I stayed home from work sick yesterday. I'll spare you the macabre details, but I'm assigning direct blame to food poisoning, and indirect blame to the little beast pictured below. Convinced by Deniz (aka Peter)'s adorable purring and very soft fur, I've been leaving my window open overnight so he can curl up with me on his own schedule and go root through trash (or whatever he does out there) the rest of the time. Unfortunately the night air in İstanbul is getting increasingly icy as October approaches, and I think it's doing bad things to my immune system. If I'm not sniffling, I'm snuffling; if I'm not snuffling, I'm sneezing or coughing or whining about a headache. A sort of walking illness.
On arriving at work this morning, a coworker told me that I wasn't the only one. Except for him, everyone else in the office had been out yesterday too. "It was like a haunted house in here," he said. "İn cin top oynuyordu."
That turned out to be one of those awesome Turkish expressions with no English equivalent, the kind which give me endless glee and inspire blog posts. Used for lonely, empty places, it can be translated roughly as "djinn and things were playing ball." ("İn" means lair or den according to my dictionary, but in this sense it seems to be used as a sort of placeholder, as in the common fairy-tale question "in misin, cin misin?"- "are you human or are you a djinni?").
As an aside, etymology nerds might be intrigued to learn that our two words for the supernatural Middle Eastern beings come from different stems entirely. According to Wikipedia, "djinn" (singular "djinni") comes from the Arabic root ǧ-n-n meaning 'to hide' or 'be hidden'; meanwhile, "genie" derives from the Latin genius meaning "tutelary spirit", which entered English via French around 1750 when the first French translation of One Thousand And One Nights used it in place of the similar-sounding Arabic word.
Anyway. In the Western mind, the word "genie" conjures up Robin Williams' voice booming out one-liners from a dusty lantern in the Cave of Wonders, or maybe Barbara Eden comically ruining Major Nelson's day.
"First, that fez-and-vest combo is much too third-century. These
patches. What are we trying to say? Beggar? No. Let's work with me
But in Turkey, and across the Muslim world, djinn are much less... well, goofy. While mentions of them aren't particularly common in religious texts, certain examples do exist; the Qur'an, for instance, states that djinn were created by Allah from a smokeless fire, as men were made from clay and angels from light. They are believed to have free will, just as humans do, and can choose their own religion and the manner of their interference with our lives from the parallel world they are thought to inhabit. Wikipedia also has this to say about the genies: "Jinn have the power to travel large distances at extreme speeds and are thought to live in remote areas, mountains, seas, trees, and the air, in their own communities. Like humans, jinn will also be judged on the Day of Judgment and will be sent to Paradise or Hell according to their deeds."
Interesting, no? Unearthly yet fallible and accountable. As far as I'm aware, most of our own supernatural sagas have no element of conscience or liability on the part of the demons or ghosts... which makes them, to me at least, less fascinating. Maybe that's why folk tales from this part of the world, like those in One Thousand And One Nights, take on a different tone than the campfire stories back home. It's all cunning and trickery, much less of the Paranormal Activity-type senseless draggings-out-of-bed we see so much of these days in America.
Just as prevalent as djinn in Turkish superstition is the nazar, or evil eye (my source, an Actual Turkish Person, estimated that 95% of his countrymen believe in both). According to Hangama Ahmadzai here, praise or envy from even well-meaning individuals is thought to expose people to bad luck. Often blue eyes are considered by Mediterranean cultures to carry a particularly heavy dose of ill fortune, maybe because they're rarely seen- and when they are, it's usually on tourists, who are inclined to further prove their untrustworthiness by fawning over local infants, who are among the most susceptible to the nazar. Fortunately, having brown eyes and no particular fondness for babies, I am still universally popular. In case you should run across some blue-eyed fiend in your travels, though, you might consider purchasing a nazar boncuğu- roughly, "evil eye bead." You can see these everywhere in Turkey, from necklaces to paintings to airline logos.
In other respects, though, I haven't noticed that the people here are much more superstitious than we are back home. I did find an extensive list of purported Turkish beliefs here, but aside from one or two (such as throwing water after a departing traveler to ensure their return) I've never seen or heard of anybody actually subscribing to them. Much like the United States is not a nation of people inching down sidewalks on their tiptoes to avoid the cracks and fleeing in horror from black cats, your average Turk does not seem especially terrorized by the following prospects:
-A boy who drinks coffee do not have moustaches, he becomes beardless.
-Hair in comb after combing is not thrown to street; if it is thrown, it may entangle in a leg of chicken, so you may have headache continuously.
-Cackle of hen implies to bring a bad-luck.
-If girls eat something between two meals, their luck to find a husband becomes impossible. (The tragic dangers of snacking!)
-It is forbidden to jump over a child, otherwise the child remains short.
Still, I'm hoping this one is true for Jessica's sake; she was lucky enough to be pooped on by a Turkish bird during her very first week in İstanbul. When excrement of a bird falls on the head, it means that the person is lucky and will earn money. Glorious riches await!
Labels: idioms, Turkey, Turkish