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"The Frozen Waterfall" by Gaye Hiçyılmaz
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 22 Jun 2008 Sun 10:04 pm

Culture shock! The very words pull you up with a start. They call to mind confusion, depression, the shock of the new, isolation, strangeness and being a stranger.

In the expat page of Today's Zaman, the weekday sister paper to Sunday's Zaman, articles often deal with culture shock. How non-Turks ("foreigners") perceive Turkey and the Turks, and how they adjust to the customs and ways of their host nation.
But the mailboxes of Today's Zaman columnists reveal that the paper is also avidly read by the Turkish diaspora: those Turks who are expats, living in countries to the west or to the east of their native Turkey. From the gastarbeiters -- the semi-skilled guest workers who went to Germany in the 1960s -- to medical graduates going abroad to widen their skills base, many Turks live outside of Turkey.

Do Turks, too, experience culture shock when they leave the lands of Anatolia to study or work abroad? If so, is it to the same extent as an expat in Turkey?

The whole subject is treated expertly and sensitively by Gaye Hiçyılmaz in her novel, "The Frozen Waterfall." Herself a Turk living in the UK, Gaye draws on her own experiences, and those of her friends, to tell us the story of Selda and her family.

Selda, the youngest of the five children of Turgut Bey and Selda Hanım from İzmir, lives with her mother, grandmother and sisters when her father and brothers go to work in Switzerland. As the years go by, and she only sees them on their annual trip to Turkey, she is pained to experience the change in their relationship. "Now, when she saw them on their summer visits, these brothers had become distant. They were more like relatives from another town. She hated it most when they talked to each other in German, which she could not understand. She felt that they were shutting her out of their world, and she did not like being silent."

Then, one day, the long awaited air tickets come, and Selda, her mother and sisters are to travel to Switzerland to be reunited with the men of their family. Hiçyılmaz sensitively captures a young girl's nervousness about traveling abroad. Selda's grandmother sows the seeds of doubt in her mind with her prejudices about the Swiss. Foreigners, she claims, are not as clean as the Turks: "People say they walk straight from the street into their nice rooms with all the street filth still on their shoes."

Mixed with the excitement of traveling, and being reunited with her father and beloved older brothers, is fear. Fear of the unknown, but also fear of losing touch with her friends. She exchanged addresses, and promises to write and remain friends forever, but deep down inside she knew many of her friends would never write.

But Selda fears above all things failure. Inability to speak the language would hamper her -- "she would not be able to say anything at all in German, let alone anything clever." Her sisters' taunts underscored this insecurity. "You think you know everything, but you don't!" "I know more than you." "So what? You just wait. In Switzerland you won't know anything ... I expect we'll all be bottom of the class."

Amidst all these fears of the future, Kemal Amca comes to the rescue with a special day tour around İstanbul. At night as he bids them farewell he explains he showed them the Bosporus Bridge so that she could be proud of Turkey when in Switzerland, "and tell them that we too have fine things. You can tell them, but with a smile, that we are not some poor, forgotten people knocking like beggars at the door of their country, but that we too have made great things."

Expectations and reality; hopes and disappointments; dreams and their semi-fulfillment. Even the flight to Switzerland is not as she had imagined. "In films, people always settled themselves coolly and elegantly into half-empty planes; they leant back in wide seats and sipped clear drinks as they watched magnificent views from the plane windows." Not struggling with getting hand-baggage into the overhead locker, and squeezing past a passenger sitting in the same row to reach your seat.

It was pouring with rain when Selda and her female relatives arrived in Switzerland. Even her father looked different, with his beard. But she gasped in amazement when she saw the mountains, they were breathtaking, as was the lake which stretched farther than she could see in each direction.

Her first day of school, as expected, was a day of not understanding. The teacher smiled kindly, and another pupil tried to help, but Selda understood nothing. Over the first few weeks and months things gradually became clearer, but they were still different. Hiçyılmaz summarizes this clash between expectation and reality with the words, "She had known, of course, that this foreign country would be different, but she had not realized that everything about it would be so different. Now she felt that she had been foolish." Selda realized that to survive and learn she needed to be observant: her eyes had to do twice the work as her ears and tongue were temporarily redundant.

It is this being struck dumb, the helpless sense of being unable even to express your wishes as a little child does, that is often the most serious contributor to culture shock for the expatriate. Selda finds a friend who empathizes as he, too, had been a foreigner in a strange land. "Only Ferhat understood, because he had lived it."

But in the words of Ferhat's encouragement, it does get better. Selda finds her way to triumph through the difficulties.

One of the crystallizing moments for her own understanding is when she sees, for the first time, a frozen waterfall. The relentless movement of water, stopped by the winter freeze, seemed to her a picture of her own life in culture shock.

"There, at the top, where the water first fell over the edge, was the frozen waterfall. It was as though the stream had stopped and hung there in the air, like the swelling crest of a winter wave in wind-whipped İzmir Bay. But this wave had not rolled on. It had not broken and foamed against the rocks; it hung there, just under the sky."

Selda finds the key to understanding her anguish in her new setting as she watches the frozen torrents that pour forth no more. As her experiences in "The Frozen Waterfall" are like a mirror to the pain an expatriate feels, this wonderful story can help many readers enunciate their emotions, and begin to find their own way like Selda to flourish where they are planted.


Today's Zaman

2.       teaschip
3870 posts
 24 Jun 2008 Tue 09:30 pm

Looks like a nice read..It's good to see anothers perception. But I must say westerners don't usually walk around with their dirty shoes on in their house. At least most people I know take their shoes off, when they go inside their home. I may have to get this book.

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