Though we have finally reached spring, the emotional atmosphere in Van is trembling. The university just had it’s rector elections to decide the new academic president. My department head Hassan, who is as beloved as his mustache is thick, was in the running as an underdog. And, just like a Hollywood film, he finished last. It was a crushing blow not only for him but also for those under him, because he is held in high regard. This week, the first since the elections, he has been seen only sporadically. The only time I saw him, I was teaching my faculty course. The topic: retirement (they said, we are too young to think about this, and I said, let’s see you come up with a better topic. This is a paraphrase, but the gist is true to what happened). Hassan popped his head in and without saying hello, spoke to the students in Turkish and then disappeared. I was befuddled, and I asked the students what he said. “He said class on Wednesday was canceled.” Well, that’s his prerogative, I said. Hassan teaches my course on Wednesdays; if he wants to take a week off, fine by me. “No,” one student said. “He canceled Wednesday – forever.”
On top of this, the Turkish idea of spring cleaning is setting fire to the fields of waist-high weeds and drinking tea as the harsh smoke floats over them. There are scattered 800 square foot areas of charred black earth that no one but me seems to notice.
However, I have recently been given an upgrade at the medical faculty. Wednesday has recently become Pediatrician Day, and as that is the Dean’s specialty, we now meet in his fake-mahogany office where his semi-hot secretary brings us tea and platters of fruit. Platters with an ‘s’. I get my own.
The pediatrician’s level of English is lower than either my regular doctors or my faculty courses. We have a lot of trouble communicating simple ideas, and at least once a session someone asks how I like their city. But yesterday provided me with this exchange:
“Your bird (beard) is gone. But you have (traces a mustache on his face)…”
“A mustache. Muh-stash. I kept it because it is traditional. I always see older Turks with a mustache. Dr. Oz – why do you wear a mustache?”
(Dr. Oz thinks)…”It is my sexual accessory!”
Everyone laughed, but I choose to ignore this comment. I have never yet heard a Turk talk about sex, and there was a woman in the room, which I assumed meant that there was zero chance Oz said what I thought he said. But as I switched topics, he asked:
“My sexual ak-sess-or-ee, correct?”
The rest of class went off without a hitch.
When we finished, I shook hands with the doctors, took an orange for the road and high fived my chauffeur on our way out. And when I got back to my room and began to change clothes, I discovered this:
A six-inch rip in my jeans, running from my tailbone to what would be my butt-jaw, with respect to the cheeks. At my best guess, it had been there most of the day, and there was absolutely no way that my group of doctors couldn’t have seen it. So besides losing a treasured pair of jeans (my only other dark pant is my 8th grade Woodland Jr. High sweats), I have also lost a little bit of credibility with my doctors.
Who am I kidding? I taught the class in a thermal shirt my dad bought used in the early 1980’s. I have no credibility.