Smiles, Struggles and Turkmen

One of the more useful purposes of social media is being able to stay in touch with my global network of friends and family while exploring events and issues within my local community. Thanks to a certain social media site, I stumbled across a post from a woman asking for help for Turkmen refugees in Mamak, a suburb in an older part of Ankara. So I filled my boyfriend’s car with clothing, dishes, and other random items to donate and off I went to Mamak on a sunny winter Saturday.

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Depot in Mamak

As I stood in the depot shivering from the February air, I gazed around at the numerous middle-aged men talking with the 2 Turkish ladies that had led me to said depot. There were piles of clothing strewn around the studio apartment-sized concrete walled space along with numerous bags of rice, legumes, sugar, bottles of sunflower cooking oil, and jars of tomato paste. My volunteer work in high school and university consisted of, well nothing I can remember, so I was a bit dumbfounded at what was going on. Obviously my lack of Turkish added to this confusion, but I tried to absorb all the sights, sounds and smells I could ingest.

After a lot of back and forth between the cast of characters I was observing, I went upstairs from the depot, with the locals, to the Cağdaş supermarket to buy baby food and bags of rice, legumes, sugar and jars of tomato paste, which filled the shopping cart to the brim. The massive amount of packaged food in one basket was something I had only seen at wholesale stores. This was when I realized there was an issue here.

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Iraqi Turkmens fled their hometowns in the Tal Afar and Mosul districts in northwestern Iraq when ISIL invaded their cities over a year ago. While I don’t personally categorize people (aside from asshole and non-asshole), national conflict, sectarian violence and cross-border war is a result of pigeonholing people for being who they are; whether they claim certain ethnic or religious associations, or are competing for oil. The divisions created among people because someone’s grandfather may have been born near a river in a perceived holy town and may or may not be of a certain descent is a fucking waste of time. I could get into the clusterfuck of ethnic backgrounds in this region and explain that Turkic people exist from the borders of China and Pakistan to the shores of the Bosphorus and beyond who sometimes prosper and are most often oppressed, is best left to social anthropologists. I will say I have been working with Turkmen from Iraq and leave it at that. Differentiating between Sunni, Shiite or Christian is pointless when people are suffering the same fate of displacement and persecution.

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When I met the group of volunteers from Iraq (refugees themselves) in the basement of a supermarket, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation.  Nearly one year into my attempt to save the world through volunteering with the grassroots organization Birlik, I have a bit more grasp on the situation, but more importantly I have a greater understanding of the impact of war on people, communities and countries. AHH_8157

Over 25,000 people-the numbers change almost daily- of all ages have come to Ankara to live in safety, however they don’t intend to stay. There is a camp in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, but conditions are terrible according to a family that recently moved to Ankara. Some evacuees in Ankara ran out of money- jobs are near impossible to find in Turkey as the economy is in a rut not to mention the country is trying to accommodate nearly 2 million refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria among some African countries- returned home to Iraq only to discover it was a grave mistake.

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Melek, Muhsin, Sachad and sister

On the first day of my new journey, we (local ladies and Turkmen volunteers) went to visit a family in order to see their living situation.  34 people from 3 families were living in a  2-story flat. There were 2 sofas and numerous foam mattresses lining the walls. As I walked through the home, I saw the rooms were full of sleeping material and nothing more. I was relieved they at least had a soft space to rest their heads, but little else existed there. Compared to the tarp walls of camps millions are living in from Jordan to France, I supposed it was a blessing to live within a concrete structure.AHH_8060

The following months I would visit  different families to take toys, books and sweets to the children. I quickly came to learn this was much like putting a band aid on a scraped knee. It was pointless. After all, people- mostly women and children as men have died or stayed behind-were living in apartments, wore clean decent clothes and served us Iraqi tea with heaps of sugar. Disillusionment kicked in as the haunting images of refugees the media shows us is quite different than what I was witnessing. My perception of a “refugee” changed drastically.

