Today I had the most successful shopping trip so far in Turkey: I FOUND BACON! This is a Muslim country folks. Pork simply isn’t available at the corner store. It took 4 hours and five metro transfers (transfers are not free, BTW) to get to the store that caters to westerners and back to my apartment. The cost was astronomical: 100TL or about $36 US. That’s roughly 5% of my monthly pay. Totally worth it, too. You can get cured beef (dana) and sheep, but it is soooooo not the same as pork belly.
The other day I had a reading in class that mentioned that someone had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Not one of my students had ever even heard of the word before. So I wrote on the board: “pig meat = pork. Bacon is a type of pork.” The look of horror on my students’ faces was comical to me, but I dared not even smile. I explained that non-Muslims often ate pork and that bacon was one of my favorite foods. They were obviously seeing a side of their teacher that they hadn’t expected. We then went on to learn another vocabulary word: forbidden. Always a teaching moment!
Today is the first day of Ramazan (Ramadan to most of the Muslim world). Technically it started at sundown yesterday. Observant followers of Islam fast from sunup to sundown. A lunar holiday, the month long celebration moves each year. It is particularly difficult when it falls in the middle of the summer—the longest and hottest days. Not even water is allowed to pass your lips. According to Ramadan Mubarak:
“It was during the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. One of the five pillars or key practices of this faith tradition is to fast during this month from the time just before sunrise until just after sunset. During the fast, total abstinence is required from food, drink (including water), smoking or consumption of tobacco, sexual intercourse, and any form of negativity — backbiting, fighting, cursing, arguing and similar behaviors. Muslims rise before dawn for a breakfast, fast through the day, and then break the fast first with dates (which Muhammad ate) and then a light meal with family and friends.
This is also a time of intensified spiritual practice. In addition to the five times a day prayer, a longer Tajweed prayer is said nightly, and sometimes prayer extends hours into the night. Many Muslims also read the Qur’an cover to cover during Ramadan. Doing good deeds and making charitable contributions are also recommended.”
And with that in mind, what am I doing? I’m eating a late breakfast of BACON and sunny-side-up eggs fried in bacon grease. Trust me, this is not a political statement. This is just the breakfast of a woman who has not tasted bacon for nine months and two continents. It reminds me of last summer, hiking the AT, when the only foods that excited me were shelf stable bacon and instant mashed potatoes. Not an inspiring cuisine. Certainly not a healthy one. But old friend, I have missed you so! This isn’t the best bacon I’ve ever had. It’s certainly not free range, thick cut, maple-smoked. But it’s bacon. It will do.
We’ve been reminded not to bring food or water into the classroom during evening classes, which start at 7p. Usually we take a 10 minute break each hour, but during Ramazan, we combine all the breaks into one. We stop class a few minutes before sundown (so the break time changes by a minute or so each day) and let the students have 30 minutes to break their fast. Many students will not return after the break, I’m sure.
I’m still getting organized here at the new apartment. Today I bought a sweeper and some rolling shelves. The place isn’t really set up to live in–I’m still on a futon couch and I have no place to hang clothes. Unfortunately, with the extra items I’ve bought for the kitchen and house, plus the very expensive trip yesterday to the “Western” grocery store, I’m almost broke. Since I was just paid Monday, that’s pretty bad. I have, of course, set aside my rent and utilities and put money on my Metro card and phone. The fridge is stocked for a week or so. But there isn’t much left over for the month now. Teachers are poorly paid.