Adventures in Turkey: Pre-travel Worries and Confronting my Biases

After parting ways with my mother-in-law, Marie (read all about our adventures here), in Geneva, Phil and I flew to Turkey. Turkey is a place Phil has wanted to travel to for a long time but to be perfectly honest, I did not feel the same. I was apprehensive and a bit nervous about traveling to Turkey.

In texting with a couple of friends since being here, I said, “I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.” That isn’t entirely true. I think deep down I did have some expectations and I think they were mostly tied to Turkey’s religion and geography, not that I know very much about either.

I know Turkey is an Islamic country, with 96-99% (depending on the survey) of people identifying as muslim. I have never traveled in a majority muslim country. I don’t know much about Islam, only some of the basic tennants and am familiar with western stereoptypes and (mis-)information.

Turkey shares a border with Iraq and Syria but it also shares a border with Greece and Bulgaria (and Armenia and Georgia, now we’ve covered them all) both of which are in the European Union. So while, it’s a good idea to stay away from the south-eastern border area, Turkey is a relatively safe travel destination.

So, what exactly was I nervous about? What was I expecting? If I answer with the first things that pop into my mind, in simplest terms, I thought: 1. I’m not going to be respected because I’m a woman. 2. I’m going to stick out as an American and that is a bad thing.

In researching our trip to Turkey, I read that because Antalya and Istanbul are big tourist hot spots, you can pretty much wear whatever you want and no one will look twice at you. Istanbul is the 13th largest city in the world (for comparison’s sake New York is 45th) for crissakes, no one cares what I’m wearing or look like. Did I think a group of radicals was waiting to disappear a big blonde American lady in her early 40’s for baring her shoulders in public? Did I think I would enter the spice bazaar and never come out? No. Of course not. Maybe? I don’t know.

Well, we’ve yet to visit Istabnul so TBD on the disappearing but so far so good. We have only visited Antalya which is a very international city and I have been amazed by the live and let live attitude here. Women in conservative muslim dress walking next to friends in shorts and tank tops (something one might see in Sourthern California, so why did it surprise me here?). Bars and restaurants serving alcohol are next to tea shops and restaurants that do not. A sex shop displaying their products in the window near a fancy dress shop offering very conservative options. Bridal shop after bridal shop (y’all, there are SO many bridal shops!) offering backless and sleeveless options alongside floor length, long sleeved ones. I was surprised when a muslim family asked me to take their picture while Phil and I were out and about as I was wearing a sundress that displayed a bit of cleavage. No one cares. Why should they? You do your thing, I’ll do mine. Let’s be cool with one another and mind our own business. In fact, Antalya feels much more tolerant than many US cities*.

*From what I have read, Turkey has a way to go with LGBTQIA rights and in fact due to shifting politics has taken a few steps backwards in terms of rights in recent years (the same could be said for the U.S.).

Much of what I expressed above sounds like it was written by a sheltered individual, ignorant of the world. It was. The more I travel, the more I realize how little I know about the world and other cultures and the more I want to keep traveling to experience them and gain some understanding. Yes, I was apprehensive but I came anyway. That’s a big part of travel; being [of course] excited but also a little nervous about being out of your comfort zone.

So, regarding the two fears I listed above, what has my experience been? Well, 1. Other than a taxi driver telling Phil that the people around him were all driving like women, I haven’t encountered any sexist sentiment, 2. I stand out here less than I did in Spain. There are all kinds of folks here, dressed in all kinds of ways with all kinds of body shapes and skin tones. Turks know I’m not Turkish when I don’t respond to them in Turkish when they speak to me but they don’t know I’m from the U.S. and if they ask where I’m from and I tell them the U.S., it’s always met with, “Oh, America!” in a friendly tone.

Since we’ve been here, Phil and I have attended two meetup groups (one was a spanish/english language exchange!) and met people from Iran, Mexico, Kasikstan, Denmark, France, Pakistan, and all over Russia (there’s quite a large Russian population here); Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Siberia. I mentioned that Antalya was a very international city and it also has an exciting and collaborative vibe to it. In some ways, I feel like I’m experiencing international travel for the first time here, in Turkey.

As I discussed in this blog post, the fact that I am very lucky indeed to be experiencing these adventures is not lost on me. The fact that I was born in a country that speaks the lingua franca and has one of the world’s most powerful passports that allows me to travel broadly is also not lost on me. I’m human, so there are still moments of frustration, laziness, and anxiety during this grand adventure but Phil and I make it a point to catch ourselves when we are in spectacular or sureal moments of our travel (like recently when we had an amazing meal on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea), gesture to our surroundings and acknowledge,”This is pretty amazing.” Turkey is pretty amazing.

I can’t wait to tell you all about our amazing adventures here in Antayla and Istanbul, so, stay tuned!

Published by yogibarrington

American expat living in Gijon, Asturias, Spain

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