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Muhammed is a 10-year-old boy from Tal Afar who was near a suicide bomber when he was 2. Shrapnel from the bomb punctured his spine leaving him unable to walk. The family’s only request was for diapers. I went with 2 girlfriends to visit Muhammed and his family, which turned out to be a priceless encounter.  Muhammed’s little sisters immediately went to my friends and the smiles were infinite. Though I felt I needed to do more than just visit a family bearing plush toys made in China and cheap chocolate, I realized that creating happiness by showing interest in the peoples’ stories was something better than nothing (from my perspective). When I asked Muhammed questions he answered with a bright smile though he was unable to speak. This was enough to become the driving force behind how I would try to save the world one refugee child at a time.

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Muhammed, Nur, Ayet, Işıl

My close friend who fled Iraq 15 years ago, Mustafa, has been my foundation since the beginning. He is my translator and co-organizer for the events we have with the Turkmen. When he told me stories of trying to escape Iraq it seemed like I was listening to a horror movie script. Human perseverance is something extraordinary. The strongest statement he made regarding his past was that he didn’t have a childhood.

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Canan (volunteer Turkish teacher) and ladies

Fast forward a couple months to having lunch with two world-saving superwomen, one of whom works with violence against women here in Ankara. The organization she works for offers free psychological support to anyone, regardless if they have a Turkish ID or not. Great news I thought as the images of all the young women I had met flashed through my mind. So I took this information with pride to Haydar, one of the volunteers for Birlik “Together”, the organization that registers the Turkmen fleeing from Iraq to Turkey. He has become one of my dearest friends and biggest supporters in trying to help Iraqis transition into a new albeit temporary life. When I told him there is a place for women to get psychological support and did he know of any special cases, he laughed.

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Haydar and kids

Haydar said everyone needs help. His daughter watched a man be decapitated in the street. Some children witnessed their brothers, fathers, or uncles being killed. I had no idea where to go from there.

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Sisters

This may seem far fetched, however there are many signs the Turkish government supports ISIL, in the likes of recruitment camps based in southeastern Turkey, evidence of fighters and weapons crossing the border into Syria freely and illegal oil trading between Turkey and ISIL. The Turks’ hatred for the Kurdish people- the only ethnic group fighting against ISIL in Iraq and Syria and winning- is so deep that they will support the crazy ISIL fucks reigning terror and destroying thousands of years of history they consider haram or forbidden in Islam. Yes, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is a recognized terrorist group that has been waging a guerrilla war in Turkey for the past 30 years, but there is a misconception that Kurdish people support them so there is gaping wound between Turks and Kurds (Turks are mutts from the Ottoman Empire and Kurds are somewhat purebred- generally speaking of course), which is now fueling a civil war in southeastern Turkey at the moment. Innocent people are dying in the name of ethnicity and America is supporting both sides. Go figure. Let me not digress…

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Haydar said organize a picnic so I did. Mustafa, an Irish angel Roisin and I worked a few stressful weeks to create a day of release for 100 women and children. We found a beautiful place, Mavi Gol, for people to run amuck and forget about their lives for a day. Boys played soccer until they couldn’t stand. Young women made jewelry until the beads were gone. My darling friends cooked chicken until they reeked of barbecue smoke. The day was finished with bashing a pinata to ensure the kids had bellies full of sweets. This was a superficial activity that may not create world peace, but the laughter that ensued undoubtedly lasted for days and that was the point. The lovely volunteers consisted of people from Ecuador, Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Spain, Libya, Iraq, Ireland, the U.S. and a few of my dearest Turkish friends who all worked their asses off. When I advertise volunteering to help refugees on social media many people show interest, however so few are willing to actually put in the work. Yet another lesson I have learned during this emigration crisis. Support is crucial.

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Ha, Patricia and Umit

In the fall of this year, I organized an English course for 11 youth aged 10-15 with a core team that is still standing. People have come and gone as many foreigners (Westerners) want to say they help refugees, but don’t have the heart or guts to actually do it, so there has been a lot of disappointment and empty promises along the way. Despite this, I charge forward in my plan to save the world!

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First English class

Many kids don’t go to school here in Turkey for reasons varying from lack of Turkish language skills to mixed classrooms (Turkmen kids generally go to gender segregated schools) so we’re doing our part to keep a small, perhaps minute, percentage of a generation from being lost. For me at the moment the problem isn’t providing food to displaced people, but allowing minds and spirits to waste away. The idea of letting so many children live a life of despair is unacceptable.

