Saturday, November 20, 2010

Putting our lives on video: East meets West


When it comes to squeezing your mission in life into a 3 minute video, it's not the simplest thing. Especially since I've never done one before. But I have an urgent need to communicate a really big idea. An idea so big that it consumes my every waking moment, and often my dreams as well. So exciting that I am amazed that everyone else doesn't already know about it, and I really want them to. Perhaps that's slightly egocentric, but I've been pleasantly surprised to learn that, yes, there are a lot of people out there who do think like I do. The girl effect and the hundreds of wonderful words and images out there have been launched, and I happily stumbled into their midst. 

It's important to remember that change for the good can take time...but slowly, it will happen.  
We will be useful. We will make a difference.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The 'girl effect' hits home

This past winter, as I worked one more time in California to bridge the financial gap that always occurred each winter in Turkish tourism, with economies tightening and a decade that has seen wars, terrorism, earthquakes tossing in more than the occasional challenge to making a living, I decided to work with a life design coach. While I’ll always love finding and selling the vintage textiles of a former generation, I felt it was time to get back to expressing myself directly through making my own work, to clarify my focus. And I felt the need to involve and help other women, especially the strong women of our Kurdish family, who had great crafting skills but had been afforded little education. So if they worked outside the home, it was to do the back-breaking work of picking cotton or fruit. 

The galvanizing moment in my winter work to recreate myself one more time and to do something to help others came when Rose Deniz posted a story on her blog Love, Rose about a 16 year old Kurdish girl in Adiyaman named Medine Memi. Medine had been buried alive by her family. Her transgression? She talked to boys. The media was full of stories about backward Kurds, how Islam made them do it, and how Turkey could never become part of the EU.

One journalist, Mustafa Akyol of Hurriyet, explained such honor killings by pointing to the topography of the southeast “It is a very mountainous region, which is inhospitable to trade routes, railways and highways. Hence its inhabitants have lived almost isolated from the outside world for centuries and have remained largely untouched by modernity.” he said.

Though I agreed with him that Kurds have largely kept to their tribal ways that include many traditions that existed well before Islam, they are not as isolated as everyone makes them out to be. Kurds live all over the country and it's only a small percentage that still thinks in these archaic ways. 

I commented at the time, “I'm in shock when I read of another so-called "honour" killing...there is nothing honorable about it. My heart breaks for this girl. As traditional as my Kurdish family is, I cannot fathom them condoning such barbaric behavior."

And I can't. But I know that education is the key to stopping such horrors, and education starts with the women of the family, so they can teach their children, boys and girls, how to behave as decent human beings. While taking on the problem of honor killings would be a huge undertaking, I knew that if my large family of uneducated women were sometimes having a tough time making ends meet in the sleepy but lovely town of Selcuk, what must life be like for similar women from the east who had moved to sprawling Istanbul? 

Rose wrote in her post about those Turkish women journalists and authors writing about Medine and honor killings that “there are female voices here that are not passive, but strong, and that their discourse must be acknowledged for contributing to building a safe place for women worldwide.” 

A safe place for women. How could I do that? I knew that every woman in my family knits or crochets. Designing knitwear is one of my favorite things to do. I knew we could share the language of craft, even if we barely spoke each other’s language, for although I speak Turkish, I don’t speak Kurdish. I could start a cottage business, and eventually work toward the goal of creating handmade products that benefits not just Kurdish women, but any woman who needs extra cash so perhaps her daughter can go to school, or her son does not have to carry around a scale for people to weigh themselves on the street. 

So this summer my husband and I moved to Istanbul’s Old City, to test our idea to launch a workshop to support these local unsung artisans: women who still weave, knit, and crochet in the traditions of timeless Turkish handcraft. While there are educated women reviving crafts as a hobby or a career here, I’m more concerned about those other women with fewer opportunities who’d like to earn money within a safe community of women. Our workshop will also give traveling women a chance to meet Turkish women through classes we’ll offer and craft tours we’ll host about yarns, knitting, making oya, traditional kece or patterned felt work – there are so many ideas here. We hope to engage hands to learn new skills and teach traditional ones, to spin yarns, clack needles and drink tea together. 

This next decade of my life, I will be a creative force for bridging cultures. Starting next spring in Sultanahmet, we’ll share the common language of craft, tell stories about our cultures, educate against our prejudices, create beautiful new traditions. We'll make a difference in each others’ lives. 

And today, because the Universe always knows what I need, my Dialogue 2010 sisters Rose Deniz and Anastasia Ashman were there to motivate me and reinvigorate my purpose. A world of thanks to Tara Sophia Mohr for inspiring them. 

And to my Kurdish sisters – may your children never experience the difficulties you have, but may they inherit your grace, beauty, compassion and love.