18 year old Syrian refugee, Yusra Mardini. She is the youngest, the most photogenic and the fairest of them all. That is, she is easily the most palatable to the press and she has an amazing story that will tug at your heartstrings.

While fleeing violence in her home country of Syria, Mardini, her sister and another woman were forced into the open waters of the Aegean Sea to kick-push a boat full of desperate refugees for 3 hours to the shores of Greece after the motor on their tiny, over-packed dingy failed.
“Damascus became increasingly unstable and Mardini and her sister Sarah eventually left Syria, travelling through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece. ...After Lesbos, Mardini and Sarah traveled through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria before arriving at their final destination: Germany.”

But as of March, 2016 refugees landing in Greece will be sent back to Turkey, "In return for taking back refugees, Turkey can expect “re-energised” talks on its EU membership, with the promise of negotiations on one policy area to be opened before July. The EU has also agreed to speed up the disbursement of €3bn (£2.3bn) intended to help Syrian refugees in Turkey..." Sourced from the Guardian "EU strikes deal with Turkey to send back refugees"
The richest countries in the world have accepted the least refugees. And some, like the US, moan the loudest: USA - “More than half the nation's governors say Syrian refugees not welcome." In fact, both the U.S. and Germany have both grossly inflated the number of refugees they are willing to take - or have taken in and the press seems happy to report these falsehoods. By April, the U.S. had accepted a bit over 800 and not the 10,000 promised, (though they claim to have now hit the magic number). Also, from 2011 to 2014, Germany received around 460,000 asylum seekers in total, from all countries. It expects to receive 800,000 in 2015, again from all countries (not just Syria), and a significant proportion of these will not be given refugee status.

So how can one square the celebration of the Olympic Refugee Team with this wave of xenophobia and a false framework which clearly displays the disingenuous nature and utter lack of compassion in the (mostly Christian) first world through language, rhetoric, policy and action?
We can't.
Even one of the most Nationalist organizations in the world - the Olympics, recognizes the dire situation of refugees in the world today and found a place for them. They even called them by their true name "refugees".
Lucky for the young hero, Ms. Mardini that she didn’t swim up the shores of Greece just a few months later, after the deal was struck to send them back. Back to Turkey, not their home country, or even one in which they share a language or culture, just one in close proximity to the one in which they fled. A country with more to gain by taking them in than in denying them. A country willing to shelter them long enough to utilize them as a political pawn to gain access to the EU, as well as, a healthy cash settlement to the tune of 3 billion USD. But what is her status? Does being an Olympic athlete qualify one for asylum? How about being a media darling? It didn't help Samia Omar, an Olympic sprinter from Somalia who drowned in the Mediterranean on a similar journey to Ms. Mardini’s. Skill, talent and pure determination were not enough to keep her head above water as she waited for rescue in the choppy Mediterranean waters after the boat she was on failed. It did not save her from an unceremonious burial at sea. She became another faceless, nameless ‘migrant’ whose bodies are clogging the waterway from North Africa to Italy and also Turkey to Greece.
The international press is failing these people in their representation the same way the worldwide public is doing them a disservice in their lazy interpretation and utter lack of even the most basic understanding of the conflicts, as well as, the immigration process in their own countries. All the while wildly inflating the actual threat to their own lives and way of life. So ask yourself, who is a migrant and who is a refugee?

dignity: the quality of being worthy of honor or respect

luck: the things that happen to a person because of chance: the accidental way things happen without being planned.

Wanting dignity and a better life is not a crime. These 'migrant boats' are filled with families and the professionals, professors, authors, scientists, politicians and Olympic athletes of tomorrow. In other words, people just like you. If you can’t fathom being in a situation like this, consider yourself lucky. But your luck is not some sort of birthright and it not something you earned. You might be lucky to be protected by your skin color, the country printed on your passport or money in the bank, but none of these things make you better or more deserving of dignity, or the right to a productive and fulfilling life for yourself, or that of your children. It doesn’t make you more deserving of your still-beating heart.

*watch this video from February where Myriam Francois explains the problem in terms of aid and politics - if you have a really short attention span you can skip to 2:50

**all definitions sourced from

Monday, August 1, 2016

Crowds, Politics and Power in Post Coup Attempt Turkey

Turba – Latin for “crowd.” From the Sanskrit word ‘turami’, meaning “to hasten” and also from the Greek verb for “to trouble, stir up” and noun meaning “to disorder, confusion and tumul”, this relating to turbulence and natural disasters, as well. This root shows the very negative connotations that were associated with the crowd in Greece at this time and that still exist today in varying degrees.
Crowds have been shown to be intimidating and dangerous, as well as, agents of change throughout history. Think French Revolution, or post Civil War lynch mobs in the United States. Their volatile and seemingly contradictory nature of order (their drive to a common cause or goal) and chaotic unpredictability make them powerful, if terrifying at times.

