For a Bosphorus boy who grew up catching and eating fish fresh from the water, combining tuna with pasta is a fusion step too far – adding a béchamel to the fish and mixing it all up takes it over the edge of edible, so if G’s not eating, the tuna in white sauce pasta dish I grew up with is the go-to dinner. Sometimes though even the minimal effort required to stir flour into a roux is too much like hard work. On those days, in lieu of baked beans, dinner becomes ice-cream/chocolate and nibbles, most often accompanied by mindless/chick-flick TV or a good book. A few days after my last solo dinner and I’m still wondering if I’m going slightly, slowly, mad or if it’s normal for one tray of food to have rerouted my thoughts so far from the indulgence in solitude craved.
From one tray – Nescafe, whole wheat, double peanut butter ice-cream, olive oil, za’atar – my mind went to Palestine and displacement to Syria; to the Syrian families we know facing decisions so immense it’s hard to comprehend how they’re holding it together, to the political decisions that need to be taken to end the war in Syria, and how, now Russian and Turkish ties are mending, that will affect both Turkey and the millions of refugees here. I jumped from there to health (cigarettes/exercise..or lack of) and eating (see double peanut butter ice-cream) and weight, to lifestyles and plans and lives. As I fell asleep later, scratching T’s back, breathing in the heady summer smell of him that intoxicates me so, questions danced in a mind contentedly torn and happy and concerned in such equal measures.
Sipping coffee I’m ethically biased against, I cursed the lack of Carte Dor and my inability to function without caffeine or willingness to pay for every single cup to be fresh brew; reminded myself again I should quit caffeine, too. I pushed the tray away. Should I watch that movie? T calls. He’s hot. He wants to know where I’ve put the duvet he’d fashioned into a floor bed in direct line of the cooler air from the open balcony door. As I kiss his curly sweaty mop my heart pangs as I remember the first night our Syrian friends spent in Iznik..cold, sleeping on newspapers spread on a bare concrete floor. I think of how they’ve worked so hard to pull together a life that lets their kids live a normal childhood here and gives their family somewhere to come to – either to settle too, or for medical treatment not available in Syria. I think about how they must feel, knowing how hard they’ve all tried yet how impossible it still feels. I cry for Shifa, stuck in the conundrum that is an uncertain, jobless ‘safe’ refugee life here where cupboards are bare and relying on handouts is their reality; versus a rent/bill free life in Syria with the risk of bombings an everyday reality. I think about how it’s inconceivable to me that we can stand back and let the latter happen, wonder how we can facilitate keeping them here and whether they’ll accept the help. I think again of the events of July 15th and how narrowly we escaped being in a similar situation. Had the attempted coup happened, there’s little doubt Turkey would now be in civil war and we’d be the ones fleeing. I wonder whether we’ll ever, globally, let go of the idea of our infallibility and see every person as though ourselves and whether that starts first with politicians, or us?
It’s hot. I’m typing in a t-shirt and the kids are asleep in their underwear. There’s a thin trail of sweat perpetually over T’s lip and I’ve started to wonder what the point is in taking a shower. It’s been like this for weeks and I curse the irony that the weekend we decide to get away camping the forecast is set to storm. How is it possible to feel annoyed our getaway plans were derailed by the weather while simultaneously worrying how to keep another family safe in a life that involves food money in their wallets? I sit sweating, excitedly anticipating the rain and cooler weather the boys have been (literally) praying for, wondering whether to be annoyed our plans were scuppered or see it as a blessing we don’t yet know of, and whether – and what – is important anyway. (N.B. The area we’d planned to visit was devastated by flooding with houses literally washed away subhanallah)
The news is on in the background – Turkish on TV, Filmon channel-hopping on the computer. Car crashes involving multiple deaths and very few seat belts or baby/children car seats; a bomb attack by the PKK (the day after millions gathered across Turkey to celebrate democracy and commemorate the hundreds of lives lost July 15th); a van filled with tons of explosives stopped with a Turkish flag draped across its’ dashboard; the new initiatives which will take pensions up to a more liveable £400 a month; the reshuffle in the Labour party, possible implications of Brexit, the polluted waters of Rio; I wonder about our relativity of news and importance. I listen half-heartedly as the languages contrast sharply in content and context as both channels discuss the beach burkini ban in France and struggle to find the English word for the feeling only “sinir bozucu” seems to explain now. I think back to the women only beach I visited this week and how, away from a male gaze and without headscarves all polarisations were stripped away and sisterhood was a possibility you could feel; and I wonder if it’s possible to explain this feeling in a country where the idea of segregation of the sexes is seen only in a negative context, beach-bodies are a very real thing and a muslimah’s beachwear is a threat.
I turn off before post-coup-attempt updates, knowing that the headlines alone are too much for tonight and switch to Spotify, my sisters’ recent playlists. I give her a minute to flood my head with the happy feels of Celine Delion and let the memories of Turkey we’ve shared together dance in my mind. Flour fights in the kitchen of the terraced flat G and I first shared (where we’d boil snowballs collected from the terrace to thaw the frozen pipes), “H’aunty H” holding both the boys when they were just days old and entertaining our neighbours with hose-pipe fights and on-point ball skills. I think about how she’s been right there from when we were just starting, young enough and free enough to have the world at our feet, loved up enough to not want it; and I think about how that’s where my siblings are now and how I’m not there to share it. I turn Celine Dion off. Glancing at the photos dotting the room I think of the many ways my family’s photos differ to ours and wonder again how best to find the balance for the boys between the lifestyles rejected and chosen, while protecting the fierce bond there is between them and my family. I ponder renting a villa in Turkey for a whole family get-together and question the logistics of that. The washing needs bringing in but the neighbours are still on the balcony and it’s too much hassle to get dressed so I leave it, knowing full well that means if I don’t remember to grab it in the morning it’ll be tinted with dust by lunchtime.
M calls for water, curling himself up on our bed in the pile of socks he sorted for me earlier in the day. Again I’m awestruck by the speed with which he’s growing and the beauty of his soul. Whipping the bedsheets high in the air while tucking him in, my mind flashes back to him as a baby, when making the beds took hours but his giggles made time slip away. I remind myself again to slow down and enjoy their moments because all too fast they’ll have grown. Lighting up a cigarette, swearing that after that it’s bedtime and this the last.fag.ever., I wonder again how a coffee-dinner led me so far off a movie night track, how so many questions can arise when so many still remain and whether I’d have been better off ordering takeaway.