What are you doing in Turkey?

What are you doing in Turkey?

BELGİN AKALTAN - belgin.akaltan@hdn.com.tr
What are you doing in Turkey Are you married to a Turkish man? Do you have children? If not, then what are you doing in Turkey? These are the most common questions foreign women are asked in Turkey; I have been told.

Jolanda from Antalya, wrote to me, saying, “I’ve been living in Antalya for almost seven years and you can’t imagine how many times people ask me the same questions over and over again. … So it feels as if I’m only allowed to be here if I’m married to a Turk and have kids. … In Turkish society, a single woman is apparently seen as a useless human being…”

She has also added, so truthfully, “Unfortunately, so many women here have no idea how to be independent.” 

I love clever readers. I love clever foreign observers, although the concept “foreign observer” is a bit absurd; it may mean nothing, but at the same time, in the hands of the right people, it is loaded with a lot of sense.

Some foreign observers are so clever that you want to cry with envy. Then some of them are so stupid, you again want to cry.

Take foreign journalists. The good ones like Andrew Finkel, Hugh Pope, Nicole Pope and Constanze Letsch; they are all a source of envy for “local” journalists. They are capable of doing what we cannot do. They come to a foreign country and they start producing stories, later books, about your own country and your own problems. They write and analyze so well that you are angry how they can think and observe so accurately those same things that have been right in front of you all your life.

I think it is because of protein. They have been fed well; not bulgur-fed like us. Their gene pool is obviously better than ours. Well, we unfortunate souls don’t have a chance in genes, education, environment, social and political systems; they have not been exposed to certain factors that we need to fight and spend our energy on, on a non-stop basis.

 They are better paid, dedicated, better educated, better guided, have time to research while we, ummm, I think I’m just making up excuses… 

Anyway, then there are bad ones. Some of them are new comers who act as if they are experts. They come and have no clue about the country, the people, its history, geography, social dynamics, but they pretend as if they belong to the group above. They make stupid mistakes in their stories – their editors do not notice. Those “bad foreign observers,” speak to a limited number of people, two-three-four and think they have the whole picture. Nowadays, they are all around.

Anyway, watch out for those amateurs.

Back to my readers… A portion of my readers are foreigners living in Turkey and also Turks living abroad. Then there are others who write comments on Facebook.

Paul le G., another foreign resident of our Mediterranean coasts, remembered when he, his wife and his children were living in Tehran in the 70s: “We were invited to a wedding of a Zoroastrian couple.

They were from our landlord’s family. At the wedding reception, in a modest sized room, all the unmarried men and boys sat on one side of the room, all the unmarried girls and women on the other. They were not allowed to dance together.”

“However my wife, a Christian, was allowed to dance with any boy or man, and I, a Christian, was allowed to dance [badly] with any of the girls and women! So, traditional morality met great tolerance. Needless to say we had a great time!”

He wrote now he notices that he is not supposed to ask anybody but his wife to dance with him because it is against “public morality” in Turkey.

Tevfik Alp from Connecticut, U.S., wrote the circumstances in Istanbul and say Şarkışla, Sivas, are different: “You would be in shock if you were in Şarkışla, Sivas. A youngster was declared a ‘fagg*t’ for wearing a dirty-yellow suede jacket. Women were not allowed to pass through the main road to go to a women’s session film screening at the cinema. They had to walk in the muddy fields, not to be visible to the public; otherwise, they would be called ‘prostitutes.’ They were adamant about it.”

 Kerry Cushing from Florida, U.S., sincerely hopes my colleagues and I are not in the next wave of media arrests. 

Back to Jolanda from Antalya: “A friend of mine told me about some friends of hers who had moved back to their parents’ after their divorce, because they’ve never lived alone ... and are afraid to do so. … Mind you, I’m talking about women who are older than 40…”

Yes, Jolanda, divorced men also move back to their parents’ in Turkey.

“A lot of married women here take their ‘identity’ from the sole fact that they’re married and have children, but in fact – sadly – they have no identity at all, because their husbands don’t allow them to be a woman who can think for herself. So they’re like marionettes who sometimes don’t even notice how they’re being suppressed.”

It makes her sad to see all this. It’s about time, she thinks, that Turkish women stand up to their husbands and say “Enough, you bring me some tea this time!”