August 23, 2004

Longtime customers wed at Wal-Mart

Monday, August 23, 2004 Posted: 12:28 PM EDT (1628 GMT) CNN

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Somewhere between the junk food aisle and the automotive department, Pat Byrd and Bill Hughes fell in love.

So it was only natural that they should marry where the magic happened -- Wal-Mart.
"It never dawned on me to have it anyplace else," said the 55-year-old bride.

Neither bride nor groom work at the discount store. Still, they spend more time there than many employees do, wandering the aisles and visiting friends for up to six hours a day, nearly every day since the store opened two years ago.

"I talk to people and walk around for exercise, and we always buy a soda or a sandwich or something," 51-year-old Hughes said. "If we're not here, the store people worry about us. They're our family."

Both Pat Byrd and Bill Hughes are disabled. They met nine years ago, when Bill was a patient at a North Idaho hospital and so was Pat's sister.

"He became a good friend, and when my sister died, we kept him in the family," she said. "He doesn't drive, and any time he went to Wal-Mart, I'd take him."

They celebrated their blooming love with a ceremony Friday in Wal-Mart's garden center. The store manager was a groomsman, and a fabric department employee was matron of honor.
A garden center employee, Chuck Foruria, walked alongside Pat as she rode her motorized shopping cart down the makeshift aisle, her oxygen tank in the basket.

"Who gives this woman in marriage?" asked Stacey Garza of the Free Will Church.
"Her friends and family at Wal-Mart," Foruria replied.

August 21, 2004

Turkish Hamam

After visiting various Roman bath ruins in Israel and Turkey, I was excited when the day finally came for me actually to go to a modern-day bath here in Turkey. I don’t know the elaborate history of the thermal bath but basically I think it goes there were the Roman baths then the Ottomans took it over and now we call it a Turkish Hamam, well at least here in Turkey we do.

The Turkish bath is a public bathing sauna which uses thermal water naturally heated from the earth. I went just a week ago with Burak’s aunt and cousin, both have limited English, but we communicated with basically words in each others’ languages and a simple, small Turkish-English dictionary that we carried inside the bath.

Only one sex can be in the bath at a time. I get the impression that they are usually open to the men throughout the week except for certain few days allocated for the women.

We entered the entrance of the hamam and paid the fee of about 2.5 million lira or roughly less than $2 dollars American per person. We were each also given shower shoes and a key for locker inside for a nominal fee.

I was about to step inside a hamam. The air was already starting to get muggy. I had no idea what to expect but I brought my bikini just in case, to stay covered up. We entered inside through a sheet that was hanging from a door to keep the privacy of the women. I walked inside and my first thought was of shock because of all the naked women’s bodies roaming around.

Men’s minds are probably running wild, but let me stop them short. It was sort of scary, to say the least, because the hamam was mostly filled with over-50 women with really large breasts and bellies. These women looked like life has been rough to them. I am imagining they probably had about 8-10 kids each and had to work outdoors all their life. Well, it probably isn’t that drastic.

I tried my hardest to act normal in the situation. Of course, I am like the only blonde, Germanic looking person in group, so of course I am getting looks already.

Burak’s aunt, cousin, and I went to our lockers and started undressing. Everyone was naked so it was more or less assumed you could change in front of everyone. Burak’s cousin, Evrim, went somewhere to change into her swimsuit in privacy. His aunt changed into her bikini next to her locker so I decided to do the same. I figured they would never see me again. I probably shocked them with my thong underwear compared to everyone else’s tent-sized underwear.

Now we all put on our swimsuits to bath but I noticed most women just were topless and only wore a pair of white cotton underwear that was nearly see-through when it got wet. The women around us must have felt uncomfortable that we were too uncomfortable to go completely naked. Oh well.

So we enter into this middle room and the temperature is definitely rising. Women are sitting around on benches and some are even massaging others with scrubbing rags. I quickly think to myself, this can’t be the hamam – can it? It isn’t hot at all. But the women are sitting around looking as if they are sweating and panting for fresh air. Well I later learned I was right. I quickly saw that it was the cooling off and massaging room and that was why the women were panting for air.

