Turkey - a study in contrasts. From the incredibly diverse landscapes to the fact that it is the one country that straddles two continents - Europe and Asia, this is a place with neighbors like Bulgaria, Syria, Iraq, Greece; a history of trade and relationship building, fortunate enough to be rich in resources and from all outward appearances a really thriving economy. It all seemed to be happening in Turkey.
The people we met on our journeys were also the most diverse. The few who were nice were so incredibly nice that we will remember their kindness, the rest, and I am afraid to say these were the huge majority, will be forgotten soon I hope.
I had been in Turkey before - last year - but only in Istanbul, and had loved it. Jan had not been here before and was coming from a month in Egypt backpacking around as the revolution took hold, then on through Jordon and Israel after working a couple of years in Africa. I say all that for those who may think that we are just intolerant travelers....and want to debate my comments. Debate, no. Help me understand this country more, absolutely. My opinions are based only on what we saw and how we felt. We met lots of short term travelers who loved their experiences and we both really, really love Istanbul. Funny about that because often it is the cities where people are stressed and miserable and nice and relaxed in the countryside. We didn't find that in Turkey.
What we did find was. Miserable people. Everywhere....men and women....and children......miserable and mean. Neither Jan or I have traveled anywhere where even the smallest children refused to smile at us...what's up with that? Maybe their parents have the weight of the world on their shoulders but how can our smiling faces not be welcome to little units????
We covered a lot of the country in our month - from north to south and from the west coast to as far southeast as Gazientep down near the Syrian border. We took short buses, long buses, flights, ferries, you name it and nearly every time we wanted to buy a ticket to the next destination, there was some negative drama associated to the transaction. Sometimes outright refusing to address us: Once when I asked if we could sit near the front of the bus the guy threw us out of the office. In one town the bus sellers, representing different companies refused to sell us a ticket out of town and so on and so on. Where is the centuries long tradition of trade and entrepreneurship? I can't imagine a sale lost in China or India!
At first we thought they just disliked us....and they did. And they made that known. In Gazientep a Grandpa with three of his grandchildren orchestrated them into a mini blockade to block our passage on the sidewalk. I was pushed around by Burka wearing women when I tried to get to close to some market frenzy scarf action. ..and so on and so on.
Maybe it was two women traveling alone in a still very traditional country......you may think that we would be getting lots of attention because of our outstanding beauty and charms, but no. Basically it was a month, other than our great time on the Med cruise, of dealing with dismissiveness. Like we didn't exist. Strange. Then we started to watch how they treated each other. Same rude, rude, rudeness. Unless it was two men cuddling each other we saw very few outward signs of affection to anyone, especially girl children. Little boys parade around, dressed like princes and are revered. They are permitted to hit their mothers, slap their faces and the moms just tolerate it. Little girls are treated very poorly and usually end up having to deal with their whining, battling, little brothers. No wonder they grow up mean. We saw very few women actually with jobs other than the occasional market sellers. Even lingerie shops and women's fashion stores were staffed with disinterested men or boys searching facebook or texting on their phones. We felt for the women, even the ones hip checking me and poking me, as they tried to maneuver strollers through the street in full face hi-jabs; the eye slits narrower and narrower as we got further east.
For many it was near impossible to see where they were going....and then to watch them try and eat at restaurants!!!!. Food and drinks have to be 'smuggled' up and under the face covering - not easy to do when your evil boy child is whacking you across the head and Dad is sitting there talking on his phone.
Then there was even more bizarre contrasts regarding women. Most women wore at least the headscarf and a long tight trench coat over long clothing and many were in full burkas. In 40 degree heat! Contrast that to the women featured in every newspaper. Front pages were littered with Hustler shots of semi clad women in sexualized, demeaning poses. Inside the newspapers, and they have lots of daily newspapers in every city, are more of these 'sunshine' girl pictures; between really small news stories.
Specialty newspapers are sold on every newsstand showing cartoon rape scenes and more demeaning cartoons of women usually being overpowered by men. We tried to get our head around this every time we looked for hard news.
Then, in Gazientep, probably the most traditional of all the cities we stayed, we turned on our TV and lo and behold , Hustler channel between BBC and CNN. Hard core porn 24 hours a day.....Hard hard core...and on the regular channel offerings. What a bonus!!!! Given that there are pretty much no foreigners in Gazientep - we were there four days and didn't see any other backpackers, or find too many people who could speak or understand English. Good thing Hustler channel stories had very little conversation!
Not that English is a measure of anything but the depiction of western women and the stark contrast of how we saw most Turkish women was extreme. Just have a look a the real 2011 bathing suit collection sold in Gazientep - same as what we saw all over Turkey and you will see there is no way any of those are making it into Hustler any time soon.
So we fully understood why the women were mean and miserable...waiting for the one day when you can wear a fairy princess dress when you know the days after it might not be so fairytale like?
And then your husband insists you go with him to the beach........those are drowning suits and you know it.
But the men? What possible thing could they have to be miserable? Most seemed to stand around in big groups, or if they were over 50, sit around playing dominoes or rummy Q all day, having apple tea delivered to them.
So after 30 or 40 countries, most of which became my favorite, I am finally positive on my least favorite. Turkey.
It is funny how insidious negativity is. It was only once I landed in Madrid and got down into the Metro, (right in the airport) did the stark measure of how colorless and clouded Turkey had been. The clothing was bright, people were talking loudly - we hadn't seen many people talking really. Women follow their men - walking behind, and groups of women seem to just shop shop shop, Most of the conversation that had been directed to us was yelling, lots of yelling.
As I surveyed the train load of Spaniards on their way home in the hot and sweaty subway car, nearly all of them suffering through the worst financial crisis in their country's history, I wondered even more about what truly makes up a culture and its norms. And, as always, I thought about how lucky I am to be able to wander around, as a global voyeur, looking in at snippets of lives, my own blessed with so many opportunities: trying to make sense of it all. Ain't travel great?