It’s been two weeks since I posted about my experience during the attempted coup in Turkey, in the blog post Pool d'état. In that post I discussed that roller coaster of a night and surreal following day, where I visit the pool with my good friend, Isil.
Allow me to pick up where I left off...On the way home from the pool, the day after the coup attempt,  Isil and I are almost hit by a speeding SUV waving Turkish flags and honking wildly - in celebration, we assume. I am home by 6pm and around that time, the crowds begin to gather in Taksim Square. Again, only much bigger tonight, the crowds take to the streets at the behest of the government. Emboldened by being personally called by the State, literally via text messages and also in Erdogan's surreal FaceTime call which was televised live, the people took to the streets, confronted the Army and WON! On the heels of this unprecedented action tonight's crowd is feeling powerful and victorious. New texts are going out and mosque speakers are at full volume, imploring the public to come to the square. I can almost smell the testosterone in the air. Being really big and pregnant, it seems too wild to go out and it’s still so hot. Watching the footage from Taksim Square live on air that first night, I can hear the roar of the crowds from my window.

I post to Facebook:
TRT World just had the dumbest reporter on live from Taksim. "I feel 100% secure here - the mood is safe and celebratory!" REALLY?? Then why don't I see a single woman or child at this massive rowdy gathering....?
A friend wonders the same thing in my comments, “I was wondering where the women and children were…” she said. The footage shows a large, rowdy group of (mostly young) men. They are waving flags and shouting patriotic slogans. I can't imagine bringing a child into that mob. The crowd in Taksim tonight looks like the crowds of Tahrir Square to me. It doesn't look 'safe' or 'celebratory', no matter what TRT says.

By 11pm I try to sleep but it’s just too loud. The din from outside is incessant and I can’t close the windows because it’s too hot. A number of times, I'm drawn to the window by the noise. I watch crowds parade up the street on foot and in cars, shooting guns into the air, chanting, some of them dressed as Ottomans, in make-shift costumes, which my husband thinks is hilarious and absurd. That first night, almost until dawn there is chanting, honking and gun fire.

Facebook post:
They are having a 'festival' in Taksim Square right now where they are hanging Gulen in effigy.

TRT reports a 'festive' gathering in Taksim Square. And they're right, it is festive! Two huge sound stages have been erected in the square and a number of tents have popped up, giving out free food. There is live music and countless Turkish flags, some the size of entire buildings. Now, entire families are out. The camera pans from a chic, headscarf clad mother and her three kids, one in a stroller, to a grotesque depiction of Gulen hanging from a noose, just one of many in the area.

New signs on public transit.
"The Judiciary Belongs to the Nation"
Public transit is free! It has been free of charge since the coup attempt.* This to encourage participation in the various ‘festivals’ and rallies. Some transit, like the train and tram, normally show amazing videos of babies and baby animals. This miracle image stream of cuteness now also includes the latest news about the Gulenists coup-plotters, conspiracies involving an American $1 bill and updates on what the Western press has dubbed “the Purge.” This purge includes 2,745 judges and over 60,000 others, including the dean of every institution of higher education in the country and even the nurse at my local neighborhood doctor's office. Erdogan is quick to state that the letter of the law will be followed in the forthcoming actions and investigations. On July 21st a State of Emergency is declared and I’m getting uncomfortable flashbacks to the “Patriot Act.”

This gutting of the court system, higher education and the military can be seen as “Creative destruction”. Academically, creative destruction­ is discussed in terms of breaking an egg to make an omelet. There must be a superseding and/or obliteration of previous social paradigms so that a new era can emerge. Practiced successfully by the much revered Ataturk and now by Erdogan, who would likely bristle at the comparison, the extreme measures leave many questions. Like who will fill these now vacant roles?

265 human casualties that night and the crowd calls for blood. While the death penalty has been outlawed in Turkey for some time, crowds have been ‘spontaneously’ demanding it at rallies and Erdogan aims to please the people. As Turkey's leaders assure us that their actions are now, and will continue to be, lawful, it seems that the law may need to be changed to suit the will of the people. The crowd demands justice for the bloodshed on that night.
Every night now, it's the same thing, even two weeks later. Rallies in the Square around dusk - after dark, honking, chanting and flag waving. Around 3am last night a three man parade came down our street. They sounded drunk (on Nationalism?). Turks yelling holy slogans in Arabic. One guy booming out the call, and then he and his two friends shouting the response in not-quite unison. And this inevitably gets the dogs barking.

