Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dear so and so (2)

It's that special time again when I write down all the letters I have been composing in my head....

Dear Neighbours-opposite,
Wow aren't you popular! I guess your friends don't know many other people whose complex has a swimming pool huh? Amazing you can fit 15 of you into your three bedroomed house! And you all sound like you are having so much fun - the balcony is definitely the coolest place to sit and enjoy yourselves - I don't know if you realise this or not, but actually the balcony is not in the least soundproof. Nor is the garden - letting five kids loose without supervision to run around is going to get lively! Here's the thing, all those babies are very cute, but would you please get you friends to put swimming nappies on them when they go in the pool? Baby-pee doesn't gross out parents and family, but to anyone else it's just pee. I don't want to swim in a toilet, I really really don't want my kids to. I know those nappies are a bit more pricey than the regular ones, but just think about all the money your friends are saving by using the pool for free / not staying in a hotel! maybe they can put it to good use?
Your hot grouchy neighbour who hasn't been in the pool for a few days.

Dear Omer Tugrul Inancer,
You want pregnant women to stay at home because they are not "aesthetic"??? Seriously? How does that even make sense? On a daily basis I see both women and men who are so-fat-they-could-be-pregnant-but-aren't wandering around, should they stay at home too? Isn't it nicer to see someone who is heavy with child rather than heavy with too much pie? Is it ok if they are a really pretty pregnant person? I have to assume all these pregnant people you've seen are fairly healthy because in between the swollen feet, water retention, and forty degree heat you really don't want to wander far when you are eight months gone. To be honest I felt like I deserved a meddle when I walked to the shop to buy bread when I was that pregnant. Is it because pregnancy is a sign of fertility whereas obesity is a sign of imminent heart attack? I'm still struggling to see how imminent death is more aesthetic than imminent new life.
Any thoughts?

Dear people of Agin,
You caught a bird and assumed it was an Israeli spy? You obviously really love your country and want to keep it safe. Yay patriotism.
Keep loving your country!

Dear Governor of Agin,
It has recently come to my attention that the people in your town are both exhibiting signs of paranoia and limited education. It is not normal to see a bird and assume it is an Israeli spy. Someone really needs to explain about "bird migration" to your people - they must of noticed that birds disappear in the winter surely? The appropriate response is actually not to x-ray the bird and release it when cleared of all charges. Maybe you could introduce them to some pigeons, birds that think the appropriate response to oncoming traffic is to out run it rather than fly away, are both entertaining and amazingly reassuring when you are worried that all birds are spies.
Just a thought.

Dear Fabric-Man-in-the-market,
You rock. I love your 5 lira fabric. 1.5m square of awesomeness. So far I have recovered 6 dining room chairs, a foot stool, and a lazee-boy. It's like I have new furniture! I'd tell you this to your face when I turn up again next Tuesday to dig through the big piles of material, but you know, we are in Turkey and I don't make eye-contact with strange men here.
Please keep being awesome,
The very tall foreigner.
P.S. the cushion covers faded when I washed them. Hasn't put me off.

Dear Men of the world.
I don't like speedos. It has nothing to do with your age of physique, I just think they are weird. It is a little too close to public nudity for me. Sometimes if your belly is really big, you can't tell you are wearing anything at all. It's a little disconcerting. Also I don't think long hair and bald spots are a good combination. And I really don't know why, but I find long nails on men really repulsive. I'm sorry. It makes me fell like a bigot judging you so, but I just had to put it out there.
All the best with being attractive in the future,

Dear Hero and Reis,
When you get to be teenagers and go through your obligatory period of rebelliousness, please don't use the above as your template. Wear black and use eyeliner all you want, just keep those nails short.

Dear Tile-guy,
I don't know if you know this but you are now the sixth person to get the job working on our tiles. Two of the others didn't turn up. The other four were fired for being so deeply incompetent. Please last more than a morning.
The people who really, really don't want their house covered in grout.

Dear Husband,
You have done an amazing job on the house. I am awed, inspired, and amazed by you. Don't give up!

Dear Rafey,
I can't believe how well you are doing learning to read! I did not think we would get this far so fast, you are doing so so well. Could you please please please do me a favour and get to grips with the difference between P, B, D, and N though? Forgetting between the beginning and end of a three letter word can be a tad frustrating,
mum-trying to-keep-seeing-the bigger-picture.

