|8. Turkey is primarily an Islamic country. How does that
manifest itself in day-to-day life? How did that affect you as a
foreigner, particularly as a female expatriate?
Being an Islamic country, you hear the calls from the Mosque
several times a day. So when looking for an apartment - beware!
Don't locate too close to a Mosque. I can't say I missed this
cacophony of sounds when I got back to Toronto.
Ramazan (the Islamic holy month of Ramadan) affected our daily
life since the Turks who fast can only eat before sunrise and
after sunset, the best time to take a taxi in Istanbul was
during those mealtimes. You didn't have to wait in traffic. Also
the streets were empty while a soccer game was going on - Turks
are soccer fanatics!
Since Turkey is secular, women do not have to cover their heads,
and definitely not their faces. A lot of women, originally from
Eastern Turkey, did wear scarves, though. Students are forbidden
to wear scarves in school. There are definitely more completely
covered women in Toronto than in Turkey.
I was surprised to discover that none of my adult students from
the language school I taught in part-time had ever been in a
Mosque. They told me mostly the elderly go to the Mosque for
something to do. Apparently they do not actively practice their
Of course a lot of people go to the Mosque during holidays, as
Christians would go to Church during Christmas. Good muslims
must be kind and helpful, especially to the poor. I found this
was definitely the case and I was surrounded by kind and helpful
Being a non-Muslim in a Muslim country did not really affect me.
The Muslim religion is accepting of all religions. One thing
that did bother me was that in many areas only men or couples
went out at night. The single women now though are beginning to
go out. I am not sure if this comes from the religion or
culture, or maybe both.
If I was out late at night, I had a very safe feeling, that all
the men were watching out for me to make sure I wasn't bothered.
Of course, I was no spring chicken any more anyway.
9. What is your favourite memory of your time in Turkey?
My favourite time in Turkey was when a group of 25 people from
my school went on a trip to South-Eastern Turkey, organized by
the geography teacher. It was about 6 days long. I called this
the "Magical Mystery Tour" and it was exactly that.
We took a plane to "Gazientep" (famous for pistachios), then we
went off on a mini-bus. We saw the Euphrates and Tigris rivers,
crops of lentils, chickpeas, nuts, bridges and monuments
thousands of years old. We went to Urfa, said to be Abraham's
birthplace. It seemed time had stood still for at least 2000
years. I thought we were back in biblical times.
The trip ended at Nemrut Mountain - 4 hours of driving up into
the mountains to walk another ½ hour to a wondrous site of
statues in the middle of nowhere. The clouds opened up to let
the rays of the sun through, they call this "the hands of God".
10. Through your various travels you have connected with people
from many different countries. Please tell us about your
international circle of friends, how did you meet them, where
are they now, how have these relationships evolved?
I now have very close friends all over the world, thanks to my
travels - close in heart, far in distance. I have more friends
outside Toronto than here and I love them all dearly.
My Australian friends are all from when I taught in Turkey. Also
my friends in England and one in Toulouse, France. My European
friends are mostly from my stays in Parga, they now live in
Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. I have friends in Tunis
and Paris from my days as a nanny as France.
All my Turkish friends are still mostly in Istanbul and many of
the foreign teachers I worked with are married to Turks. One of
my closest friends, a Swiss woman now living in Athens, married
to a Greek, met me in Toronto as a tourist herself. My friends
in Memphis recently moved to Florida from the Kibbutz and of
course there is Camille from Parga, who is originally from
Vancouver and now lives in Orlando.
If I were given one wish, I would wish them all here to be here
close to me. The Internet has almost made this possible.
11. What are some of your most moving human experiences that
you had as part of your international connections?
An extremely memorable experience was related to my friend Taha,
who I had met as a young au-pair in Paris in 1977. He was from
Morocco and a friend of the family, one of the nicest men you
could possibly know. At the time he told me that 3 of his
brothers had "disappeared" for political reasons in Rabat,
Morocco, 5 years before. The police had come to the door and
they were gone, never to be seen again. No word on where they
were or if they were alive or dead.
Years went by and I kept in contact and I met Taha in
Aix-en-Provence 9 years later. He was to be married to a
Tunisian woman. We still kept in contact and then I lost him for
5 years. Desperate to find him, I contacted my au-pair father in
Paris 20 years later. Thank goodness he still had the same
telephone! I found out Taha was living in Tunisia with his wife
and 3 young children. I phoned him and he wanted me to come and
visit as it had been about 10 years since I had seen him. So I
flew from Istanbul to Tunis in January of 1997.
Taha met me at the airport and we went to his beautiful house in
Sidi Bou Said, a suburb of Tunis. Wow, I had known Taha when he
was poor, where did he get this windfall I asked? He told the
incredible story of his 3 brothers who had been released from a
Moroccan prison 17 years after their capture and he and his
brothers had received substantial compensation from the Morrocan
Taha was living in Paris at the time when he got a call from a
friend in Morocco who gave him the news. He had not heard one
word from his brothers for 17 years. He assumed they were dead.
Well, they were alive and coming to Paris!
After a month of being treated in a Moroccan hospital they
arrived and the family was reunited. I get goosebumps just
thinking of it. The miracle is that the 3 survived and were all
I returned to Istanbul after a week and one month later Taha
told me that one of his brothers, Beyazid, was coming to
Istanbul. Taha asked me to show his brother around. It was my
pleasure and honour.
But the story doesn't end there. The first night of arrival
Beyazid told me he had to go to the airport the next morning. I
thought he was coming by himself to Istanbul. No - he was
meeting his friend and lover Maria who he hadn't seen in 25
years since his capture. Maria had heard that Beyazid had been
freed and they had been looking for one another for 5 years.
They finally found each other and decided to meet in Istanbul.
I met Maria that afternoon, a stunning now 50 year old woman. It
was my job to find a place where they could reunite and we could
celebrate under the motto "bien manger, bien danser, bien nous
amuser'" (to eat and dance well and have fun), as Beyazid said
in French. He wanted to go to a place with a female Turkish
singer. All this was a tall order for me since it was to be to
be a very special celebration.
I found a place and we spent the most magical evening and the
most magical 2 weeks in Istanbul. Maria and Beyazid reconnected
as good friends and became as close as ever. It was like we were
characters in our own film, almost surreal. Beyazid has become
my friend and I have also met another brother of his in Paris,
Midhat, who had also been in prison. The 3rd brother lives in
Texas and they all stay in touch frequently.
When I see Beyazid, a man full of life, who seems to have
forgiven those who took his life away for 17 years, I find it
hard to complain about any little or even big thing for that
matter. Nothing could be worse than what he and his brothers
endured - a living death.
Beyazid - you are my inspiration....
12. How do you still stay in touch with Turkey and what are
your upcoming plans to visit this very special country?
I still visit Istanbul every year. 8 years of friends and
contacts is hard to leave behind. It feels like it is my second
country. I dream of being near the Bosphorus, the waterway that
connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and the nexus
between Europe and Asia. I never tire of it.
I will be there this August and somehow I will also get to Parga
at the beginning of September. Now though I like to be home in
Toronto at the end of September, beginning of October. I missed
so many autumns in Toronto and never realized it was such a nice
place to be.
Yes, it is nice to call Toronto home.
Thanks for your time, Carol. I have really enjoyed your
About the author:
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of
http://www.travelandtransitions.com. It deals with travel to
foreign countries and is chock full of advice, tips, real life
travel experiences, interviews with travellers, insights,
cross-cultural issues, and many other features. Participate in
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