Goldie on the left.
There is a gang of dogs which live in front of our house. After the night of the coup attempt, the one where jets buzzed our house, and sonic booms terrified our neighborhood, the dogs disappeared. It took almost a week for them to come back. They started to straggle out from hiding spots and reclaim their street. The oldest of the group, called 'Oldie' by me, and 'Goldie' by my husband, a big German shepherd looking dog and the sweetest of the group in my opinion, never comes back. He's dead, I know. There is no way he could have survived that. Later our neighbor, who was at the top of our hill that night, said he saw the jets dipping low into our little valley, getting so close he thought they would crash into our building, I wonder if Oldie's heart exploded from the supersonic sound, or if it just stopped beating out of sheer terror. I finally said to my husband the other day, “We don’t see Goldie anymore.”
“He’s dead,” he said.
I turn away quickly as tears come to my eyes, “Yeah, I know.” I tell him. Of course, we don’t know. But we do.

Expats are fleeing the city and Turks too, as evidenced by the flurry of activity on the Buy, Sell, Swap Istanbul facebook page, where entire apartments full of like-new furnishings are being sold for a song. Our property value has plummeted, seemingly overnight, as the city center seems a bit less appealing these days, and are suddenly plenty of apartments on the market. My husband, who works as a tour guide, has seen his business drop off exponentially and many of our guiding friends are out of work altogether.

Immediately following the attempt, somewhat inexplicably, America refused to accept any flight originating in Turkey, even ones which stopped in an interim city, essentially trapping any Americans who may have wanted to come home. When the ban was issued, my mom called and said, “I’m not sure how, but I’m still coming!”
“Good,” I said, “this baby is still coming! That hasn’t changed…”
Erdogan has been warned by international governing bodies not to overplay his hand. He is certainly busy these days. The ‘facts’ which have come out about the coup have been stranger than fiction. The longstanding talk of a ‘parallel State’ had always made me laugh, it sounded paranoid, outlandishness and unlikely, but now…? I’m still not sure what to believe. One thing’s for sure - The party is busy establishing total control and creating a powerful new narrative, one in which the crowd plays a central role.

Take the creation of ‘Martyrs Bridge’. By formally renaming the 'Bosphorus Bridge’ (Bogazici Koprusu) or 'the First Bridge’ to 'Martyrs Bridge,' in memoriam of members of the public who were killed there by the Army. By doing so, everyone who crosses this bridge (almost 200,000 cars a day) is willingly or unwillingly transformed into part of the “ecclesia martyrum” (latin) - Literal translation “church of martyrs”. It refers to the collective of martyrs and their followers. Encompassing the the group empowered (embodied) by the the triumph attained by the pain and suffering of the martyr, and the martyr in all of his/her symbolism. This a way of including even the periphery in the active, or core, crowd. We are all the crowd.

Yesterday, Isil and I went to a different pool, this one with a sweeping view of the city. The only obvious difference now is the flags and banners which can be seen from virtually any vista. Usually reserved for national holidays, it gives a bit of a festive feel. It's prideful, it's celebratory, it includes us. But it’s not a holiday - or is it? We are on a  2 week holiday and counting...

More citation available upon request.

*today, Monday, partial charges have returned to some forms of transit.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pool d'état

Friday July 15, 2016, 10:30 pm
I’m 7.5 months pregnant and it’s still almost 90 degrees here in Istanbul. I’m laying on the couch, in front of a fan, with an ice pack on my head.
Should I go to bed? Should I eat a popsicle? I’ve reached the end of Turkish Netflix...and the internet.
My husband bursts into the living room.
“Yavrim!” he cries, “The bridges are closed. I think it’s a coup!”
I have no idea what he’s talking about. I just stare at him. “What?”
“The same thing happened in 1980,” he said while turning on the TV. “The military closed the bridges and it was the start of the coup.”

I’m American. The word coup exists only in historical contexts for me and none which have affected my life directly. In my almost 2 years in Turkey, it has been politically stable, if bitterly divided - not unlike the U.S.

