Welcome to Tuesday’s Traveller
I don’t know about you, but I love hearing other people’s stories. The more stories I read of like minded people who live abroad, or are travel addicts like myself, the more I want to read! This has led me to create Tuesday’s Traveller, where I’ll bring you a guest post each week written by someone who either has an expat or travel story to share. Hope you love getting lost in them as much as I do!
Just A Little Off The Top
By Margaret Özemet
There’s always a lot of talk about man-parts in our house but I suppose that is to be expected in a household where even the cat has a Y chromosome. Having been raised with only brothers I’m no stranger to this but still, eww. In the past few months talk of the nether regions has been ramped up for a few reasons. First off, our youngest has a bum kidney and thus he has gone through way more than his share of catheterizations this year, which come with a host of disturbances to his tiny pal. Secondly, that same little man is also in the midst of potty-training and thanks to all those afore mentioned disturbances, it’s not going well but he is a fan of holding onto his little friend beneath the diaper resulting in me regularly yelling, “put that penis down!” But the third and probably most intense reason for all the tally-whacker talk is because our oldest is about to turn eight and eight is when a young Turkish boy has his sünnet.
What is a sünnet you ask? Ah yes, the sünnet is the gateway to manhood for a young Turk. It is a ceremony in which a boy is dressed in a white satin suit, dons a beautiful cape trimmed in silver and blue, and sports a crown-like hat. He is escorted from his home by a live band and upon reaching the street is whisked away on horseback, or by flashy convertible, to a bandstand in the city center where he dances his regional dance with his father and grandfather before heading to the party. Upon his arrival at the venue he is then circumcised and a grand party commences in his honor. What? Oh no, you read that right. I did say circumcised. Harsh huh?
While the new man recovers, the rest of the family whoops it up with some dancing, drinks, food and of course, lots and lots of photos. My husband’s sünnet photos are some of the most awesome photos of all time. In fact, upon our arrival in Turkey they were the first things his family showed me and I laughed so hard that I fell even more in love with him. Because he will not allow me to republish them, I’ll give a brief recreation:
Photo 1- He’s riding a white horse like he’s Suleiman the freakin’ Magnificent.
Photo 2– He’s dancing like Genghis Khan after a winning battle.
Photo 3– He’s strutting into that party like the owner of Studio 54
Photo 4– He’s in a big, white satin bed surrounded by his smiling extended family with the saddest face any child has ever had, ever.
I titled Photo 4, “What happened to my wiener?”
Because our sons are half-breeds, half Turk, half American, we get to choose which ceremonies from which culture we want to inflict upon them. After witnessing my second or third sünnet in our Turkish neighborhood I determined that it was an amazing right of passage with deep roots that I most certainly wanted to make a part of our family’s life. Then I got pregnant with a boy and decided there was no way in hell anyone was lobbing off my baby’s foreskin before the masses when he was old enough to remember it. I planned to have it done at birth so there was no discussion about this later but our doctor warned us that was a bad plan as no doctors he knew in Turkey were skilled in performing newborn circumcisions. “Big risk. No take.” I believe were his actual words. So we waited.
By the time his brother was born he was 5, we were back living in the US and I had done enough reading to determine I wasn’t interested in circumcising the new little half-breed either. We decided to go the intact route. My husband, clearly still traumatized from his own sünnet, agreed. I mean, he must have lingering trauma or why wouldn’t he let me hang an enlarged, framed recreation of Photo 4 in our family room, right? We determined that the sünnet was one cultural ceremony that was best let go.
However, a while back we received photos of our Turkish family attending the sünnet of another family member and my oldest became curious. I asked his father to explain it as it’s his culture, but he simply said, “It is dumb. We will not do.” And that was it. Unfortunately, our son is a lot like me so he pressed on until his American mother was forced to explain it in detail. After using the best, most 7 year-old appropriate explanation I could muster my son screeched, “WHAT!?!?! Why in the world would anybody ever want to do that???? That is insane!”
Touché little buddy, my thoughts exactly.
I tried to move on but I’d said too much.
“Mom, I’m almost 8. You and Baba aren’t going to do that to me, right?”
A few hours later…
“Mom, we’re not going to visit Babanne in Turkey this summer are we? Because I’ll be 8 and I know what happens.”
And the next day…
“Mom, I decided I don’t want to be a Turkish man so I don’t need that whole wiener cutting thing. Ok?”
And the next evening…
“Oh my gosh Mom, did they cut off Baba’s wiener during his sünnet thing?” Clearly we haven’t had that ‘where do babies come from’ chat yet.
This eventually faded but every so often, something jars his memory and his panic returns. While other mothers would reassure again and again to spare their child the agony I am not other mothers. The opportunity for torment is too much for me to pass up and I just can’t help myself.
At the carnival- “Mom, can I ride the horse?”
“Sure, you can ride a nice white horse to your sünnet.”
At home- “Mom, I should be able to ride my bike all the way around the block without you. I mean, I’m almost 8.”
“Sure you can, after your sünnet you’ll be a man so you can do it then.”
At dinner- “Mom, I hate going to Catechism. I’m not going anymore.”
“Sure, you can skip Catechism and instead of First Communion, I’ll start setting up the band for your sünnet.”
Of course they whole sünnet process has changed in recent years and most are performed in hospitals and the party is held when the boy is healed but my kid doesn’t need to know that. I’ve found great power in the threat of circumcision and I intend to use it as long as possible. Maybe since I don’t have those man parts I will never fully understand. Then again, neither will my boys because they are only ½ Turk and as far as I’m concerned, the lower half will remain un-Turked.
Margaret Özemet is an American teacher and writer who fell madly in love and suddenly found herself sharing a tiny apartment with her new husband and his parents in Turkey. After a few years and a couple kids, she’s back in the U.S. and trying to adapt. Her work has been seen on numerous online sites, print journals and anthologies, including New Letters, Hippocampus, Red Fez Magazine and Scary Mommy to name a few. Her work can also be seen on her weekly blog, Laughter is Better Than Prozac –laughterisbetterthanprozac.wordpress.com. Keep up with her though her website: margaretozemet.com, on Twitter @MOzemet or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/laughterisbetterthanprozac.