Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sketches from a "Muslim Country"

Last night, the rain cleared right after the sunset, and the sky was that soggy murky orange color in the west, while dark winter gray above. The streets were already dark, and in the apartment building across from us, a young couple had thrown their curtains open. They've just moved in and they have no furniture except for a chair and a table with a single desk lamp, which was making a pale yellow light that looked warm against the rain snaking down our window pane. The woman was working on her laptop, face blue in the computer light, and suddenly she stood, and they began to dance across their bare parquet floor. It looked like an attempt at a waltz, and the man was clearly instructing her; both were looking down at their feet. She was laughing and shaking her head as if to say, "I can't! I can't". He had a huge bush of curly hair, so I could not see his expression at all. Meanwhile, I was in my own room, curtains also thrown open, dancing around to the Cure. At some point, both of us stopped, looked out the window and caught each other's eyes. They blushed, broke apart, and the girl sat down. I did the same. The man went to the window, propped his head against the pane and looked down at the rainy street. I saw he wore a black heavy metal shirt, though I couldn't quite make out the band.
There's a teacher at school who bears a remarkable resemblance to a squirrel. She flits around the teacher's room, chattering nonstop, singing whatever song I have, at some point in my life, been driven nearly insane by. (Yesterday, for example, she somehow lighted upon Billy Joel's "We Didnt Start the Fire"--a song that drove me up the wall me in college. This morning she comes out with "You Spin Me Right Round" which was the bane of my junior high years.) She has an odd habit of rinsing out her coffee cup in water from the water cooler, and then dumping it out the window. Now we're on the third floor, right above the entrance to the school, so the other day a teacher comes storming up to our department and furiously bangs on the door. (He could simply have opened it, but apparently, he knocked for dramatic effect). Squirrel opens the door to see the biology teacher glaring furiously at her with a soaked head and shirt. "Why in God's name are you throwing water out the window?" "It's clean water!" she says. "Look, it's straight from the water cooler! How can you get wet?" He blinks, trying to process this answer and then storms away muttering, "Good God! What in hell...."

School pictures came out today. My teacher's room of women fretted over their hair and make-up. This photo makes me look fat. This one shows my wrinkles. I have a slightly Mongoloid look. Everyone vows not to buy a year book and to avoid the photographer next year, but then they surround each other. "No, no! You look so good in that picture!" And faces brighten, people change their minds. Everyone buys pictures to distribute to their nearest and dearest. This has been a week of new hairdos, so the pictures rather candidly reveal the results. The 10th grade teacher who streaked her hair feels she looks like a striped cat.

The service bus to school is driven by a very odd woman with bushy blonde hair and a laugh like Dr. Hibbard from the Simpsons. This morning, the literature teacher climbed aboard and the whole bus erupted in a chorus of clucking and cooing. "How is your mother?" "When is the operation?" "How are you holding up?" The teacher nods appreciatively, says everything is okay, and then the driver shouts from the front, "Honey, everything will be okay. You know why?" The teacher looks up and shakes her head' "Why, canim?" "Because I learned this prayer that can cure people." And without any other sort of introduction, she launches into a long incantation that may or may not be from the Quran. Bismillah hayrullah hadullilah... This has the immediate effect of silencing all the babbling in the bus. You could hear an electron circling an atom, it gets so quiet. Everyone is looking at each other as if someone has just let off the biggest fart in history. The driver keeps reciting the prayer, Joker grinned, looking back at us in the mirror and seemingly oblivious of the looks of horror the bus full of women have turned on her. Imagine, Americans, being at a business meeting with a group of power-executive career women and the woman giving the presentation suddenly launching into a chorus of "Jesus Loves Me". Your modern Turkish woman has an allergy to religion of any kind--the mention of the word "God" can give them diseases as quickly as can a breeze from an open window--and here was this woman launching into a full-on spell.

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