Friday, July 20, 2012

Bugün Ramazan başladı!

Today is the first day of Ramadan, or Ramazan, as it is called in Turkey.  It is the beginning of a month of fasting, prayer and charity.  A month when Muslims attempt to disconnect themselves from their earthly desires in an effort to be closer to Allah.

My first experience with Ramadan was 2004 when I was a sophomore in college.  I was preparing an assignment about Muslims in America for a public writing course and in my research I met a lovely Turkish woman.  She invited me to visit her family and partake in the Iftar dinner, or the breaking of the fast.  I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I tried to come as hungry as I could.  I remember eating a date first - one of the recommended ways to break the fast.  Then we had dolma, or stuffed grape leaves, lentil soup, rice, salad, meat and vegetables - the table was covered with tasty food.  I remember thinking (with my very superficial mind at the time) "wow - fasting all day would be a great way to loose weight as long as you don't stuff yourself with these evening meals".  I didn't grasp the deeper meaning and purpose behind the fast.

Now this is the second year I have "participated" in Ramadan with my fiance.  I put "participated" in quotations because I definitely do not fast the entire month - last year I managed to do a few days and this year, despite the record high temperatures, I'm going to attempt to stick with it longer.

If it's not already clear, I will emphasize that I'm not Muslim.  So why should I fast?  

Last year I fasted because I wanted to share the special holiday with my fiance.  He has sat through many church services and hours of opening presents on Christmas - so it seems fair that I observe the fast - right?  I realize that comparing opening presents to fasting for days on end is not really an equivalent comparison, but I later realized that I was the one getting the most benefit from the culture exchange.

With my first experience last year, I realized that for the first 10 hours or so, it's wasn't that bad.  After eating Sahur, the morning meal before dawn, around 4am and then sleeping for a few more hours - the morning was over!  Then came the typical time for coffee - which was painful to miss, then the typical mid-day meal or snack, and my stomach started to send little reminders that it was empty and ready for food.  Those feelings went away though, my stomach resigned itself to emptiness and then the waiting continued.  For me, the fast became most difficult in the evening: coming home to food in the kitchen, an empty belly, and not being able to touch any of it!  Once we started preparing Iftar, my mouth watered with the smell of food and I became lightheaded, but no food can pass the lips until sunset.

Only then could I realize what it feels like to fast.  I hear so many people say - "wow, fasting must be so difficult" or "how do people go without food or water all day".  What I've learned from other Muslims is that fasting becomes easier as the month progresses.  The body adjusts, the mind re-focuses, temptations fizzle into the background, while strength and compassion fill the spaces where thoughts of food and pleasure once occupied.

While I am no expert on Islam, Ramadan, or fasting, I feel that participating in a fast (even if only for a day) is a worthwhile experience for everyone (except those with medical reasons that prohibit them from fasting).  We could all use a little more self restraint in our lives.  We could all stand feeling hungry and thirsty for at least one day.  We could all benefit from suffering the temptation of food and not being able to have a crumb - after all, that is how many people live their lives day in and day out around the world.  Hungry children are living on the street and watching people go in and out of restaurants or cafes - smelling bread baking, soup boiling, or garlic frying and not tasting even a spoonful.  Meanwhile restaurant customers are eating their fill, or even more than their fill, many are leaving unwanted food on the plate to be thrown in the garbage and then dragging themselves out to their cars complaining how they ate too much and can barely walk the 20 steps.  (Ok, ok, I'm getting a little high on my soapbox).  However, for those of you reading this blog (I know their aren't many yet) and living in America - you must know what I mean!

Today I began fasting late, I had breakfast at 9am and I haven't eaten anything since.  I did drink one glass of water before 3pm- I'm still a newby to the fast.  Now at 6pm - I am hungry and thirsty.  My head is starting to ache and my body is feeling weak.  Almost 3 more hours until we will eat.  How glorious that moment will be!  And how lucky we are that we will have food to satisfy our hunger, clean water to quench our thirst and strong tea to revitalize our minds, hearts and bodies.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Motivation: Doğan İçin Çal

It was mid-semester in a typical graduate student's life, when the commitments start to stack up and work hours seem to grow longer as the days grow shorter.  Fall was becoming winter and staying up late in the night working in my cold apartment was becoming exhausting and uncomfortable.  This was also the first semester I started to take my Turkish learning seriously and I began a 5-credit course at my university.   The daily lessons were mostly fun, and a nice break from the often tedious work that took up most of my waking hours, but the nightly homework was becoming a bother.  I would start it after I finished my other homework, and the time kept creeping later and later into the night as the weeks wore on.  Meanwhile the Turkish assignments were becoming more and more challenging, with longer writing assignments and my vocabulary, sadly, not keeping up the pace with the rest of the class.

The stress was eating at my enthusiasm and learning Turkish was becoming a chore instead of a pleasure.  I wasn't about to quit the course.   I could see how it was helping me improve and I felt like I was learning a great deal, but I needed inspiration and motivation.

My fiancé found these amazing videos created by the environmental non-profit Doğan İçin Çal - Play for Nature.  These videos became a respite from the tedium of studying and a reminder of why I want to learn Turkish - to connect with my fiancé's Turkish friends and family, and better understand the beautiful country and people of Turkey.

To me, these videos represent Turkey - they show the dichotomy of tradition and modernity that is synonymous with Turkey.  The songs that are played are traditional folk songs, but the singers and musicians each use their individual style to create music that does not fit into one single genre, one single style.  Instead these videos reflect the eclectic style of the Turkish people, they show the diversity of landscapes that make up the Turkish countryside, and they heed remembrance to the Turkish historical and cultural roots that stabilize the nation.  The traditional folk songs of Turkey will not be replaced by rock and pop music, but instead will be remodeled and revised by the Modern Turks that also listen to rock and pop - what a concept.

I still watch these videos when I need a break and a reason to clap my hands, snap my fingers, and exercise my vocal cords - and I still get goose bumps.





I hope you enjoy them!  Uzun ince bir yoldayim is my favorite!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Language: Turkish Word of the Day

Studying in smaller increments may work on some days when the mind feels fresh and engaged, but for me, when I tried to study Turkish in the middle of work, I found it challenging to switch from a work related task.  I was looking at vocabulary and suffixes, but my head was still firing in Excel mode.  It didn't work out so well.  Then there were the days that I simply forgot that I wanted to study and kept myself busy doing other things.  On those days I remembered to open my Turkish book after the sunset, once my "real" work was off my mind and at that point in the day I am semi-comatose anyways, so studying a language isn't really a good option. 

However, one small thing that has helped me everyday is the Turkish Word of the Day.  You can sign up here, on the Transparent Languages website.  Every morning I get an email with the word of the day and a rather complex sentence to put the word in context.  There is a recording to hear how the word and sentence is pronounced.  It's a pretty good tool for a lazy language learner.  On those days when I already know the highlighted word I spend more time trying to understand how the sentence was put together.  It's a fun little exercise while I'm eating my toast and drinking coffee.  I suggest you try it!

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