I am extraordinarily tired and worn out from three weeks of constant worry, so bear with me while I walk you through my thought process.
I have a student who sits RIGHT next to my desk, who’s kind of the poorly socialized nerd in the class, who drives me crazy with his questions. He tends to finish his work early, (and incorrectly) and then dream up things to chitchat about.
Yesterday’s questions included:
“Madame,” (and I swear if he doesn’t stop calling me madame I’m going to blow a gasket) “Did you know any Armenians in America?”
A good policy for anyone visiting or living in Turkey is: “don’t mention the A word, like, ever.” I’ve shushed visitors who thought, for instance, that Sultanahmet was a great place to bring up not only the A word but also the G word, and really dig into it.
“Probably?” I’ve since realized that because my family is really relatively old, and because there’s no cultural heritage in it whatsoever, aside from corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty’s for the one great grandmother who was 2nd generation Irish, and because the roots we know of are in places that weren’t where they were before, (what the hell WAS the former Yugoslavia a hundred years ago? Do I claim French or German for the great grandad who purportedly came from Alsace-Lorraine? Jesus. All I know about my ancestors is they weren’t super familiar with the sun) I have never been particularly interested in cultural heritage. Okay if your last name ends in ‘ski, you’re probably a quarter Polish. If your great-folks came from one of the Catholic countries you’re probably screwed up. But now we’re all American. Move on. DO I know any Armenians? Seems likely. I probably never asked.
“What are Armenians like in your country?”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“I have heard from a friend that Armenians (keep in mind I’m cringing every time I hear that word) are very much like Turks, but I’ve never met one. Are they very much like Turks?”
“Please finish your outline.”
“Teacher, did you choose this job or did life force you into it?”
“Um, I don’t really see the difference between those options.”
“Did you choose to teach or did you have to teach?”
“PLEASE finish your paragraph.”
“Teacher, is this an English word?”
“Um, no. Definitely not. Did you mean albeit?”
“What does albeit mean?”
“Don’t worry about it. Cope with the contrast words I gave you.”
A moment later, rather slyly as though he’d known the answer all along,
“I just remembered where I heard that word before, and you’re right! It is not English!”
“It’s from a German idiom- Arbeit macht frei!”
“Oh my God.”
“It means ‘Work will set you free.'”
“I am well aware.”
“It is an idiom that they put above the doors of concentration ca-”
“CLASS! Who has an answer to number 4 that they’d like to put on the board?”
It reminded me of an incident from my pre-anonymous blogging days that I never got to write about, when I was working at my first job here as the only native teacher on staff in a small branch of a well known language school in Taksim, with a boss who weighed four hundred pounds, harbored fantasies of slowly killing people, was in love with me, and regularly hacked into his employees’ e-mails. That’s another story. We had a girl on staff there who was unbelievably well intentioned but equally naive, who after somehow getting her hands on a Primo Levi book thought it would be a nice gesture to festoon the school with banners that read,
“Work will set you free.”
It took more agitating on my part than any sane person would think necessary to convince anyone then working in the school that that was in rather poor taste.
Which got me thinking about another story from that school, about how once my 400 pound psycho boss hired a dipshit backpacker type, who was a very bad employee mostly because she was an extraordinarily young 22 years old. My boss, though, became rather attached to the idea that she was a spy. Why?
“Why else would she have gone to twenty-two countries? I copied her passport, and counted them.”
“Cause that’s actually a kind of normal thing for people to do after college?”
“I don’t believe it. You haven’t been to twenty two countries.”
“I am not normal.”
“No. There is something wrong here. And I know for a fact the CIA has spies all over Turkey, and many of them are working as English teachers.”
Really? Shit. Where do I sign up? It’s gotta pay better than what I’m doing now.
There is a certain level of paranoia in this country that strikes me from time to time. Like how most of my students are convinced the US blew up their own twin towers just so they’d have an excuse to start the war, and Israel had arranged for all the Jews to be out of the buildings that day. This is a calmly accepted fact, and one that does not enrage me at all. (pauses. Snaps pencil in half with one trembling fist.)
The other day in conversation club I listened calmly while one person explained that on Survivor it isn’t like how they show it on t.v., and everyone actually sleeps in luxury hotels every night and has huge dinners together, and then they go out and pretend to be sleeping in tents. Everyone nodded enthusiastically and at least half the class said, “of course!”
Every nation has its own insecurities. America has a long history of assuming every fresh wave of immigrants is out to take everyone’s jobs. TJ, fresh from Tel Aviv, reports that (the 20 or so 20-something middle class mostly American born) Israelis (that she interacted with) are all convinced they’ll be overrun and slaughtered by Arabs. The French fear religion. Turks, on the other hand, are all convinced everyone everywhere is lying to them.
At the bar last night we were swapping stories of being accused of being spies. Almost everyone had one.
The fear seems to seep in with exposure, Man-on-the-Moon-Marigolds style. Hannah reports having been asked what branch of the government she worked in by an Australian who’d been living here for 20 years.
“Um, I think if I worked for the government I wouldn’t need this job.”
“I’m sorry, but this CV looks suspicious.”
A coworker in- you guessed it- fuck-my-life Bakırköy is terrified for her life because “everyone thinks English teachers are behind it.”
As an amateur and indifferent trend tracker, I can tell you she must be a history major cause that was four days ago. But that went around. And people believed it. Which is terrifying. And this poor teacher was terrified of anyone standing still a la the standing man because she didn’t want to be fingered as an insurrectionist.
Lesson 97- fear is a powerful tool.
She wouldn’t’ve gotten this from students, who are notoriously and hair pullingly apathetic. She got it from her Fatih-bred boyfriend.
“Duder- I’m caught on film and in print, in many media, as doing, frankly, illegal things. I am, in a small way, part of the foreign press. I tweet and retweet often. I am getting deported before you.”
She couldn’t appear to talk so she just squeaked.
So it continues- CNN is lying, BBC is lying, investors are lying, Americans are all CIA spies, (Have I thanked you yet, America, for 60 years of really depressing foreign policy?) Teachers or Jews or foreigners or investment bankers have started the riots- it doesn’t seem to matter. We’re in a country where reality is the last dumb-shit thing someone said.