About Tess Waggoner


“The Streets”

As I was walking through my new neighborhood in Ankara I turned on my voice memos and got something down that I’ve put up on Medium. Hoping for an audio file to follow shortly. Enjoy!


View story at Medium.com



“The Resistance”



“Oppression greets us from all angles. Oppression wails from the soldiers radio and floats through tear gas clouds in the air. Oppression explodes with every sound bomb and sinks deeper into the heart of the mother who has lost her son. But resistance is nestled in the cracks in the wall, resistance flows from the minaret five times a day and resistance sits quietly in jail knowing its time will come again. Resistance lives in the grieving mother’s wails and resistance lives in the anger at the lies broadcasted across the globe. Though it is sometimes hard to see and even harder sometimes to harbor, resistance lives. Do not be fooled, resistance lives.”

(Rest in peace and rise in power, Kayla Jean Mueller)


Reflections on violence in Turkey published on Medium

A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to publish something I had started writing a month prior, in the wake of the third bombing here in Ankara within six months. Wanting to balance my professional concerns with my urge to speak my mind, I decided to publish it because of my convictions about the piece.

It discusses both the basic context of each of the bombings, as well as the impact medias have on the mediation and discussion of such events in the United States.

The article is called, “What Terrorism Coverage Has To Do With Terrorism- Notes From Ankara A Month On,” and if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, please feel free to click through to my new Medium page and check it out!

John Kasich is No Moderate

My friends over at AMERICAblog ran a series delineating the many ways John Kasich’s record doesn’t match up with the moderate image he has tried to project throughout the Republican presidential primary. As a born-and-bred Ohioan, I hopped on the chance to contribute. You can check out an except below, and head on over to AMERICAblog to read it, and the whole series, in full.

What’s happening regarding abortion access and women’s health issues in my hometown of Toledo is even more baffling when compared to the existing regulations in my current place of residence, Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. Ankara has a population of roughly 4.6 million, whereas the population of the state of Ohio is about 18 million. In the entire state of Ohio there are currently 9 abortion providers. In the city of Ankara alone, there are 129. By a simple per-capita measure, that makes it 56 times more difficult to find an abortion clinic in Ohio than it is in Ankara.

As a native Ohioan who faces constant questioning about my experience as a non-Muslim American woman living here in Turkey, I cite this statistic not only because it’s a useful example to counter the assumptions the average American has about women and the Middle East, but also because it is a telling example of just how regressive policies affecting women are under John Kasich, and in the United States more generally. To be clear, Turkey’s regulations regarding abortion access are far from perfect, but it is telling that in a country notorious for its conservative leadership, abortion access remains far more attainable for the average woman here than in the state of Ohio under John Kasich.


‘A National Holiday That I Do Not Recognize’– Reflections on Columbus Day 2015

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday that I do not recognize, a day commemorating that in which I recognize my complicity yet nonetheless reject; the project of settler-colonial domination and the creation and perpetuation of myths of nation which oppress. Across the North American continent to the lands of historic Palestine to the city square up the way from my home here in Ankara, (and indeed across the globe) we wake daily to face the brutal and too often deadly consequences of narratives and myths of “nation.”

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday that I do not recognize, a day which epitomizes the ‘success’ of *white-washing* history. Today I reflect on years in elementary school doing craft projects and reading story books that told truth through lies so masterfully spun they dared to call it history. The name of the class period was in fact “social sciences” which is far more fitting, for we know that there is a science, an art to the process of national mythology by which repression, displacement, and structural and physical violences against communities of difference are perpetuated and justified.

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday which I do not recognize, and the irony of such a mandated commemoration on this the final official day of national mourning in Turkey is not lost on me. Before blood could be washed off the streets political paradigm creators began their acts of justification, of framing, of discourse, of what maybe can only be called story telling. Yet street cleaners and history-writers seem unaware that blood shed in the name of ideology cannot be washed away, for water does not erase, but flow. Innocent blood seeps down into the lands claimed as ‘homeland,’ trickles in the streams and creeks by which our children play, churns through pipes into our homes and places of work. Bloodshed is ingested, and flows without cessation, coursing through the veins of those awake to their own humanity.

