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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Photo: Tunisia Guru.
An underground mosque on the island of Djerba in Tunisia.

I got interested in finding out more about underground mosques after seeing a photo of one on the island of Djerba in Tunisia — an island thought to be the same that Homer had in mind when writing about the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey.

An entry at Wikipedia says that underground mosques are “either erected beneath other buildings or lay freely in the ground with an inconspicuous appearance. The prayer rooms in underground mosques are usually very small, and they also have no minarets. Underground mosques are very rare. [The Djerba mosque] served as a hidden place of prayer for the Ibadis.”

From a different Wikipedia page, we learn that the mosque is near Sedouikech, Tunisia, and dates from the 12th or 13th century. “Surrounded by an olive grove, it opens to the outside by a very steep staircase that leads to the main room; next to it is a large underground tank fed by a well. Another of these underground mosques is located on the Ajim road. Not being used for worship, these mosques can be freely visited.”

An underground mosque in Turkey was built only recently, not because worshippers needed to hide like the Ibadis but because underground worship can feel peaceful.

Menekse Tokyay writes at Alarabiya, “The uniqueness of the Sancaklar mosque is that it departs from standard mosque design in a bid to break architectural taboos and encourage worshippers to focus on the essence of the religious space and on the Islamic faith. …

“Strolling around the mosque’s outdoor area, you will notice a long canopy running along one side where two olive trees and one linden tree are located. From this point, you have to descend natural stone stairs to reach the building.

“The cavernous prayer hall of the mosque is large enough to host more than 650 worshippers, while it aims to isolate believers from the outside world and invite them to delve deeper into their inner world.

“What strikes one about the Sancaklar mosque is that its design is humble and simple, perhaps to deepen worshippers’ relationship with their faith, and with this underground concept, visitors can leave behind all the challenges of the outside world. …

“Sancaklar mosque stands in Istanbul’s suburban Buyukcekmece district and is spread over an area of 1,200 square meters. The architecture combines Islamic and Ottoman designs with a modern touch, seemingly free from mainstream architectural typology.

“In 2013, out of 704 projects from 50 countries, the building won first prize in the World Architecture Festival competition for religious places. In 2015, the project was selected for the Design of the Year award, organized by the London Design Museum and it was also shortlisted among the 40 nominees for the Mies Van der Rohe Award.

“The mosque was designed by Turkish architect Emre Arolat for the Sancaklar Foundation. …

“The only decoration on the walls is the Arabic letter ‘waw’ and verse 41 of Surat al-Ahzab, a chapter in the Quran: ‘O you who have believed, remember Allah with much remembrance.’

“The main space is free of any decorative ornaments unlike many modern mosques built recently in Turkey. Daylight penetrates the prayer hall along the Qibla, or Mecca-facing, wall. …

“ Every time I come here for worship I feel an enormous [sense of] inner peace. It is also a place of meditation for me when praying under daylight infiltrating into the hall,’ Asli Karacan, a youngster living nearby, told Alarabiya.”

More at Wikipedia, here and here — also at Alarabiya, here.

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Photo: Tohumtoprak.
Working with his team and villagers, retired forest chief Hikmet Kaya has helped create a forest on once-barren land in Turkey.

Around the world, people have learned that planting trees can help us fight back against global warming. But it’s not as easy as sticking them in the ground. You have to ensure they live. And thrive.

Jessica Stewart reports on one initiative at My Modern Met, “Hikmet Kaya has proved that good intentions and hard work can yield big rewards. The retired Turkish forest management chief has posed proudly in front of the barren land that he and his team have transformed into a lush forest.

“He began his career in the town of Sinop in 1978 and while he retired 19 years later, his legacy has continued to grow — literally.

“Working together with his team and villagers, he brought in and planted 30 million saplings over the course of his tenure. Long after his retirement, these trees have continued to grow; and today, this barren stepped land has undergone an incredible transformation. … Needless to say, he admits he’s very happy with the results.

“It’s a wonderful example to set for the rest of the country. According to Global Forest Watch, Turkey has seen a 5.4% decrease in tree cover since 2000. … Combatting deforestation often comes down to governmental policy changes, which makes it important for individuals to know who they are voting for and to make sure their environmental concerns are heard. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from taking matters into their own hands and taking action.”