Dear Metro-Vista weather station,
When you predict storms and then change your prediction back to full sun and 40 degrees it makes my week just that little bit harder. Please get it right the first time.
Maecy the-fan-is-my-best-friend.

Dear Me,
It may feel like you are too hot and too confused to even exist right now, but this is an illusion. You will feel so much better if you actually achieve stuff. Turn off the computer and get on with it.
connection terminated.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thoughts on moving to Turkey in general and Fethiye in particular.

I am surprised how often I am asked for advise about moving to Turkey. It is very hard to give a definitive answer because every case is different. We love it here, but I have known people never settle no matter how hard they try. Every year I see a few people pack up and head back to the UK, while several more are moving in. These are some of the answers I usually give.

I have lived in three places in Turkey - the capital Ankara, the beach village Sarimsakli (near Ayvalik, two hours above Izmir), and Fethiye. I did not enjoy living in Ankara. At the time I didn't hate it, but I spent six years feeling indifferent about my life - turns out feeling indifferent is not a good way to feel about your existence for an extended period of time. When we finally left and I remembered what feeling happy was, it took months for the nightmares about returning to stop. If you are considering moving there, I urge you to check out this blog, the woman who writes it is making a much better time of her life there than I did. I can't really imagine anyone wanting to live there forever, but if your business is transferring you there for a spell, or you get a job at one of the foreign schools, you can have a blast. There are plenty of other rich expats to hang out with and while away the evenings. If like me you go for love and live on Turkish wages... you may not have such a good time. The events the expat world there organises are expensive, entertainment mostly consists of shopping malls, you really need a car and on just one wage this is near impossible to afford. I did not find the Turks there more than superficially welcoming, and by and large far too interested in one-up-manship that making real friendships.

We were only in Sarimsakli for six months or so. It’s a lovely place and if you have a job before you go, and if you speak Turkish I can recommend it as a perfect place to discover “the peaceful life.” If like me, you don’t have either of those things, save it for holidays. There are virtually no other British expats there. Izmir is only two hours away, but that is about an hour and forty five minutes too far to ever really become part of the expat community, especially if you have small kids. If you have little ones you’d really rather not have to travel further than the end of your street for entertainment. At the end of the street in Sarimsakli is a beach – I think life next to the beach is the nicest place for any kid to grow up, but without any friends it can get lonely.

Just over two years ago we decided to move to Fethiye. It was a snap decision. We’d been looking for schools for Hero in Ankara and none of them were worth the price tag - other than to get him out of the extremely overcrowded free schools. An old Ankara friend had moved to Fethiye – he said there were a lot of Brits there. I started googling. He wasn’t kidding, the population of the town is at least 10% expat. And they aren’t just people with holiday homes they are a real settled community. They have opened charity shops, hold craft fairs, Christmas dos, car boot sales, murder mystery nights, barbecues on the beach, and all kinds of jazz. There are many many other women with kids married to Turks. For the first time in years I am not friends with people simply because of the inevitable (both foreign, both got kids, need someone to go for coffee with) but because I actually chose to be with these people. I can say without a shadow of a doubt, it is the smartest thing we have done in years. Hero and Rafey  go to a gorgeous school, we have a lovely mortgage free home just 2 minutes walk from the woods, two seconds from the pool, and ten minutes drive from the beach.

Fethiye is perfect for us, but would it be perfect for you? I know a few families who have moved lock stock and barrel over to Fethiye from the UK with no reason beyond a few good holidays and the lure of cheap housing. I don’t really get it - we are a mixed family,in the drive for both kids to have a grasp on their cultural heritage, Fethiye is a great place to achieve that, but coming when you have no cultural tie seems odd to me. Still most families who are all foreign, rather than half like us, aren't usually thinking longer term than the next five years. Anyway there are two major downsides to living abroad –

1.) The language. I am not a linguist. It has taken me years and years to get to a reasonable level of fluency in Turkish. I still have to plan complex sentences in my head. I struggle to convey really deep thoughts and feelings. I struggle to be funny.  People still assume I am below average intelligence because I speak too slowly and too clearly. I hate people assuming I am stupid, because I’m really not. I get it though, when people speak to me in bad English I find it hard not to think they are a bit slow on the uptake. A surprising number of people come to Fethiye and don’t bother to learn the language. The assume Fethiye is there to cater to their every need and get frustrated when the locals don’t speak any English

“don’t they know how much it would enhance their business? This is a tourist town...!”

answer, “don’t you know how much it would improve your life to actually speak the language of the country you are in...?”