Today is no holiday, but a day of mourning. As long as our brothers and sisters of humanity live chained by narratives of erasure and entitlement– of ‘manifestation’– there is no celebration, but only mournful, respectful solidarity and resistance.


Note: This was originally posted to my personal Facebook page on 12 October, 2015. 

Syrian American Contributions

Syrian Americans have been part of the rich fabric of American life for over a century. Syrian Americans include members of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Syrian Americans have contributed and elevated American politics, sports, popular and high culture, academia, industry, and civic life for generations.

If Paula was your favorite judge on American Idol in its heydey, you have danced along with a Syrian American.

If Jerry Seinfeld ever cracked you up, you have laughed alongside a Syrian American.

If you’ve used any Mac product, you can thank Steve Jobs, whose birth parents were from Syria.

If you’re a woman pursuing a career in law, you can look to the inspiring example of Rosemary Barkett, the first woman to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, and the first woman Chief Justice of that court, who has Syrian heritage.

If you live in Michigan or follow libertarian politics, you may have been represented in Washington by Justin Amash (R-MI-3), a Syrian American.

If you’ve been able to quickly and easily photocopy something, you can thank Paul Orfalea, the Syrian American who founded Kinkos.

If you attend Wofford College or Purdue University, your school is led by a Syrian American (Nayef Samhat and Mitch Daniels, respectively).

If you ever wanted to take up surfing because that Kelly Slater is just too darn gorgeous, that’s probably because he has Syrian heritage.

If you get your news from CNN, you may hear it from celebrated Syrian American journalist Hala Gorani.

If you’ve enjoyed watching Homeland, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Finding Forrester (etc.) then I’m sure you’ve recognized the acting talent of Syrian American F. Murray Abraham.

If you’re a big hockey fan, you are probably aware of former Blackhawk current Blue Jacket Brandon Saad’s talent on the ice– yes, Syrian Americans even play professional hockey.

If we want to ‪#‎makeamericagreat‬ again, how about we take in as many Syrians as possible, huh?



Note: This was originally posted to my personal Facebook page on 15 November, 2015. 

I’m still here!

It’s been a whopping 10 months since I last posted… how time flies and life gets in the way!

Though I shouldn’t say this, as when I promise more on this site generally end up jinxing myself, but I’ll be updating soon with backdated pieces and writings that haven’t made it onto this site since last May. Apologies for the delay and thanks for reading!


Sitting on a Balcony / Refractions / You Can’t Go Home Again

I’ve been writing this for a long time.

I remember sitting and sobbing on my balcony in Southwest

So scared

Sure, I was excited

Today I’d call it heycanli

But fear of the unknown

Of non comprehension

Of safety

Clouded my eyes


“What am I going to do?” I implored to sometimes roommate, sometimes guru, always homie OT.

“You’re going to learn.”

“I don’t (expletive) know Turkish.”

“You’re going to learn. Body language.”

I got in a cab, got on that plane from Reagan alone.

Got to Ankara with a motley crew of people I’d only met on a Facebook forum.

Here I sit once again, again on a balcony and I again don’t know how I’m going to set foot on that plane.


Many times since that day I’ve gotten on planes alone, and buses and taxis and ski chair lifts, ferry boats, camels, bicycles, minibuses….


I’ve looked out over ancient amphitheaters,mountain ranges and seas that sparkle a turquoise you can’t define, over cities of red-tiled rooftops dotted with solar panels and satellite dishes, the Istanbul skyline with the glittering, churning Bosphorus cutting like a Middle Path through the hearts of the 20-some million who call it home, as well as the imaginations of the entire globe.




I’ve gazed up at ceramic domes and through glass cases of museums and across hillsides from atop too many crumbling castles. I’ve shivered in the snow, danced in the rain, felt the gusts of wind blustering through my campus, felt the scorch of the southeastern Anatolian sun.