More at My Modern Met, here (where you’ll also find links to tree-planting stories from the Philippines, Pakistan, and Ethiopia).

There’s a tree maven in India who worked without help. You may have read about him. I’ll share Andrei Tapalaga‘s History of Yesterday story in case you missed the news.

“When talking about saving the environment, most people come with the comment of ‘how much difference will I make?’ … In this article, I want to present a man who has defied any kind of odds and showed the world that if you set your mind to something it will become possible.

“Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng spent 40 years of his life planting trees, gaining the nickname of ‘Forest Man’ in India for transforming a [barren island] into a forest. [At this point] Payeng had covered 1,400 acres with trees. There is no exact number of trees as he never kept track, but we are looking at around 1.5 million trees planted in 40 years.

“Payeng was born in 1963 near the small rural town of Jorhat, India. From a young age, he saw a small island near the coast of the Brahmaputra River suffering from erosion. In many of his interviews taken by the media in India, he described that he had spent some of his [childhood] playing in that forest and it was heartbreaking seeing its vegetation slowly die.

“That is why in 1979, when Payeng was 16 years of age, he decided to plant at least one tree a day for as long as he lives, calling it giving back to Mother Nature. … The start to this incredible journey was difficult, not only [considering] the road ahead, but it was simply difficult to find tree seeds to plant. His vision was not to plant only one type of tree, but many different types. …

“As the years went by, the problem of finding seeds was solved as the trees he had planted years ago started to give seeds. With more seeds, he was able to plant even more trees every day. The island is surrounded by a flowing river, so the water supply was never a problem. …

“There are many people out there just like Payneg who have dedicated most of their life toward an honorable cause but rarely get noticed. The media in India actually discovered Payeng by mistake when in 2008, a herd of over 100 wild elephants strayed into the forest he had created.

“Payeng notified the forest department about the elephants and they thought he was crazy at first as there was no forest on the island. Upon the forest department’s inspection of the island, the community around Jorhat told them about Payeng’s efforts, at which point the media from India bombarded Payeng. [He] was also made an official forester for the forest he had created on Majuli island.

“In 2012 Payeng was interviewed by the Times, where he confessed that he had always asked for help but no one wanted to assist him. … Now the island is greener than ever whilst being inhabited by all sorts of wildlife from rabbits to tigers and even rhinos. The plantation of trees had slowed down as Payeng is becoming old and tired. However, he is trying to make his children continue what he had started.”

For more on Payeng’s initiative, click at History of Yesterday, here.

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Photo: turkey.theglobepost.com via History Daily.
Turkey’s ‘whirling dervishes’ strive to keep the practice sacred amid tourist demand.

Each of us in our own way tries to maintain some sort of balance in our lives. It might be a balance between hours spent at a job and hours spent with family, a balance between work and play, between nutritious foods and sweets, between ideals and pragmatism. I myself would like to keep a balance between being well informed and getting depressed. Although it’s impossible to unsee what one has just read, there has to be a way to stop oneself when more information is just going to be upsetting.

At the radio show The World, Durrie Bouscaren reported recently on Turkey’s whirling dervishes and the challenge they face keeping a balance between a wish to share their culture and respecting their religion.

Bouscaren writes, “On a recent Friday evening, spectators gathered around a circular, wooden stage at a cultural center in Konya, Turkey. A single beam of light shined down on a man who placed a red sheepskin cloth on the floor. 

‘A procession of semazen appeared wearing tall headpieces and long, white robes covered by dark cloaks. They ranged widely in age, but are all were men who enact the sema, a ritual meditation known in popular culture as actions of the ‘whirling dervishes.’ 

“ ‘The acts of the sema represent the other world,’ said 32-year-old Osman Sariyer, a semazen and tour guide with the Irfan Civilization Research and Community Center in Konya, where the ritual demonstration took place. ‘Remembering the other world, remembering the creator, all the time.’ 

“Countless semazen — those who do the sema — live in the modern Turkish city of Konya, the final resting place of Jalalluddin Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic philosopher, and Sufi mystic who first popularized the sema. 

Today, semazen must grapple with the push and pull between the promise of tourism income for the community and the nagging feeling that the sema should be a private affair.

