Inventory

Monday 6th February. Morning.

If all goes well, I leave today.

So apparently I'm supposed to reflect, and draw out life lessons from my recent experiences.

I came here with a cold in the head, and I'm leaving with a different one.

I came knowing exactly one word of Turkish, and I leave having learned I was mispronouncing it.

I came expecting to work for a charitable business, and I leave expecting to work for a business disguised as a charity.

I came with luggage full of casual clothes, and GBP200 in lira. Anything I don't spend or especially want to wear can go to my hosts - they can probably find a better use for the running shoes that always chafed.

I've managed to aquire three jackets, five pairs of trousers, seven shirts and a tie - which can all stay right here in storage.

The fashion is like the TV. 40 years out of date, and the reason you can enjoy it ironically is that it's incapable of grasping irony.

The food is simple fare, expertly prepared. And I have a curious yearning for fish and chips.

The people...I've barely met any actual turks in Turkey. Everyone's been kurdish, syrian, russian etc. But turks seem parochial rather than xenophobic. If you like heavily built men with a casual attitude to sex but a horror of admitting it, this could be the holiday destination for you.

I'll be back.

Inside, looking out. Away, looking back.

Rapping Up

Saturday 4th February. Night.

Plans for amateur child psychology scuppered by visit from a Turkish businessman and offspring. He speaks Arabic and French in addition to native Turkish, and wanted some English vocabulary.

So I got to eat Kabsa with a man who finds the words "Food" and "Belly" hilarious. Foooood. Be...ellleeeee.

There's so many things I want to get on with when I get back home. But that's not quite the same as being glad to leave.

I suppose the point of a holiday is to rest, recuperate, recharge, renew, revivify, and maybe other approximate synonyms beginning with R.

As well as review, recapitulate, reconsider, ratiocinate and reconnoitre with relish. No, really.
Red Cabbage.

Something else beginning with R.



I Do Linguistics

Saturday 4th February. Morning.

I took the opportunity during a hour of internet access to download some Arabic tutorials - including "Arabic for Dummies". And I've never read such a load of smug, inaccurate bollocks outside of, well, muslim apologetics.

It claims to use an internationally recognised system of transcription - one that mixes up several sounds, misdescribes others, and doesn't even try to indicate syllable stress or vowel length. Oh, and I've never seen it used outside this book, which gives the word for "Student" as not "taalib" but "tilmiidh" which it then says is pronounced "teel-mee-zah".

Arabic is bonkers enough without frauds presenting themselves as experts. Grammatical gender and adjectival agreement are minor inconveniences, but when the numbers 13-19, and 11 but not 12 must have gender disagreement, then we're dealing with a language designed by drunken committee.

Oh yes, the word for "drunk" is /sekre:n/. I learned that last night, for the price of a whisky and coke. And a headache later.

My absolute favourite culinary discovery in Turkey. And it's not Turkish. From, Syria, Makdous. Eggplant, stuffed with pulverised walnuts, red pepper and garlic. It may look like a larval form of Cthulu, but until I can get somewhere with the Unfeasibly Sexy Mustafa, this is the best thing I put in my mouth.

Kooky

Friday 3rd February.

Wassam has excellent fine motor control, shows problem solving intelligence, seems to understand a small range of gestures, and enjoys being picked up and cuddled.

He also never makes eye contact, and appears to have no spoken language at all. What kind of environment or neurological disorder could lead to both complete aphasia and prosopagnosia?

Yesterday he bit me - simply as though curious what I tasted like. He gets distressed - and placated - easily enough, but seems incapable of aggression.

What could lead to a three year old child (1) being able to work out that an adult pointing to a particular part of a toy-puzzle is a hint that this peg and not that is the one the orange but not the green or purple hoop should next go over, but (2) not grasping that spoken words refer to things.

And how could spending the first two years of life watching kids music television lead to this?

And how do you fix it?

I've been asked to spend the weekend with Wassam, to try to gather some clues.
"Khookh". Imagine apricot jam, with fatally large amounts of added sugar.


Olive/Branch

Thursday 2nd February.

That first charity we interviewed with. The one for who we were insufficiently islamic. Turns out they've decided they do want something from us after all.

They want to spread overseas, including the UK. Which means they want someone to take care of all the confusing, non-quran inspired paperwork in the UK...so they can send three of their people over to run it.

In return for which, they'll give a lump sum equivalent to one half of the running costs of this here refugee camp, for one year.

So basically, my job is to do some google searches, memorise and summarise UK charity law, act as their agent...and find some cheap premises to rent.

After which, their people will need some english lessons. But they haven't thought that far ahead.

Oh, and I'm to advise them on how to get accredited with "OUTSCHA" - a UN run authority that's the Better Business Bureau of charities. Except according to google, there's no such organisation. Another small detail to work out.

Edit: It turns out to be OCHA. And it seems to be easier for some companies to employ another company to employ an english-speaking researcher to read the english-language version of the relavent UN documents and summarise them in english to be translated into arabic...than to do a bit of reading in their own native language.

Spot...

...the difference.


Kinda

Wednesday February 1st. Afternoon.

Two small acts of kindness. Compare and contrast.

IHH are a Benevolent foundation. That's with a capital B, meaning they have an enormous heap of money, which they donate to various charities.

To apply for a donation, go to their high-tech, military-style complex. To get in, you must surrender your citizenship card, passport, or equivalent documentation. This gets you past the guarded turnstile, and into a large prefabricated building, where you plead your worthiness.

