Istanbul, a city that often becomes a character itself in Turksh dramas, or dizis.
No, I’m not referring to the mysterious, larger-than-life dessert from childhood literature, but rather to the surprise taste of delight in my summer—Turkish dramas.
As with many good friends, I can’t remember exactly how I encountered Turkish dramas, or dizis. All I know is that during a long vacation, I wandered into a moving tale of dangerous dreams, opportunities to heal former traumas, and people who met at the wrong (or maybe perfect?) time. I was eager to test out my theories about the show and hear someone else confirm the horridness of that one awful, selfish character. I soon realized I didn’t know anyone else who followed Turkish series and that I was sitting at a whole new table.
I knew this drama captivated me in a way that felt unique from US series, but I didn’t fully understand why until I experimented with other Turkish shows. As a US viewer, I can’t generalize a whole nation of media, but I’ve appreciated how the dizis I’ve watched make extra room for embodying daily life, partly because many episodes run close to two hours long. In the hands of a bad storyline, this length could be torture, but in my experience, it allows for deeper emotional investment and my favorite type of scene: loving pan shots over an abundant meal the characters are consuming. The reality of class differences and social inequities are also woven more continuously in stories, and not in the “gritty,” exploitative way of some US series.
Art, with tropes and all, is always a revealing product of the culture that created it, and dizis have given me glimpses of Turkish culture that leave me searching to learn more. In the face of ever-present US messaging in the global media landscape, it’s satisfying to see Turkey tell its story on its own terms, even with details like the preeminence of fresh tea, the hierarchy of greeting styles, the etiquette of taking shoes off when entering a home, and Muslim traditions around weddings and funerals.
And then there are all the other universal experiences of these stories: gasping at the historic beauty of Istanbul in The Protector, cherishing the depiction of a blossoming father-son relationship in Kördüğüm, scoffing at the stubborn, suspect decision-making in Kara Para Aşk, and longing for a young woman in Doğduğun Ev Kaderindir to find her voice.
If you’re reading this in September 2020 maybe you’re thinking, “Is she just overlooking everything happening in the world?” (No, far from it.)
Or maybe you’re reading this in 2022 (humor me for a second) and you’re thinking, “It was the summer of 2020 and this girl was thinking about how she loves Turkish TV’s shots of breakfast spreads?” (This is a fair assessment.)
The truth is, I’ve struggled to keep my head above water for a while now. The weight of grief, the impunity of powerful liars, the innovations of white supremacy, and worries over loved ones attempt to lodge in my body every day. I wonder how any of us get work done when, in the words of 20th century author James Baldwin, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” And so, particularly as a Black woman, I count it as a victory every day I reserve room for delight: homemade pesto and roasted tomatoes, bike rides to a park I didn’t know existed, a DIY tutorial that promises me it will make brown kraft paper look like artfully dried palm leaves for room decor. And now, Turkish dramas.
I savor delight that blossoms in the midst of dark spirits—yes, often as an escape. But maybe its presence can also be a gentle reminder that the soil of my heart isn’t as dried out as I thought it was, and that it can create again.
Comfort Sampong’s heart is sparked by fried plantains, tropical foliage and the stories of women thriving and creating a way out of no way. She graduated in 2018 with majors in economics and international development. Now she lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she works on English communications for the Association for a More Just Society, a Honduran non-profit fighting for justice and peace.