Upon a Golden Bough: A Return to the Middle East


The east coast of Europe

In the late seventies I worked in Yemen. On my first day there, Yemenis proclaimed me tammam, “excellent.” They proceeded to pull me into their homes daily for super-sweet tea, tasty saltah, and choice TV-watching seats. Being feted by fierce-looking tribesmen and black-veiled women was as intoxicating as the 7,300-foot altitude.

I returned home during the Iran hostage crisis. My enthusiasm about Yemen was met with dismay and “Oh, my god, how could you stand it?” Discouraged, I tossed away my Arabic flashcards, settled on a more conventional career and found new talking points. But the career didn’t take, and I never forgot that loving acceptance.

In the nineties my husband’s job moved us to Latin America, where I found myself stuck in a posh, remote home, our affluence a barrier to friendships. Resentment ensued, and in 2009, when another transfer was offered, my heart sank.

This time, however, the country was Turkey. I was returning to a part of the world I’d loved. Could I reverse years of disappointment and find that tenderness and devotion—and perhaps a new pathway—in another Muslim country?


Istanbul!Chapter One: The Call

The call came just before Christmas. My husband, Sankar, and I were shopping together, for Christmas cards, at a store across town.

When he got off the phone, he swallowed and murmured half-apologetically, “They want us to go to Turkey.”

Turkey? The word sounded incongruous. It yanked me away from the holiday setting, and not pleasantly. Another move—we’d done this before, to Costa Rica in the nineties. An “oh” came out of my mouth, quickly elongating to “whoaaa,” and accompanied by a dismayed frown.

Standing there in the store, I could already see the outlines of my life in Turkey. The need to find new friends. The boredom: Sankar busier than ever, and me struggling to find something useful, something satisfying to do. The disappointment of not being able to have my own career there, after once having an international job of my own.

We left the mall and walked silently toward our car. It was only 4 pm, but it was starting to get dark. I knew he couldn’t refuse the promotion. No job was safe at 3M—or at any company—in the current economy. Snowflakes began to fall. I wanted them to stick to our car, gluing us in place.

Snapshots from Turkey


From Susan’s Blog

March 15, 2016: Unexpected Kindness

Our adult children, Angela and Greg, were visiting us in Istanbul. The first day of their visit, the four of us went to sightsee in the Old City. Before we left, Angela showed me one of her pretty, copper-colored, bejeweled Roman sandals. The sole was starting to split apart, and I told her we could glue it back together right away, that she should wear something else. But she wanted to wear that pair, so off we went. Read more >

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