We walked through this room and descended down some wet marble stairs slowly as I watched the beautiful scene unfold. I was finally in a hamam. “Yes,” I thought. It was a rectangular room made of marble with a rectangular pool in the center, with sitting room for about 40 people, filled with the water from a fountain elegantly placed at the head of the pool to create a graceful appearance as I walked down the stairs trying not to slip and fall.

All along the edges of the rectangular room are these bathing stations consisting of hot water flowing into marble sinks. Women and children were congregated together at various sinks with their shampoo, conditioner, soap, and scrubbing rags using bowls to scoop water from the sinks to rinse their bodies. In one corner of the bathing room were showers running with this same thermal water for people to rinse off.

In the middle room, for massages and cooling off, there was another small room called Tras but with the ‘s’ with the tail so then the words reads ‘Trash.’ I was wondering what the room was for. I didn’t think that the English word for garbage was that widely known nor would the hamam need a small room just for trash. I quickly realized that tras, with the tail on the s, means shaving. So it was the shaving room!

I figured I can take a bath in a public place with my bikini on. How hard could this be? I start to get in the pool of water and splash the hot water on myself and then soon my aunt is trying to tell me something. She is motioning to the bowl to pour water on me and giving me a wash rag to clean myself. It seemed at first she was trying to tell me to clean myself. I thought, I know, I get the picture. J But then she gently pulls me along and has me follow her upstairs again to the middle massage room. “What is going on?” I wonder to myself.

This older lady of about age 60 with graying hair was staring at me topless with her underwear on. I later learn she had been hired to give me a scrubbing down. She cleans the bench with a bucket of water and motions for me to sit down. What I don’t know is to sit facing up, facing down, sit up, lay down? So she sort of has to push me down to show me since we don’t speak the same language. She wanted me to lie facing down on the bench. She also pointed to my bikini top. “Uh, oh,” I thought. “She is going to make me take it off.” Well she did want me to take it off and to keep from fighting and from my getting the full benefits of the rub down, I took it off.

So basically I am rubbed with sandpaper, or something like that, all over my body. She even rubbed my face, armpits, and thighs. It was getting really weird because I have never had this happen to me before. I was in more pain than really enjoying it as well as having anxiety about what my next move was to be as she scrubbed all over. I knew she was talking about me to the other people getting rubbed down because she kept saying American something in Turkish. Maybe I was her first American to get the scrub down, I don’t know.

After she scrubs me down, I thought the torture was over. She takes me into the hamam where she walks me to the foot of the pool where the fountain runs with water and points to the pool. In so few words, she is telling me to get into the pool and swim around. “Yeah, right,” I thought in disbelief. But then it came over me, this would probably be my only time in a Turkish hamam for a long time, so I got in the water of a cool temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and quickly swam to the other end of the rectangle. This is where she stood waiting for me to get out. “What now?” I wondered.

After my scrub down and immersion into the pool, she was hired to also massage me. So she takes me to one of those side sinks and has me lie face down, topless on the marble floor. Of course this takes some pushing because I don’t know what position she wants me nor do I really know what she is going to do to me.

The massage consisted of just soaping my body. I was hoping for what a massage means in America when you pay a good amount for an hour’s worth of deep tissue work. Well, it was entertaining at least. She soaped me up and then started washing my hair! At one point I couldn’t breathe because she had soap suds and hot water all over my head. I felt like a little kid with my mom washing me. After this round, I got to rinse off in the showers and she had finished her job.

I eventually spent almost one and half hours in the sauna and I hadn’t realized it until I started feeling weird. I went to the dressing room and started to breathe in big grasps of air. Then Burak’s advice echoed in my ears, “Don’t stay in too long.” I sat out for a while and cooled off in the dressing room where all the women, after finishing their baths, were sitting around half naked with various towels on their bodies cooling off and talking.

I rinsed off for the last time after my last dunk in the hot pool. I went to the dressing room again to change and for large gasps of air. I looked in the mirror a few minutes later and I was beet red. Anyone who has known me long enough or has seen me run knows that I can get really red. I was started to apply my lipstick and when I put the lipstick up to my face I realized my face was redder than the lipstick. It was almost redundant to put it on.

