I had the privilege of visiting Turkey recently and found myself marveling at the women. As a predominantly Muslim country, I assumed women wore head scarves, burkas or tesettür (a headscarf and light cover-all topcoat) even in warm climates. However, I was surprised to see women and girls dressed in mostly European styles while shopping, or enjoying an evening out with family and friends.
Until late 2013 the head scarf had been outlawed in Turkey in public buildings and universities. More recently the law has been relaxed, and a small percentage of women still wear them. Turkey is considered to be a more western leaninig, secular country. Therefore, in many areas European style prevails over traditional Muslim attire. It was easy to find women dressed in jeans and casual wear as well as skirts and dresses.
The point of departure for me came when entering a mosque for worship or observation. In this case, all women and girls were required to enter with a head scarf. Some mosques had scarves available and required women to use them if they do not bring their own. A fellow travel friend of mine liked her scarf so much that she donated money to the mosque to keep her scarf. If skirts were above the knee, an additional wrap was provided to cover them, creating a longer length.
The author at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
In my experience I found that the Turkish people are quite accepting of most styles of dress, no matter your country of origin or cultural background. However, it is customary in the less urban areas for women to be dressed more modestly with sleeved tops, slacks or knee-length dresses or skirts.
What does your attire say about you?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by La Shaun Martin of shootiegirl.
As an adoptive mother of an Ethiopian Panther, I’ve grown an extra pair of antennas when it comes to racism.
Truly, a lot of really nice people distinguish my daughter from other children, based on her color. Even if it is meant to defend her, like calling me disgusting for letting her carry the groceries, it basically still is hidden racism. Should I tell her that people believe she shouldn’t be helping me out because it reminds them of slavery while her white brother is allowed to do the same chores? I’d rather have people call me names than let them wreck my daughter’s self esteem.
However, as I’m writing this, there is a HUGE racism debate going on in Belgium and even worse in The Netherlands, where it all started. And despite my racism antennas, I just can’t fully agree with the racism-yellers this time. Not even if they yell all the way from some United Nations office.
The debate is all about the ancestor of Santa Claus: Sinterklaas. You can read here about how Santa Claus evolved from our Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, who is actually believed to be Turkish, who resides in Spain, has a white horse called Bad-Wheater-Today (Belgium) or Amerigo (The Netherlands), and celebrates his December birthday by coming over to our countries and surprising children with presents.
In the Netherlands he comes over on the evening of December 5th. Later that night, he comes to Belgium and delivers toys and sweets to be found in the children’s shoes on the morning of the 6th. It’s really a children’s celebration, full of magic and anticipation. You will bump into him just about everywhere during November.
Now, because Sinterklaas is getting old and forgetful, and has a lot of work to do within 24 hours, he has helpers. These helpers are all black, and hence all called ‘Black Peter’ (Zwarte Piet).
And that’s where all the accusative fingers point.
Indeed, this tradition can be seen as offensive. I, for a fact, believe it is partly based on a slavery and stereotype-loaded past, and a lot of people agree with me. Black Peter has long been depicted as a bit slow, barbaric (kidnapping and hitting the naughty children), dressed in clownish clothes, with stout lips and being submissive to his white boss.
Of course I agree this is an awful, insulting picture to brainwash our children with during the big Sinterklaas-Awaiting-Month-of -November. I also agree an outsider would be shocked, when he meets Sinterklaas and his Black Peters for the first time, especially if oblivious to the folklore. And I honestly understand and feel the offense people take.
For me personally, Sinterklaas has me cringing with bittersweetness ever since I found out about his racist taint. I’m not even particularly fond of the Sinterklaas tradition anymore.
However, I also don’t agree that we are teaching our children racism, nor paying ode to slavery by honoring this tradition every year. Not any more, that is.
Since the 1990’s, we have a children’s holiday special on TV portraying the real story. Children are elegantly taught Black Peter is black – and not brown/colored/african – because he came down the chimney. No more, no less. Nobody really tries to explain why his clothes didn’t get black during his journey down the chimney.
It is just part of the mystery, just like Bad-Wheater-Today walking on rooftops or Sinterklaas having this enormous book in which the good and bad behavior of every single child is listed. It doesn’t make sense, but children buy it anyway.