Because here’s the thing – tourists get ripped off. Not all the time, and not by everyone, but enough. I went to the clothes market to buy some school shirts for Hero. The price said £10 (25 tl) I got them for 10tl (£4), my husband went back and got three for 10tl. Aside from stuff like  that, you will need to ask for directions in Turkish and understand the response. You will need to pay your bills in Turkish, set up a phone line with Turk-Telecom, catch a bus and check where to get off. You’ll need to be able to go into a supermarket and ask where the milk is, and if you don’t know the word for milk you’ll end up standing in the aisle mooing. Not cool. People are kind, if they see you are struggling they will try and help, which is nice, but after a few weeks / months / years of this you will slowly eat away at your own independence. My advice, if you are not prepared to learn the basics, don’t come.

As a side note I think living in Turkey is giving my kids a huge advantage in life and this is down to the language. They will speak, read, and write two languages fluently. Whether they want a career in something that needs two languages or not when they are older is up to them, but they will always be able to get a job. And they will have an edge that other people don’t when they apply for jobs. There are a lot of people in the world, the market place is competitive anything that makes you stand out is a good thing. I have huge admiration for the English-English families who manage to make it work here. They generally have to hire tutors to support their kids when doing homework, and work with them at home to make sure their English is up to scratch (I do that too) but they do it and I personally think their kids are better off for it.

Part 1b) You will always be foreign. There is enough of an expat community in Fethiye that there is no need to ever be lonely, but you will always be different. Always stand out. I am six foot tall, very pale, and blonde. It is extremely obvious that I am foreign. I have mostly grown used to this, particularly now I can speak a reasonable amount of Turkish, but I don’t think I will ever be 100% comfortable with being different. I am much more of a background person than a “look at me, look at me” type person. People always look at me. People don’t just judge you on your behaviour, they judge your whole country – it is a responsibility that shouldn’t just be dismissed.

2) Making money. Turkey is (on balance) cheaper than the UK, but you still need money to survive. Work permits are like gold dust and have a lot of conditions attached to them (click here for a basic overview). Here are they ways I have seen people get by:

Option one,  have enough money to invest and live off the interest. The interest rate goes up and down but is mostly between 8 and 10%, whether or not you buy or rent your home will make a difference to how much you need, but 2500tl a month should be more than enough (as a family of four we live on half that). To get that much you need around 80,000GBP in the bank. Older people collect their pensions in Turkey and seem to live fine with that.

Option two, set up you own business. It is easier to get a work permit if you do this as you are creating jobs not taking them away. I can’t give any advice here really, as entrepreneurship is not my thing. In fact it scares me. I am a big fan of 9 to 5 jobs. However if you do want to do this, and there is a gap in the very full market place, good luck to you.

Option three, commute. Some people, usually in contract industries eg. electricians, builders etc, fly back to the UK for work while the rest of the family lives in Turkey.

Option four, online freelancing. Work which can be done anywhere in the world on a computer doesn’t count as illegal-work provided you are still paying taxes in another country and meeting that other countries minimum residency requirements.

Option five, go seasonal. In Fethiye companies recruit during the spring for the tourist season. They need: hosts, secretaries, beauty-workers, and TEFL qualified teachers. Don’t work for anyone who doesn’t provide a work permit, being deported is no joke. Be qualified before you come.

So those are the main disadvantage, or “things to seriously consider” before coming here, but what about the advantages? I have already said how happy I am that the kids are growing up bilingual. Here are a few other things I like:

Drug and drink problems exist here, but to a much lesser extent. There isn’t a culture of drinking to get drunk. There are very few gangs. Kids are kids for much much longer.