He’s got my attention now and I’m sitting up, trying to take it all in. The TV shows long lines of cars at the first bridge - soldiers are blocking the road. Istanbul straddles Asia and Europe. The city has 2 major (soon to be 3) bridges, an underwater rail line and a number of ferries which connect the two sides. On Friday night traffic would be heavy on the bridges, but the bridge is empty. People spill out of their cars to see what’s going on.
The news confirms that this is indeed some type of coup by the Army. According to the Army’s bylaws (article 35) they obligated to maintain the secular nature of the Turkish Republic and uphold the constitution. We are flipping between channels and my husband is breathlessly translating for me. I text a close friend, Işıl Eğrikavuk, who I think may have gone to bed, so she can follow the news.
10:50 pm I call my parents (no answer), I call my sister (no answer), I post to Facebook “What’s going on in Turkey right now?” American friends quickly respond saying “Embassy attack.” But I know better. Another comment links to an announcement of Martial Law declared by the military. My sister calls back.

While I’m on the phone with her I look out the window and see people on foot streaming down my street. I live just north of Taksim Square, which was surely packed on a warm Friday night. My street is the only direct route from Cumhuriyet to another major roadway at the bottom of the hill. These people are not in a hurry, but this foot traffic is unprecedented. While I’m watching them a covered Army truck loaded with armed soldiers comes barreling up the street, followed by another. “OMG,” I tell her, “I have to go!” I tell my husband about the trucks and he says, “I’m taking the flag down!”

My husband is a Kurdish Turk. We have a Kurdish flag hanging in my studio which is somewhat visible from the street. “Take them all down.” I say (a Chicago flag and the flag of the State of California share a wall in this room). “Turn the lights off,” I say, and for a while we watch the flood of people on our street from darkened windows.

I reach my parents by phone, they are at a funeral and offer to call me back.

Around 11:00 pm Binali Yıldırım, the new PM, announces that a faction of the military is attempting a coup. The news is showing images of Taksim being controlled by military guards and there are reports of explosions in Ankara, as well as, jets buzzing the capital city.
Facebook is in and out - Twitter is shut down and I am watching live video feeds on Facebook from towns all over Turkey.

We double bolt our front door and then sort of laugh. What good will that do if things really go wrong?

Işıl calls, she is up and home safe. We wonder together, “Where is Erdogan?”

Around midnight TRT World (the Turkish, English language news) is out and a female reporter in a blue, business casual jacket with perfect hair and makeup is reading a statement from the military - my husband translates for me. They are claiming control of the country in an effort to return/maintain secularism. The statement accuses president Erdogan of corruption, a conservative Islamist agenda and stealing from the people.

I wish I went food shopping today.
I’m glad we got our (drinking) water delivered today.
I’m glad I made popsicles.
I’m glad our baby isn’t here yet.
I’m glad my husband is so calm.
Ataturk airport is being held by the military. I comment with concerned friends on Facebook when it’s working. We flip between news channels. The military calls for a curfew and tells everyone to stay inside.

12:30 am on CNN TURK, Erdogan FaceTimes a reporter live on air. It is surreal. He tells the people to go to the squares, to take to the streets and the airport and confront the military. This shocks me. I picture the clash between armed military and civilians. Where are the police? Where are the military factions who are not part of this thing? The reporter keeps getting calls on her iphone which disrupts her video of Erdogan and it seems sort of hilarious. He is in a nondescript location with a white curtain behind him. Is he in a bunker? Is he on a plane? The reporter and her colleague don’t ask him where he is, which seems crazy to me. They ask him if he is headed to Ankara, the capital. “Tabiiki!” he says, (of course!).

1:00 am - We can hear jets above us and the street in front of our house is empty of people now. Helicopters are flying low. I post to Facebook:

It's almost 1am here and things outside seem to have calmed down on the street. But we can hear jets flying. Akp still encouraging people to take to the streets...but no one is around here. I don't see any police either, just soldiers…

1:30 am - I switch on my VPN. Twitter is a mess and between the news and Facebook there is too much information coming at me.
A friend in LA sends me a note on Facebook Messenger asking if I will be interviewed on CBS Los Angeles via skype and I agree. We are watching the news and sitting in front of the fan, somewhat in disbelief.

Around 2:00 am the news feeds are disrupted on many channels. CNN is broadcasting while the building is being taken over, Al-jazeera International (English language) goes black and TRT World is fuzz.
TRT World
We hear some popping noises from outside. My husband and I look at each other and know that it’s not gun fire. This sound is immediately followed by machine gun fire and then return fire from a different weapon. We literally get lower on the couch.

At 2:20 am a reporter from CBS reaches me on skype, though my interview did not air. He says to me a few times. “You seem so calm.” I said, “My husband is calm.” Can you describe the situation there?” “I can hear sporadic gunfights coming from Taksim/Cumhuriyet and there are low flying helicopters. There are jets crossing above and we don’t know what side they are on. I can’t see any people outside, on foot, but the news is showing people out in the streets. They're answering Erdogan’s call. I can’t hear or see anyone on the street from here.” He says it again, “You seem so calm.”
"I’m from Chicago.” I tell him.

