When we were making COUP last year, everyone was typing on typewriters with carbon paper – and now, I’m seeing computers everywhere. Elif’s mom acquired this computer through a trade with a client. It has no CD-ROM and no modem. I rearranged the keyboard for her by popping out the keys with a screwdriver to match the Turkish keyboard layout that she’s used to (instead of QWERTY it’s FGGIO. The “I” sounds like the the “OO” in “good,” as opposed to the I, which sounds like “EE”; the G is silent and lengthens the vowel that comes before it). (I also installed the US-Dvorak setting on her Microsoft Word program for myself to type on.)
Elif’s 10-year-old cousin Tunc now has a cell phone when his father is continually having to call Elif’s mother to borrow money to cover the rent. (On the bright side, Tunc has instant pocket access to all his friends and sports scores via satellite.) Dilek tried to talk him into getting rid of it, but it’s more than a means of communication; it’s a status-symbol: Tunc doesn’t want to be the only boy in his school unable to pick up the phone when it rings to rebalance his stock portfolio or to report to the hospital to perform surgery on a patient. Actually, it seems that the whole town has a cell phone habit. Istanbullians carry them at their belts and whip them out like scimitars, ready to dial at an instant’s provocation. People too illiterate to read the better newspapers are happily punching in keys to play the latest videogames on their phones. They don’t have displays this fancy in the U.S. Dilek’s friend Senay, an attorney who is constantly sued for mishandling clients’ funds to pay her rent, has two cell phones. When they haven’t rung in awhile, I see her calling herself, from one to the other, to check that they’re working.
As Turkey makes the leap into modernity, it doesn’t always have the infrastructure to support it. The Internet is a prime example – many Turkish sites are overloaded with people trying to access limited bandwidth; many government sites have beautiful Flash movies on their homepages although most people’s old computers on dial-up connections can’t play them at all. Turk Telekom‘s Internet has one phone support person – the same guy who handles the billing; and signing up for access requires going to their offices, waiting on a line, and filling out forms in triplicate. But that hasn’t stopped everyone from signing up who can afford to do so. This morning, on Dilek’s slow dial-up (she changed Internet companies – she’s now on e-kolay.com; “kolay” means “easy” in Turkish but pronounced almost like “E. coli!”), we waited a half hour for her computer to download an email attachment. The file turned out to be a video of a guy in an office beating another guy over the head with his computer keyboard, which is what I wanted to do to the guy who sent the email (Elif’s mother’s friend’s daughter’s husband).
In truth, Elif’s mom probably doesn’t have much use for a computer, but we’re teaching her how to use it anyway. Elif’s father, on the other hand, has compelling needs for real processing power. We just received a call to help him through a technical crisis: somehow “certain” shortcuts and links had “taken over” Elif’s half-sister Eylul’s computer, and the girl was due home from school in an hour. I asked him, laughing, what kind of site was it, and he hemmed and hawed, and I asked, “Was it something like turkerotica.com?” and he said yes. I then talked him through clearing his cache, purging his history folder, deleting the cookies and offline and temporary files and desktop and start-menu shortcuts. Then I softly suggested that he might do better with pay-per-view on Satellite TV, if his tastes ran more toward the mainstream. It sounded like he was taking notes while we talked.
Despite the joys found on a computer monitor, the main show is still in the living room: once Dilek and Elif’s aunts turn on the television, I’m hooked. The news is always fun. When they can’t get journalists to cover an event or if they can’t secure footage, they’ll just sit at their desk and read newspapers aloud into the camera. If they can get the footage, though, it can be pretty hardcore – last week they showed a stoning in Iran; tonight, it’s bloody bodies coming out of a traffic accident in Konya. Other top stories on the news of late include:
– Locals here celebrating the Galatasaray soccer team’s victory abroad against a Spanish team – a mob of people was carrying an 8-foot giant down the street on their shoulders.
– A Fenerbahce football fan who, after watching his team lose an easy regular-season game, drank a liter of chlorine and died.
– A parliamentarian’s nephew’s wife, who, fed up with being sold by her husband into prostitution, stood on the street outside the presidential hall wearing only her underwear. They covered her up and dragged her away, but the reporters followed her car like Princess Diana’s paparazzi to the police station, then to the psychiatrist’s. All the while the news station kept intercutting closeups in slo-mo of her half-naked body on the street. They showed a video of hers (she once had been an arabesque singer) in its four-minute entirety, superimposed over which was the clip of her in her underwear being taken in by the cops.
The news ended and the aunts allowed me to channel-surf. Unlike in America, most people on television here (if it’s not a religious program or the news) are laughing and dancing. Most of the sets look like a parody of public access television. Right now, they’re showing the flatulent hero Gas-Man; a variety show featuring the pop sensation Tarkan, a belly dancer, and a transvestite; a political satire film from the 1960’s; a religious program; a show featuring a talking head expounding on Socialist philosophy; and a music video program hosted by a woman wearing less clothing than the women in the videos. There’s actually a nice amount of nudity on TV, which is surprising given the religious bent of the country. Tonight one channel would even have shown the 80’s American sex-tease film Private School. I say “would have,” because the channel today is only broadcasting the following message: “Because on February 2-5 on our news program we said a man was guilty when he was only allegedly guilty, the government has forced us to close down programming for the day.” Another channel is off the air because they couldn’t pay their Satellite bills, and it says so right there.
Elif came in and switched the channel to one showing a group of five male dancers from Erzurum. They performed two dances: the first was a line dance with their arms around each other; the second involved hopping up and down and thrusting knives in each others’ faces. Absolutely beautiful. According to Elif: “The people of Erzurum are not merely macho, but they’re famed for being clear-hearted, the first to fight for their country in a revolt.” She continued: “Last year in an international folkloric dance competition in Stockholm, the group from Erzurum made a mistake and slashed up the face of one of its members during the dance. They continued on as if nothing happened, and then they took their bows. The crowd was horrified and screaming. Finally, the injured man, bleeding profusely, announced that he doesn’t mind bleeding because he is proud of his blood, and that red is the color of his country’s flag. The group won the gold.”
Uh oh, right now they’re showing a cock fight from the Antilles and I think I’m going to be sick. Quick, someone change the channel so I can see some more transsexuals dancing.