People are poorer. You don’t have to buy your kids every gadget going just because their friends have it. In my village some of the kids only have one pair of shoes. Family time is valued. Riding bikes and kicking a football are the way to entertain yourself. Older children are expected to take an active interest in younger ones.

We have a three bedroomed, two floor, flat. It is on a complex with a huge garden and a swimming pool. It is five years old (but we were the first people to live in it). We paid less than £30,000 for it

I have a few really good girl friends who totally get the whole married-to-a-Turk thing.

For nine months of the year the weather is perfect.

We can afford to have a good quality of life on much less money and spend much more time with the kids.

That’s actually a pretty short list, but it kind of covers the essentials: family, security, safety. I don’t know if we will stay here forever. I kind of want to try living in the States for a while (I’m a citizen), but if we didn’t it would be more on my list of “what ifs” rather than “huge life regrets.” I am happy here in Fethiye. If we did move away for a while, I would want to come back. It feels like home. If you are really considering moving here, I’d say do it! But don’t burn your bridges back until you’ve been here for at least three years or so...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thoughts on sexism.

I was just reading an article about sexism. It's a decent read in my opinion. Basically it gives examples of high profile people who have been sexist in public - the most recent major offence being the whole "Andy Murray was the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years" thing - you know the claim that is now filling my facebook news feed with pictures like this:

However the most interesting part of this article for me, were the comments underneath. I love it when an article gets a whole heap of comments - you get a real sense of where the world is on these issues (and by "world" I mean the demographic who reads whatever newspaper the article is in, there is obviously a vast difference between the type of comments you get on a Daily Mail story, to those on one from The Guardian. The article in question is from the Independent, which is middle of the road-ish.)

Unsurprisingly enough the comments swung in two different directions "Yes the author's right, men should grow up;" and "Come off it, the situation isn't that bad" / "Men are different to women, accept it." As a side note, I do actually agree that in general men are different to women, I just don't think that you can stereotype away opportunity - even if the majority of women don't want careers as bricklayers, even if the majority of men don't want careers as nannies, there shouldn't be any problem when some of them do. And as a second related side note, I watched this video this week about the first woman to run the Boston marathon, I think most people these days would find the race organisers attack on her (mid way through the marathon) surprising / shocking / unnecessary, which is a good sign that we have moved on in the last forty years.

Anyway, the comment I found most interesting was the one asking for with examples of sexism against men (with the premise there aren't many) - but for me it is easy, way too easy to point to some: The Simpson's tops my list, followed by Family Guy, and Everybody Loves Raymond. Chat shows like Loose women which have that tut-tut-you-know-men-are-useless vibe to them. A vibe I see echoed all the time in too many women when they chat about their husbands'. I see it in children's books like The Bernstein Bears - men portrayed as dopey, clumsy, thoughtless, macho. It's a less direct form of sexism. It's often very funny. A kind of worming-it's-way-into-your-consciousness type of thinking that you barely notice. Most of the listed shows are created by, and scripted by men - I don't know what that says about the situation, if men are being sexist about themselves does it just count as irony?  You know like when Chris Rock does his stand up shows and uses words to describe black people that I can't even think about typing without feeling deeply uncomfortable, but his whole (99.9% black) audience finds hysterical?

Turkey has a sexist culture. Men are surprised when women do well. It is an insult to tell a man he is "acting like a woman" (a grown up version of "you're crying like a little girl") In the last decade I have never seen a female: refuse collector, builder, painter, plumber, electrician, bus driver, fisherman etc etc here. Excuses for rape are treated as a hell of a lot more valid than they are in the West. Domestic violence and honour-killing are both subjects I have seen on TV dramas, not as a shock factor, but as a general plot device. I could give plenty of examples from my own home life, but I don't want to start my day by depressing myself. If you want to read about how my marriage works click here. On the upside, Turkey is not sexist like real Arab countries are, here is a classic example from the wonderful Saudi Woman's Weblog. Turkey is not as close to creating an equal society as the West, but it has the advantage over countries-to-the-right-of-it that every so often it actually acknowledges there is a problem.