I’ve walked through the first known site of worship in human history, hunched and gingerly stepped into the caves in which Abraham was born, and where Paul hid with his first disciples, hopped along the 2nd largest city wall system after the great wall of china, sauntered through biblical cities like Saul then Paul, traipsed through dusty roads strewn with bricks and construction debris and meadows strewn with wildflowers, and strolled through monasteries and churches whose paintings have endured the whippings of time in caves and on mountains and on islands and adjacent to the catastrophe that is today’s Syria. their patrons have dispersed.




My feet have crossed continents.


I’ve lived in three apartments.

I’ve drank (or is it drunk) ayran, Turkish coffee, cola, syriac wine and shitty wine too, and raki and tequila and bottomless cay and I remember almost everything.

photo credit Lisa Hartwig

photo credit Lisa Hartwig

My skin has been slicked by the waters of the waters of the Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Black Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.


I’ve scaled mountains and too goddamn many flights of stairs.

My nazar boyuncu (evil eye) protects me, I take my fal seriously.


I have sat for hours listening to the horrors of war and I have held those affected in my arms and in my heart.


My stomach has been filled and destroyed and filled again by every imaginable regional cuisine and I regret almost nothing.



I learned to love bread, and I will miss devouring the fresh loaves baked at the mosque around the corner.

My hands have been trained in all manner of Turkish cuisine but I continue to use the recipe that approximates my grandmother’s for grape leaves- no exceptions.

I have learned to live slowly, accept the additional glass of tea, spend a whole day in a new place simply sitting in a café enjoying the company of friends. I have laughed.

diayrbekir wallks and tigris


My voice has echoed, my songs ricocheting across dusty ancient theaters carved into mountainsides and stifling hotel conference rooms and smoky karaoke bars and sweaty classrooms and the historic facades that line Istiklal Caddessi and even carpeted concert halls.


photo credit Ahmet Emir Avici

photo credit Ahmet Emir Avici

I have learned the value of understanding and being understood.

I have felt euphoria I cannot describe and pain I cannot express. I have picked up my pen and I have taken up painting.

I have gained amazing friends. I have lost amazing friends.


I have heard Andrew’s laugh and watched from afar as our friends have honored his life and I’ve tried to do that too.


I have protested, sometimes sobbing alone in my apartment for a world I cannot fix, sometimes in a city square, wordlessly mourning the effects of police brutality and government ineptitude, sometimes shouting slogans in foreign tongues whose words I struggle to form but whose message rises from my heart on a crowded boulevard.

I told my sister I wasn’t ready to leave. “Graduation goggles,” she said.


There is truth in that, of course, but leaving Turkey is different than leaving Maumee or Kenyon, and not just because of the price of return. Thomas Wolfe once wrote that, “you can’t go home again,” and I’ve known that to be true of Maumee for a long time; I’ve been accepting that reality about Gambier slowly over the last two years.


As in every place from which we depart, a part of us stays there. Parts of it come with us too, and not just spices and ceramics and hard disks full of photographs.


Lately I’ve been frustrated with friends who bring my nationality to the attention of shopkeepers and waiters, partially because I don’t like that sort of attention (though I almost never tire of the “ne guzel Turkce konusuyorsun!(Your turkish is so good!)” I used to insist “I’m not a tourist, I’m a guest (misafir),” but now I don’t even say that.


In its own way, Turkey has become home through a crazy two year adventure to which I can never return, not exactly.

There are still days I wonder what I’m doing here. There are still days when I don’t sleep, crisscrossing this country in a mad dash to experience all of it. There are days when hardly a word of English crosses my lips—how crazy is that?


Maybe, in leaving, I’ve finally come to understand one of those elusive Turkish words: huzun.


I now know exactly the route to take through the winding halls of Ataturk IST Aiport to connect my flight from Ankara to ones that will take me Detroit; how I’ll manage to carry all my baggage along that route remains a mystery. I’m not sure when again I’ll carry bags laden with groceries and 5 liter bottles of water across cobbled sidewalks that are cleaned by wicker broom and hose on the daily, but the memories I will carry on my flight home certainly won’t make Delta’s overseas baggage limit.

photo credit Sophia Yapalater

photo credit Sophia Yapalater


Turkiye, biz nasil ayrilicaz? Gitmek istemiyorum.

Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

I was given the opportunity to speak at a symposium organized by the International Relations Department Student Organization at my host university two weeks ago. Though very excited for the chance to talk about women’s status, I was more than a little intimidated at the prospect of doing so in Turkish. I wrote an original draft in English, then translated it into the best Turkish I could muster. Later, I sat for hours with a dedicated and diligent group of friends who helped me work the draft into a more professional and academic register, which was the resulting speech below. Clearly, I was struggling a little bit with the pronunciation in that more academic register (so many suffixes!) but I hope my audience was able to take something away from the talk. Because of the time restraints and the language barrier, my ideas are of course less fully formed and explicated in this presentation than in real life, but “what can I do sometimes?,” as my students would say. In an event, a transcript in Turkish and my intended messaging in English is below.


Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

Saygıdeğer öğretim üyesi arkadaşlarım değerli Kirikkale Üniversitei öğrencileri ve değeri misafir öğrencilerimiz- Yapacağım konuşma dünya üzerindeki kadınların statüsüne değinmek olacak,ve bu konulara değinirken istatistiksel verilerden ve hikayelerden çok gerçeklerden yola çıkacağım. Fakat, Ortadoğu’da yaşayan kadınlardan bahsedilmek istendiğinde nasil bahsedilebilir? Bu önemli bir sorudur. Ben Amerikan vatandaşıyım ve yaşadığım ülkedeki akademisyen arkadaşlarımla büyük bir mücadele içindeyiz. Politikacılar ve güçlü medya firmaları Amerikalılar’ın ortadoğu bölgesi ve İslam dünyası hakkinda çok az bilgiye sahip olduklarının farkındalar. Ayrıca onlar da bu konu hakkinda çok eksik bilgiye sahipler. Politikacılar ve medya birlikte çalişiyorlar. “Ortadoğudaki kadınlar mazlum, bağımlı” diye anlatıyorlar. “Zavallı kadınlar için uğraşacağız” diyorlar. Fakat sonra ne yapiyorlar? Savaşıyorlar, aynı zamanda diğer ülkere yaptırım gücü uygulatıyorlar. Bütün bunları yaptıktan sonra kadınların artik daha güvende olacaklarını, daha özgür olacaklarını, daha eğitimli olacaklarını ve daha rahat yaşayacaklarını idda ediyorlar. Amerikan halkı da aynı şeye inaniyor; fakat ben onlar gibi düşünmüyorum ve böyle bir vaatte bulunmayacağım. Çünkü; Hiçbirşey o kadar da basit değildir.

Dünyanın hiç bir yerindeki kadınlar ayrı koşullarda yaşamiyor. Sadece bir mahallede bile bu durum çeşitlilik gösterebilir. Yaşamları, maaşları, okuryazarlık durumları ve eğitim düzeyleri, medeni durumları, dinleri…. Aynı zamanda çevre faktörleri var. Köyde mi yoksa şehirde mi yaşıyor bu kadınlar? Isınma imkanlari, içme suları var mı? Bunlar çok önemli sorunlardır. Bu konu milletlerden ve mezheplerden daha önemli olabilir. Amerika’da yaşayan köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadın,Türkiye’deki köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadının ortak noktaları olabilir.

Zamanım kısıtlı olduğu için genel bir konuşma yapacağım. Şu konular üzerinde duracağım: şiddet ve savaş, eğitim, ve kadınların siyasi faaliyetleri.

Üzerinde konuşmak istediğim ilk konu şiddet. Şiddet birçok farklı türde olabilir; yapısal şiddet, ekonomik şiddet, duygusal şiddet… Bu şiddet türleri üzerinde tartışıp değerlendirme yapmamız çok önemli ama bugün ne yazıkki konumuzun odağı, bölgede kadınlara uygulanan, fiziksel şiddet. Suriye Irak ve Filistin şu anki açık örnekler. Suriye’de yedi binden fazla kadın şu anki savaş yüzünden öldü. Filistin’deki kadınlar çok kötü durumda yaşıyorlar. Bir askeri işgal altında yaşıyorlar,Gazze’de kuşatma altındalar ve sık sık şiddet görüyorlar. İnsanlar Gazze’nin açık hava hapishanesi gibi olduğunu söylüyorlar. Irak’taki kadınların durumu muhtemelen üçünün arasında en kötü olanı.  30 yıldır sürekli savaş ve işgal yaşadılar. Evrensel insan hakları bildirgesi şunu söyler: En önemli hakkımız yaşama hakkıdır. Eğer bu hak saygı görmüyorsa(bu hak tehdit ediliyorsa, eğer güvende değilseniz) diğer insan hakları korunamaz.

