Sunday, February 26, 2023

Charity Sunday: For Survival – #Turkey #Syria #EmergencyResponse #BellyDance #CharitySunday

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Over the past few weeks, devastating earthquakes have killed tens of thousands of people in southern Turkey and northern Syria, and left hundreds of thousands homeless and at risk from hunger, disease and the ravages of winter weather. I love Turkey; my travels there are among my most treasured memories. These quakes, though, occurred far from the tourist attractions of Istanbul or the sunny havens along the Mediterranean coast. The people affected by this series of disasters were already suffering from the ravages of Syria’s civil war. Many are refugees. Others belong to communities struggling to house and feed people fleeing from conflict.

In the face of such an enormous challenge, it’s hard to know where to turn in order to help. Dozens of charitable organizations are providing aid to the earthquake victims.

After a bit of research, I’ve decided to dedicate this month’s Charity Sunday to supporting Direct Relief (, which has a 100% rating from Charity Navigator. They are non-governmental and non-sectarian. Direct Relief's assistance programs focus on emergency preparedness and disaster response and the prevention and treatment of disease. They are tailored to the particular circumstances and needs of the world's most at-risk populations, and provided without regard to politics, religion, ethnic identities, or ability to pay. 

For this month’s Charity Sunday, I will donate two dollars to Direct Relief for every comment I receive on this post.

For my excerpt, I’m sharing some unpublished work – something I do rarely. My first novel, Raw Silk, was set in Thailand. Some time after publishing that book, I started working on an erotic romance set in Turkey, centering around a school for belly dancing. I should explain that I was a belly dancer, and that I’d always been intrigued by the history behind the art. Indeed, I danced to the band in a restaurant in Istanbul, many decades ago. 

Minaret and ruined haman - Istanbul


Early Christian cave church - Cappadocia

I never followed up on my plan for Unveiled, though it’s always possible I might decide to work on it some time in the future. Meanwhile, here is the beginning of the first chapter.


Chapter One: Childhood’s End

On my ninth birthday, my parents took me to see the great Nehir perform, and my destiny was sealed.

I sat bolt upright in my velvet seat, there in Symphony Hall, hardly daring to breathe, as the lights dimmed and the musicians strolled onto the stage. They settled themselves in a row of chairs toward the back. The drummer and the clarinetist whispered together for a moment, then nodded to the man with the oud. Then, an intricate sequence of notes dripped from his strings, rising up in the hall and falling again like plaintive rain.

The house went black. The oud solo still shimmered in the darkness, shivered down my spine, a lament centuries old. A bolt of light shot from the back of the theater, defining a perfect circle of brightness on the stage. There, motionless in the spotlight as though frozen by a flashbulb, stood a diminutive figure swathed in layers of turquoise and gold gauze.

The oud faded to silence. My chest hurt from anticipation. The dumbeq player coaxed two musical beats from his goatskin drum. Nehir raised her arm simultaneously, as though her movement had precipitated the drumbeats rather than the other way around. Two more beats, another gesture. She shifted her hips, making her jeweled belt sparkle, as the drummer matched her rhythm. She pivoted and bent backward, her veils brushing the floor behind her, to the next beats.

The clarinet joined the drum. Nehir’s bare arms snaked through the air. Her hips made slow circles, rising as the melody rose, dipping down when it sank to a lower register. The musicians were in taksim mode, improvising to a free form rhythm, and Nehir perfectly matched their every musical gesture, remaining immobile between notes.

The oud player picked up the melody, and abruptly, the drummer swung into a fast, regular beat. All at once, the dancer was all motion. Her shoulders shimmied, her hips shook, her fingers feathered the air. I could see her rise on her toes as she twirled, translucent fabric trailing behind her.

My heart beat in time with the drum as I drank in Nehir’s fluid, voluptuous movements. Her bare feet were light and sure as she traced the intricate steps of the age-old, ageless dance. She removed her outer veil, swirling it in sinuous patterns around her, so that for a moment it seemed that she had a partner. My chest ached with nameless longing.

Nehir did not listen to and interpret the music. The music filled her, bore her up, swept her away in frenzy of glorious energy. She surrendered to the music. She allowed the rhythm to have its way with her. Let the melody enter her, take her, bend her into impossibly graceful forms, travel up her spine until her whole body rippled like water.

Her name meant “the river”, my mother had told me. As I watched her the floodgates opened inside me. I wanted to dance as she danced, wanted that more than anything in the world. I wanted the music to take me and use me as it did her. I craved the knowledge of motion and stillness that, even as a child, I read in her perfect gestures. And I knew, even then, that this was not a mere childish whim.

The tempo slowed. Nehir’s movements became the melting of snow, the opening of blossoms, gradual and exquisite. Breathless, with tears in my eyes, I traced each tiny gesture as she unwound the inner veil of gold-broidered chiffon that hid her bosom and abdomen. She draped the veil over her head, paradoxically concealing her eyes and her waist-length black hair while revealing the creamy hemisphere of her belly. Waves flowed across that white expanse of flesh, waves of music, waves of desire. The jewel embedded in her navel sparkled across the dark heads of the audience, a third eye gazing straight at me.

Heat exploded in my body as I gazed back. I felt heavy and tingling, damp and confused. The little buds that were my nascent breasts stiffened and ached. I wanted—something. Something mysterious and dangerous and infinitely alluring.

Forget what you think you know about belly dancing: the teasing and the sexual innuendo, the dollar bills stuffed in a jewelled girdle, the scantily-clad girl in a veil who delivered your birthday telegram at the office. The true dance, the ancient danse du ventre, passed down through the generations, has nothing in common with the pseudo-striptease that most Americans know about.

Nehir’s dance was, in a sense, agonizingly chaste. She made no effort to arouse the audience. There were no cheap shimmies, no bumps and grinds, no obvious titillation. Although her eyes were open, her vision seemed to be turned inward. It was as though she was unaware of the hundreds of eyes riveted upon her. Only the rhythm and the melody were real to her.

Yet her every movement was so sensuous that I’m sure that many men in the audience had uncomfortable lumps in their laps. Women left the theater that night with nipples screaming to be touched and dampness on their thighs, embarrassed to find themselves so aroused by what was obviously supposed to be art.

I understand this now. The dancer surrenders herself to the dance, becomes the dance, and the dance ravishes her. The audience watch like voyeurs as ecstasy claims her.

The true dance flows from the earth. It mirrors the earth in our flesh. The beat of the earth becomes the beat of the heart, the throbbing of blood in the cock, the hungry swelling of the vulva.

But I am getting ahead of myself. That night, I understood nothing except that I wanted to be Nehir. I wanted to share her experience. My heart, my mind, my body all wanted this, with an intensity that would have frightened me if I had not felt so sure that this was my true path.

I do not know how long Nehir danced. For me, time stopped. The musicians switched from one rhythm to another, slow, fast, slow again, and Nehir matched her dance perfectly to each one. Finally, though, they took up a furious, driving beat that I now know was a çifftetellisi. Nehir seemed taken by a madness. She stamped and swirled, arched her back, swung her voluminous skirts in time with the frenzied drumbeats.

Her energy overwhelmed me. I thought my heart would burst from my chest. I sat there transfixed, one hand gripping the other, while others in the audience stood and cheered and clapped in time. The music surged to a climax. The dancer turned on her toes, turned and turned until I was dizzy from watching.

The music, suddenly, artfully, ceased. Nehir sank to her knees on the stage, her head bowed, her arms stretched open, offering herself, her body, her art, to us. Something inside me shattered. Tears ran down my cheeks.

Applause thundered around me. I was still as a statue, acutely aware of the odd feelings racing through me. Nehir rose gracefully. She touch her fingers to her brow, her heart, her belly, then extended her hand, palm up. It was more a gesture of obeisance than a bow. Then she stood, quiet and humble, while the audience roared and yelled and clapped its huge approval. And though I knew I must be mistaken, I would have sworn that her dark eyes were fastened on mine.

That night is as vivid in my mind as yesterday. I remember waiting for the bus home, after midnight, standing beside my parents as snowflakes drifted like feathers down around us and our breath hung in white clouds in the January air. “Did you enjoy the show?” my father asked. All I could do was nod. No words could capture the tumult within me. The rhythm of the drums still surged in my veins. When I closed my eyes, I saw swirling clouds of turquoise and gold.

The drums kept me awake. My body shook with their beat. I tossed and squirmed in my narrow bed, trying not to wake my older sister. Finally, I shoved my pillow between my legs and rocked until a little explosion distracted me from the drums. I fell asleep in the grayness of dawn, still sensing Nehir’s eyes upon me.

The next day, I spoke with my mother. I want to be a dancer, I told her, like Nehir. I want to study and become perfect. 

 Lisabet, circa 1978


Don’t forget to leave a comment. Every one will help the victims in Turkey and Syria.


Larry Archer said...

Wow! While certainly subject to the censor's red pen that was superb. Thanks for sharing the picture as you were a beautiful dancer.

Annette said...

You definitely need to finish this book. Thanks for picking such a great cause. The Turkey/Syria earthquake is so heartbreaking.

Colleen C. said...

Thanks for sharing!

H.B. said...

Thank you for sharing! Sounds like a great cause.

Anonymous said...

Great read - for sure finish that book! Lovely read and great picture of you also! Also thank you for supporting Syria and Turkey and the people. We have enjoyed many vacations there and hope to return in the future to support the people directly.

Dee S Knight and Anne Krist said...

What a tragedy these earthquakes were/are! Great choice for this month's charity!

Love your excerpt, as always. And what a beauty you were in 1978, missy. Good golly Miss Molly1

Tina Donahue said...

Those poor people... I can't even imagine. I wish all our tax dollars went to help people not corporations (that don't need it). *sigh* Anyway, thanks for another awesome charity post, Lisabet!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks to everyone who commented. I'm off to donate $20 to Direct Relief.

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