“In December, Konya hotels sell out for weeks as tourists arrive from around the world to pay their respects on the anniversary of Rumi’s death. In 2008, UNESCO inscribed the sema as one of the ‘masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.’

“In this hubbub — where busloads of tourists arrive to buy tickets to sold-out ‘dervish shows,’ and flock to the shops where they sell tiny figures of semazen souvenirs — it can start to feel overwhelmingly commercialized. 

“But performing the sema for tourists is a way to share this ritual, Sariyer said. At the cultural center, the tickets are free, according to a long-held tradition that prohibits the exchange of money or engagement with politics when it comes to this practice. 

“As semazens, we believe in the brotherhood of other religions, and we do not exclude anyone. Anyone coming here from any religious energy will feel that energy, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he said.

“As the music begins, a solo from a type of flute known as the ney symbolizes the breath of God, blowing life into human forms. The semazen shed the outer layer of their clothing — an act of shedding the ego. They bow and begin to spin. …

“It’s a slow, controlled spin. One foot stays planted on the floor. At times, one hand reaches up to the sky, while the other points downward — a position meant to bring love from God down to Earth and its people. 

“But outside the ritual, Sariyer explained, most semazens live regular lives. They get married, have kids and work desk jobs. …

“Historically, semazens were organized in orders throughout the Ottoman Empire and beyond. The orders were banned in 1925, as Turkey became a secular republic. So, they went underground.

“The semazens grew and learned about the practice within these orders, explained Nadir Karnıbüyükler Dede, a leader at the International Mevlana Foundation. When they were abolished, it became harder to pass on the traditions to the new generation. …

“In his office at a construction firm, Adnan Küçük keeps a small square board on the floor — just 3-feet tall and 3-feet wide — to practice the turns of the sema. 

“ ‘It gives you this excitement, this feeling of being overjoyed,’ … Küçük said.  He’s been practicing sema for over 20 years.

“Küçük’s father was one of those who upheld the tradition in those difficult decades, from the 1920s through the 1990s. …

“By the 1990s, when Küçük was a teenager, there were very few young semazens in Konya. But one day, a Polish official called Konya’s tourism office to ask if they had any whirling dervishes they could send to participate in a youth festival. …

“ ‘They’d take us to a hotel, people would be eating — and as we’re preparing the sema they’re serving alcohol,’ he said. ‘Which completely contradicts the ritual.’ Alcohol is forbidden in Islam. …

“Now he only gathers with a small group of friends to do the sema privately, meeting at least once a week before the pandemic began.”

More at PRI’s The World, here.

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Photo: InsideNova.
A scene from the sixth annual Refugees’ First Thanksgiving Dinner, held Nov. 18, 2018, and sponsored by the Ethiopian Community Development Council in Virginia.

Thanksgiving can be a fraught holiday not only because of occasional family feuds but because, as more of us now know, the story of our First Thanksgiving story has been distorting reality. It was not all about Pilgrims and Indian people sharing wild turkey and pledging eternal friendship. For indigenous tribes, the first European contact was the beginning of endless tragedy.

This year Edward Fitzpatrick at the Boston Globe added to our knowledge after interviewing a member of a New England tribe called the Narragansett.

Lorén Spears, also Tomaquag Museum executive director, says, “There’s no US history without Indigenous people’s history. [People] really need to dig in and come visit places like Tomaquag Museum. … Go to the Mashpee Museum, go to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, go to the Pequot Museum, and find out the real history.”

Even if Indigenous people spend Thanksgiving with family and festivities, she says, “They still know that this isn’t always a happy time for us because it reminds us of all the trauma and loss that our communities have felt due to the conquest that took place here and how it still affects us today economically: health disparities, educational disparities, the list goes on.”

I have read other accounts of indigenous people gathering with family, making it a day of gratitude for the harvest and for community. Immigrants also make the occasion their own.

When I asked students in one English as a Second Language class about Thanksgiving, a young woman from Egypt said that last year, her first US Thanksgiving, she didn’t know anything about the holiday, but she prepared a turkey along with the family’s favorite Egyptian dishes. I said, “Well, if you had a turkey, you had Thanksgiving.” But what do I know? It’s about being thankful. Turkey not necessary.

