“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)



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.

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.

Things to Come

… Haven’t posted in a while.


Life update, casual WordPress peruse-rs and loyal followers:

I have returned to the States and my hometown in Ohio, and will be here until late August, reconnecting with my family, relaxing, taking up the scoop at Jacky’s Depot once again, and… catching up on blogging about seven months worth of travels and adventures in Turkey that I neglected to write while there. (If I put my commitment to complete them on here then I have to do it, right?) Be on the lookout for explanations of the ‘whirling dervish’ community, stories from ancient sites across the southeast (with a focus on historic Christian communities), hot air balloons floating across a lunar landscape, the Tigris River, and images of many, many beautiful vistas.

My latest post on Turkish breakfasts is (inshallah) an appetizer for more food-and-culture-writing and recipe sharing to come (a rapidly growing fascination of mine). Also keep on the lookout for a new section of the blog (indicated in the tabs section on the homepage) devoted to all things gastronomic.

In the late winter I envisioned and began crafting a YouTube page devoted to videos from my travels to complement the blog, giving my readers a direct audiovisual experience of the region, and to circumvent the hefty fees WordPress wants users to pay to directly upload their own videos. This project was interrupted by the temporary ban on YouTube in Turkey this spring… it is another endeavor I hope to continue to chug away at while home. Once the page has significant content, I will debut it in a devoted post here.

Given the many varieties of horrific news that have come across all of our newsfeeds this summer, I regret not being able to do more to share links to important perspectives and voices about the conflicts raging from the U.S. southern border to the open-air prison of Gaza to the Iraqi fields to the shantys of Brazil’s mega-cities to the devastation in Syria. Time and space do not permit a full analysis, but in my opinion, we can face these enormous tragedies only with a steadfast commitment to the value of every human life, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, language, religion or sect, age, occupation, socio-economic advantage, gender, orientation, or any other construct that has been used to divide.

My recent lack of comment on these issues is in no way a reflection of my lack of passion, anger, grief, moral outrage…. all are carried in my heart. I’m grateful to those who have taken an interest in my travels, and as I continue the process of sharing my experiences, I do so supremely cognizant of the many privileges with which I am blessed. I am so, so lucky. My prayers for the peace, safety, nourishment, and love of all people join the chorus….

Looking Up in Rome

I’m writing from my hotel in Rome where my great aunt and I are spending the Easter holiday taking in the sites, cuisine, and each others stories of travel and culture.

Rome is of course hectic at this time, with tourists flooding the city for Holy Week. There are so many aspects of the architecture and art here that one could describe, but this post is reserved for ceilings…. Most especially the ceilings in various parts of the Vatican Museums, which we toured through today. Looking above oneself on Maundy Thursday seems quite apt, though maybe a series of feet from sculptures would’ve been more comical. Not sure I took any photos of the feet of statues, in any event.











Do Ebru

In Eskisehir

In Eskisehir

While visiting the caravanserai of Silahatar Mustafa Paşa Hanı in Battalgazi, Malatya, I was privy to an intimate and impromptu demonstration of the classical Turkish art form known as ebru (sometimes known as water painting or marbling). The oldest determinable ebru works date from the early to mid-1500s; traditionally ebru was used as the media for calligraphy, though many styles and forms now exist. 

The tools used in ebru are highly specific to the craft, including

  • Specially-designed horse hair or rose stalk brushes, whose stiff bristles are ideal for the flicking method at the heart of the craft;
  •  a viscous substance, traditionally made from gum tragacanth, though many other contemporary options, like Irish moss, are used (henceforth referred to as “the sticky stuff;”
  • “paint” comprised of aqueous natural pigments, which are mixed with;
  • ox-gall (used as something of a paint thinner);
  • Special paper;
  • Various metal tools used in the post-paint application phase

The artist begins with a clean rectangular tray of the sticky stuff:
IMG_1339 A variety of colors can be used. Paint is applied through a highly controlled flicking motion, in which a small amount of thin paint is put on the horse-bristle brushes, which are then rapidly tapped along the hand of the painter, as shown. IMG_1342 IMG_1343 They were way ahead of Jackson Pollack on this, by the way. Various colors are applied in succession. As the paint hits the “goo” it dissipates within it, creating concentric clouds of color which interact but retain the general shape and location to where they were applied (flicked, spattered). IMG_1345 IMG_1346 Once all of the colors have been applied to the goo in this way, the artist uses a fine metal tool, almost like something you’d see at the dentist’s office, to alter the paint’s dissipation. Cutting through the goo in a relatively slow, careful manner, they create a series of parallel lines, first horizontally, and then vertically. Doing so alters the form of what were previously clouds or bubbles of color into a more geometric [read: psychedelic] pattern.IMG_1347 IMG_1350 After this step, a fine metal comb which fits the pan is quickly and smoothly (to prevent air bubbles or other distortions of the pattern) run through the goo, further altering the swirling painted pattern.

