I left my hotel with two of the girls on the program and headed for the nearest grocery store. We were scavenging for snacks and beverages on an afternoon in Ankara after a very long day at the Turkish Parliament, the U.S. Embassy, and the field office of the UNHCR in Ankara. As we walked I remembered from all of the glances that I was in a summer dress that was, to my credit, not terribly revealing but still a summer dress with small straps and a hemline just below the knee. We reached a grocery store finally, and then, naturally for me, I discovered a slight ache in the front of my temples that could only mean one thing: caffeine headache. At that, I decided Starbucks would cure my ailment. I knew there was one not far from our location and so I told the girls where I was going and headed out of the store—by myself.
I have never really felt exploited. I have never worried about being harassed to the point where I would not go to a specific place just for that reason. Occasionally I will get a whistle or two from the construction workers in my neighborhood or a catcall from a man driving by in a truck back home. But I have never felt worried for my safety by men, just because I was a woman. Well, things certainly change and so have these truisms. For, on my way back to the hotel (I never found Starbucks—I got lost), I was being stared at from every direction, eyes were undressing me, and men were saying things to me as I walked by. I just kept my head low and walked as quickly as possible. What happened next I could not ignore. Just as I thought I had almost reached the hotel, a nice looking man came walking toward me from the other direction on the sidewalk. At the moment that we were closest, “Creepy Turkish Guy,” as I have now dubbed him, reached out and stuck his hand inside my thigh and squeezed.
“AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I blinked, and realized that the shriek had come from my mouth.
I think I may have given him a slight heart attack, and actually I really hope I did. I ran to the hotel as fast as possible after jerking away from him, screaming, and glaring.
Note to self: cover up, young lady, and expect some new obstacles because you’re a woman.
This is by no means all that I can say for Ankara. From an academic standpoint, Ankara was above and beyond my expectation. It being the capital of Turkey, and also us being a very much politically oriented group of students, the equation worked wonderfully. Not only the American Embassy, the Turkish Parliament and the many notables we met are all located here, but also is Anıt Kabir, Atatürk’s Mausoleum. If anyone wasn’t sure of how prideful Turkey is of it’s founder and president, a quick visit (that actually can’t be all that quick due to the lengthy exhibit) to this site is a sure way of convincing you that she is.
Atatürk’s legacy is very indicative of Turkey’s thirst for an identity. Inherent in the fact that some consider the country to be a part of Europe and some consider it to be in Asia is the understanding that Turkey has an identity that is not cut and dry. For this reason, she searches for an identity, and she’s found it in Atatürk. The ruler is commemorated by having most of the important buildings and streets named after him, being pictured on the sides of buildings, on the lira, in the form of statues, busts, and being protected by the law. It is against the law to destroy anything that represents him or to insult him. In fact, YouTube is banned in Turkey because of just this reason. Check out the New York Times article here.
Ankara continued the following two days with more exposure to Turkish politics than I was prepared for. The infamous day of the “Creepy Turkish Man,” and also the next day had two main places on the agenda: the Turkish Parliament and the U.S. Embassy. We received amazing hospitality at the Turkish Parliament where we spoke with MP Mevlüt Cavusoglu the Chair for the Council of Europe for the AK Party and MP Egemen Bagis, the Vice Chair of the AK Party. We then continued to the U.S. Embassy where we were also welcomed heartily. While waiting outside the office of the honorable Mr. Ross Wilson, Ambassador to Turkey, everyone examined the wall lined with photos of all the previous ambassadors. There, we spotted Mr. McGhee, founder of the McGhee Center and the main reason we were able to come this semester.
21 Years, 2 Cities, 1 Country and No Idea What To Do With Myself
The day we left Ankara was also the day I turned twenty-one. I woke up to find Claire, my roommate as well as the absolute sweetest thing ever, gone. Not thinking that anything was array, I sat up in bed, yawned, stretched and thought about the big day I had in front of me—the day we were to drive the six hours back to Istanbul. (It ended up being seven and a half due to traffic in Istanbul).
