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  • This story winds down the retelling of a 1996 memoir from where Olympos Air left off. This was my first trip to Turkey, and here is why I went there. My wife helps me explain.


    My visit was drawing to a close but the main event was yet to come. I tried to keep calm and carry on, as today I would become engaged to marry. Having nervous energy and some time to kill while Aygül was having her hair done, I sought to amuse myself by ambling about Kemer to observe street life. The tourist trade being scant in winter, most shops were shuttered. The best action I found was at the street bazaar, where I parted with most of my Turkish Liras for some nuts, cheese, and trinkets.

    When I returned to the hairdresser, Aygül looked lovelier than ever. Her hair was now about a half a foot shorter, no longer wrapped into a bun but dancing in the afternoon air. We stole a kiss and drove back to the house to help prepare for the family gathering a few hours later. I wanted to shower, but by then all the hot water had been used up so I sponged off, donned my nicest clothes, and went to wait in the living room until my turn came to use the kitchen to cook the mushrooms we had gathered in the mountains.

    Aygül's father had put on a suit, and was filling his camera with film. Aysel was casually flopped in an armchair, feeling under par with a miserable cold that she got the day after we arrived. This was the second day she had stayed home from work, and she was concerned that she would lose her new job (as receptionist in a health resort) if she took more sick days. But after she dolled up and the others arrived, Aysel perked up and seemed to have a good time.

    The plan was to have our ceremony when sister Aysegül and family arrived, after which we would feast and exchange gifts. It was not really an exchange, as the gifts were all from Aygül and I. Her brother Guray was on business in Istanbul, apparently unaware that an engagement was taking place. Nervously, I kept asking Aygül what would happen and what I should say, only to be told that it was all ad lib; nobody else really knew what to do either. All I really needed to do was to produce the gold bands we had bought in Antalya and give them to her father, who would install them and then cut the red ribbon that bound them together. That was pretty much it, as it turned out. Still, I was surprised there wasn't more of a script.


    I had told him that there will not be a script, and he should just hang out and try to sense what is going to happen next. It was because our engagement ceremony was the result of the flow. We did not know that it would happen for sure. I certainly was not sure about it. I just wanted to see where the events would take us or if getting engaged would make sense in that flow. Well, it did, but then we really did not have time to organize or decide what to do, because my partner had to go back to school after being away for three weeks. He hesitantly took another week to come to Turkey to meet my family or my people over there to see if his love to his woman from strange land relates to his universe. Everything was flowing beautifully, with every second full of full of event, curiosity. The fact that I am the only translator made my seconds even more occupied, which I enjoyed very much. Two loved sides of mine are getting know each other through me. How enlightening and peaceful! Oh God! This flow left us with quick but very happy and fun engagement ceremony, in which we took the first step to cherish and hold each other until death do us part.
  • Like my own, Aygül's family isn't very religious and hews to few traditions. Regardless, the shape of our engagement ceremony seemed firmly embedded in the culture, even though its details were hastily improvised (another hallmark of Turkishness, I have learned).

    Seyfettin bid me to sit with him on a sofa. Then he took my hand in his and started speaking in Turkish: "Cef, ..." he began. Aygül, sitting at my other side, started to translate. I was told I was being told that they welcomed me into their family because I was the one Aygül loved and had chosen, and that as far as he could tell I was a good man who must have many fine qualities, otherwise I wouldn't be there. He complimented my looks and said he thought I was polite and well bred. Around then Safiye came in and sat next to Aygül as her husband continued to speak. He was asking me a question: did I love his daughter, and would I always keep and protect her? I looked at him and told him I had never known anyone as beautiful, considerate, smart and compatible to me as Aygül is, and that she would always be the jewel in the lotus of my heart.


    He gave the most wonderful speech. I was touched, so was my family. He was doing great even though he was alone as a representative of himself and his intentions. It was a wonderful experience to feel his heart at that moment as well as his anxiety -- I love him dearly. He is an extra-ordinary human being and I feel myself very lucky to have found him.


    Then Aygül said he was asking me if I would marry her, and I told him oh yes, if she and you will have me. It is her decision, he replied, and we gladly accept it. I wanted to hug him, but with tears in my eyes, I kissed his hand, still gripped in mine, and pressed it to my forehead. Then I took Safiye's hand and repeated the gesture, one that I had read that Turks do to register respect. Early on, I tried it on Aygül, who giggled and then told me that this was normally done by younger people to older ones, but is still widely practiced. The gesture felt appropriate, and as applause played around the room we stood up to finish our ceremony.
  • Hyperventilating and fishing in my jacket pocket, I retrieved the little plastic box that I had carried back several days ago from Antalya, where Aygül and I had traveled by dolmuş—the omnipresent people movers of Turkey—from Kemer to buy our rings.


    The people in dolmuş were very aware of Geoff from his look, if not his English. They asked me about who he is, as if I have to get their OK for him to be there. It is a process of registering him to their society and make him part of it. When Geoff asked about historical remains that we passed, the man sitting next to him started explaining what it was about in English, which impressed him. He was thrilled receiving money from people to pass to driver as a fee of the ride. He realized that Turks have worked out efficient distribution of labor from hand to hand to handle any problem or chore.


    In our tour of Antalya, we did a museum and visited Levent, my bacanak, at his hotel, where we enjoyed a complimentary two-hour Turkish bath (separately, of course). Then we cruised for engagement rings, which in Turkey tend to be wedding rings worn differently. One section of Antalya, where the old city overlooks the bay, has dozens of jewelry shops, most only a few meters square, mostly selling pretty much the same stuff. Nearly all the display windows featured wedding bands, but to my surprise every shop seemed to offer a unique selection of these ordinary items. Every now and then a young man would emerge from a shop as we studied its window, to ask if he could be of service. Aygül would tell him we were only window-shopping, and we would move on. There weren't any hard sells, no "you must come look: we have the most beautiful precious jewelry in Anatolia!" spiels.

    Either we just tired of looking or we had found just the right rings when we entered a little shop on the corner of two pedestrian ways. Aygül told the owner what interested us; he withdrew a plush board holding a set of gold engagement rings from within the counter, and we started trying them on. This was the city, so he didn't pry into who we were or where our families came from, as might have happened in Kemer. Soon we had selected matching bands with fine ridges etched around them, like gold coins. We settled down on a small sofa to wait while our rings were taken down the block to have our names engraved inside them. The owner called out for refreshments, and soon a young man appeared with two glasses of apple tea on a tray he carried with a chain. After that, I noticed a number of tea-boys (always young men, it seemed) going in and out of shops. One may even be served tea while receiving a shoeshine on the street.

    Seyfettin opened the box I handed him and withdrew the contents, two gold rings on a red ribbon with a bow. He placed the larger ring on my left ring finger, the other on Aygül's. Ayşegul handed him scissors; he was about to sever the ribbon that connected them when she whispered something in his ear. In his haste to give away his daughter, he had skipped the engagement and gone straight to the wedding by placing the rings on our left hands instead of our right! Neither ring fit so snug that it was hard to undo this; rings swapped fingers, ribbon got snipped, kisses went all around, cameras flashing. And it was so: we had just done a great thing. Suddenly I felt at peace and at home.

    A year would pass before those rings found their rightful place on our left hands in a wedding ceremony in a Kemer hotel function room with by many more relatives and family friends looking on. We were, in fact already married by then—in a ceremony at my mother's house in Connecticut four months previously. But we had kept our rings on our right hands until our Turkish family could do the honors.

    This year is the 20th anniversary of that confusing living room ceremony.


    @image: Seyfettin about to cut the ribbon around our rings, officially pronouncing us betrothed
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