We finally left after about 2 hours when the massaging ladies turned into the cleaning ladies and the pool was started to be emptied out. The first thing I thought about was how cool it was outside but then I realized I was really hungry. Now I know I am on the South Beach diet, so forgive me, but we passed by an ice cream shop and I was offered a yummy treat. I figured it was the perfect end to my story. So I got chocolate chip, nuts, and something else really good. I ate mine in a few minutes. We giggled and frolicked the rest of the night. We were all very light headed and carefree. I loved the hamam!

What is keeping Italian men at home?

Experts warn of population fall as most prefer mamma's cooking
By Claudio Lavanga
NBC News
Updated: 7:17 a.m. ET Aug. 20, 2004

ROME - For most Italian single men, inviting a girlfriend home is a dangerous affair: if the visit is not planned carefully, they run the big risk of bumping into the other woman in their lives -- their mother. Italian men, in fact, still find it too difficult to cleanly sever the umbilical cord, and end up staying at home with their parents well into their 30s.

Now experts believe that the nationwide Oedipal complex might cause more serious damage than the endless complaints of aspiring wives: men's chronic refusal to move on might be responsible for the drastic decline of Italy’s birth rate.

Drop in Italian birth rateAt least this is the conclusion of the experts at the Population Reference Bureau, a non-profit association that studies population trends.

The annual study recently released by the private organization found that despite the fact that the world’s population will increase approximately 50 percent by mid-century, Italy is projected to actually lose 10 percent of its population by 2050. “Many young men live at home with parents until their late 20s because it is less acceptable to live with someone and raise a family out of wedlock,” said Carl Haub, author of the report. “As a result, many young Italians either don't get married or leave the country entirely.”

So where does the stereotype of the Italian mamma’s boy end, and reality begin? The answer lies in the many recent surveys that all come to the same conclusion: more than half of Italian men between the age of 25 and 35 still live with their mother. But why?

Why move out of a luxury hotel?“I just don’t see the point of leaving my parents’ home,” said Luca Orsenigo, a 30 year-old software analyst from Milan. Despite the fact that his income is higher than average, he is not ready to give up his dolce vita yet.

“Right now I am single, so why would I give up traveling, my bike, the car, the clothes to waste money on rent? I would only start making such sacrifices when I find the right woman,” Orsenigo said.

His mother doesn’t seem to share his view.

”I keep telling him that it is time to find his own place,” Enrica Turconi said. “He’s become a burden, and he behaves like a guest in a hotel: I wash and iron, cut the grass and paint the walls, no wonder he doesn’t want to leave.”

Italian ladies have had itLuca’s behavior is so widespread that many Italian women aren’t waiting any longer. Cristina Guidi, a 30-year-old flight coordinator, has just bought a one-bedroom apartment for herself. “Relationships are not what they used to be. Both men and women have become unreliable, so it’s not unusual for girls to decide to buy their own place,” Guidi said.On one issue, she agreed with Luca. “Still, I had to wait until I could afford to buy my own place, as I didn’t want to throw away money on rent,” she said.

If Italy is not used to single men living alone, a female “going solo” might prove too much to bear.

“Every time I have to deal with bricklayers, estate agents or carpet layers, I get asked the same thing: ’Where is your husband?’ Nobody seems to believe that I can take care of myself,” Guidi said.

Is money, rather than cultural tradition, the real hurdle keeping Italians from independence and making babies? Not according to an initiative by a small village in the southern province of Salerno, where local authorities promised to give parents $12,000 for every newborn. Despite the offer, so far only one child has born.

Another sign that no check is big enough to entice Italian men away from their nests.
Claudio Lavanga is an NBC News producer based in Rome. He no longer lives at home.