Plenty of people don’t like turkey. When my family went to a restaurant one Thanksgiving, my Swedish son-in-law ordered beef. And Latinx immigrants have told me they like to serve ham and pineapple, with or without turkey.

Our family tends to stick with turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, another vegetable, cranberry sauce, salad, and a dessert using apples. But before Covid, my sister and her husband always brought bagels and lox. And if we had a guests from another country, they would bring national dishes. Does your gathering have dishes that are unique to your celebration?

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Image: Ibrahim, 13.
The photography of Ibrahim, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, is featured with the work of other boys and girls in the book i saw the air fly, by Sirkhane Darkroom (Mack, 2021). Proceeds go to the Her Yerde Sanat-Sirkhane charity.

Today’s story is about trying to provide some fun for children caught in the failures of a grownup world. Adults of good will can’t fix everything for these youngsters, but whatever they manage to do can mean a lot.

Sean O’Hagan reports at the Guardian, “Serbest Salih studied photography at college in Aleppo, before fleeing Syria with his family in 2014 as Islamic State fighters advanced on his home town of Kobani. He is now one of an estimated 100,000 refugees living in the historic city of Mardin in south-eastern Turkey, just a few miles from the Syrian border. Having initially found work as a photographer for a German NGO, Salih’s life changed dramatically in 2017 when, while wandering with a friend through the city, he discovered a sprawling refugee community living in a group of abandoned government buildings in the working-class Kurdish district of Istayson.

“ ‘It was a place where Turkish Kurds and Syrian Kurds lived as neighbours, but did not communicate,’ he says, ‘They were strangers who spoke the same language. It was at that moment that I thought to use analogue photography as a means to integrate the different communities.’

“Working with Sirkhane, a community organisation, and with initial funding from a German aid organisation, Welthungerhilfe, he began hosting photography workshops using donated cheap analogue cameras. ‘Digital is easier and quicker,’ he tells me, ‘but the analogue process teaches children to look more carefully and also to be patient, because they have to take a picture without seeing the result instantly. For them, there is something therapeutic and healing about the whole process.’

“Salih now runs the Sirkhane Darkroom in Mardin and, since 2019, has travelled to neighbouring towns and villages with the Sirkhane Caravan, a mobile version of the same. Children from the age of seven come to his workshops to learn the traditional skills of shooting on film and processing the results in a darkroom. …

The results, as a new book, i saw the air fly, shows, are often surprising. Rather than reflect the traumas of their displacement, the pictures tend towards the innocent and joyous …

“Family portraits, blurred shots of their friends at play, children jumping, hiding, posing with their friends or tending their animals. Throughout, there are more intricately formal compositions that catch the eye: a cluster of hilltop buildings, the irregular geometry of electricity wires crisscrossing the sky. …

“The book has parallels with Wendy Ewald’s Portraits and Dreams: Photographs and Stories by Children of the Appalachians, also published by Mack, in which she taught practical photography to kids from a poor rural community with often startling results. Like that project, i saw the air fly is a testament to the undimmed imagination of the very young, however impoverished their circumstances, but also to Salih’s faith in the transformative power of analogue photography. …

“As the children progress though the workshops, he tells me, they are given specific subjects to photograph. These can range from the everyday (the garden, the home) to the more socially aware – child labour, child marriage and, tentatively, gender issues. ‘Often, when we begin, the girls don’t think they can be as good as the boys,’ he says. ‘Sadly, that is what the adult world has taught them, but soon they are shooting pictures about their lives and experiences. The camera gives them the confidence to do that.’

“On the Sirkhane website, videos and photographs attest to the sense of wonder the children experience in the darkroom as the images they have shot finally appear. …

“Salih’s plans to ‘expand the caravan workshops so we can go to the most affected places’ have been put on hold since the pandemic began and he has had to teach online. ‘It has been difficult,’ he says, ‘because most of the children do not have smartphones or internet access.’ …

“The publication of i saw the air fly is a singular achievement. It is also, in many ways, a humble book – all the images have been selected by the children themselves, their often low-key charm attesting to the essentially democratic nature of the medium, and its ability to surprise. ‘People think that if you give a refugee child a camera, the results will be sad,’ says Salih, ‘but instead most of these photographs are all about joy. They are small moments of private happiness.’

