Some Fragile Stitching


Mekanı cennet olsun. May his place be Paradise. I watched a burial today. It was a man from one of Eyüp's old families, a family who once owned the lovely pink köşk behind the mosque before it was sold to Moroccans, whose brother used to run the Şark Kahvesi where he would sit and squint at people's fortunes in murky coffee grounds in a cafe hung with photographs, whose father was the last in a family whose work for years was to look after the mosque. I watched his burial today, stood in the last row of his burial as the imam––who spoke with the flat accents of eastern Anatolia––wished the blessings of the Lord upon his soul.

The last funeral I remember clearly was that of my grandfather; even that was not so much a funeral as a memorial, when we gathered in the shade of California sycamores to tell what we remembered. I don't remember what I said, only that people have told me it touched them. Perhaps this is what grief moves us to, to a sort of forgetting of ourselves. Kendimizi unutuyoruz.

This struck me as something far more physical, more labored. The coffin of the deceased, the rahmetli, was a simple plywood structure, covered in a green shroud. After the funeral prayers, relatives and friends and others shouldered the coffin onto their shoulders in a way that suggested the body carried more weight than it should, that suggested that even as our souls pass from one world to the next what we leave is made even heavier in our absence. The grave had been dug beforehand by a man who worked for the city government, and that man, in his blue polo shirt streaked with dirt, stood to one side, a pickaxe leaning against the marble of another family's plot. I didn't see exactly how the coffin was lowered into the grave, but as they recited verses from the Qur'an I watched as the men used their hands and two small shovels to push the dirt and roots and stones back upon the hole in the earth. At the back of that family plot stood two Ottoman-era gravestones. A third, buried nearly to its neck, served as a footrest for those clambering down from the plot. There was something unexpectedly raw about the site of these men pushing earth back onto the grave, the material sense of filling one world, closing one door. But these passages are never simple, never effortless. They leave dust upon us, before we walk back into the world.

Eyüp Mezarlığı

I was with three friends tonight before iftar. One was new to our group, and he fell into a conversation about whether it was possible for us to make observations upon, to draw conclusions from the events in Egypt. "Have you ever lived in Egypt?" he was asked. "No," he returned, "but can anybody who's lived in Turkey make statements about Turkey?" "No," came the response.

In a sense, what was at stake in that conversation has been one of the things running through so much of my time here –– a time that is coming to an end –– To what extent can we make statements about the lives of others? What are those statements grounded upon? There is a school of thought that holds out the possibility of an objective statement, the possibility of a truth divorced from position. There is another school of thought that insists on the radical impossibility of a single truth; there, everything is relative, those who claim a position of knowledge are either deluded or in a position of power or both. What's left in between in something at once more tenuous and more substantial: That our statements are above all social, caught up in these relationships that leave traces, residue, dust upon us.

To insist on the sociability of our knowledge –– to insist more, not less, on the social of the social sciences, is to acknowledge the different kinds of relationships that help us arrive at statements about the world. We all, in our own ways, speak as a means to engage with the world. We speak of the world that we might articulate some sense of who we are. What I think I've been engaged in these past two years –– and what I think I'll continue with as I move forward –– is articulating not only my sense of the word, but how different groups of people come to see the world in relationship to one neighborhood of Istanbul.

Eyüp is full of graves, graves that tie old families to the places they once knew, that claim new places for those not from here, that remind us of the long histories which come together to give us this one moment. Graves are also social; as another friend's project with oya so compellingly demonstrates, this thing that comes to count as the social is woven of past and present, some fragile stitching that binds empty spaces into lovely, haunting whorls.

Those are the memories we take with us.


Anonymous said…
Leaving Istanbul must feel like a kind of death. But you will carry the dust and the memories and the knowledge, and help us understand better. Thank you.

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