My lifelong relationship with the finger-like fruit we know as “banana” started early. In Turkey, where I grew up in the 80s, bananas were a rare commodity. We were due for the U.S. as Dad had jumped through hoops to take us there. I remember a gathering with our family friends to say happy travels to Dad before he departed for the U.S. I was eating a banana. It was absolutely delicious. They tasted so exotic and incredibly good in those days. Perhaps my taste buds were sharper, the bananas were better or they were just rare and were regarded as a delicacy.
“You won’t be able to find bananas in the U.S.” someone told me at the party. I thought, wow! really? What were we giving up to go to this country that was the center of the world in those days?
Banana Republic Lost
Here’s how I described growing up in Turkey in my memoir “The Wisdom of Gifts”:
Let me take you back to the Eighties.
Do you remember the awful shoulder pads, the out-of-control perms, fluoro colours, mind-bending music videos? That was Turkey in the Eighties.
Turkey was and is a type of banana republic, in that it pretty much orbits around the U.S. This was good in the Eighties as the U.S. truly had it going on. Whenever you saw ‘Made in America’ on anything from shoes to skateboards to shirts to underwear, that was the seal of quality and the American lifestyle was pumped through Hollywood, the radio waves, commercials on TV for Nikes, Adidas, and what have you. No one was more absorbed in the flash of the times than my aunties.
Well, to be clear, fashion was the family business. The centre of my mum’s family was my Aunty Sunny, a Leo with a mane of glorious red hair, permed, of course. She truly was the sun around which my mum’s other two younger sisters orbited.
Aunty Sunny was a model and a jet setter – always flying to exotic locations – adding to the brightness of the sun in places like Egypt, and I guess also the U.S. as I vaguely recall her bringing us Coca Cola which no one could get in Turkey in those days. My aunties, my brother, and cousins would line up in front of her as soon as she arrived back to get their presents from faraway places.
This was all good and well. Mum never seemed all that impressed by the ‘Made in America’ stuff. She tells me she’d always been different. She’d found her comfort in the simple joys of nature, gardens, planting, and spirituality.
I was not too fond of pretty much any of the ‘gifts’ the U.S. offered to the world. They appeared to be enchanted objects, like Snow White’s poisoned apple, designed to put people into a deep slumber.
“Goo-auh-tahh,” my brother would demand, which was his childhood word for ‘chocolate’.
“Shame on you for being so greedy!” Mum would interject, feeling embarrassed that my brother would burden her little sister in such a way. But Aunty Sunny loved bringing gifts and seeing the joy they brought.
In those days, we were already living far from our extended family. They were in Istanbul, we’d moved to Izmir on the southern Aegean coast, a nine-hour drive back then.
We lost our country and gained a new one when we moved to the U.S. Dad’s friend was wrong. There were so many bananas in America. They were cheap too! That’s how the banana lost its appeal. It was too available.
Hmmm. I think there’s a lesson in there. What do you think?
Over to you…
What were some of the fruits you loved as a child? What memories do they bring up in you? What do you associate bananas with, for example? Will you keep yourself rare so people can appreciate you more?