“All proceeds from the sale of i saw the air fly will go to the Her Yerde Sanat-Sirkhane charity, whose aim is to provide ‘a safe, friendly and embracing environment’ for children caught up in conflicts.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Bassem18/Wikipedia.
The rare Mountain Gazelle is returning to Turkey.

Today’s story is about both environmental rescue and the power of one individual to make a difference.

Carlotta Gall writes at the New York Times, “Turkey’s southern border with Syria has become a place of hardship and misery, with tented camps for people displaced by a decade of war on the Syrian side and a concrete wall blocking entrance to Turkey for all but the most determined.

“Yet amid the rocky outcrops in one small area on the Turkish side, life is abounding as an endangered species of wild gazelle is recovering its stocks and multiplying.

“The mountain gazelle, a dainty antelope with a striped face and spiraling horns, once roamed widely across the Middle East, and as Roman mosaics reveal, across southern Turkey as well. But by the end of the last century, it was hunted almost to extinction, with only a dwindling population of 2,500 left in Israel, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“In Turkey, the gazelle was forgotten and thought to no longer exist. The only ones officially recorded were a subspecies, known as goitered gazelles, in Sanliurfa Province in the southeast of the country.

The rediscovery and survival of the mountain gazelle in Turkey has been largely thanks to one man and his love of nature.

“Yasar Ergun, a village teacher who became a veterinarian and professor at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University in the city of Antakya, heard in the mid-1990s from an old hunter that there were wild gazelles in the mountains along the border with Syria.

“A keen hiker, he set out to try to find them. Barely 25 miles from Antakya — the ancient city of Antioch — Kurdish villagers knew about them and shepherds occasionally saw them. The gazelles live on the rocky hillsides, where their markings and coloring make them almost invisible. But they come down in groups to graze and find water on the surrounding agricultural land.

“The professor spotted his first one in 1998 and, after a decade of observing them, estimated that there were about 100 living in the area.

“With a small grant for a teaching project, he bought a camera and telephoto lens, which led to a close encounter and a breakthrough discovery.

” ‘It was the mating season,’ he recalled. ‘I ran to the road, and the male ran toward me to defend his females. It was very unusual.’

“When he examined the photos, he realized the gazelles differed from those in southeastern Turkey.

“ ‘This one was light brown, with some parts white, and the horns were completely different,’ he said. He was sure he was looking at the mountain gazelle, but found little interest in his claims in academic circles, he said.

‘I sent the photographs around — professors just laughed,’ he said.

“He drew on the help of Tolga Kankilic, a biologist, who gathered samples of dung, fur and skin from the remains of dead gazelles for genetic testing, and found that the DNA matched that of mountain gazelles.

“The discovery presented Mr. Ergun with an altogether more important task: to help the gazelles survive. There were several threats to them — lack of water and habitat especially — but by far the greatest danger was illegal hunting. Hunting is allowed only under license in designated areas in Turkey, but illegal hunting is rife.

“The gazelles had disappeared completely from other regions, including Adana, farther west, where American soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base used to hunt them 20 years ago, he said.

“ ‘The end of a genetic source is the same as the collapse of Earth,’ he said. ‘Nature needs biodiversity.’

“He won a grant from the World Wildlife Fund in Turkey for a grass-roots project with local villagers and bought mountain gear and amateur walkie-talkies for several shepherds, who began monitoring the gazelles. They dug basins in the rock to collect water for the gazelles, though it took the animals months to trust the water source.

“With his knowledge of village life, Mr. Ergun began softly, gaining the support of local shepherds, educating children to protect the gazelles and even encouraging a local Kurdish legend of a holy man who lived with the gazelles and milked them.

“With the hunters, Mr. Ergun and his helpers adopted an approach of traditional courtesy and respect, drinking tea with them but never mentioning their hunting.

“ ‘We never tried to use force to stop them,’ he said. ‘We would say, “Hello, we are from the Nature Project.” Sometimes silence is more powerful than talking.’

“The local people were Kurds, a mountain people with their own language and culture — and a history of resistance to the Turkish state.

“ ‘If you make an enemy, just one, in 10 years you will have 10 enemies, and in 100 years you will have 1,000,’ Mr. Ergun said. But as the shepherds began monitoring the gazelles, the hunters got the message.”

More here.