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I could go on for days about my experience with these souls searching for a life away from conflict, which has ignited emotions from incredibly enlightening to grossly disappointing, but I think you get the picture.

I gratefully ask you to think, just for a minute or 2, about the millions of people struggling for a better life around the world.  If everyone can have a positive thought for a moment, the energy will combine and reach at least one individual that needs hope.

My heartfelt THANKS goes to all those that have supported me and continue to support me. You know who you are.

Peace.

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Picnic at Mavi Göl

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Gay Pride 2015 in Istanbul

A proud nationalist

A proud nationalist

Proud couple

Proud couple

I just watched “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement,” a documentary about two women that fell in love in 1960’s America and waited 42 years to get married. It’s the first film I can remember that made me feel nearly every imaginable emotion ranging from joy to sorrow and anger to hope. In the end, I sat and cried. Perhaps it’s AHH_8575 copybecause of the “time of the month” we women suffer from, or maybe because it’s the most perfect love story I’ve seen (I’ve seen a lot). These two women are the epitome of love for every generation regardless of sexual orientation. Despite being “straight” in sexuality terms, I believe that (consensual) love is love regardless of who is involved in the loving process. There is so much hate in the world that requires infinite love to defeat it.

I tried my chance at supporting the right to love in Turkey at Gay Pride in Istanbul a few weeks ago. I left my very straight boyfriend drinking beer at Nevizade Street in Taksim to join the march down AHH_8607Istiklal Street. In order to even get to Istiklal I had to pass through throngs of riot police. As I passed a group of these young (sexy) police, I said “Kolay gelsin” or let it be easy, in terms of working. They said thank you and off I went to Taksim Square wherethe masses were formed to start the parade. About five minutes into my walk the sounds of tear gas being shot caused every to run towards the nearest shop. I ducked down and pushed through the quickly closing metal gate of some random clothing shop. There was no air

“We are normal”

circulation in the store, and the locals and two German tourists were chattering about what the fuck was happening. After a bit of translation, the guy controlling the gate opened it and let me out. When I stepped onto the street I ran into TOMA, the lovely water canon vehicles we have come to accept as part of the street scenery in various cities around Turkey. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a Gay Pride parade, but a battle with the police, yet again, over freedom of expression.

I got my ass off Istiklal at the nearest side street, as an American woman with a camera during a “protest” in Turkey is somewhat of a Molotov cocktail. My dear friend (who will remain unnamed for security reasons) was in Cihangir, a neighborhood

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

nearby, but away from the conflict in Taksim Square. He and his fellow gays had tried to reach the square, but were blocked by police. So the fun began. There was a

Ninja and friend

Ninja and friend

lively and picturesque organization of people in the Cihangir area, so we were able to laugh along with the many colorful people that passed by. When tear gas came and people ran we retreated to a side street for a few minutes. This continued for an hour or so. The police remained, but quit firing tear gas, so we were able to stay in the streets enjoying the scenery with friends and watching the creatively costumed people celebrate. There were 20-something hipster girls holding signs saying “So what if we’re lesbians,” and “What kind of world is it

Flying the freedom flag

Flying the freedom flag

where everyone is loving”, alongside various chants that usually ended with an empathic “Ay ay ay!” in a high pitched scream of pleasure similar to an orgasmic female. The afternoon had finally reached an air of a proper gay festival. After some time, we gathered the courage to venture to Istiklal St. We fucked up.

A few friends managed to walk the pedestrian street towards the main area of commotion, but found themselves blanketed with tear gas. When they ran down side streets to find fresh air, AHH_8584they were met by men beating them with sticks. One friend described the situation as a horror movie. The government was clearly trying to silence any opportunity for free speech yet again. My crew of three and I walked as far as we could until the gas burned our eyes and nostrils. This day of celebration was becoming really fucking exhausting.

We retreated to a restaurant with a Bosphorus view to reenergize and recollect. After food and beer, we were ready to join the celebration again. My friend and I wandered

“There are trans males”

easily down Istiklal to the main area where people were drinking, singing and dancing in the streets with happiness. After maybe half an hour, tear gas was fired directly at us, so everyone scattered like cockroaches in a Bronx apartment when a spotlight is shined into their tiny eyes. I ran for the nearest doorway that just happened to be a cozy little bar I had visited a few years before. The owner was telling people to run up the stairs so he could close the doors. As people inside coughed and wiped their eyes from the gas, I searched for my friends. I found AHH_8478 AHH_8503 AHH_8530two, but the others didn’t make it in. So the search began for the others, who of course had dead phones from the long day of updating the situation on social media.