August 20, 2004

Ways Turkey is a lot like Mexico (after having lived in both countries)

  • You have to pay for restrooms even if they aren’t so clean
  • They both have a lot of chaotic dirt roads with very few traffic signs
  • The water and electricity runs out occasionally (especially when you are in the shower) :)
  • You have to bring toilet paper with you because the restrooms will probably not have any
  • The service, labor, and food is less expensive compared to America
  • Very few people have internet in their home
  • Almost everything is made of cement! Little wood or brick in the construction of buildings
  • They put salt on everything!
  • You can’t drink the tap water - or lets say, you shouldn't...
  • You can't trust street food because it will probably give you stomach problems
  • Young children sell things on the street
  • Very little personal space
  • A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables for really cheap
  • They don’t often use AC or at least they rarely have it in residential areas
  • Everyone uses buses to get around the country because it is cheap and more or less reliable

They drink hot tea all the time!

Everyone is always drinking tea and it is the same tea and the same tea cups for the most part, all over the country! They drink it at the shops and at home and at the beach…All the time! There is even a current commercial making fun of the fact that Turks take their tea pots to the beach so I am not the only one to notice this. I heard they are so fond of tea because they don’t drink a lot of water in the first place and also it is boiled water so it is safer. This brings to mind how Belgium made beer as a purified water drink hundreds of years ago and Mexico drinks a lot of soda because it is safer than their tap water.
An additional reason for this tea obsession, which I heard from a Turk, is that it helps you adjust to the heat after cooling off after drinking the hot tea. I am curious about this last thought because ice tea is so popular in America in the summer. I thought we drank ice tea to cool off and so I don’t understand why drinking hot tea cools you off. Anyway, the jury is still out on this one. Maybe we are both right.

Natural Gas in Vehicles

If you think gas is expensive in America, it is about 3 to 4 times as much in Turkey. Gas is so expensive, Turks get their cars fitted to use natural gas which is extremely less in price.

A recent news story proves this phenomenon. A Turk in Belgium bought a Ferrari in Belgium and although happy with the car he was overwhelmed by how expensive it was to fund the gas. So he brought it down to Turkey to convert it over to natural gas usage. The mechanics had never converted a Ferrari so they called the manufacturer for suggestions on how to make the change. The manufacturer was so shocked about the inquiry that they gave the owner his money back in exchange for the car because they were concerned about the integrity of company name.

The only problem, with using natural gas the way they do, is that there are all these vehicles driving around with a huge tank of natural gas in the trunk. I hear this can be a big problem in a collision accident.

There are a lot of French words in Turkish

Much like in American English, in the Turkish language, many of the words regarding anything to do with politics, organization, civilization, and education are French words. They took the French word and spelled it out phonetically with the Turkish alphabet. Therefore, at first glance, you might not see the similarities but after hearing the word in Turkish and French you will notice it has the same meaning.

I quickly realized the irony of this situation. When I first moved to Belgium five years ago, not knowing French, I would often take an English word and give it a French accent to attempt to communicate a concept. This worked occasionally and occasionally got me in trouble. Now, in Turkey, I can more or less do the same thing since there is so much French in Turkish. I can just take the English word I know and put a French/Turkish accent on it and try to be understood.

Things I like about Turkey:

  • Backgammon
  • Turkish Bath – Hamam
  • Spa treatments
  • Chilling out at the cafes for long time with no rush from the waiters
  • The laid-back lifestyle
  • Things are inexpensive!
  • The beaches are very beautiful.
  • The culture is family-oriented.
  • Tea
  • Turkish coffee
  • Turkish delights especially the ones with pistachios
  • Burak's nice relatives showing me around and making my visit really wonderful
  • Much more yet to come......

James Bond Case

There is no word for a briefcase so they call it a James Bond case.

Ataturk is everywhere!!!!

You can't go a day without seeing Ataturk's image. To me, he looks like the father character from the Von Trap family from the Sound of Music. His statue is at almost every government building including tourist sites like the last house of the Virgin Mary. His picture is up in every shop, store, etc.

The toilets – a la franga versus a la turka

I hate the Turkish toilets because I feel like I am about to lunge in one or another direction and get really dirty in the unsanitary setting that I had to pay to use. It definitely takes some getting used to. It is like a room where you would just go out in the bushes but they provide a ceramic hole and suggested foot mats for you to prepare your aim. Once I have paid for the restroom at a public place, I frequently search out for the a la franga toilet because sometimes they offer both in a large restroom.