Next, the special absorbent paper is carefully and, again, quickly, placed on top of the goo, and another metal dentist-like utensil is lightly run over it to remove any air bubbles and ensure even application. Next, the edges of the paper are delicately lifted, and dragged across the lid of the pan. In this process, all of the paint, which in procedure appeared to be clouded deep within the goo, is directly applied to the paper, with little to no residue in the pan of goo. IMG_1351 IMG_1352 Amazing.

Many other, more detailed manipulations of the paint can result in images of objects, such as the popular floral ebru, which today is perhaps the most common style/form.

contemporary commercialized iterations of ebru: on leaves which are laminated and sold to tourists (in Eskisehir)

contemporary commercialized iterations of ebru: on leaves and magnets which are laminated and sold to tourists (in Eskisehir)


One of my fellow Fulbrighters seized the opportunity to give it a try for himself, and they even whipped out a beautiful blue paint for him to use. The results are gorgeous!

IMG_1356 IMG_1358 IMG_1360 IMG_1359 IMG_1361 IMG_1364

Hill Briefing Demonstrates Complexity of US-Egypt Relationship

This post was originally published on July 25, 2013 on AAI’s newsblog. Full video of the event can also be found at that link.  

On Wednesday, July 24 the Arab American Institute hosted a Congressional briefing in Rayburn House Office Building titled, “Egypt: U.S. Policy Options Going Forward.” The briefing coincided with AAI President Jim Zogby’s release of new polling data by Zogby Analytics which surveyed American attitudes toward Egypt following the events surrounding June 30th in Egypt. These were compared with two decades of Zogby polling data regarding American attitudes toward Egypt, and discussed in the context of the most comprehensive poll conducted on Egypt, released just two weeks before the Tamarrod protests of June 30th. The event was attended by Congressional staff, media outlets and community members; the briefing was standing-room only, at full capacity.

Dr. Zogby was joined by a distinguished panel to discuss the poll, who engaged in a conversation with attendees about potential options for U.S. policy toward Egypt moving forward. The panelists included:

  • Geneive Abdo, Middle East/Southwest Asia Fellow at The Stimson Center; Author of three books, including “No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam”
  • Steven Clemons, Washington editor-at-large of The Atlantic and Senior Fellow, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation
  • Michael Hanna, Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation

In his opening remarks, Dr. Zogby emphasized a steady decline in American favorability toward Egypt, citing a lack of understanding about Egypt by the general public as a contributing factor. He argued that, though this was true when polling began more than two decades ago, Americans remain woefully uninformed about contemporary Egyptian society. This confusion extends to our policy there as well, thus, Dr. Zogby encouraged U.S. policymakers to clearly articulate what they perceive our values and strategic interests in the region to be, both to the American public and the Egyptian people.

The panelists presented a wide range of opinions both about how to interpret recent unrest in Egypt, and how American policymakers should respond. Both Stephen Clemons and Geneive Abdo explicitly described Morsi’s ousting as a “coup,” whereas Michael Hanna argued that the observable decline in the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy amongst the people of Egypt, corroborated by high turnout in the streets on June 30th, affirmed that the events could be regarded as both a popular uprising and a military coup. All the panelists were in agreement that the recent events are part of a much longer process, which will continue to evolve over an extended period.

The issue of U.S. aid to Egypt brought about the sharpest differences of opinion amongst panelists. Abdo reminded the audience that many Egyptians have been calling for an end to U.S. aid of any kind for years, and that the support the United States gives has recently paled in comparison to the support provided by certain countries in the Gulf. She did, however, suggest that we should consider temporarily suspending aid because she regards the events as a military coup. Her allusion to holding Egypt responsible for how aid received from the U.S. is used was echoed by Hanna, who described the intractability caused by multi-year contracts in the current process by which aid to Egypt is currently allocated. Clemons suggested changing how the aid is allocated, rather than whether it should be, arguing to shift from providing military aid to economic support funds (ESF’s).

All of the panelists took issue with U.S. policy toward Egypt in general in some way, describing it as inconsistent, misleading, and confusing both to Americans and the people of Egypt and the broader region. Concern was expressed about the future role Islamist parties may play in electoral politics Egypt and elsewhere; Abdo and Clemons warned of unforeseen challenges if Islamists don’t feel there is space within an electoral system for their political expression. Hanna warned that the previous U.S. model for the region, which he described as “repressive stability” is no longer tenable, given the uprisings of the last two years.