We watched with nervous energy, from a broken window in the bar, people on the street conversing, aka yelling, with the police. After about 10 minutes the streets remained empty and the police seemed to return to their corner, so I peed like I’ve never peed before, and headed outside again.

As the owner of the bar unlocked the door, I held my heart and said thank you. He embraced me with a death grip that helped me relax and prepare myself to hit the streets. His hug reassured me we would be OK and to keep up the fight. At least in my panicked state that’s how it translated. I walked out the door stronger and ready for more. I ran into two friends that were looking around the empty the street wondering what the hell happened. They had been in a nearby club, so they weren’t gassed like the rest of us, but instead were dancing freely in love as they should have been! We hugged and cursed the police, then ventured onward to find our missing

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Love

friend who turned out to be having tea and simit far from the conflict zone. Moral of my story- people should have the right to love as they choose (when the other party consents); the Turkish government is hell bent on killing any freedom of expression and happiness, and I will always fight for people that are oppressed or persecuted. Love each other and let others love each other. It is this simple.

For the Sake of Women

Art by Emiko Ichinose

Art by Emiko Ichinose

In honor of International Women’s Day, which is every day by the way, I want to share stories a few women living in Turkey have given me. This isn’t a “Woe is me” piece about violence against women that plagues every corner of the globe, but a “Let’s speak out” piece to encourage women to continue the struggle to end sexual and physical violence against us.

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Following the recent death of Ozgecan Aslan, I asked women, a few Turks and a few foreigners, to share stories of their experiences living in Turkey. On February 11th, a minibus driver in Mersin (southern Turkey) abducted and attempted to rape Ozgecan, a 20-year-old university student. Aslan, which means “lion”, fought her attacker so was stabbed and beaten to death. The days after Ozgecan’s body was found, there was a wave of protests and powerful responses in several cities around Turkey. In Islam, only men are allowed to carry the casket of a dead person. The women of Mersin gave a big fuck you and carried the casket of Ozgecan themselves. A handful of men protested in Istanbul wearing miniskirts. A few politicians and celebrities had the audacity to say Ozgecan was immoral by being out alone at night. The association of lawyers in Mersin refused to defend the perpetrators, which include the murderer, his father, and a friend. The women I saw marching in Ankara numbered maybe 50 with perhaps a dozen men. It doesn’t matter how small the march, the sign that women in Turkey are tired of violence against them spoke volumes.

Photograph via We Are Against Rape

Photograph via We Are Against Rape

As a survivor of sexual violence, I wish I had reached out when it happened, but young innocence and fear prevented that. I hope the following words from women living in Turkey will act as a catalyst for girls and women to know the harassment many face is a common situation and the more we vocalize our stories of fear and survival, the more change we can create at home, in our communities, and throughout the world. I give much love and respect to all the women I know, those I don’t know, and those that have yet to exist. I exude many thanks to the men that love, respect and protect their mothers, sisters, daughters, and lovers every day.

Photo: MEGAN GILLIS_OTTAWA SUN_QMI AGENCY

Photo: MEGAN GILLIS_OTTAWA SUN_QMI AGENCY

I have heard about the news and to be honest I am terrified walking around the street when is dark. I have experienced the fear before when I first came to Turkey. Being starred and followed time to time. Once there was a sapık [pervert] even show his penis towards me and my little son (at that time he was 1.5 yrs old). When I joined the group there were few guys wrote me asking for my skype account so that we could interact/know each other better ect. I understand the feelings but I didn’t live my life in fear and now being divorced I have to really go out there to get a job for living I really feel the pressure. Anyways to be safe, for years I have changed the way I usually dressed up when I’m outside alone, also put a pair of sunglasses in all seasons, no making eyes contacts and not being friendly to people. I don’t if this helps our female members to calm down but I have 1 Philippines friend, 3 Russian/Ukraine friends – we all have the same stories. The fear is real, you know.

