In Turkey, it is not uncommon during Muharram—the first month of the Islamic calendar—for people to visit their friends and neighbors and give them a bowl of dessert.
The dessert in question—ashure, or Noah’s Pudding as it is also known—is made with grains, dried fruits, and nuts and is traditionally made in large quantities so it can be shared with others. And while people in Turkey wouldn’t think twice if their neighbor came by their home to drop off a bowl of ashure, the same can’t be said if it happens in the States, simply because it’s not a tradition we have here.
But on the Eastside, Bellevue’s Turkish Women Charity and Aid Organization (Turkcha) has held an annual ashure event for the last few years to share the dessert and Turkish tradition with the community. Turkcha was founded by Bellevue resident Dilek Anderson, who immigrated to the area from Turkey. One of its purposes is to share Turkish culture with the local community. This includes holding various events throughout the year, such as Iftar dinners during the Islamic observance of Ramadan and the ashure dessert-sharing event.
The latter was recently held on Nov. 17 at the Peter Kirk Community Center in Kirkland. “It was a very great event,” Anderson said. The event was open to the public, and in addition to serving the dessert, prepared by Turkcha board members, there were activities for kids and a few speakers to share about the dessert.
Tulin Yildiz was one, giving attendees a crash course on the history of ashure, its place in Turkish culture, and its historical origins. She said the dish is a symbol of blessing and sharing. The story goes that when Noah’s ark (yes, that Noah) came to rest on Mount Ararat, his family celebrated with a special dish. But because food rations were running low, they combined everything for a pudding that could feed everyone on the vessel.
Anderson said the different ingredients, which may not seem like they go together, symbolize the diversity of the community as well as the unity formed when they come together. “They are one,” she said.
Turkcha treasurer Aysun Eskici said that growing up, her mother would cook ashure and they would distribute it throughout their neighborhood. “We miss our traditions,” she said about the organization’s purpose to share Turkish culture with the community. “We all miss it.”
Turkcha’s second purpose, according to its website, is to “support all women who live around Seattle, especially those who came to the USA from other countries, and to help them in adjusting to their new homes and to not feel alone.” This is because, as an immigrant, Anderson realized that many immigrant women in the area share similar concerns and deal with similar issues. So about five years ago, she founded Turkcha. “When we move here, it’s hard for us to adjust,” Eskici said.
She added that it can also be difficult for some women to find work in the field they were in back home for a number of reasons: They could be in the country on their husband’s work visa, which may not allow them to work. They have no work experience in the United States. And the experience they do have may not translate to jobs stateside. For example, Anderson was a lawyer in Turkey, but can’t practice law here. Eskici was an architect back home, but cannot work in this country either. Yildiz, who moved here from Dubai, was a mathematician back home but is able to work tutoring students (because as Lindsay Lohan said in Mean Girls, “[math is] the same in every country”).
In its efforts to support immigrant women, Turkcha hosts regular events and activities throughout the Eastside from American accent workshops to practicing using local public transportation. Guest speakers also share their experiences as immigrants and how they adjusted and thrived in their new homes. The organization also hosts activities such as yoga and Zumba classes to give women an opportunity to just spend time with each other—so, as its purpose states, they don’t feel so alone.
Anderson said it can be easy for women to lose their self-confidence, and by getting together for these events and helping each other, it shows participants that others share their experiences, which can help make the transitions in their new home easier. Because, let’s face it, moving to a new place is never easy. You most likely won’t know where anything is, and it will take some time to find things like grocery stores and good restaurants. And you probably won’t know many people (if anyone). So there’s the whole daunting task of making new friends, which is not always easy—especially as an adult. Because when was the last time you saw a grownup ask another grownup if they wanted to be friends? It’s not the same as walking up to someone on the school playground and asking if they want to play during recess.
But when you’re moving from a different country, finding where you fit in your new community can be even more difficult. Fortunately, Turkcha is here to help with that. And even more fortunate, sometimes they come bearing desserts.
Windows and Mirrors is a bimonthly column focused on telling the stories of people whose voices are not often heard. If you have something you want to say, contact editor Samantha Pak at spak@sound publishing.com.