Saturday, 27 September 2008

Happy Bayram, Whatever That Is

I peek inside the packed reception room. I don't know a single person in there, and they all appear to be speaking Turkish.

Nope. No way am I going in there.

It is four o'clock, but the sun is still pouring down like melted lead. A stream of people flow through the wide open doors, joining a noisy reception line. There is much hand-shaking and kissing of cheeks and I am utterly lost. I look all around me and I cannot see one familiar face.

Because there are so many of us new teachers, no one has been able to explain just what this Bayram reception we are expected to attend is all about. "Something about Ramadan," my husband informed me hastily just before leaving for work in the morning. "To mark the end, I think."

I take a deep breath and think I've just about worked up the nerve to go in, but a quick peek reveals another volley of kisses and as I hear the enraptured greetings exchanged, I feel immensely self-conscious, as though I am crashing a private party. Worse still, a private religious party. The people inside will quickly spot my lapsed Christian soul and chuck me out in short order, as well they should. My mouth is dry.

Then I see another new teacher who looks almost as nervous as I do. She is Turkish, I know, and accompanied by one of the older teachers, but there is no mistaking it: she is quaking in her boots. I quickly latch on. "Can I go in there with you? I don't have an idea what to do."

"Neither do I! Come along, we will follow her," she says, pointing to her companion, who has already crossed the threshold. She is greeted with delighted exclamations and a volley of hands are extended for her to shake. My new friend and I trail after her like waifs, our hands timidly extended. We too are met with happy smiles and handshakes and the same phrase, repeated over and over.

Inside, the noise level is tremendous. There are little tables set up with plates of cookies and snacks, but almost no one is eating. I follow my new colleague as closely as I dare. "We just go from group to group and shake hands," she whispers over her shoulder. "They told me this would be easy, and I see they are right!"

They told me it was no big deal too, but I didn't believe them. And now I see that this really isn't a big deal; much like coming here in the first place, the only really tough thing was making the decision to cross the threshold.

By the end of the reception, which lasted barely half an hour, I believe I must have shaken over a hundred hands. Small hands, big hands, brisk hands, limp-as-dead-fish hands, moist hands, dry hands, hot hands and warm hands. The difference in human hands and each and every handshake is surely as diverse as the difference in faces and personalities.

Everyone without exception greeted me kindly and warmly.

"Happy Bayram!" the other foreign teachers and I said to each other afterwards, though our Turkish colleagues explained that the greeting they had been exchanging was more to commemorate the end of Ramadan than to enjoy it as a holiday. One woman told me that the day should be spent in quiet contemplation, not in drunken revelry. "People have lost the whole point of the holiday," she fumed. "They think that after a little fasting they can go out and get drunk as lords."

The very next day marked the end of the working week and the beginning of a one-week holiday. To our amazement, all the teachers, new and old, were given a cake to mark the end of Ramadan. Most of us pictured small confections in boxes, but when we went to collect our gifts, we were astonished to see that they were whole, fully frosted white cakes pristine in their boxes. Each one must have weighed at least a pound and they were all decorated lavishly with pink frosting bows.

Sadly, I left mine in the back of a colleague's car and forgot all about it. My girls, when they heard about this, were broken-hearted, but I reminded them that we did not fast in the first place and so were hardly entitled to it. My husband had a beer, but no one got drunk. We spent the rest of the evening in fairly quiet contemplation.


debra said...

It seems like the change from the original meaning of religious holidays is a cross-cultural thing. The thing about first times is that there is only one. Too bad about the cake, though....

Robin said...

Wow! What a cool experience. With your inspiration, I am now going to use my computer powers for good instead of evil, and learn about Bayram and Ramadan.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm glad it worked out OK. Such things make me very nervous too. I was even nervous last night going "with" Lana to her art thing. I'm not much of a social butterfly.

Kim Ayres said...

Kudos to you, Mary, on so many levels :)

Shame about the cake though, you could have examined it and sent photos to Rogan :)

Barbara Martin said...

Mary, you always have the most interesting posts that are a true joy to read and revel in. It seems everyone's religious holidays hold some snag or other. Now the ice is broken and the next steps much easier.

AnneB said...

oooo! I'm with your kids about the missing cake. Pink bows! Be sure to fast a little next year so you'll feel entitled to taste it, at least! Here's hoping the colleague discovers it before it melts (and brings it to you on Monday morning.)

All Rileyed Up said...

"The people inside will quickly spot my lapsed Christian soul and chuck me out in short order."

I feel that way all the time...

Kappa no He said...

The adventures have begun! No wait, they never stopped. Great post!

Anne Spollen said...