-H, Vietnam

I’ve been living in Ankara less than 2 weeks, I’m an exchange student here. I’d only been here a week when I had my first really unpleasant experience as a woman here in Turkey. On my first day I was catcalled by two men but ignored it. But last week something worse happened. I was on the metro from Beytepe campus to Kizilay around 16:30 and it was packed. Just as I got off the train I realised a man had his hands up my long winter coat and was touching my backside and between my legs. I froze for a second, turned around to see who it was, and he was just there, looking at me. I looked at him for a couple of seconds then punched him in the eye. He started yelling at me in Turkish, and I was calling him a dirty pervert. Then he walked away along the platform. Two men (one student and one older man in his 40s) came to ask me what he had done to me, I told them and they went to speak to him before returning to see if I was OK. They even asked if I wanted to call the police. I said that as I’d punched him, he had been punished as far as I was concerned. Plus by the time the police arrived he’d have been long gone. Several female Turkish friends of mine here have told me it has happened to them several times too. Women are too shy and reluctant to react in these situations. They explain it away as being “accidental” or claim “reacting will just make it worse”. Hopefully the guy who tried it on me will think twice before doing it again.

-R.

I have just read what you wrote on facebook on speaking about the experiences foreign women had in Turkey. As a blonde Turkish woman, here is mine: I was on a bus going home, reading an English book. There were 3 or 4 passengers on the bus. A man was next to me. And I felt something warm close to my hip. The next thing I saw was the man’s hand right there. He was enjoying the moment so much that his eyes were closed and had a smile on his face. After a few seconds of shock, I told him to stop it and go away. His reaction traumatised me: – Oh! you are Turkish- sorry. You met my sister last weekend, on summer holidays we pretend to be tourists and talk in English to each other. And listen to what Turkish guys say about us. Well, you can guess the smile on their faces. They discuss which one of them should HAVE me or my sister. Needless to say, these men do not need you to be a foreigner, blonde or young.

-C., Izmir

The Bombshell Girls @ Coney Island. Photo: Amy H.

The Bombshell Girls @ Coney Island. Photo: Amy H.

The Best Turkish Wedding Ever

Maybe because she was one of my first friends in Turkey or maybe because she’s a stunning and humorous woman. Regardless, Ceren got married and I was blessed to be a part of it.

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Ceren and Naz

What was planned to be a “girls” weekend in Istanbul turned out to be a fucking wonderful and enlightening experience. Leaving dry and dusty Ankara behind, I embraced the 4-hour drive (riddled with monsoon rains) and tried not to think of the inevitable cosmopolitan traffic that would no doubt be waiting for me.

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Naz

Arriving late in Bakirkoy, my friend Anika and soon to be new friend Chelsea, were nearly 10 sheets to the wind when I arrived. The sangria was deliciously fruity and the conversation entertaining, candid and much needed. Some of us suckers in domestic relationships forget all too soon the inherent spirit and empowerment born from close female relationships. I haven’t forgotten the need for a proper ladies night, but I had forgotten how lively we can be when unleashed and unbridled.

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Ceren and Fatoş

The following hung over morning consisted of meeting twin girls who would be my bosses for the summer, an attempt at going to an overcrowded kuafor, ne hairdresser, and dolling myself up for a wedding I had anticipated for nearly 2 years.Image

Hair curled, heels on and dress covered in cat hair, I went with Ceren’s sister Derya and niece Naz to the family home. I walked in to a room of older women (and 2 men) waiting to send Ceren into her next life.   There was a heaviness in the atmosphere as Ceren and Derya’s father died 2 years ago and though not physically present he was very much in the air. Ceren was in a perfect dress that matched her raven hair, dark eyes, and red lips; nervous smile and impatience intact.

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Derya and Mum

The Cevahir Hotel in Bostanci is nothing short of grand, providing a lush green lawn facing the Marmara Sea. I sat with the family as we had arrived too early for cocktail hour, however conversation was very little due to my serious lack of Turkish. A young cousin played the role as translator for me, but by the end of the night he was a man of few words. I had exhausted yet another translator. Naturally.

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Ceren and Emre

The wedding was full of lights, smoke machines, Turkish love ballads, American pop songs, deliciously prepared and presented food, and limitless alcohol, and a belly dancer. What more could a girl in heels and creeping (down) strapless dress ask for really.