In this case, after half an hour of mission-statement regurgitation (in which I spoke five words), we were told it would take a long time to process and consider our application. That's code for "Piss off, you're not prestigious enough for us."

After retrieving our documents from IHH border control, we drove disconsolately away.

Now, before all this, we stopped at a coffeeshop, where I was gently but persistently pestered by a girl of about seven. Homeless, and begging for cash. I gave her the contents of my pocket - five lira in coins. That was act number one.

So, my tent is cold. In fact, bloody cold because the air conditioning broke. In fact, abolutely fucking freezing. But last night I was warm because the families occupying the next tent along donated their heater.

Leaving them absolutely fucking freezing.

So today I bought them a new heater - 90 lira.

Five lira to make a beggar go away, versus 90 so I don't feel like quite such an imperial colonialist bastard. For the next three days.

Samboukas. Which are not the same as Samosas, apparently. Simple home pleasures are better if you can save some for a midnight snack.

I Do Politics

Wednesday February 1st. Morning.

Apparently I'm only fun to be around when I'm drunk. Possibly unsurprising, as painting and sculpture only speak to me in the same condition.

I'm also the unofficially official (or vice versa) local expert on such vexed political matter as:

* Why did Britain brexit? (Possibly, they didn't want to support Greece and Italy, now the european economy was failing. Or they hoped to silence the movement to leave by holding a referendum, with an unexpected result. Or...something else.)

* Is a third world war coming? (More like dozens of small wars.)

* Will Donald Trump cause it? (Only if his handlers lose control completely, and he really is that stupid and insane.)

* Why did America support Saddam Hussein? (He was useful at the time, particularly against Iran.)

* Why does America support Assad? (They're split, but enough think he's useful for now.)

* Is it true Hitler respected Muslims? (He used them, but planned to destroy them later.)

* What do you think of Isreal? (Even if its role and funding disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn't disappear any time soon.)

(My marxist friends used to hold debates on "Does Isreal Have The Right To Exist", to which I think the answer is: "The right as conferred by which power?")

Maybe I should drink more.

A foaming flagon of cool, crisp, refreshing...thin yoghurt.

Jobby

Tuesday January 31st. Morning.

On the other hand, sometimes your semi-paranoid imaginings can be prophetic. For instance, one thought was that a charity would offer a "probationary period" of, say, one month, during which I would do my job free of charge, after which they'd look and see whether there was a chance of paid employment.

To which my considered response would be "Fuck off, did you think I was born yesterday?".

Well, guess what happened.

It looks like I'm here till Saturday, which apart from the suddenly broken air conditioning and consequent need for me to type this wearing three thick layers of clothing...is fine.

Imagine eggplant, stuffed with spicy, crunchy peanut butter. Now imagine flat bread, dipped in olive oil, and coated in a powder of pungent herbs. Or the same bread, dipped in sweet oil of dates. All washed down with a strong, dark tea.

That's my breakfast. Now imagine a meal where you fill up with a first course of a dozen varieties of salad - finely chopped onion and leutice with a dusting of paprika, black and green olives, leafy kale coated in lemon juice, goat's cheese, hummous...each on its own little plate, for you to mix and try as you wish.

Then the main course, lamb or sometimes beef, grilled with peppers. Or, a plate of spicy chicken wings. Rice is an expensive option, as is pasta. It's a small stroke of genius that your actual hunger is taken care of by extensive starters, so the literal meat of the meal is a leasurely self-indulgence - much as a dessert course is for us.

You can finish off with sweet tea or a dose of caffine in the form of almost viscous coffee.

This is a typical resteraunt meal. I think one reason we get obese in the west is that we don't actually like our food very much.

Cornflakes, baked beans, sausage and mashed potato - convenience food. But also...boring. So we eat more, hoping the pleasure hit will come on the next bite.

Here, living in a cold tent in a Syrian refugee camp, breakfast is something to look forward to. As opposed to something you unthinkingly do while watching the breakfast TV news.


Yellow Soup.

Red Soup.

Decisions, Decisions

Monday January 30th.

Today was supposed to be the day we decide what to do for the next year. The options are:

1) Finish negotiations with an already existing charity. Arrange accommodation, transport and teaching space for me, start immediately, and at some point visit England to fetch all the hardware, software and data needed to upgrade teaching from basic.

2) Strike out on our own. I go home to get my stuff, Jamal squeezes business types in Saudi for funding, and when we're both done, get back to Turkey. My preferred option.

3) Give up the whole thing as a bad idea.

But, seeing as this is not just the middle east where nothing runs on schedule, but Turkey, where all meetings are a delicate dance of finding out what the terms of a verbal contract even mean...we've still got no idea what we're doing.

I don't like uncertainty, and I've got a very bad habit in uncertain situations. I tend to pace up and down, imagining scenarios where everyone else is being the most incompetent assholes in the world. And me coming up with strategies to deal with them.

Unfortunately, if you could reason with an asshole, they wouldn't be an asshole, by definition. That's why, however charitable your view on human nature, the only way to deal with bullies is to bully them. You deal with obstructive bureaucrats by obstructing them. And you defeat trolls by humiliating them - though whether that's best done by ignoring them is another matter.

That's why shouting works when pleading doesn't. It's why you deflate pomposity with ridicule, not debate. It's why blackmail, an appeal to the least enlightened form of self-interest, works better than appeals to, well, enlightened self-interest.

But pacing and fuming only leads to more pacing and fuming.

Unless you're debating creationists, flat earthers, or Trump supporters in the real world, obviously. Swivel-eyed loons can't be de-programmed, only smashed.

Taking afternoon tea on the lawn.