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Photo: Mohammad Hossein Taghi
Ancient vertical windmills in Iran’s Nashtifan village. Proof that “the sun also rises and goeth to his downsetting, and there is no new thing under the sun.”

There’s been a lot of excitement in recent years about using windmills for energy, as if we invented the giants I see on summer visits to New Shoreham (below) before Iran did, Don Quixote, the Dutch, or Denmark.

080516-first-deepwater-windmill

The website Atlas Obscura corrects the misapprehension.

“Located on the arid and windswept plains of northeastern Iran, 30 miles from the Afghan border, the small village of Nashtifan is keeping ancient traditions alive amid the winds of change. The town is home to some of the earliest windmills in the world, and the structures are still in use today.

“Along the southern edge of town, a towering 65-foot-tall earthen wall shelters residents from the abrasive gales. The high wall houses two dozen mostly functional vertical axis windmills that date back to ancient Persian times. It’s estimated the structures, made of clay, straw, and wood, are around 1,000 years old, used for milling grain into flour.

“The area is known for its uniquely powerful winds, and in fact the name Nashtifan is derived from words that translate to ‘storm’s sting.’ During turbulent winter months the handcrafted wooden blades whirl with a surprising velocity and power grindstones in a marvel of engineering and passive ventilation. …

“The tall walls framing the windmills both support the turbines, and funnel the airflow like the elliptical throat in a primitive windtunnel.

Unlike European Don Quixote-style windmills, the Persian design is powered by drag as opposed to lift.

“And since the blades are arrayed on a vertical axis, energy is translated down the mast to the grindstone without the need for any of the intermediary gears found on horizontal axis windmills.”

More at Atlas Obscura, here.

Video: Deveci Tech
Note that today’s hybrid vertical-axis turbines in Turkey are using the same principles to generate wind energy from vehicles speeding by. More on that here.

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Photo: NTV
Led by a grandmother, an amateur theater group in Turkey is raising awareness about climate change and the lives of rural women.

Wherever you live, whatever age you are, you have the power to do something valuable for the world. A grandmother in rural Turkey understood that from an early age and is making her voice heard.

The BBC garnered this story from NTV, the Turkish television news channel.

Dilay Yalcin and Krassi Twigg reported, “A 62-year-old grandmother from rural Turkey who rose to national fame with her all-women village theatre group is now set to stage a play raising awareness about climate change.

“Ummiye Kocak from the village of Arslankoy in the Mediterranean province of Mersin recently began rehearsals for her new play ‘Mother, the Sky is Pierced!’

“She told Anadolu news agency that she wanted ‘people to realise just how serious it is.’

The climate crisis is ‘not only our problem, it is the world’s problem,’ she says. ‘I am shouting as loud as I can — this world is ours, we need to take good care of it!’

“Ummiye Kocak has written plays for many years, always aiming to change perceptions. Her previous works have tackled issues from poverty and domestic violence to Alzheimer’s Disease. … In 2013 she won an award at a New York festival with a film focusing on the difficulties of women’s lives in a Turkish village. …

“Ummiye Kocak grew up in a conservative rural area, and only got primary education ‘by chance — as each family was required to send one girl to school.

“But she says her father was open-minded enough to take all his children to the cinema at a time when no other dad in the village would, sparking her love of drama.

“She says that when she first arrived in the village of Arslankoy as a young bride, she noticed that women there had to do all the work — in the fields as well as in the house. She thought that wasn’t right and told herself: ‘Ummiye, you have to make the voices of these women heard!’

“Her village doesn’t have a stage, so she gathers her performers under a walnut tree in her garden for rehearsals while they do their domestic chores. …

“People in other parts of the country want a piece of the action, issuing invitations on social media for the group to perform locally.

“One woman in Istanbul wrote: ‘I’m proud and honoured on behalf of all women every time I see you, Aunt Ummiye. … I hope all women lead their lives knowing they have this power like you do.’ ”

More at the BBC, here.

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Photo: Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality
The new Istanbul subway machines add credit to your subway cards while crushing, shredding, and sorting your recyclables.

Creating a more sustainable world doesn’t have to be painful for the individual or expensive for government. In Turkey, a city government wanted people to recycle more, and so it got the idea of rewarding subway riders who help out. Ceylan Yeginsu has the story at the New York Times.