The following hung over morning consisted of Anika and I dragging our asses off Derya’s couch, primping young Naz and hitting the streets for more. Anika and I met 2 of my lovely students in Kadiköy for breakfast/brunch/tea and loose talk. The “girls” weekend continued with more laughter, more enlightenment and more solidarity. Ah, how I miss Istanbul.

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Fulya, Yasemin and Anika

Anika and I then proceeded to sit in traffic for the next 3 hours attempting to reach a tulip-laden park where her friends were having a picnic. The drive along the Bosporus through Istanbul’s most expensive neighborhoods elicited emotions of awe, appreciation, jealousy and conversation about Ottoman history. We finally found Emirgan Park and I must admit the tulips were breathtaking, however the never-ending tour to get there had us a bit frazzled. After sitting in the parking lot for nearly 45 minutes waiting for a space, cold beer calling my name as Anika had began to imbibe as co-pilot, we finally rested the Fiat. By the time I stood up, my left calf was broken and shaking at the idea I would have to use the clutch again in another couple of hours. Nevertheless, we arrived and rejoiced at standing up in fresh air.

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The Naz

The girl’s weekend had ended as the boyfriend was there, however my reenergized spirit was blessed to have had the insights, the laughter, the gossip, and the camaraderie.

Cheers to the ladies.

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Boys on Bikes and Other Musings from the City

And there we went, on another adventure in travel, sports (not me actively) and general debauchery…

Image    The boyfriend works for Pirelli, the official tire sponsor for the SBK Superbike FMI World Championship in Istanbul September 15th.  He was invited to schmooze with colleagues and/or drool over expensive motorcycles.  And it was an opportunity for me to breathe petrol fumes and watch sexy boys on fast bikes.  It was a win win.

So we headed west into the sunset towards my first Turkish love, Istanbul.  After an only slightly white-knuckle four-hour drive, we arrived at our friend Veli’s to find him busy cooking meatballs and arranging a smorgasbord of Turkish cheeses.  Our conversations ranged from solving world issues to pure absurdity depending on the flow of the wine.

Up not so early, Cem and I filled our faces with a traditional Turkish breakfast of tomatoes, cheese, olives and bread then bounced our way to Istanbul Park for some adrenalin. Image

Unfortunately, Turkey doesn’t have a massive following of race fans (damn my American drag race upbringing), so the crowd was almost nonexistent.  On the flip side of this, the bathrooms weren’t overflowing with human waste and there were virtually no lines for concessions or backed up traffic.  The highlight of the day was watching an incredibly adept and possibly a bit insane young stunt rider from Poland.  Motorcycle stunt riding involves an impressive amount of acrobatics both of the bike and the rider.  Wheelies, stoppies and burnouts are common stunt practices, but words can’t describe the visions of these tricks and the finesse of the riders.

Image    In celebration of being back in the grand metropolis, we gathered friends in central Istanbul, the now infamous Taksim Square in which we drank, sang and danced, as friends do.  I had my snowboarding goggles and handkerchief ready in case of police clashes, which had started again in the major cities across Turkey the week before. The riot police were in full force, occupying nearly every side street, tear gas guns in hand.  Alas, there wasn’t any disturbance and by the time we left the area most of the police had retired to their humble homes as the drunken people stumbled their way to somewhere.

Image Sunday was race day, which motivated us to rise a tad early.  The spectators at Istanbul Park were filling the grandstand and the long-legged beauties sporting various brands across their voluptuous boobs were strolling among the people lucky enough to be in the paddock.  The hero of the race was the one and only Turk, Kenan Sofuoğlu, who instilled a sense of national pride among the race fans.  When he took the win, the people chanted, hollered and waved their Turkish flags.   It was a heartwarming scene to watch the (minor) masses of people full of laughter and camaraderie.Image

Calcium, Kite surfing and Cleopatra

So off we went, Cem and I, from our lovely home in landlocked Ankara to the Aegean Sea coast in the Marmaris area.  We had an eight-hour drive ahead (it took 10), and as usual, road snacks, my too many pairs of shoes, and Cem’s diving gear were packed.  I was loaded in the Fiat and Cem asked where the beach towels were.  On the shelf in the hallway was my response.  If towels were the only things I forgot, then I was golden.

