We are now back from our tenth anniversary trip to Turkey.
We are glad we went...but I will never go to a Muslim country again.
We met nice people who went out of their way to be nice to us, and then we met some people who went out of their way to be True AH's either because I am
(a) An American or
(b) female or
(c) used a wheelchair and have leg braces so it is obvious that I am disabled
(d) pick any two above or
(e) pick any three above
I was the target of spitting, I was used as a personal ashtray for someone's cigarette, the Turkish men stopped walking and stared at me as if I had three heads, and attempted to cheat me out of money. Our rental car was hit by a city bus and my husband had to stay in the police station and endure a 6 hour grueling interrogation and breathalizer test in which the plastic tube had Never Been Changed. Think of what he could have contracted from that thing.
We chose Turkey because we love history, and Istanbul has been controlled by numerous groups over the history of humankind. Because Istanbul is the point at which Europe changes to Asia and it was on the Silk Road, I wanted to see the museums. The museums I had imagined, would be as wonderful as in Greece was, with objects that were 6000 years old. Nothing in America is that old.
It was not all bad, but my mind concentrates on the biggest events, which were traumatic. The Turkish people seem to react to me in a wheelchair as if I am from Mars, as if they have never seen a wheelchair before.
I was conscious to wear long skirts and jeans so that I would not offend, no shoulders uncovered, and I did not travel anywhere without my husband. Turkey is one of the most liberal of Middle Eastern countries, so I saw Turkish women in shorter skirts and short sleeves, and once I saw a girl wearing the headscarf, but also her shirt looked like a bustier! Some women dress in complete blackness, except for the eyes, and are silent. I tried not to stand out, but I did very much. I am aware of how every moment I am in a foreign country, I am an ambassador for my own.
All day long the Turkish men we went past stopped walking toward me and stared at me and my wheelchair, with an expression of either disgust or hatred, mouths agape. As I passed them they craned their necks or turned around to continue the stare. It quickly got on my nerves. At first I ignored them, just thinking to myself how rude, how Neaderthal, telling myself that they have no social tact whatsoever, but then after time I got so mad that I began the same long and deliberate stare right back into their eyes with the same look of disgust. That made the men feel strange, and they looked away. The Turkish women looked at me but looked away to make their faces. I felt like a circus side show. I counted 3 other wheelchairs (all tourists) and only one developmentally challenged person (the son of a tourist) during my two weeks. We drove 1500 miles (2500 kms) over Turkey. I get the feeling that Turkey hides their disabled community.
Several times men, facing me and staring at me, would block my way in front of the only ramp, refuse to move until I got close enough to hit them with my feet. The whole time me and my husband are saying excuse me in Turkish, to be courteous, but the Turkish men just stared at us and refused to move. They would not make room in the trains and trams for me to enter, even when there was plenty of room, so I had to push my way in with determination.
Once I was standing in a one-person cue at a hotel waiting to speak to the receptionist, and four different Turkish men, one at a time, walked right up to the desk and stood beside the person being waited on at that moment, and the receptionist helped those men next, while knowing full well that I was next. Of course, while I was waiting, the same men stared at my leg braces. I finally screamed at the fourth man, telling him that I am waiting, and he will not break in line ahead of me! I never reached the receptionist; the Turkish hotel employee refused to acknowledge my existence.
Once while I was sitting on the train, a Turkish man tapped his cigarette ashes in my lap and walked out the train door before I had a chance to get my revenge. Men spit at my feet multiple times then gave me a hateful look.
At one museum, they make private vehicles park a quarter mile away across a highway and haul the people to the entrance with an old trolley car (with steps up) pulled by a tractor. I parked at the entrance, where there was over 50 parking spaces available, (October is low season) and one of the tractor drivers told me that I had to ride the trolley, with steps I can't climb and which costs money of course. I refused and showed him my blue handicapped placard. He then wanted money to let me park at the entrance, which I wanted a receipt for. There was no receipt forthcoming of course; this was a scam. Any proceeds for parking would go straight to the scammer and not to the museum. Although he spoke no English and I spoke no Turkish we argued loudly all the way to the museum entrance, where he spoke to the man in the ticket booth. While he was trying to get the ticket taker to charge me more than the legal price, a museum official motioned us to come on in free. (sticking my tongue out)
I am not sure if it's just in the Middle East or all Muslims or both, but they don't eat with their left hand. They do, however, handle my food with both hands, and smoke while they are doing it. My digestive tract knew this. Turkish toilets are just a hole in the floor, and you have to bring your own paper and hope for a running faucet afterwards. There are no towels or hot air machines for drying your hands. I brought Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer. Luckily they eat delicious homemade yogurt at every meal, to promote healthy gut germs. Imagine how my vacation would have ended up without yogurt and Lysol.
The Turks drive almost twice the speed limit, drive backwards through intersections and on ramps, there are three rows of cars at a two-lane light, drive on both shoulders, pass (overtake) on blind curves at high speeds, and sit on the horn with each inhalation of oxygen. There are no rules at all. All the cars look like shit, with dents, one headlight, which they do not use at night, no brakes, no brakelights, and doors held on with bungie cords. All driving fast the wrong way down one-way streets made for horsecarts. The favorite car color in Turkey is rust. The city bus that hit our rental car just drove away without bothering to check to see if we were injured.