İkinci bir konumuz da eğitimdir. Eğitim için açılan sınıfların, kadınlarımızın mücadelesi açısından çok önemli bir yere sahip olacağına inaniyorum. Buna bir örnek olarak; Türkiye’deki kadınlarımızın bir çoğunun, eğitim seviyelerinin çok kısıtlı olması gösterilebilir. Bir çoğumuzun çevresinde bu tür kadınlarımız var öyle değil mi? Eğitimin eksik olduğu bir ortamda kadınsal değerlerin de arka plana atıldığını birliriz.Buna Türkiye bir örnekti sadece, fakat bunun yanısıra Irak, Süriye, ve Filistindeki okulların saldırıya uğraması, Ürdün ve Lübnan’da da eğitimin popüler olduğu halde pahalı  olması, çoğu yerde de ataerkil yapının hakim olması, gibi konular da  kadınlarımızın ikinci plana atılmasına sebep olarak gösterilebilir.demem o ki kadınlarımızın toplumda yer edenebilmesi, eğitimlerinin önünün açilması ve onların da söz sahibi olabilmesi için onlara her türlü firsatın verilmesi lazimdir.

Bugün Üçüncü ve son konum kadınların siyaset ve sivil toplum katılımcılığı . Geçen hafta birleşmiş Milletler’de uluslararası kadınler konferansı yüzüncü yildönümü  kutlandı ve bu yüzden bu konu Değılmek istedim. Kadın politikacilarimizdan çok örneğimiz var.mesela, Türkiyede bir dönem başbakan olarak Tansu Çiler vardı, fakat ABD’de, kadın olarak başkanı çıkmadı. ABD’de kongre üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüz’de ondokuzdur. Türkiye’de meclis üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüzde ondörtdür. Bana göre, kadınların siyasi ortamdaki yuzdelik oranının dahada artması, kadınların statülerini yukselticektir. Biz kadınlar için Filistinli kadınlar örnek olmalı çünkü orada devlet sistemi olmadığı halde kadınların siyaste atılım oranları çok yuksektir, bunlara örnek olarak Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Khaled, ve Haneen Zoabi verilebilir. Bunun yanısıra ortadoğu bölgesinde çok aktif politikacı kadınlar da var; sivil toplum kurumlarında çalişip ve yeni kurumların açilmasında öncülük ediyorlar.

Netice olarak kadınlarımızın statüsünün yukselmesi için başta şiddetsiz bir ortamın sağlanması ve eğitim düzeyinin yükseltilmesi gerekir. Bana yardimcı olan arkadaşlarım Sena, Kaan, ve Gülçin’a ve siz dinleyenlere teşekkür ederim.

Women’s Status in the Middle East: Observations and Obstacles  One of the most important things I have to say to you today is not a statistic or a story, but concerns the way we go about talking about the role of women in Middle Eastern societies in general. Where I come from in the United States academics are fighting a difficult battle to allow rays of insight to shoot through a bleak media and political landscape, one that capitalizes on the ignorance of policy makers and the public alike; one that allegedly seeks to empathize with and then liberate via occupation Muslim and middle eastern women who, we are led to believe, are oppressed, without agency, and without a voice. I do not intend to fall into that narrative today.

But no picture is ever as straightforward as either media nor politicians would have us believe. In every place, in every nation, the lives of women cannot be discussed as a monolith. Even within a single neighborhood, there may be numerous fractures in lived experience, such as age, education level, marital status, income or family earnings, literacy, health, religion, as well as numerous environmental factors. Is the space urban or rural? Is there access to clean water and other crucial utilities? These are important questions, the answers to which often shape the lives of women far more significantly than nationality or country of residence. Indeed, the values and lived experiences of relatively uneducated women in the rural United States and Turkey may be far more similar than either would expect. For women in opposite circumstances, the same may be true as well.