I went to a Ramadan party once with my boys when they were very small. There was an absolutely AMAZING amount of food, and the tables in an ordinary home were set like wedding tables. The entire day was spent eating different foods -- all on gold-rimmed china.

Off topic, but I am just wondering what you are teaching - writing? ESL?

Dina Denman said...

Glad you arehaving fun Mary,stiil waiting for that E-mail!

AnneB said...

Mary--your MiniWords poem's up. I don't have your new email or I'd send you the link. It was hard to find; the old link was gone but fortunately I'd gone to check out the sponsoring body's website last week and was able to find it through that.

I'm not posting it here or on the VK boards because it's your prerogative but I will do that for you if you are swamped with work/have a spotty web connection/etc. Better to have somebody else blow your horn anyway! Feel free to delete this after reading!

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga said...

Happy Bayram to you, Mary. So glad to see that you made it to your new home!

marshymallow said...

I like the hands bit - it sounds so Dr. Suessy. That's what i feel like everytime i attend my dad's church, except, well, they all speak English.

Eryl Shields said...

Well done for crossing that threshold, I know exactly how you feel, and have before now not had the guts to do it. Shame about the cake.

Mary Witzl said...

Debra -- I've met a good number of people here who take Bayram seriously, but a lot seem to treat it the way many of us treat our own religious holidays in the States or the U.K. -- a chance to eat lots of tasty things and have a welcome break.

We DID get the cake back! That will be my next post.

Robin -- Going into that room was quite an experience, but cool it was not -- I've never felt such heat, and me from Southern California, too. Still, it was nowhere near the terrifying experience I thought it would be, and in that sense, it WAS cool. What's cooler still is that you're going to learn about Ramadan and Bayram.

Charles -- My husband feels much the same. I told him about this experience afterwards and he got weak in the knees just thinking about it. He hates receptions where he doesn't know anyone. Good for you for going with Lana to her art thing; it would be an uphill struggle getting my good man to do the same.

Kim -- I've just embarked upon another adventure: photographing and posting the self-same cake, which DID eventually make its way back to us, thanks to my colleague who found it in the back of her car. Not a patch on Rogan's, though, and you can tell him so.

Barbara -- You are sweet to say that about my posts, and I appreciate it. I also relish your mention of ice; it is STILL fiendishly hot here, and just holding my lap-top on my legs is enough to make me overheat.

AnneB -- From your mouth to God's ears! My colleague did exactly this, and on Monday morning I got a call from the receptionist at our guest house announcing her visit. The cake wilted a little in the back of her car, but it was still tasty and we all had a piece. I even managed to get a photo of it first!

Riley -- I would love to talk to you about this; you're a former Sunday school teacher (so am I, believe it or not) and I'm betting we could share some stories.

Kappa -- You know what this feels like, don't you? Life away from your own country is a curious mixture of adventures and the completely mundane; what seems exotic soon becomes the norm, but there are generally always new things to discover even after years abroad. Sometimes I could do with fewer adventures, but I always tell myself they'll be fun to write about later.

Anne S -- Gold-rimmed plates and tables full of food? All we had was biscuits and snacks on paper napkins -- obviously you got the real deal!

I am teaching EFL to university age students, some of whom have absolutely no English whatsoever. I think I'll get a beginning writing class, but I'm not sure. I've taught writing before and found it a huge challenge.

Dina -- Yay, you commented! I've sent you a postcard with our new e-mail address; we lost your e-mail address and cannot find it anywhere! I'm still telling people about our move and how I couldn't have done it without Dina Denman. You are my hero. I'll try writing again if I don't hear from you soon, or I'll bite the bullet and call again! How is the cat? Hope she's not brought you too many presents. I'm the one who really owes you.

Anne -- No way am I deleting your comment. I can use all the publicity I can get. I can't blog about this myself, but if anyone reads this, they may get the idea. And thank you for actually checking it out -- I'd given up looking!

Wendy -- Yay, you commented too! I've got a postcard addressed to you and Manabu; it has sadly gotten stained with spilled water, but expect to find it in your mailbox sometime the next month!

Marshymallow -- I feel a bit like this in church too and imagine quite a few people do. I believe so much I hear even in church, but lack much of the faith I feel I should have. Still, church is easier; at least you know what to do and how to do it! And knowing the same language is a huge plus.

Eryl -- The older I get, the easier I find things like this. One thing that helped me was telling myself that whatever happened, it could not be any worse than high school. And it wasn't!

ChrisEldin said...

Sounds like you are starting to make friends already!!!

When we were in Dubai during Ramadan, it was a lot of fun. I looked forward to the evening parties. People who think Arabs are conservative haven't been to one of the fast-breaking parties...

Your writing is so good. I have to say that also. The way you capture setting detail and emotion is masterful.

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