We were sitting at an intersection next to a very large city bus when we both turned left across the intersection. The city bus took our lane and our rental car. I was sitting in the passenger seat so the bus hit my part of the car. We stopped and I got a photo of the bus and bus number as it drove away. DH did not want to call the police, but I insisted, saying that if we return the rental with damage, they could call the police and he might go to jail or we could buy the car agency a new car. We don't know Turkish law for foreigners. We called the police, they asked us to follow them to the station, (DH driving) where we met a wonderful man from Kazakstan, who spent the next 6 hours of his day off translating for us. The police told DH to drive to a hospital to get a medical exam. We and the man from Kazakstan drove (DH driving the whole time, in Turkish traffic) for 2 hours to 3 hospitals and two police stations before locating a working breathalizer. The plastic tube had Never Been Changed.
Just imagine what diseases DH could have contracted from that tube, which had lots of teeth marks on it.
I refused to kiss DH for three days, saying that I needed to remain healthy during his quarantine to fill out his death certificate.
Because I could not climb the inevitable stairs getting into the police station to be with DH and our friend from Kazakstan, I sat out in the rental car all day. After about 3 hours of waiting, the afternoon wore on me and I began to think about what my DH could be enduring inside. Why is this taking so long? Is DH in a cell, cuffed to the ceiling, naked? Are they beating him? We were not at fault in the accident, but we are being treated like criminals foreigners with no civil rights. Making an accident report should not take all day. If the Bush administration can treat anyone suspected of anything like the way prisoners are treated in Abu Girab and Gitmo, what can we expect in a country such as Turkey, which has such a wonderful human rights record? The police standing outside the station with the submachine guns refused to talk to me, and gave me that same stare as if I were a repulsive circus side show. I wanted to go home that moment. I hated Turkey that day. I sobbed harder and longer than I had ever cried, and the residential neighborhood noticed me and gathered around the car. From their nonverbal communication I could tell that they were talking about me as if I were an object to be studied. No one in the crowd spoke to me, only about me. No one consoled me.
After 6 hours of this, my DH emerged with our friend from Kazakstan, and we offered him money and to take him to dinner because he refused. Mr. Kazakstan was the only selfless and truly helpful person we met on this vacation. He gave us his entire day off work, and accepted nothing as compensation. I don't even have a photo of him. He even got us a discount at a hotel where his friend worked in reception. I think Mr. Kazakstan was an angel. Remember what I said about being an ambassador?
We got out of there as soon as we woke up the next morning. We drove like a bat out of Turkish hell.
In Istanbul a carpet salesman approached us and refused to leave us alone even after I said no, thank you in Turkish several times, then I raised my voice and screamed at him, hopefully embarassing him. Once i got loud, he retreated.
Another night we drove until we were too tired to get to the next town, and asked two young men on the road for the location of a hotel. "Hotel" seems to be one of those universally understood words like "toilet."
They knew where a hotel was, but we could not communicate directions effectively, so they asked us if they could get into our car and show us. We felt safe and said yes, and ended up at a closed hotel, which was used only as a university boarding house, but accepted us for one night. There, we stayed up for several hours talking through a translator with 5 men about politics, religion, the Iraq war (Iraq shares a boarder with Turkey) and American views on Turkey and everything else. But since I was the only female, at first I stayed quiet. But as time went on, the young men in the group were glued to everything I said and wanted my opinion. I loved that night. The students had ten thousand questions for us, their first close encounter with Americans who are neither Republican nor Christian. We could have talked all night, but we could tell the translator's job was tiring, and we had many kilometers to drive the next day.
My husband and I went to a hamam and had a Turkish bath in a local place, not seen by many tourists. I had a good time; I was washed by a woman about 60 who was wearing nothing but a red lace thong. I was the last customer of the night and while I was supposed to be resting, the 5 employees got into a very heated argument so bad that I thought that there was going to be blood. Who could rest through that?
My husband's hamam story was funny. He was sent into the steam room and when he opened the door to enter, there were 3 other men inside, two Turks and a European. They were all naked, lying on their backs with their feet pointing toward the entrance door. Think of how that looks. My husband was laughing and cringing at the same time when he told me that, so I asked him how the American exchange rate looked against the Euro and Lira.
The man who bathed my husband was the size of a refrigerator, and he cracked my husband's back so loud that everyone laughed. He massaged my husband so hard that a week later, he still hurts.
While we were waiting for the bus to take us to the airport at 600am, I had to urinate, and, of course, there are no bathrooms near the bus station. Someone had left a large BM next to the covered seating. So I walked behind the building to the grassy area and proceeded. While I was hovering, a Turkish man saw me and walked fast toward me. Was he going to rob me in the dark or just knock me down? There are few people walking around at 530am for a good reasons, so I started yelling at him, asking if he was enjoying the show, and calling him names. He changed course. Then when I was finished, I saw him talking to two policemen and pointing to me and they all three looked at me. I walked back to the bus station area where my husband and wheelchair were, counting the hours until the airplane lifted off from this awful place.
During this trip we saw beautiful countryside, ate delicious lamb always at local restaurants and not tourist places, and Turks know how to make the best cheeses. I am glad I had the experience. for better or worse. I never expected to be treated so poorly because Turkey is 'a comparatively progressive country.'
Overall, I would say that I would not visit Turkey again. I don't know the reasons why Turkish men treated me with such contempt, but I am warning others so that you may not have the same experience.
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We are now back from our tenth anniversary trip to Turkey.