For the last 4 weeks, the other students and I have been practicing sawing in jewelry class. “It is the foundation of all jewelry making,” my teacher insisted, seeming to be trying to convince me. Since I’d already taken jewelry classes, maybe he thought I would find it redundant to start from the beginning again. I needed no convincing, however, and was already sold, ready to saw my way to jewelry mastery.

After the initial cutting challenge of curves and zig zags, we ascended through levels of increasing difficulty. Every step a small graduation of sorts, requiring concentrated, squinty-eyed inspection of our work by our teacher, and finally a nod of approval and verbal affirmation: “Cok guzel, cok guzel.” First, we focused on basic shapes- circles, ovals, triangles, and squares. Next came the Arabic word “Allah”, both large and small. The next two levels were intricate Ottoman designs of interweaving vines- one slightly more complicated than the next. “This will be your exam,” our teacher said, pointing to a tiny version of the more complicated design. We stared wide-eyed at the tiny interlacing vines we were meant to coax out of the metal by deftly maneuvering our saws around the miniature curves. What our teacher meant, was that this would be our ticket to moving on to silver, after having practiced on brass for so many weeks.

Other teachers that I’ve had in the past haven’t been nearly as demanding and I’ve cut silver before- even made pendants, rings, and set stones. There was something so satisfying about the structure of this class, however… something about completing each level, building on the skills perfected in the preceding one, knowing that I had gained more proficiency with every din the cut metal made when it fell to the floor. The challenge of it and meeting a high expectation… this truly lit the fuel inside.

Levels 1-4

So for weeks I cut both in class and at home. I have to say that Jeremy was very encouraging, even when I took over the dining room table for hours on end, catching up on episodes of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and This American Life, set to a downbeat of steady buzzing from my saw. And finally, in this week’s class, our teacher announced that we would be taking our ‘exam’, and began to prep the smaller circular designs for the task. We all set out, saws in hand, to jump the final hurdle.

While we worked, of course, there was a lot of chatting. My teacher is very social and spends much of class telling stories, which are usually translated to me another student in the class. This week, however, my faithful translator wasn’t there. So I was once again left with the basics: gestures, drawings, nodding as if I understood the animated string of words that left my teacher’s mouth, and turning to my neighbor for a lifeline with the few English words that he knew. This, turns out, was exactly what I needed to improve my Turkish! I was left with close to nothing but my own resources, although I did get a lot of help from my other classmates, who pooled together their English words to help me along. I listened more attentively and tried to pry familiar words from my teacher’s directions- enough to understand the basic message. He repeated words and phrases, wrote some down for me, and had me repeat them.

“Emine, Emine,” my teacher said with a smile, shaking his head. Emine is my jewelry class name, as it seems- my adopted Turkish name. I’m not sure how it is that my teacher first started calling me Emine- probably on the first class, when he wasn’t sure what my actual name was and said something that sounded similar and more familiar to him. Then, it stuck the next week, when he began singing a popular Turkish song, by Mustafa Topal Oglu, about a man who is exasperated with his lover Emine. “Of, of, Emine,” is the chorus, emphasizing the man’s frustration. My homework that week, along with sawing several designs, was to listen to the song. Ever since, it’s become an ongoing joke in class. “Emine, Emine.” I like it. I feel as if I’ve been baptized into Turkish culture. The calligraphy teacher, who hangs out in our room after his class, added that Emilie sounds like the Arabic word for “hope”: Amal ( أمل ). As Emine, I am hopeful that I will learn more Turkish.

By the end of the class, I had several new Turkish phrases under my belt and was midway through my exam. My teacher looked it over and announced that next week would be a “kutlama”- a celebration. I had graduated to silver along with the others in the class! “Bring a cake next week,” he said “We’ll celebrate!” Being promoted to silver sounded like as good of a reason as any to celebrate and eat cake, so I agreed to bake one for the following class. And, as is usual after finishing jewelry class, I was in 7th heaven. I walked up the cobblestone path to meet Jeremy with a happy heart.

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