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Piercing in a foreign language

The small word "kas" (pronounced like cash) in Turkish is not really a word I tended to use everyday, but last June, this little word became one I would not forget. What does it mean? Eyebrow. Why would I not forget it? Because I decided to get it pierced.

I'd been in Istanbul for a few months, studying Turkish, and somehow the subject of piercing came up in conversation with a Turkish friend. I don't know how and I don't know why, but we ended up promising each other that we would go and get something pierced one day soon. In Istanbul, if not in the rest of Turkey, piercings have become very trendy, almost to the point of becoming normal, so I felt it needed to be done! Plus, living away from friends and family for an extended period, I reasoned that this was an ideal time to try a piercing...after all, if I didn't like it, I could always remove it before seeing them.

We must have walked past the piercing shop at least fifty times in the following weeks. A couple of times we even got close enough to look in the window and read the adverts. But there was always some reason why we didn't go in. Either one of us would have an "urgent appointment" with someone who just happened to ring, or we'd meet someone we knew, or we'd both make a silent agreement with each other that today was not the day...basically we were nervous and just a little scared.

It began to get a little silly...everyday, we'd go through the same old rigmarole of pretending we were brave, only to find a new excuse not to do it. Finally my friend went away on holiday, and all thoughts of piercings were forgotten. At least, by him they were. Which is why I found myself back in the Atlas Pazari (one of the mini arcades leading off Istanbul's wonderful main shopping street, istiklal Caddesi) a few days later. I thought, it is now or never....if I chicken out now, I'll never come back...and before I knew it, I was inside the shop.

The middle-aged man behind the desk was very patient with my broken Turkish, answering all my questions slowly enough for me to understand. He told me how it was done (no use of the dreaded clamp that I'd read about, I was glad to hear), showed me the equipment used, how everything was sterilized before use, and helped me decide what I wanted to put in my eyebrow. He advised me not to go for a ring, at least not at first, as that could easily be pulled out. He also explained the difference between all the different metals and which ones were more prone to infections.

As it was my first ever piercing and I had no idea what to expect, I chose a small curved barbell made from titanium. It wasn't the cheapest, but i was told that titanium is the safest material available.

I was concentrating so hard on my Turkish that somehow the butterflies that had been fluttering around in my stomach and threatening to escape at any moment, seemed to fall quiet...but they were brought back to life when a little door was opened behind the counter leading to a very white bed in a very white cupboard-type room, with lots of scary-looking implements of torture languishing in pots of coloured water. All knowledge of Turkish momentarily deserted me, and a short yet meaningful expletive in English may or may not have popped out.

A younger guy introduced himself to me...I might have learned his name, but to be honest my mind was elsewhere at that point! To avoid an overuse of the third person pronoun, let's call him Ali. Ali had piercings a plenty on his face, one in each eyebrow, a few in the nose, a spike protruding from his lip, tattoos just about everywhere...the sort of person my mother used to warn me about, not someone she'd ever wish to meet in a dark alley in case he....well, whatever. But despite my better judgement, all her warnings came back to me. I must have looked a bit nervous, as Ali began to chat. It turned out that he, and not the man behind the desk, would be carrying out the piercing. Try as he might to put me at ease and make everything seem normal, I still couldn't decide if Ali was about to pierce my eyebrow or permanently mutilate my face and poke out my eye with a rusty needle!

I lay on the glaringly white bed, and my foot took on a life of its own, twitching every so often. Ali must have sensed I was not at all comfortable with the surroundings, and asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. Quite frankly, I would have gladly have said no and walked out there and then, but before I could, the little word yes popped out in a pathetic squeaky voice.

While he was preparing the needle and fitting the rubber glove, Ali asked me lots of questions. Apparently he was delighted to have his first foreign "victim" and wanted to know what I was doing in Istanbul. Strangely, I found all his questions comforting. Using my brain to construct intelligible Turkish sentences stopped me from thinking about pain, needles, blood...

Dots were made on my eyebrow, and I was asked if that was ok...it seemed to me to be fine, although to be honest I really didn't know. While continuing to quiz me about Istanbul, Ali began to wipe my eyebrow and the area around it with something very cold. I didn't know at the time, but this must have been a local anaesthetic. After that, I didn't really pay much attention to what Ali was doing, just concentrated hard on answering questions.

"Do you like Istanbul, then?"

A needle, a very big needle, approached.

"Yes, it is an amazing city"

Something is pressing on my eyebrow.

"Is it your first time here?"

Two hands on my brow now. Has he started yet? What's he doing?

"No, I came here four years ago as a tourist"

It feels tight, uncomfortable maybe, but not pain. So he can't have done it yet, right?

"Where did you learn Turkish?"

A needle returns to the table, a cotton pad wipes at my brow. Am I sweating maybe? Is it?...No it can't be. He hasn't pierced anything yet, it can't be blood.

"I started at university, and now I'm learning at a school here."

Fingers back on my brow, something is pinching tightly...this must be where it gets painful.

"Why Turkish?"

I hear a click, a slight scraping of metal against metal...


A mirror is produced, and I'm truly in shock...there is a black barbell going through my eyebrow! The deed is done!

I couldn't believe that it was totally pain free. The thought of having it done was far more painful that the actual piercing itself. I mentioned this to Ali, who gave me a worldly look and told me to hold my tongue until the anaesthetic began to wear off in about half an hour. But even so, I was told only to expect a dull throbbing. I can cope with dull throbbing...it is sharp gut-wrenching agony that I'm not fond of, so dull throbbing didn't sound too bad at all.

Ali put his hand on my chest to feel my heartbeat, and declared that I was "excited", so I was advised to remain lying down for a few minutes until I was back to normal again. I could hear other customers in the shop behind asking about belly-button rings, a man describing a tattoo he wanted done, but all I could think of was this new addition to my face.

Ali reappeared with a card showing me how to take care of the piercing until it heals. I was told to wash it every morning and night with a special antibacterial soap, and every evening to put an antibiotic cream over the ridge between the two holes.

"Don't go swimming around Istanbul or in the Black Sea until it has healed, but the Mediterranean and Aegean seas should be fine"

I liked that advice...as if the Mediterranean is pure and non-polluted!! I decided not to go swimming, full stop.

I shouldn't touch it too much, certainly not play with it, not sleep on it, and not try to remove it myself. After a month, I could return to the shop and change it for a different style if I wished, and if there were any problems, I could rfeturn to the shop at any time. So, armed with a list of suggested brands for soap and cream, and two little black spikes protruding from either side of my eyebrow, I marched across to the closest pharmacy, where a lovely old woman was mildly surprised on two counts...firstly that she had a Turkish speaking foreigner in her shop, and secondly that this foreigner had something funny in his eyebrow that needed seeing to.

About twenty minutes later, while drinking a well-earned glass of tea, I was aware of a slight ache on the left side of my face. Nothing major, just like a mini-hangover. It lasted for a couple of hours...or at least, I stopped noticing it after a couple of hours.

A bit of advice though...if you are contemplating heading off on a long journey shortly after piercing an eyebrow, make sure you choose your seat on the bus carefully! I took an overnight bus ride the following day, and was unable to sleep at all for fear that i might end up banging the piercing on the window. And washing a piercing in a service station somewhere in eastern Turkey, surrounded by the faithful doing their ablutions for prayers, is an experience I won't forget in a hurry!

I'm glad I pierced my eyebrow. My mum isn't, but then again I'm 25 and it isn't her face. "You'll never get a job looking like that!" was all she said, but looks, especially disgusted ones, speak louder than words. It got some very strange looks in eastern Turkey and Georgia, where piercings on men are not de rigueur, but what I found is that far from being shocked, appalled and disgusted, most people were just curious. "Is that a nail?" "Are the two bits connected?" "Is that a fly on your eyebrow?" It provided a starting point leading to further questions and lengthy conversations, and the novelty of talking to a foreigner with a funny thing sticking out of his eye soon wore off. Some people actually quite liked it!

Turkey is maybe not the ideal place to get a piercing done, as there are plenty of piercing studios that are none too hygienic. But as piercing becomes more and more accepted, standards will improve, and if you look around hard enough, you can find studios with levels of hygiene matching anywhere in Europe. I think perhaps the language issue did help...everything was explained to me, but how much of it I understood perfectly is not clear. Some people like to know exactly what is happening at any giving moment during the piercing, but I preferred to be ignorant. I don't need to know that the needle is just about to enter, I don't need to know that blood is trickling down my cheek...I'd rather just lie back, close my eye and chat about something completely irrelevant while letting the man do his job.

Well, hope this account doesn't put anyone off going for a piercing. While the experience isn't one I'd want to go through every day, I don't regret it, and haven't ruled out a second piercing. The only question is where?


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 15 Oct. 2005
in Eyebrow Piercing

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Studio: Atlas+Pazari%2C+Istiklal+Caddesi%2C+Taksim
Location: Istanbul%2C+Turkey

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