When I came to Turkey in 2000 I was surprised by many things; the strange, the familiar, the wonderful, the downright weird and not so often but every now and then the bang-your-head-against-the-wall annoying.
Overall, what I found was somewhere I wanted to stay and make my home for the next I don’t know how long. These days when I watch the ‘Ana Haber’ with my husband Murat, I must make a lot of comments (now I understand it all)... because he said one day, why don’t you write a book? Was he being cheeky about the fact that I am always right? (I am, but I can’t help it!) I don’t know, but I do know he has started to see Turkey through different eyes since we met.
On arrival I was met at the airport by a friendly white-haired, moustachioed driver from my school-to-be, who spoke no English. So far not so surprising, all as expected. He drove me and another teacher to what seemed like the absolute other side of the huge and (in late August) dusty and hot city. I later realised it was only about half as far as we could have gone before getting to the real other side.
He dropped the other teacher off first and we continued on to the flat that was to be my ‘lojman’ for the next 12 months. He helped me with my bag (the pack I had been travelling with and living out of for the best of the previous 4 years), gave me the key, waved and drove off.
There was noone there, but Phil one of the flatmates had kindly left me a welcome note and some cash in case I hadn’t been able to change any yet.
I knew Turkey was quite different to other more conservative countries on this side of Europe, but as it was my first time in a Muslim country, I thought it best to be on the safe side, and although it was over 30 degrees outside I put on my long-sleeved shirt and headed out for a walk. After about 5 minutes I found my way to Akmerkez ...
In the last 2 years a multitude of shopping centres each better than the last have sprung up around the Levent area, but at that time Akmerkez was definitely the queen of shopping centres in Istanbul. Wonderfully air-conditioned for a start, Suzies and the places they love to shop, drink coffee and pose pose pose, and the others who watch the posers.
I was most definitely the frumpiest, most over-dressed person in the place, but I liked it and started to think that I was going to like it here. I couldn’t even ask for water in Turkish but managed to get myself some and a pide döner and it was all good....
Since then I have learned Turkish to the point I can understand almost everything and make myself understood in any situation, I have gotten to know the city better than many taxi drivers, been to the hairdresser more than in the rest of my entire life combined, come to the top of a career I thought I’d never do, tried one I absolutely hated, and had to stop saying sentences starting with ‘You would think....’ because here, many things are not done as you would think.... and most tourists and even many ex-pats experience only a very small fraction of Real Life In Turkey.
Now I have a half-Turkish daughter, I wonder what on earth she will grow up thinking :)