“Istanbul [has] rolled out an alternative currency for commuters who need to top up their subway cards but are short of cash: recyclables.

“The city is installing ‘reverse vending machines’ at metro stations that allow passengers to add credit to their subway cards simply by inserting a plastic bottle or aluminum can into the machine. Once a value has been assigned to the recyclables, the machine will crush, shred and sort the material. …

“This is how the vending machines [work]: A 0.33-liter plastic bottle, for example, roughly equivalent to 11 ounces, would add 2 Turkish cents to a subway card, while a 0.5-liter bottle would add 3 cents and a 1.5-liter bottle would add 6 cents. (A subway journey costs 2.60 Turkish lira, about 40 United States cents; 100 Turkish cents, or kurus, make up 1 Turkish lira.) …

“Istanbul’s mayor, Mevlut Uysal, said the machines would track the number of bottles recycled by each passenger and reward those recycling the largest number of containers with free or discounted events such as theater tickets.

“Turkey is Europe’s third-largest producer of household and commercial waste, after Germany and France, and it is the worst in the region at recycling, according to a 2017 report by the consultancy group Expert Market, which is based in Britain. …

“Elif Cengiz, a manager for the waste management project, called Zero Waste, said … that the municipality had made waste management a priority in recent years because of rising concern over the damage that waste is causing to the environment.

“The country’s recycling drive has started to produce results, saving 30 million trees in 15 months since last June, Mustafa Ozturk, the under secretary for the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry, said, [adding] ‘The use of recycled material in production contributes to productivity and separate storage for paper waste also saves storage space and decreases waste collecting costs for local administrations.” More at the New York Times, here.

I’d love to see the perennially cash-strapped Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) try the reverse-vending idea instead of constantly raising fares.

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Radio Lifeline for Syria


Photo: Amandas Ong
An Alwan radio producer in the station’s recording studio. The broadcast lifeline to Syria is located in an apartment complex in Turkey.

Where people struggle to carry on their lives in the midst of war, radio can provide comfort and hope. This is a story about Syrians in exile who broadcast news and normalcy to people back home.

Amandas Ong writes at Slate, “I push my way out of the metro station in southwestern Istanbul where Sami — not his real name — and I have agreed to meet. …

” ‘It’s not far from here,’ he says, directing me down an overhead bridge through a number of serpentine streets. …

“The hive of activity inside forms the Istanbul operations of Radio Alwan, (Alwan means ‘colors’ in Arabic) an independent Syrian news station broadcasting into that devastated country every day. Alwan provides much-needed news updates to information-starved Syrians and also runs popular entertainment programs and controversial discussions. …

“Three bedrooms have been converted into a meeting room, a recording studio, and an office. … Most of the staff had no prior training in radio journalism before joining Alwan. Sami describes himself as having ‘come from a regular, boring HR job in Dubai.’ …

“ ‘The point of Alwan,’ he had told me in a prior conversation over FaceTime, ‘is not just to report the news. Radio is also a form of activism, and through our programs, we try to do our part by encouraging people to engage with civic organizations within Syria, and to inform them on what’s really happening both around the country and outside of it.’ …

“A law student named Ahmad al-Qadour started Radio Alwan in 2014 in the northern Syrian city of Idlib. … They decided to relocate Alwan’s central office to Istanbul after a series of threats from Islamic radical groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which had been part of the Syrian wing of al-Qaida before splitting from the group in 2016. …

“A typical day at Alwan begins at 6 a.m. in the Istanbul office, where the team of about 15 staff members assembles for a variety of Syrian and international news segments, followed by talk shows and short radio skits, some educational, others comedic. …

“Sami is especially proud of Oh, Grandma, a program presented by a woman from Idlib who is identified by her initial, N. She has a day job as a teacher, but in her role at Alwan, she visits the houses of women in the city and interviews them about their lives, their daily struggles, and discusses salient issues with them, such as the legal age for marriage for Syrian women. …

“Maram, a 24-year-old in a slouchy sweater and jeans, comes to talk to me. She graduated from a media school in Damascus and decided to come to Turkey to seek better job opportunities, before stumbling upon an open position at Alwan. …

“I ask her what she likes most about Alwan, and she doesn’t hesitate: ‘I learn a lot every single day, but most of all, it’s taught me so much about how to deal with uncertainty.’ …

“Sami [has] a philosophical approach to the objective of radio itself.