“Well, Happy Birthday me…” I thought. I wasn’t expecting a grandiose day- perhaps a few recognitions of my birth and smiles, but after all I was in a foreign country with many foreign people and an equally foreign mindset. To explain, Ankara in the morning and Istanbul at night were the last places I thought I would ever be on my twenty-first. I really had no idea what to expect or what to do with myself. Therefore, woot woot, I made it another year.
All of a sudden I heard someone walking down the hall and noticed then that my door was wide open for an unknown reason. Nick popped his head in the doorway.
“Where’s Claire?” He asked.
“I dunno. I just woke up.”
“Oh.” Quizzical look. “Happy Birthday by the way!” Smile.
“Aw, thank you!”
Then he scampered off. Hmm, all right. I got up and finished packing, got dressed and was searching for my ipod, that I swore I had brought and couldn’t find anywhere when, suddenly everyone walked in, Claire in the lead, singing “Happy Birthday,” —7:30 AM. I noticed Claire holding a Starbucks cup and bag, and at the end of the serenade she handed it to me with a big smile. “They all know how much I love a good latté in the mornings by now,” I thought. Amazing how well we all knew each other by only the second week in. The bag contained a chocolate chip muffin. This was really the clincher, and I felt like I was surrounded by good friends not just some people I had met a week and a half before. I enjoyed these two American amenities at the beginning of the long bus ride, chatting, staring out the window at the Turkish landscape, reading, and listening to some tunes. A great start to my twenty first year.
It turns out I hadn’t brought my ipod at all. It was waiting for me in the hotel when I got back (birthday present number two).
We arrived in Istanbul with a few hours to spare before dinner. Dinner in Istanbul was always at the same place every night- a little restaurant called Rumeli with a small terrace in the front with a direct view of the Blue Mosque.
“Well, are we ready to go?” Patrick was intently regarding everyone after a long, leisurely dinner that evening. Everyone’s face went a little blank, staring at him, not sure of what to say.
“No, Patrick. We don’t want to leave.” Claire insisted with a know it all tone while staring back at him with big eyes. Awkward silence.
Suddenly, I heard clapping and everyone became quiet. It was a birthday cake being brought up for yours truly. It was chocolate and delicious, with a little swirly “Happy Birtday” written on top, and no I did not spell that wrong—the Turks did. Right after dinner, Michaella and I decided to walk through the festival going on at the Hippodrome located right by the Hagia Sophia and our hotel. I bought a balloon to continue the celebration and as we walked by the different little “stations,” as you might find at a carnival, we spotted one where people were dressing up in different Ottoman style clothing and getting their picture taken.
“Let’s do it.” Michaella urged.
Initially, my gut instinct was, no, definitely not. Never. No. And then, I thought, why the heck not?
The night ended with a tram ride and walk to a café next to the Bosphorus, my first tavla (Turkish for “backgammon”) lesson, and a little nargile (Turkish for “hookah”) action.
Not bad, not bad. So I started my day with some Starbucks to make me feel at home, and ended it as an Ottoman princess. Not bad, not bad.
Cats are to Turkey as dogs are to France. Times about one thousand. However, unlike the cats in Turkey, the dogs in France aren’t stray, running around everywhere, and seemingly multiplying by the thousands. I actually don’t mind the cats. They can really lighten the mood, for example, when we are all visiting a tomb and Scott Bey is giving the briefing on how many wars the deceased had fought, how many lands he conquered and how dominating his reign was. Then ‘little kitty’ jumps down out of nowhere and distracts us all from the serious lives of antiquity with the prring and rubbing up against our legs.
My feet have been crying since that first big climb up to Yoros Mountain. But I really can’t blame them. I’d be crying too if someone bruised, blistered, and knocked me around as much as I have been doing. So to elaborate, the tears actually come in forms of blisters on my feet, which get so big that they must be popped and once they are, the little stream of whatever is inside blisters runs down my foot and resembles a tear. I’m sparing you all pictures for this section of the blog. You can probably guess why.