I'm not sure I really have a point here. Sexism is two sided and it's everywhere. Women are worse off. The whole knocking-people-down-to-make-yourself-look-better thing sucks. But at the same time there is not a healthy balance, it needs redressing. I don't feel guilty about finding The Simpson's funny, I don't want to feel guilty about it. My hope is in my children, that I can teach them a better way of loving the world they are in. And my hope is with children like this who despite all the odds really do exist:

Update: came across this video, love it.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

5 months of sun.

This morning I logged on to facebook and was greeted with about ten different status updates regarding the weather. Rain is predicted, and everyone is very excited. I don't know if it will actually materialize, but currently it is wonderfully cloudy.

The idea of too much sun was an alien concept to me until I was 14. That was the year we took a trip to China. The thermometers never went above or below 39 degrees c (because if they went above the workers would get a government mandated holiday) but I'm pretty sure the majority of the time it was above that. There was at least 90% humidity so it certainly felt hotter. Born in Britain, the land of drizzle, and despite summers spent in Upstate New York I wasn't used to that kind of heat. I remember smearing my whole body in deodorant in an effort to be cooler (doesn't work by the way.) I promised myself I wouldn't complain about the cold again. I kept that promise until very recently when so many years in Turkey finally took there toll on me - I've adapted. I am still wearing sweaters when visiting tourists aren't bothering to put on shirts anymore. When I visit the UK, even in midsummer I spend at least the first week shivering. Which is nowhere near as bad as Rafey, my youngest, - his lips actually turn blue. I would prefer to visit in winter - at least then the difference in temperature is not so great and we don't look like a family of idiots wrapped up in coats whilst everyone else is in T-shirts and flip flops, but of course there is no school holiday and so no opportunity.

Whenever I do visit the UK people illogically but regularly greet me with the question "why didn't you bring some sun back with you?" There are so many reasons why this is a dumb question it is hard to answer concisely. I usually settle for a weary snigger, my standard response to unfunny-not-quite-jokes I've heard a thousand times before. What I really want to do is grab the person by the shoulders, stare hard into their eyes, and by some kind of magical process of transference make them really understand what living in a hot climate is like. Stifling comes to mind first - we aren't holiday makers, life doesn't revolve around getting a tan. It is simply too hot to let the kids out for the majority of the day. Ever been at home with a grouchy cooped up kid? I've got two, and the summer holidays last 3 months.

There is a point in July when it is just so hot that if you leave the house your eyeballs feel like they are drying out. Weird in a bad way. You hang out laundry and as you touch the cool cloth you seriously contemplate putting it on wet - a pointless longing as within half an hour it will be bone dry. You feel like you are a bad parent all the time because hugging your child between the hours of 9 and 5 is so uncomfortably hot you'd really rather not do it. You consider the practicalities of going out with a packet of frozen peas in your knickers (a nappy bum no-no.) When you see someone watering the garden you are filled with a desperate longing to lie under the hose pipe. Its not just that clothes feel uncomfortably hot, your very flesh is too much. There is not enough ice cream in the world. I to the market the other day, I was fine, not too hot, but the British holiday makers surrounding me were in pain - bright white flesh, burning red cheeks, so much sweat they looked like they were melting. I guess I have acclimatised more than I realise.

And unless you have experienced it  - seriously contemplated keeping your flip flops in the freezer, marvelled that all your laundry is dry before the second load has finished spinning - you just can't get it. Summer days in Fethiye are not like summer days in England - if you want sun like that visit in April, or October, or even November. This sounds like I am complaining, but I'm not exactly - I don't waste my time wishing away the heat. I've managed to stop myself actively dreading July and August. It is more I'd just like people who don't live here to get it a bit more, to appreciate that although their weather might be pretty miserable, it is rarely debilitating. And when it is it is a freak occurrence not an annually scheduled event.

Update: Apparently it rained in the next village over, it did not rain in mine. There are still a few clouds, so I still have hope.

Update 2: Other status updates from the UK include a lot of people excited that their thermometers are going to hit 25 degrees celsius. I think that was the weather in March here, I'm pretty sure I was still wearing a sweater. Keep hydrated people!

Update 3: I realise you are not supposed to measure the temperature in the actual sun, but as it is impossible to wander around only in the shade, and so "in the sun" is what the weather actually feels like, I thought I would anyway. The top number is the time, the middle number is the current temperature, the bottom number is the day's maximum temperature. The thermometer was on the balcony: