"A Wedding in Ekinlik" By Irene Marie Spencer
A Wedding in Ekinlik
This small island town marches to a slow and sedate rhytm.
I AM SITTING IN THE CAFt NEAR THE FISHING BOATS, LISTENING to the fisherman with their raspy voices, to the chanting of prayers, to the wooden carts against the earth, to the high-pitched whin- ing of the ship's engine and the churning water. I feel dizzy and radiant at the same time. I gather up my sacks of vegetables, cheese, yogurt, and supplies from the market to go find Ombashi's fishing boat for the twenty-minute crossing to the tiny island of Ekinhk. The crowd from the big ship from Istanbul, which comes every afternoon at 2:00, has finally cleared out, the machine gun guards are now gone, the Turkish street music gone, now only the lapping sea and the dark-skinned boys diving for pennies off the pier.
It is easy to spot the fishermen with their self-assured expressions and weathered faces, standing protectively near their boats on the wooden dock. Ombashi is expecting me. His bright fishing boat is painted turquoise, yellow, and red. His face betrays no emotion of any kind; but I know there is a half-smile there, camouflaged by his prominent features. Ombashi has the face of an eagle. Straddling the boat and the quay, he holds out his hand to me, taking my bag. His every movement has a purpose. I find a spot on the small bow deck. I circle it, like a cat, then sit, gathering up my arms and legs. It is warm out, a day that glistens. I feel drops of sweat in my armpits, dripping down the insides of my blouse. I stretch my legs out and arrange my faded skirt around them, then rub my feet together. The aromas around me make my head spin: the freshness of the sea air laced with wafts of heavy Turkish tobacco, grilled corn, rotting fish, the powerful body odor of these working men, and salt, the salt in the air and the skin. Blinding spots of light reflecting from the swaying dance of clear aquamarine water make me squint.
Ombashi loads on several other people, villagers returning to Ekinlik with their bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, blue propane gas tanks, and plastic water jugs. A villager unties the rope from the dock, and pushes off with one leg. We motor slowly around the huge cement pier, where the ferry from Istanbul still looms above us, casting a behemoth shadow across the water, and then head straight out for the small island about a mile across the water. Ombashi sits perched at the stern, a large angular seabird, motion- less except for his arm slightly moving to steer. His sharp blue eyes dart almost imperceptibly over every roll and pitch of the Marmara Sea. I look at him and smile. He doesn't acknowledge me openly, even though I know he sees me. He looks straight ahead, to Ekinlik, but he seems to smile through the straight, immobile line of his lips. He is one who doesn't say much. But what he does say seems to matter. People listen, perking up when he speaks.
The vibration from the boat's motor enters through my heels, buzzes through my body, and reaches full pitch somewhere in the canals of my inner ears. Looking down at the churning water which turns black as we pass under the shadow of a cloud, I see exploding fireworks in the points of light shooting out from the boat's prow. I feel myself shrink, dwarfed by the vibration of the motor and the chant of the cutting water. I am feeling jubilant, and plunge my legs into the glowing Marmara Sea. The sun is warm on my arms, and I breathe in deeply. I feel myself fade away, and I melt into a place that is much, much larger than just me. This is a place full of spells and magic. I've seen blue charm beads every- where, little beads that look like glass eyes. They ward off the evil eye. I wear them as earrings. You can buy them for pennies in the marketplace, and you see them around the necks of women, on the key chains of the men, hanging from the rearview mirrors of buses, boats, and cars. I think of the Blue Mosque, a giant blue charm, as blue as this sea.
Ombashi lands the boat at the village quay. Landing at the village is like stepping into a fairy tale, with its whitewashed, eighteenth-century stone houses, its single caf6 with red and blue painted tables and chairs, and its small mosque with a pointed minaret off to one side. This island is from another century. As we land, there are a couple of fishermen sitting in the caf&. They sit and make nets, and the women sit on the porch, their faces solemn yet blissful. I can't remember any of their names, but they all re- member mine. They have names which are more like descriptions: Black Leg, Old Sailor, "ite One, Moonlight. I feel embarrassed, shaking hands and embracing these warm and smiling people who call me by name. Irena, they call me.
The houses of the village are stone or whitewashed cement, with paisley or faded lavender curtains hanging across the door- ways. The wooden beams framing the village houses are severely weather-beaten, full of gouges and splinters, and they keep their windows open, with little pots of globe oregano sitting on the sins or the front step. The women clean the thresholds to their homes daily, sweeping and scrubbing on hands and knees with soap and water, their hair tied back in scarves, and faded print shirt-sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The women smile and wave as I passed. I began to lose any desire to ever leave this island. With no cars, there is no smog, no revving engines, no car alarms going off in the middle of the night.
On Ekinhk, sounds take on a piercing and sharp quality. I can hear better, or maybe it's that I can hear at all for the first time in my life. The sounds of the insects buzzing and chirping, crickets and cicadas, even the flies that land on my arms as I walk from the village to Giilbin's house, seem enormously loud in my ears. The wind, as it heaves and pelts dust against her stone house; the black cow and its calf mooing; the chickens all around the village; the distant motoring of a fishing boat ... these are the sounds of this life.
Every afternoon there is a tremendous. blast from the steamship docking at Avsa. And then the sound of water, all around, a light lapping of flat waves against small beaches, always in the back- ground. It is the prayer, the ezan, being sung from the single minaret of the small mosque of Ekinlik, though, which pulls me inside of this place. This is a sound which makes goose bumps rise along the back of my neck, which sends a flood of warmth wash- ing over me, inside and out.
Gfilbin is waiting for me to arrive from Avsa with the groceries. She is in the process of tying a bright scarf around her jet-black jaw-length hair as I enter the house. The glass doors which span the entire length of the front room are pushed all the way open to let in the breeze and a view of the sea, which is just down at the foot of the stone stairs. She tells me excitedly as soon as I walk in that there will be a wedding in the village tomorrow, and tonight will be the bride's special ceremony. She says it is something that cannot be missed.
We take a long time getting dressed for this special occasion, yet I have no idea what it will be like. Finally we are ready to walk to the village, at twilight. As the sun disappears behind us, to the other side of the island, we walk in the violet stillness to the beat of the evening crickets, and notice the first stars pricking through the arching cloudless sphere above us. The west wind gusts and fusses with its small hands, caresses my bare calves, and bends the enor- mous brim of Gfilbin's hat into a near perfect ellipse.
All of the women and girls of the village are gathered in the caf6 on the quay, in the darkness. A kind of feminine hush and smallness precedes the ancient ritual. The women gather together and begin to sing a haunting and wistful chorus. I cannot under- stand the words, but the meanings scrape at my bones, piercing my heart with sharp little pins. Gdlbin motions to me to merge in with the women, to take part in the ceremony. We all stand touch- ing, connected, weaving into one tapestry the voices of many unique and strangely beautiful women. They light candles, and together, the women move as a unit, an airy, wispy, floating cloud of tender hearts and open hands, we move, gliding, towards the street of the village, towards the house of the bride.
Göle sees a "fundamental asymmetry" between Western and Muslim social organization: "Private spheres do not fit the same conception. 'Private sphere'in the West means 'privacy,' as far as I know, whereas in the Muslim concep- tion the private sphere, mahrem, means women's world, women's place. It is sacred. It is the for- bidden-forbidden to foreign men. It is basically related with the sexuality of women. It is not individualism. I think the basic organization of Muslim society depends on this limitation of women to the foreign man. That's why we speak of segrega- tion of sexes. Women's veiling defines what is interior and what is exterior."
-Scott L. Malcomson, Borderlands: Nation and Empire
A young girl, no more than eighteen, emerges from the stone house. She is dressed in white gauze from head to toe, and a long veil is draped over her face and head like the shroud of a corpse. The women circle around her, touching and holding her, their voices melding, drawing her on diaphanous threads to- wards the open sky. They lead her to the caf6, and begin to chant and dance in circles, their song rising in pitch, their hands opening and closing like emergent, wet butterflies. The women take out pots of henna and paintbrushes, and paint round red circles on their palms. Everyone is painted, myself as well. We all surround the bride, painting her palms and soles of her feet with henna, dancing, singing, and swaying. Then we lift her ur, above us, in one white flowing fountain, our movements becoming liquid, the voices sep- arating into questions and replies. GiAbin, the village women, and I carry the young, painted bride back to her home, sofdy liffing her back through the door into the arms of her weeping mother. All of the women then begin to sway and sing, the tears gently mak- ing rivulets down their full, transparent cheeks. The door closes, the women stand outside in the.dark, some with candles, and sing softly until the moment of separation makes itself felt in unison, wedges softly in our hearts beneath the veils.
When the women reach the dark caf& near the sea again, they embrace each other, quietly, sadly. Giilbin and 1, united by the strong emotion and magic of the ancient ceremony, embrace the village women, and embrace each other. No words seem appro- priate. Together, we walk in silence down the dark path, illumi- nated only by the full, effervescent moon. Together, closing our palms around the red, pulsating circles, we hear the crickets. We reach the house, still wordless, kiss, and go into our separate beds, ready to drift on the memory of the songs, to enter the magic of the red circles, in spiritual preparation for the wedding the follow- ing day.
Nothing, not even the mysteries of last night, has prepared me for the wedding day. It is a day that billows with light, a faded white day background against which the intensities of color are blinding. It is early afternoon, and all of the people of the village are gathered near the waterfront. Two of the double-decked fish- ing boats are decorated with tree branches and giant red bows, to transport the entire population of Ekinhk over to Avsa for the feast and celebration. The music has already started up, the musicians show gold teeth in their broad smiles. The plucked strings of the saz vibrate wildly, with a frenzy that jars my thoughts. The village women, dressed in their best flowered skirts and scarves, nod and flow together with a secret knowing. I open my palm- The red cir- cle of henna is still there. It pulses with the promise of eternity in a primitive way. The circle is bloodlike and has something to do with consummation. Giilbin told me that the reason for the painted circles has to do with dreaming, or good luck, but I can- not really pinpoint it. I understand, not needing an explanation.
The men are already dancing. They dance with each other, with a foreboding abandon. The dancing men, the knowing women, move as a large family towards the pier. The boats are ready. The villagers crowd onto them, spilling out over the rails. The weight of all of us rocks the boats violently, and I am terrified that we will capsize. I imagine the entire village swirm-ning and drowning in the sea, a mile from the shore. But the musicians, continuing to play, wedge themselves into the heaving crowd, somehow mask- ing the effect. Giilbin and I squeeze ourselves between the circle of women, and I feel the cool, moist pressure of enormous breasts and ample bodies completely surrounding us. The women shift their bodies as a unit, moving to the music and the careening dance of the boat in the swells. I look up at the sky. It is a vibrant blue, cloudless.
The wedding is to take place in an enclosed waterfront caf& covered by a huge tent. A few mangy cats prowl around the edges of the outer tables. The light inside is a gaudy, fluorescent green, casting an unearthly, morbid glow on the faces of the wedding guests. Pink and blue crepe paper streamers sag from the corners of the tent, held together in the center above a huge rotating Mir- rored ball. Specks of light dart and swirl, and make a crazy, streak- ing grid on the greenish-cast canvas walls of the wedding pavilion. The street musicians are gone. Now, in the tent, there is a profes- sional band with an electric piano, electrified instruments, and an echo chamber which gives the sequined vocalist a carnivalesque, spooky sound. A shriveled, starving dog has sneaked into the tent, and I turn just in time to see one of the village men send the bony animal flying back outside with a powerful kick.
Giilbin and I order beers. There are small bowls of sunflower seeds and peanuts on the tables. I search the expanse of people and tables with my eyes, until I locate Hakki, a very attractive young man from the village who has been visiting us at Giilbin's house. He sits at a table with some other villagers, drinking a beer and looking directly at me. Embarrassed, I turn away.
The wedding could be taking place in Las Vegas. The ceremony is very short and mundane. The bride has a tawdry look, a village girl wearing too much makeup. The bride and groom stand before a long folding table, and exchange gold rings. Nothing seems very exotic about this Turkish wedding. The greenish atmosphere gives the whole thing a garish, cheapened unreality. The highlight of the wedding is the money dance. The whirling, laughing couple seems to come alive, both of them pinned from head to toe with multicolored bills of Turkish lira. There is a traditional white wed- ding cake, a champagne toast, rice. This couple had apparently de- cided on a Western, American style wedding, something they had admired while watching the much-anticipated, weekly broadcast of American sitcoms on the TV perched above the village caf&. After dancing to the hollow-sounding wedding music for what seems like hours, they pack the boats and head back across the water to Ekinlik.
I am relieved to get back. The sacredness I had experienced the night before has been lost on Avsa, in the vulgarity of the green- ish tent wedding. But back on Ekinlik, the village musicians begin to play. The caf6, open and fiffl of air and light, woos me back into the mood. And Hakki is there, watching me at a much closer dis- tance. The men dance together, with a visceral, sexual intensity. I wait to see Hakki dance. When he finally does, I feel my stomach knotting and my head lightening as I watch him move, his arms tightly outstretched with fingers snapping, his hips undulating. I feel small points of sweat appear in half-moons under my eyes. Then the women dance, and I dance for Hakki. I dance, feeling the physical force of eyes following my every swerve. I move my hips in a circle, snaking my arms in the Turkish style. I dance with Giilbin, and with other girls of the village. The long afternoon light deepens, golden, reflecting gilt edges around the wooden tables and chairs pushed to the sides of the caf6. Slowly, even the gold fades into the shadows between the swells on the darkening sea. When I stop dancing, I retreat to the edge of the quay to breathe in the warnr, black air.
When the village stops dancing, they divide down the middle, the young men facing the young women. They start to sing a sad and haunting ballad, the girls asking unknown questions with the lightness of their voices, the men responding with their gentle answers. I am transfixed by the profound silence surrounding the song; the voices seem to emerge from a hidden dimension. One young girl's voice seems to take on a physical form as it hangs suspended in the chasm between the village men and women; its beauty is something I can feel with the palms of my outstretched hands.
To the beat of a single drum, the group moves together to the groom's house, where the couple will spend their wedding night. The wedding couple, delivered to their bed with the song of the village, enter the stone house. To the closed wooden door and the candle in the window, the village sings outside the house. To the young bride and the honorable groom, the village sings of the heart. As the wings of the angel fold, the dark hovering form begins to move towards the sea. We walk, me with my arms out- stretched linking shoulders with village girls, as we sing, still softly. When we reach the sea, we continue to sing for a long time.
Irene-Marie Spencer writes, paints, and climbs volcanoes in her spare time. Die rest of her time is taken up with herjour spirited daughters, a husband, two dogs, a catfive rabbits, two guinea pigs, and two budgies. She hailsfrom Wisconsin, but now lives with herfamily in New Zealand. This story is an excerptfrom a longer body of work entitled Tales of the Moon and Water, a nonfiction account of her experiences living in a smallfishing village on the island of Ekinlik in the Marmara Sea.
"A Wedding in Ekinlik" By Irene Marie Spencer
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