I had arrived the previous week from my annual trip “home” to Colorado and for the birth of my second nephew.  My grandmother died upon my arrival back in Turkey, so I was returning stateside the following week.  In between, my boyfriend and I were hell-bent on going to the Turkish coast.

Pamukkale

Pamukkale

Our first stop was Pamukkale, about six hours from Ankara in southwestern Turkey.  The city is known for it’s magical chunk of nature that has been utilized for healing waters since the Romans and Byzantines.  Popcorn-esque walls that resemble caves turned inside out envelop hot springs and travertines created by carbonate minerals.  I was in sheer awe when we started to walk up the milky white stone hill.  My eyes told me they were snow-covered hills, but my feet and sweaty back insisted it wasn’t snow.  The first sight that struck me was a 30-something man helping his hunched over grandmother take her shoes off and start the climb.  By the time we reached them they were turning around to go back down the hill.  I assumed she held belief that the water would heal whatever old age ailments she suffered.  We then passed three women sitting on a cliff edge with their feet in the flowing water of the man-made gutter, covering their faces with the powdery white calcium carbonate.  I was convinced the Romans were spot on about earthly healing.

I continued to breathe in amazement as we wandered through warm pools of water separated by soft yet sharp rock formations.  As the German, Russian, Turkish, Japanese and American tourists ambled about the travertines taking photos, lounging in the pools or watching people, I scorned Cem for not telling me we could swim there.  It was however, only a stop over and he knew I wouldn’t leave had I donned my bikini and submerged into the thermal waters.  This minor detail ensured me a

Thermal water and Roman ruins

Thermal water and Roman ruins

weekend trip back to the earthly paradise so I didn’t quibble for long.

Off we continued, another four or so hours to our destination in the Muğla province, farther southwest.  We arrived to find our friends in the center of the town Akyaka, a few beers in and laughing vigorously at who knows what.  Akyaka is a typical Aegean coastal town with a marina, hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops all draped in various flora and always surrounded by street dogs.  There were a few brave cats, but it was clear this was a dog village.

Cem and I played catch up with ice-cold beer and I fell into conversation with a local about beauty and adventure in Thailand.  Foreshadowing for a near adventure I suppose.  We called it a night and headed to our apartment/hotel conveniently located about five minutes up the hill.

Rising, not so early, the next morning, we had a traditional Turkish breakfast and a few rounds of coffee.  The mission of this trip was to go kite surfing, which is world-famous in this area thanks to the thermal winds.  After bullshitting and catching up with friends Kivanç and Burak, we started towards Gökova, where the kite surfers had already taken to the water in numbers.

Kite surfing

Kite surfing

The drive to the beach, down a dirt road, past fields of crops, a few goats and through a marsh gave me flashbacks to my family weekend excursions in Corpus Christie, Texas.  Unlike Corpus Christie, this dirt road ended at a

Zhewen

Zhewen

perfectly blue sea and beautiful people attached to big ass kites by way of a boxing champion sized belt.  Brightly colored kites, which look like bat wings when not in flight, were scattered about the beach.  The sea was full of kite boarders from amateurs to professionals and even a national champion.  One aspect of this extreme sport that boggled my mind and still does is how the people never seemed to collide.  Sure, there was the occasional amateur flown kite falling on someone, but with the amount of strings involved and the speed that some people surf, I was highly impressed by the lack of incident.

Apparently, Turkey has started to instill restrictions and laws on the people (in various forms), which required instructors to wear bright orange armbands to announce they were instructors.  Which meant my idea to have our friend Kivanç teach me blew with the wind.  Alas, I would resort to taking pictures and naturally, drinking beer.

Ahmet

Ahmet

Over the next few days the routine was the same.  Wake up late. Eat a gluttonous breakfast. Go to the beach. There were a few exceptional outings, if you will, that were the highlights of the end of Ramadan.

Ahmet Bey, “Mr. Ahmet,” is a 60-something retiree who travels the world kite surfing.  When he threw his cigarette butt onto the sandy parking lot, I picked it up and proceeded to lecture about keeping the beach clean and Turks trashing their environment yada, yada, yada.  He then retaliated with Americans destroying the earth with factories, wars and oil, then invited us to his farm to learn about nature.  Deal.

His farm was about 30 minutes from the

The farm

The farm

seaside with a quick stop to buy fresh veggies from a village market.  I only slighty covered my bikini top as the men poured out of a local mosque on the last day of Ramadan, yet another important time for men to gather and pray while the women and young girls prepare food to feed an army.  And their neighbors.

Arriving on the farm, Kivanç and Burak immediately jumped in the mini pool, Cem sat with a beer and I wandered about with Zhewen (like Joanne), Ahmet’s girlfriend from Beijing.  We fed the ducks, inspected the vegetable and herb garden, and discussed everything from learning Turkish to cooking with spices.  Ahmet and Zhewen eventually disappeared into the kitchen where they cooked the most amazing pork, aka wild boar, I’ve ever had in my life, while my crew and I drank homemade wine, talked about something, and danced to the Moody Blues.

After dinner, Zhewen convinced us to don our swimsuits and sit in the (really) brisk man-made pond created by the stream that definitely came from the mountains.  We giggled like little girls (the men included) as small fish chewed at our feet

and legs.  A free exfoliation, perfect home-made meal and strong wine?  This was the most ideal spa I could have found sans the massage.

Another highlight was the journey to Sedir Adası, Cleopatra’s Island.  I went solo and though I was initially put with a group of women on the boat, I ended up sitting with an older woman who constantly ordered tea and gave me cookies.  The boat, a half fishing and half tourist vessel, made stops at bays along the 4-ish hour journey for us tourists to take a dip in the cold yet refreshing and wonderful Aegean.

Yunus Bay

Yunus Bay

Arriving on Cleopatra’s island, I hit the ground running to see the sights before our sunset departure.  Briskly walking under the burning sun, I made it to the amphitheatre in time for a history lesson in Turkish.  Not understanding a word, I snapped some photos and continued on to Apollo’s Temple, which was a bunch of columns that lay in ruin.  The tranquil and turquoise laced view from the temple pushed me into conceptions of Egyptian beauties splashing about in the ancient waters below.   I not so briskly walked back to the beach where I took a relaxing dip in the designated area.  The beach itself is cordoned off, as legend says the sand came from Egypt and must remain where it lives.  Before we boarded the boat to take us back, the skipper washed our feet so we didn’t take any sacred sand with us to modern civilization.  It was a tangible sign I had just walked among the Gods and Goddesses and they insisted on keeping their land.

My final summer holiday was abruptly thrown into reality with a 6 AM drive to the airport 2 hours from my pillow.   It was, as always, a learning experience and a voyage worthy of words and recognition.

Cleopatra's Bay

Cleopatra’s Bay

A Walk with the Gods

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Mt. Olympus ne Olympos, the birthplace of Zeus, is near heaven these days, but perhaps not the ideal paradise.  Although, of all the places I’ve been in Turkey, this was one of the best areas I could rest my ass and dip my toes in the sea.  Just up the mountain from Antalya, the famous seaside area on the  Mediterranean in the south of Turkey, Olympos is a peaceful place where I walked among ancient castles and modern-day swimmers.  I’m sure the swimwear is more exotic these days, but I’m assuming the sea is the same.

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Ancient tombs from the Romans and Lycians line the walkway to the sea.  When I walked into the trees and  discovered a broken down castle overlooking ponds filled with dragonflies, I was sure I was in a movie or the Game of Thrones.  Obviously, it still amazes me to see structures of historical significance on the path to the bikini clad rocky beaches.  As I swam in the cold ass water (straight from the mountains), I attempted to invoke the goddesses of the past. Alas, all I invoked was a nasty sunburn from my first half-naked romp in the sun soaked sea-meets-the-mountain holiday getaway.

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ImageBut luck would have it, there was a sand sculpture festival in Antalya on the way home.  Holy shit.  What people can create from sand and water is nothing short of a miracle.  These pictures show what exists, but one must see the creations firsthand to appreciate the tremendous amount of time and imagination that went into the work.  The theme for this year is “Empires” so everyone from Cleopatra to Ghengis to Mehmed the Conqueror (of Constantinople) was brought to life with sand.

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It was yet another weekend of adventure, walking among gods and goddesses, and a lot of cold beer.  Here’s to summer!!