Monday, December 13, 2010

Military Service Send-Off Party & Our Thanksgiving Potluck

After a long break from writing, we are back with a new catalog of pictures and stories from our time here in Istanbul. We will start in again with a night from a few weeks ago when we threw a potluck Thanksgiving party in honor of the visiting Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts students. We had invited a really large group to our home in Fener, and we were a little worried what the neighbors may think of such a loud and boisterous gathering of Americans. After a day of touring the students around the area, seeing the Fethiye Museum, Chora Church, and the old city walls, we went home to prepare for the party. Our arrival coincided with a car full of young men pulling up at our neighbor’s house across the street. While we set up a banquet of food, they tented the street with plastic sheeting, set up speakers, hooked up a laptop, and the music began. In the happiest coincidence, our neighbors were hosting a huge street party to send-off two young relatives to boot camp.

Military service is obligatory for men twenty years of age and older in Turkey. It is a right of passage here for all men. Those without a four-year university degree are conscripted as privates for fifteen months of training. Those with university degrees enter either as reserve officers for twelve months, or go through the basic training for privates in a much-shortened six months. Send-off parties are common, and this party honored two young men leaving for training camp the very next day.

Thirty-five people came to our party, a combination of PAFA students, other Istanbul Fulbrighters, and folks we have met since we arrived. Our spread of food was delicious. We made chicken, chestnut stuffing, eggplant casserole, a quince compote with Turkish white cheese, arugula and pomegranate salad, and a Georgian Salad composed of mandarin sections, lots of fresh dill, scallion, tomatoes, cucumbers and lemon vinaigrette. The students picked up desserts and breads from our local bakery. Our other guests brought some really wonderful food and drinks, including homemade borek (a savory pastry,) a thanksgiving phyllo pie with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, a large yellow plate of deviled eggs and a casserole of macaroni and cheese that made us homesick, Turkish wine and the ubiquitous Efes beer. The neighbors throwing the military party gave one of our students plates of stuffed grape leaves and pastries for our party, and, with a Turkish friend helping us choose food that the neighbors might like best, we sent plates back in return. 

The party in the street had lots of music, dancing and singing. For the first few hours, only the men danced, occasionally breaking to light fireworks or pass smoking flares, the smell reminding us of Fourth-of-July smoke bombs from our youths. The men also periodically broke into a clapping and chanting song culminating in the new conscripts being tossed into the air.

We leaned out of our living room windows, or went down in turns to sit on our steps and watch. Eventually, a few of the male students from our party were invited to dance, the neighborhood kids instructing them how to move. Then a few of the women from our party were invited to join in too.

It was certainly the best party we have ever thrown. When everyone had left, and we had cleaned up and went to bed, Shane dreamed that he looked out of our window and saw our neighbors building a large wooden ship in our street. After recently seeing a movie filmed on our street, having a bull butchered outside the kitchen windows, and dancing in the Military send-off party outside our front door, it does actually seem plausible.

Included below are photos and a little movie of the neighbor’s celebration. The two men with red armbands are the honorees. 

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