So rather than itemize the detailed statistics of women in each of the countries I’ll be touching on today I am instead going to draw out a couple themes and provide examples within those themes. Because time is short, I apologize, I will be speaking quite generally.

The first theme I want to speak on is that of violence. Violence can take many forms; there is structural violence, economic violence, emotional violence… These forms of violence are very important for us to discuss and critique but today, unfortunately, my focus is on physical violence, which is inflicted on women around the region. Unfortunately, Syria Iraq and Palestine are the current obvious examples. In Syria more than seven thousand women  have died due to the current war. Women in Palestine live in a very bad situation. They live under a military occupation and in Gaza they are under siege and experience frequent violence. People say Gaza is like an open air prison. The situation for women in Iraq is possibly the worst of the three. They have had 30 years of continuous war and occupation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that the most important of our rights is the right to live. If this isn’t honored ( if that right is threatened, if you are not safe) the other human rights can’t be protected.

The second theme I want to discuss is education. The classroom is a very important place for the fight for women to unfold. Without education women are without the tools they need to improve their lives and their status. As an example, we can look to the situation of the women in our lives here in Turkey where, too often, especially in the past, their educations have been cut short. There are some obstacles to education. One of the biggest in the region is violence, as we discussed before. While literacy rates across the region are generally higher than they’ve been in the past, the education of millions of women has been disrupted in places like Iraq and Syria. Schools in Gaza and Syria have been under attack, making getting an education very difficult. In other places like Lebanon or Jordan, private education is both highly valued and prohibitively expensive. Patriarchy remains one of the biggest obstacles to education access. With access to safe, affordable, equitable education, women are better able to take their destinies into their own hands. Education for all is not a privilege, but a right.

This brings us to my third and final topic, which is women’s participation in politics and civil society. It is fitting that last week was the 100th anniversary celebration of the international women’s conference at the UN. There are many important examples of women serving in political offices across the Middle East. A point of important comparison/contrast between Turkey and the United States is political participation and empowerment. For example, Turkey has had a female prime minister (Tansu Ciler), but the US hasn’t had a female president yet. In Turkey, 14% of members of parliament are female, in the United States that rate is 19%. My view is that by actively participating in the socio-political process, women are able to make the changes our societies so badly need.We can look to the women of Palestine as an example, where, though stateless, they play important roles in  aspect of Palestinian civil society and political life, for example Hanan Ashrawi, Leila AbuKhaled, and Haneen Zoabi. This is also the case in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon where I have personally met women fighting for rights, representation, and a decent life.

We can conclude by saying that while the situation for some women in the Middle East is very positive, too many still live under threat of violence and without access to safe education. Despite obstacles, women across the region work in powerful positions and in grassroots movements to affect change in their communities. If we know one thing, it is that as long as violence persists, the status of women, and indeed of all people, cannot improve. The cessation of violence is the first and most crucial step on the road to the betterment of women’s status in the Middle East, and indeed, across the whole world.

Bobby Jindal and How American’s Understand Their Identities

Click over to AMERICABlog.com to read my first piece for them, titled “Bobby Jindal’s denial of our hypen-nation:”

…if Bobby Jindal wants American children to grow up feeling a sense of pride in their nation, how is denying the very thing that makes the United States exceptional productive?”

Like Bobby Jindal, my name and my identity are as intracultural as my nation; my name is Tess Waggoner, and I identify as an Arab American. But unlike Bobby Jindal, I refuse to deny or downplay any given aspect of my identity, because I know that my story and my family’s story are an intricately woven part of the larger story of the nation which all of my immediate family so gratefully calls home. Unlike Bobby Jindal, I don’t see my choice to identify as an American with an addendum as something divisive; quite to the contrary, I see it as evidence of my pride in my identity as an American.

Hyphens aren’t shredding the fabric of our society, they’re the stuff of that fabric.  Using a hyphen or a capital letter does not negate ones American identity, it celebrates it.