“ ‘We have a program called Acute Angle,’ he says, ‘that encourages people to accept the idea that there is no such thing as true fact. In each segment, we talk about different personalities like Michael Jackson, Ataturk, and even Walt Disney, and how these people have been represented both positively and negatively. I want our listeners to know that there are no taboos, and also no perspective on any one issue or narrative that should be taken for granted.’ …

“[It’s staff member] Dima who has perhaps the most poetic vision of her work at Alwan. ‘What I’ve learned is that the people who listen to us aren’t just suffering day in and out. They want to live, love, dance, laugh. Sometimes we draw courage from them, other times they are comforted by us, hundreds of miles away,’ she says. ‘That’s the beauty of radio: It has soul.’ ”

More here.

Unhappy Update, Dec. 29, 2019, here.

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Some readers of Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog (Asakiyume, for example) share my interest in obscure, threatened languages. Here is an ancient one that was new to me: Whistling Turkish.

Jay Walz reported in a 1964 NY Times article, “The whistler forms his ‘speech’ with tongue curled around his teeth so that the ‘words’ are forced through lips that are not puckered in the conventional whistling style; they are tensely drawn flat across the face. The palm of the left hand is cupped about the mouth, and high pressure is applied from the lungs.”

Sindya N. Bhanoo added to the science in the September 3, 2015, NY Times, “Unlike all other spoken languages, a whistled form of Turkish requires that ‘speakers’ rely as heavily on the right side of their brains as on the left side.”

In the New Yorker, Michelle Nijhuis describes a town that is unfortunately losing its whistling, “Kuşköy is remarkable not for how it looks but for how it sounds: here, the roar of the water and the daily calls to prayer are often accompanied by loud, lilting whistles — the distinctive tones of the local language. Over the past half-century, linguists and reporters curious about what locals call kuş dili, or ‘bird language,’ have occasionally struggled up the footpaths and dirt roads that lead to Kuşköy. So its thousand or so residents were not all that surprised when, a few years ago, a Turkish-born German biopsychologist named Onur Güntürkün showed up and asked them to participate in a study. …

“In 1964, a stringer for the Times reported that children in Kuşköy were learning to communicate by whistling before they started school, and that both men and women regularly gossiped, argued, and even courted via whistle. Three years later, a team of visiting linguists observed that whistling was widely used in both the village and the surrounding countryside. But Güntürkün found that few, if any, young women had learned the language, and that, although some young men were fluent whistlers, they had learned the skill as teen-agers, more out of pride than any practical need. … In a small town filled with nosy neighbors, texting affords a level of privacy that whistling never did.”

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We decided on a restaurant for Thanksgiving this year, which was a daring thing to do with a two-year-old. He spent a good bit of time under the table. We read Mo Willems books about Gerald the elephant and his friend Piggie a few times. The waiter said he was reminded of himself at age two. He was a bundle of energy, he said, and that is how he has the energy to wait tables and bar-tend at two restaurants.

Erik expressed the spirit of American independence by having steak for his first year as a citizen. The rest of us had the turkey feast that Mill’s Tavern provided.

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Here’s an interesting start-up by a couple of entrepreneurs who love to eat. The two women decided to build a business around helping travelers find truly authentic cooking.

According to Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence’s website, “Traveling Spoon believes in creating meaningful travel. We are passionate about food, and believe that by connecting people with authentic food experiences in people’s homes around the world we can help facilitate meaningful travel experiences for travelers and hosts worldwide.

“To help you experience local cuisine while traveling, Traveling Spoon offers in-home meals with our hosts. In addition, we also offer in-home cooking classes as well as market tours as an extra add-on to many of the meal experiences. All of our hosts have been vetted to ensure a safe and delightful culinary experience.

“Traveling Spoon currently offers home dining experiences in over 35 cities throughout Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, and more countries are coming soon!” More here.

I have no doubt that Traveling Spoon is also boosting international understanding. What a good way to use an MBA! Business school is not all about becoming an investment banker, as Suzanne and Erik would tell you.

Photo: Traveling Spoon
Traveling Spoon founders Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence met at the Haas School of Business.

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