Monday, June 8, 2009

Parables, pictures and prayers from Kaș ... the carpet seller

“Can I offer you çay?” Over time, Recep views me less as a customer and begins to know me as friend. We've picked up a couple of small pieces from this handsome 30-year-old, and occasionally send a friend to him. But he’s also been a guest in our home, despite how hard it is to pry him away from the shop if there are tourists about.

These days when I stop by we are more likely to discuss world affairs or Turkish history than the carpets that we both love. Sometimes our talk turns to our families and personal stories.

“How is your son and his wife? Will they come to Kaș again this season?” Dan worked in Kaș last summer with a local outdoor adventure company. He and Eda are well-remembered, Dan for his height and wild red bandana-bound hair, and Eda because she looks so Turkish yet doesn’t speak the language. “Where are they now?”

“They are in Abu Dhabi.”

“Abu Dhabi? They live there, too?”

“Sure. They both have jobs there, and they live with us.”

“They live with you? Really? But you are Western. I didn’t know Western families ever stayed together!”

Recep comes from a traditional family in Konya. Though he has summered in the Kaș carpet shop since his late teens, he returns to the family home and business when the season ends. He lives with his parents, and his married brother’s place is just across the courtyard. The whole family share meals together at one house or the other, and Recep’s way of telling me this speaks of deep love and belonging, and community.

Recep isn’t the first Muslim to express amazement at our family life. Just three months ago, Aneela visited our Abu Dhabi flat. Though from the UK, her family origin is Pakistani. She couldn’t get over the “family feeling” at our place—the photos all over the frig, Dan and Eda’s engaging presence, and the safety others there find in our kitchen and around our table. “I didn’t know Westerners cared family like this!” And to think—she’s lived all her life in the UK. Another visitor stands out to me because Aysha is a Muslim convert from Wales who married a UAE national, and yet she expressed the same amazement to find a non-Muslim family together and loving it.

It’s not hard to see how someone from another culture could think we Westerners care little for family, given our TV and movies that make it around the world. But are our homes so closed to those “unlike” us?

Dan and Eda live with us for a lot of reasons. Eda comes from rural Albania and a culturally Islamic heritage. Before she and Dan married she’d rarely been out of her local area, and never out of Albania. In her culture it’s appropriate and normal for the wife of the youngest son to move to his family home. Her family was comforted, when she married in a faraway land, that she would part of a new family in their normal way. Early on, she and I spent our days together learning from each other. She learned to shop in a supermarket and cook with recipes and American measures, to host a crowd, and to manage household help. I learned to appreciate her depth of character, and to love her as a daughter, and I’ve learned a lot from her about the dignity of her culture.

The thing is, Dan has taken some flak from Western peers (and imposed some on himself) because he and Eda don’t have their own place. In their eyes, to live with us suggests failure and dependence. Our daughter, Cait, suffers some of the same as she lives with her grandfather, my dad. Her choice is a huge blessing because Dad grows more and more deaf and finds it ever harder to walk or drive, or focus on the myriad pieces of detail necessary to live on his own. Dad and Cait love each other profoundly, and they bring one another great joy. They take care of each other. Still, it hasn’t been long since she expressed that self-questioning angst: “I’m the only one of my friends who still lives with family.”

The West values independence and self-sufficiency. The East emphasizes community and family. Our children, caught between East and West through life experience and chosen relationships, are in the middle. Yet in the part of the world where Curt and I live, all of us find we have gained respect and credibility, a voice, in a way we did not imagine by these life choices.

O Lord, thank you for Cait, and for Dan and Eda, for their love for you, for us, and for one another. Praise You for touching this world through their choices. Please, continue to guide them on their unique paths, with fruitful work and ever-deepening qualities of character and faithfulness. And for Recep, Aneela, Aysha and others, bless them, protect them and their families, and direct them in the ways You have for them, too.

No comments: