The Turkish Lady

February 5, 2012 |  by  |  No Particular Song, U2360 Tour

At the top of the Rhodes acropolis with a photo of my nana, on a trip I wouldn't have taken had Bono not broken his back in 2010.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday — a day of little present interest but much past significance to me. Of course, in terms of U2 (as most things in my life are), it was 10 years ago today that the band performed at Super Bowl XXXVI. It was the first Super Bowl after 9/11, and U2’s halftime show uplifted a nation still very much in pain and uncertainty. It was a poignant tribute to the lives lost, as well as a sounding bell that it was time to move from mourning to healing.

But, six years ago, on Feb 5, 2006, I watched an even more unforgettable Super Bowl. I can’t tell you which teams played or who performed at halftime, but it was during the game that I learned my grandmother had passed away earlier that day. Nana was a remarkable woman who lived 93 years’ worth of stories that fascinated her grandchildren. She was a Turkish immigrant who came to America at the age of 19, eventually landing in Jacksonville via Ellis Island. I think she headed south as soon as she got here in search of warmer climes — she was born on the island of Kos and grew up on Rhodes, both off the coast of Greece. New York in December probably wasn’t selling her on the States. When Bono (yes, it always comes back to Bono) broke his back in 2010 and U2 postponed their summer U.S. dates for the 360 tour, I took the opportunity to instead travel to Greece and Turkey. My trip included a stop on Rhodes, and while I had no luck in tracking down relatives on the tiny little island, it was exciting simply to walk the same terrain I know she walked.

For a 9th grade English assignment, my class was instructed to interview a family member and write about him or her. I naturally chose my nana, “The Turkish Lady.” While my children and grandchildren will have to settle for tales of a life spent chasing Bono, my grandmother’s stories always left me wide-eyed, and proud to be her granddaughter. What follows is the essay I wrote about her when I was 15. I may watch the Super Bowl later, “for the commercials,” but I will mostly spend the day remembering this extraordinary woman.

The Turkish Lady, Jan. 4, 1994

As the shipped pulled into the harbor, a young bride stood anxiously on the deck, trying to get her first glimpse of the country that awaited her. She stared at the enormous statue, which seemed to welcome her to her new beginnings — a new husband, a new home, and a new life in the United States of America.

Nimet Fatima Nabi came to America in 1931, when she was 19 years old, leaving behind her family and friends in Turkey. She was born on the island of Kos and grew up on the island of Rhodes, both off the coast of Turkey. As a young girl, she wore a black and white uniform to school, as did all the children. The boys and girls attended separate schools, and Nimet remembers several times when the boys would build a human ladder to look over the wall of the girls’ school. She studied history, geography, biology, penmanship, diction, language, and home economics. During the day, the students stayed in the same classrooms, while the teachers rotated. Nimet skipped the third grade and jokes, “Whether it was because I was so smart or that I was so bad that the teachers wanted to get rid of me, I don’t know!” Along the way, she also mastered Turkish, Italian, and Greek.

Her early family life lacked many of the modern conveniences we take for granted. They drew water from a well, cooked on a wood stove, made their own bread, and because there was no refrigeration, the meat was slaughtered daily. Although they had help with the washing, Nimet was expected to do her own mending and ironing along with that of other family members. Being the second to the oldest child, she helped raise her younger brothers and sisters.

At home and at school, obedience was a major expectation. Neither her parents nor her teachers would have tolerated backtalk. Although her father was stern, he was never abusive; while he was a disciplinarian, her mother was a “pussycat.” For reasons I am not allowed to mention, Nimet did get one spanking in her life.

This is the life she left behind to come to America with her new husband, Fevzi. After a honeymoon in Greece, the newlyweds took the famous Orient Express from Istanbul to Paris. Then they crossed the Atlantic in an ocean liner named the Leviathan. Upon their arrival in New York, three days before Christmas, Nimet was bewildered with all the bright lights. Back home they had only used kerosene lamps. Because she didn’t know any English, her husband told her that everyone would be saying “Merry Christmas,” and that she should say this back. These were the first words Nimet learned in America and from these words, she has mastered the English language. After going through all of the tests at the immigration center, and a short stay in New York, she and her husband moved to Jacksonville, where, now a widow, she still lives.

All of her names have a special significance. “Nimet” means “gift of God.” “Fatima” is the name of the daughter of the prophet Muhammed; she was revered by all Muslims. “Nabi” is a Hebrew word for “prophet” or “seer.”

Nimet seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. When she was in the seventh grade, in Rhodes, the Prince of Italy visited her school. Because she was the only student able to welcome him in Italian, she was chosen to present flowers to him. He then patted her on the head and thanked her. Many years later, on another island, Hawaii, she was in the audience of a popular television show. After noticing that Nimet was gleaming with joy, the host, Don Ho, asker her what she was so happy about. She got to announce the arrival of her new grandson (my brother) on national television. Don Ho then congratulated her with a lei around the neck and a kiss on the cheek.

Now Nimet enjoys seeing people, cooking, doing crossword puzzles, and playing cards with her grandchildren. She cooks wonderful Turkish dishes and snow cookies, which are a favorite in any country.

This unique lady even has a unique birthday — December, 12, 1912, or 12/12/12/ This year, she celebrates her 81st birthday. In the long span of her life she was never lost her adventurous spirit, her love of learning, nor her eagerness to share and make new friends. I hope someday I can be like this remarkable Turkish lady — my grandmother.

From this interview, I have learned that my generation takes so many luxuries for granted. We have fewer hardships and more opportunities than my grandmother did. We are not expected to do as much and we show less respect to our elders. I have also learned that my grandmother and I have the same adventurous spirit. Just like she did, I long to travel around the world and try new things. I hope that someday I can lead as interesting a life as she has done.


  1. Hi Beth, great read (again!)It’s great you have so much knowledge of your Nana, she led a remarkable life & it’s great that you have shared the story, i think the end paragraph says alot about times of today & how our race has less respect for the elders, i see this all the time & it’s disturbing, dont even get me started on the luxuries, their’s no time span on my ranting on that one! Keep on Keepin’..Jay :)

  2. Steve Nabi smyrna tn

    Well hello family!
    I am the youngest son of HALIL Gene Nabi THE Son Of Ada and Halil.
    Would love to learn of the family tree!
    Facebook will find me!
    Thank you so much!

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