In this TV-special, Sinterklaas is depicted as a bit senile. In fact his Black Peters are now the smart ones, all with different names according to their function or character. A bit like the Smurfs, and everyone likes the Smurfs, right?
For the past 20+ years, this special comes on every November. Along the way, children started to grow more afraid of this very strict and grumpy old man than of his joyous, candy throwing helpers. The Black Peters became the true friends of our children. And every Belgian child you ask about Black Peter’s color now, will patiently tell you the chimney-story.
To me, this shows our tradition is evolving from, I admit, a racist past, towards a new story. Just like it evolved into Santa Claus overseas—who, by the way, appears to imprison a whole lot of innocent, little people in a Siberia-like, harsh environment without paying them for their round-the-clock labor.
Therefore, I trust society may even evolve towards a tradition of White Peters in a few more years or decades. After all, with more and more houses being built without huge chimneys, we will sooner or later find out that Peter’s color is fading, won’t we?
I’m hoping that by the time this post runs, all the petitions –pro and con–the social media frenzy, any UN investigations and any public manifestations, will be over and done with. I truly hope no-one got hurt along the way, and that both camps have reached a certain level of understanding towards each other by the time Saint Nicholas wants to celebrate his birthday.
Because, you know, my children are already expecting Sinterklaas to send one of his Peters down our chimney on the 6th of December. Especially my very dark daughter is impatiently awaiting. I’d hate to disappoint her if he decided not to come this year, because he’s afraid to be called a racist. She would definitely not understand, mainly because she doesn’t see any resemblance between Black Peter and herself.
I’m confident Sinterklaas will make it, though. We are both alike, Sinterklaas and me. We’re already used to people calling us racist slave handlers. And we both know better than that.
Did you know about Santa Claus’s European past? How would you feel if he had black helpers instead of elves?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.
The picture in this post is credited to Sinterklaas Himself, who published it on Wikipedia, while undercover as Gaby Kooiman, under GNU Free Documentation License.
I am a Turkish mom, who is raising my 3 kids in the United States of America during the school season and in TURKEY for the summers. My husband and I made the conscious decision to raise our kids immersed in both of our cultures. Growing up in the democratic and secular country that Ataturk founded, I was nurtured in a climate of peace and freedom. I attended college in Switzerland and then in the United States, and I pride myself in being an independent and strong woman.
Ataturk’s western leaning values and teachings of acceptance, tolerance, honesty, hard work, and respect, still guide me today while I live with my American husband, and raise our kids.
We love taking our kids to Istanbul every summer. We have extended family and friends who welcome us. My oldest son swims in the Cross Continent Swim Meet each year. Where else in the world can one be in Asia and Europe within minutes? The kids spend the summers playing with their second and third cousins, and making new friends. We are exposing our kids not only to their own culture but also to others by traveling to historic sights, living world history, and showing them how all different religions, and ethnicities live in harmony in the same country. Although the religion of the population in Turkey is predominantly Muslim, it’s government is secular, and Turkey is a home for all religions and ethnic backgrounds. Everyone is free to practice what he or she believes. Well I should say everyone WAS free…
As I am sure most of you are aware by now, what started as a peaceful “save the tree” protest last week, has turned into a Revolution. Turkey elected a prime minister more than a decade ago, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has over the years leaned increasingly towards autocracy . He wants to build malls over parks, as a way to fill his pockets, demolish art centers and theaters, and build mosques to force his brand of conservative religion down everyone’s throat. He has sent his forces in to use tear gas, beat, throw illegal chemical compounds, and to imprison others whom he regards as threats to his Islamic régime. As the laws of the land do not seem to apply anymore in the country, I fear for my own children’s future, my niece who is in Istanbul, my family, my friends, my fellow citizens safety, and then I fear for the whole world’s safety. The new growing Turkey that has brought together worlds of religion, cultures and worldly growth is suddenly showing inordinate levels of intolerance.
I am a Turkish American mom who wants raise her kids in a world with peace, love, and tolerance in harmony. The world needs to know what is going on in Turkey right now, and to know that this is not the country that the Turkish people are used to, and apparently, based on the uprisings going on now, it is not the way they wish to live. It is no longer just about saving trees or the park, but about regaining democratic human rights.
This is an original guest post written for World Moms Blog by Ebru who grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, and now splits her time between Istanbul and the United States of America.
Have you been following the story of the uprising in Turkey?