The a la franga toilet (which literally mean the 'French toilet') is the sit down toilet traditionally found all over America. Their a la franga toilets are just a little different from our American toilets because they have a little water spout that you can turn on to ‘clean yourself’ while sitting down. I haven’t used it because it just seems too weird to even try.

Man with the goatee and foreign wife

Burak’s dad was buying food at the fresh food market in our village and he mentioned to the owner that his son liked his market better than the other markets in town. Then the owner thought for a second and asked, “Is your son the man with a goatee and the foreign wife?” Yep, you guessed it. I am the foreign wife in the village.

Conclusions about spa treatments and hamams in Turkey

If I were to live in Turkey with the salary that I had in America, I would go to a hamam and get a spa treatment every week!

Trip to the Spa

After I had mentioned my interest in a spa treatment and massage, my cousins’ researched a good place for me to go. As the bride, they wanted to treat me. I came to the cousins’ town for a visit and a spa visit. They had made an appointment for me.

We walked from the cousins’ house to the salon called ‘salonu’ in Turkish. I was wondering if of the three cousins accompanying me, any were planning on getting something done at the salon. As soon as I arrived, I realized why we needed an appointment. There was only one certified person working there with her assistant.

I was signed up for a pedicure, manicure, facial and full body massage. It was going to end up taking 4 hours! The cousins came just to hang out and wait for me. I was really shocked that they came even though they were going to have to wait. But really it turned out to be a lot fun and a nice break from hanging out with Burak all the time. I finally got to be with a group of girls.

They all sat around me while I was getting the pedicure and manicure done. We talked and laughed. I heard about their crushes on Tarkan, the famous singer who had an international hit four years ago with the song with the kissing sound. He was young, handsome, and Turkish so we talked about him for a little while. One of the cousins, that is a teacher and working on her doctoral thesis, spoke the best English. She and I were able to communicate enough with the aid of a small dictionary to have fun and helped me talk to the other girls.

After the facial and manicure/pedicure, I was given my full body massage. Now, it wasn’t the same quality of what I have had in America but they really put a lot of effort into it. In the end, I had two people working on me because the assistant was learning the massage technique from the certified masseuse while using my massage to teach her. In essence, I was getting a massage on one side of my body and then feeling the same mimicked moved on the other side but with just a few seconds lag time. It was funny, but I was too relaxed to care.

After 4 hours of work from two people, the cost was only 45 million TL or roughly $35 American dollars. Can you believe this?

The Bride

The ‘Bride’
Just to recap for a second, Burak and I were married a little more than two years ago. In the Turkish culture, the ‘bride’ seems to play a very important part. Every time I visit a family’s house or have neighborhood visitors over, I seem to be given gifts. I have received a backpack, belt, belly dancing cymbals and sash, two bracelets, a 4-hour spa treatment, a trip to the Turkish bath, and a traditional Kurdish headscarf.

I am not sure if there is a movie that captures this experience but there should be one. Anyway, I kept noticing they referred to me as the ‘bride’ when I first arrived. (They continued to do so the rest of the two months actually.) I asked someone how long would I be called the ‘bride.’ They laughed. Apparently you can be referred to as the ‘bride’ all your life.

August 19, 2004

Hospital redesigns gowns for Muslim women

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 Posted: 10:03 AM EDT (1403 GMT)

Pascasie Havugimana, an interpreter at Maine Medical Center, models a newly-designed gown in Portland, Maine.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- Whether it's blue or spotted or striped, the standard issue hospital gown is drafty and revealing. It's embarrassing for just about anyone who's spent a night in a medical center.

But for modest Muslim women, it's an unthinkable indignity.

"I have witnessed their misery and how bad they feel about it. They don't like it. They feel ashamed. It's very embarrassing," said Asha Abdulleh, a native of Kenya and a medical interpreter.

When officials at Maine Medical Center discovered many Muslim women were so ashamed they were canceling doctor visits, the hospital took action, redesigning the standard gown to provide extra coverage for patients who want it. The new hospital gowns have been available for several weeks.

"This is a great example of a challenge raised by a specific community that can ultimately benefit all patients," said Dana Farris Gaya, the hospital's manager of interpreter and cross-cultural services.

The problem was acute for Maine Medical because 2,000 Somali refugees have come to Portland over the past few years and most of them are treated at the hospital's international clinic. As many as three out of 10 women were skipping their appointments, said Osman Hersi, a medical interpreter at the hospital.

Tracked down at home, the women whose religion and culture require them to be covered, described to interpreters the horror of being asked to wear the revealing gowns during outpatient procedures.

Furthermore, they were publicly humiliated when they had to wait in a hallway in the radiology department.

On a recent morning after the new patient gowns were provided, Shamso Abdi appeared for her first hospital visit since arriving in Portland.

She and her husband, Aden Ali, came to the United States from Mogadishu, Somalia. They lived in a small town in Kentucky, and then Columbus, Ohio, before coming to Portland.

Abdi, who was clothed in a dress, a sarong and a hijab, a scarf wrapped around her head, said she had canceled appointments in Columbus when she had to see male doctors and wear the standard drafty gown.

The gown created by the Portland hospital is long enough to provide more coverage of a patient's legs and has extra material to ensure that a patient's backside remains covered. Underneath, there's a wraparound sarong for even more coverage.

Abdi said she was grateful to see that Maine Medical had created a patient gown with her principles in mind.

"I'm so happy they made the change. I'm so happy that they considered us," she said, speaking through an interpreter.

Other hospitals are responding to the needs of Muslims. In southeastern Michigan, home to 300,000 Arab-Americans, the University of Michigan Medical Center is also addressing the issue of modesty.

The hospital is thinking of posting signs on the rooms of Muslim women warning male visitors and staff to check with a nurse's station before entering, said spokeswoman Krista Hopson in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

As for the gown itself, Maine Medical isn't the only hospital to try to create a more acceptable version.

Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey introduced vibrant colors and funky patterns five years ago. Other hospitals and garment producers have tweaked the traditional design with snaps, Velcro and other changes.

Still, the standard-issue gown will never go away entirely. In some situations, in emergency rooms for example, it's more important to put the interests of doctors and nurses ahead of the interests of patients.

But for many situations, it makes sense to keep patients happy.

Asks Dr. Nat James of the hospital's international clinic: "Why didn't we think of this so long ago?"

The idea of changing the gown isn't completely new.

In 1999, designer Cynthia Rowley unveiled new gowns that offered a mid-calf length with a mock turtleneck and three-quarter length sleeves with snaps for women and drawstring pants, a short sleeve shirt and a matching robe for men.

That same year, Missouri state Rep. Sam Gaskill pushed a bill that would have required hospitals to provide patients with "dignity gowns," covering the body from neck to knee. The bill, prompted by Gaskill's own hospital experience, never made it out of committee.

Uninvited Guests

This phenomenon is normal in this country and quite annoying. Even Burak’s dad agrees with me. You always have to be ready for tea time and for the unexpected, uninvited guest to come a knocking on your door.

The other day we had guests arrive at the door while I was in my pajamas working on the laptop at the kitchen table, Burak was hanging out in the living room, Burak’s dad was in his pajamas taking a nap, and Burak’s mom was in the shower. We had planned to eat in just 10 minutes or so from that point. But all that changed without our consent when we had visitors at the door.

We all had to stop what we were doing and rush to greet the guests and put tea on the stove to properly serve them. Of course, from my experience, any guest visit that also involved tea and cookies usually takes at least one and half to two hours. Luckily, I was able to excuse myself because I was studying for the LSAT.

As soon as they left, we all rushed to the kitchen to set the table and quickly ate our food because we had been starving throughout the entire visit.

August 17, 2004


I have been 23 for 2 months today. I used to hate Mondays, mostly when I worked, but now there is no need to hate them when I am on vacation. It is funny how it takes you a while to overcome that change. Anyway, I was suggested to start a blog so here I go.