2:40 am we hear a loud explosion noise near the house.

3:00 am
A friend posts from the U.S. that the "coup has failed." But here, it does not seem over. There is machine gun fire, explosion sounds and helicopters nearby. The live feed from Fox News in Ankara shows a helicopter shooting at various government buildings in the capital. Many news sources are disrupted. CNN gets taken over live on air by the Army, to later be taken over by what are seemingly armed civilians...Where are the cops?

I post on facebook:
This is the feed from TRT world right now. Al-Jazeera is offline. Low flying jets and sporadic gunfights near our place in Taksim. Fox news live feed from Ankara shows helicopter fire on government buildings. Some explosions sounds near us as well. But I'm probably going to bed now…

At 3:30 am we hear a lot of gun fire and the some low flying jets. The jets are coming in low now. We can hear them shrieking closer and closer until it gets impossibly loud. Are they gonna hit our house? Our building rattles, windows nearby shatter. The jets are breaking the sound barrier seemingly right above our building - BOOM - Every nerve in my body is rattled, my ears ring. Again, right afterwards, an explosion of sound which makes the air seem thick and makes my vision blurry - shaking the Earth. I'm calm, but scared now. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the head. This is what a war zone sounds like.

My husband comes rushing in and sits next to me. “Are you scared?” he asks.
“A little.”
He puts his arm around me, “Well,” he says, “if we die, we die together.”

More jets come. BOOM
I’m so tired.
I’m so glad our baby isn’t here yet.
I’m so glad my dog is dead and isn’t here to live this terror.
I think of the three kids who live below us. And their parents, with no way to console them.

We can see clearly now that the ‘coup’ will not be a success. The soldiers have left the airport and Erdogan has arrived there. The people (men, some of them armed) have taken to the streets at his continued behest.  TRT World comes back on. The women in the blue jacket, who read the military statement, can now be seen in the midst of a sea of men, she says she read the statement at gunpoint, under duress. I am confused because the opposing factions of the military don’t seem to make an appearance, but maybe I just don’t see them. The police don’t seem to take to the streets until hours after the people do.

Just this morning I posted to Facebook this image by my friend, the artist, Ray Mack, with the caption, “Always relevant.”

The jets stop.
We finally fall asleep on the couch, away from the windows.
In the morning I write:
“It's like waking from a dream today. Aside from the unusual quiet, things are "back to normal" whatever that means. I guess we'll find out soon. Turkey is one scrappy and resilient country. It's young and it's old. It changes fast here and in some ways it changes slowly. Together we'll see what's next.”

It’s quiet, but sort of normal. There are a few cars out and a few people walking around. Not the average crowd, but not a ghost town. On Twitter I see images of young soldiers being dragged, stomped and lynched by mobs of (civilian) men, while I was sleeping. The soldiers look so young. They are clearly terrified. I am shocked that some of these images are just a block or two from our house.

My husband tells me he is headed to the Asian side to finish some business. “Really, do you have to go today?”
"Well, I have an appointment,” he says, “..and the ferries are running.”

At the house by myself, I call Işıl and we decide to go to the pool. It’s too hot to stay inside and the pool is pretty secure - it's in a hotel where they are holding the UNESCO conference and where Saudi Princes often stay when they're in town. Typically, I pass through one two or three levels of security to enter, but not today, for some reason. On my way to meet her I see bullet holes in some of the buildings, shop windows and planters. Some windows have been shot out all together, but the glass has been cleaned up. It’s not very obvious that anything happened. We swim and consider the absurdity of it all, “Pool d'etat,” she says and we laugh uneasily.

People have asked me - “As an American, what did it feel like?” All I can say is, at that moment - when the jets were buzzing our house, I thought, “I don’t want to die.” I thought about the Syrians living in Turkey who fled this type of horrifying violence only to relive it here, in the only country willing to shelter them. I thought of Iraqis who saw their cities destroyed in airstrikes and Palestinians who return mortar fire with hand-thrown rocks. I thought of Europe during WWII who suffered relentless air bombardments, “Keep Calm” they said, “Carry On,” they said. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut and Dresden. I thought of everyone who ever lived through an air strike and the ones who didn’t live.
Will they drop a bomb on us where we sit, here in our home?
Will the plane get shot down and land on us, as we sit on our couch?

I didn’t feel American. I felt human.