Wednesday, July 22, 2009


My original intention of this blog was to act as a journal for myself to look back upon, as well as a way to communicate my travels to friends and family. When I get home I hope to make it more into a journal and print it out with pictures and decorate it with other memories I have acquired on my trip such as tickets and such. I want to be able to look back on the blog and reread my stories, both personal and in general. This being said, I have some memories of my travels in Turkey that have not always been comfortable and fun. I do not mean to scare the readers of my blog, but when I look back on these blog posts I want to remember my real experiences in these countries. As much fun as the trip has been, and as comfortable and safe I have felt in most situations, not all have been. Italy was the first country that I did not feel perfectly safe, but knowing bits and pieces of the language seemed to lessen the shock of situations such as being approached by men and cat called. Turkey has been a different story.

Istanbul is a huge city and a relatively nice place. I arrived here with no expectations, which was nice for a change. Upon arrival in the city I found it to be old and dirty, like most of the cities we have visited, but I wasn’t immediately put off or surprised by that discovery. I have traveled around the city via walking, taxi, tram, bus and trolley and aside from the usual taxi driver ripping off the tourists, I have not found transportation nearly as scary as the taxis in Italy. The first few days in Turkey my friends and I (always with a few guys) have wandered around the city. We visited the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, and Taxism Square where most of the restaurants and entertainment is. We also went to a soccer game, as I mentioned earlier, which was a lot of fun. However, at his soccer game is where most of my reservations about Turkey and the people here were proven true. At our Semester at Sea pre-port meeting we were cautioned about visiting places of high tourist volume and events with large crowds etc. We were also informed about terrorism and bombings that have happened in the last few years. As westerners, and females, we were cautioned continuously about being safe and mindful of where we were and what we were wearing/doing.

During the soccer game my friends and I were the first few Americans to arrive in the section we were sitting. Of course we chose to sit with the locals who were constantly cheering (mostly men) and we wanted to be a part of the action.  When the Turkish men saw the American girls they wanted us to sit up front with them and cheer. For some reason we decided this would be fun and we went to sit with them (the guys came too thank goodness). In the beginning, the few of us that were there had a good time and everyone was really nice, asking us about America and where we were from and things like that. Then a lot of drunk SAS girls showed up and things started to get out of hand. The girls started flirting with the Turkish men and all of a sudden everyone thought it was ok to basically start harassing us and trying to ask us out places etc. During all of this, some of my friends were intentionally fallen upon by guys that were sitting above them and hands started going places they shouldn’t be. It became very uncomfortable and towards the end of the game a few of us moved back to the upper section of the stadium.  I was very put off by the way these men changed from when all of us were sober, to the way they reacted when the other girls were drunk.

My second experience was when we were leaving the Grand Bazaar. On our way to the tram we walked through a very busy section of town with cars, taxis and people everywhere. From out of nowhere two men started running towards each other and attacking the other. All of a sudden men from everywhere were running towards these men (who were maybe 200 feet from us) and it became a huge fight with people trying to pull each other off. It only lasted a few minutes but after that everyone was still gathered and we had no idea why. We couldn’t go anywhere because we needed the train and we were very shaken and didn’t know what to do. There was no obvious reason to us as to why the fight started and that made it even more uncomfortable for us.

Last night I encountered by third and fourth occurrences with Turkish people- one was intentional, one was not. The first occurred as we were walking through Taxism Square after seeing Transformers. There were about 10 of us walking through this huge street of shops and the trolley came through on its tracks down the middle of the street. The group got split up as we tried to avoid the trolley, and all of the guys were on one side and me, Julie and Amanda were on the other. As the trolley drove by, Julie was standing a few feet away facing me and I was watching the trolley. There was a Turkish boy, about 11, on the back of the trolley and reached out to Julie and scared her. As I was watching this I was sure he was going to take her purse (which he might have had it not been across her body). It was like I was watching this in slow motion and I couldn’t even warn her he was reaching out to her because I didn’t have time. My heart started to race as I saw his hand reach out and my mind instantly brought an image of Slum Dog Millionaire when the India kids are stealing everything from the tourists. I had no idea what I was going to do had he taken her purse, but the trolley wasn’t moving too fast so I guess that would have had something to do with it. I don’t really know if I would have, or should have done anything, but it was a very scary thing to think about and then witness the boy reach out and scare her.

After that incident I guess I was on high alert. We walked a bit more and about an hour later a trash truck came up behind us ( I didn’t know it was a trash truck at the time). Again, we got split up and it was me, Julie and Amanda on one side. Julie was walking ahead of me again, not even 10 feet away. As the trash truck approached us and was next to me I saw the trash man jump off of the truck in my peripherals and ended up crossing paths with Julie. In that instant I had no idea what was going on and all I saw was this man jump off the back of the truck and it looked like he was going to grab her. I was so scared, and even though I had no reason to be, my heart would not stop pumping for a while. As soon as I saw him jump off I grabbed her and pulled her to the other side of the street. I know that this instance was probably intensified by my other experiences that day, but it was still frightening.

I like to think that we have been pretty safe and smart while traveling. We always go in groups, dress conservatively and I always wear my purse across my body with extra money and such in different places, but Turkey has been a different country than the rest. Spain and Italy were easier because we kind of knew the language and we looked more like the people there. Croatia and Greece were very friendly places and a lot of people spoke English, we also fit in more there with looks as well. I guess I have come to the realization that we are starting to enter a harsher part of the world, where women don’t have as many rights and things are more taboo. I know that much of this is probably a stereotype but it doesn’t stop us from thinking about it all. I have no idea what Bulgaria will be like, but I know Egypt and Morocco will probably be similar to Turkey. Both are also considered Muslim countries, which Turkey is not, and that will change things as well. They will be stricter about women and I think the men will be more aggressive towards women than even Turkey was because of the stricter rules they have for the women that live there.

I have enjoyed my time in Turkey and I am glad that I visited, but I have reached a point where I am ready to move on.  Istanbul is a grand city and there is much to be explored, but I feel as if I have done enough for now. I saw a lot of the downtown area of the city, the mosques, Haigia Sofya, the Jewish Quarter, Taxism Square, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. We have also wandered around by the water front and walked a fair amount of the area close to the ship. I am thankful for this experience and I suppose it is eye opening as to things that may lie ahead. I promise to enjoy the next countries that we visit, but I know that I will have some reservations. Again, this is not meant to scare or make the readers of my blog uncomfortable- I don’t stay in situations where I am uncomfortable- but I wanted to be honest. I want to look back and remember everything about my voyage, not only the easy and fun experiences, of which there have been many.

We leave Turkey tonight and we will be in Bulgaria on Friday. I have started to read about Bulgaria in my travel books and have become a little more excited by the visit. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by the country.

1 comment:

  1. I find it exhausting to deal with sexism all the time, even the non-scary kinds. Sorry you've seen so much, so fast!

    How about a talk with the guys you are hanging out with and asking them to hang a little closer, especially when the group separates? They don't seem to get it, what happens to the gals when the guys are not paying attention...