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The Turkey Trot

Turkey is in Europe? You could have fooled me. Europeans enjoy a fairly progressive and free spirited lifestyle. They aren't hung up on modesty or keeping sex and violence off the television. And in most European countries, getting knocked up before marriage is no big deal. In fact, marriage isn't even necessary. The most extreme cases of that can be found in Holland, Denmark and Sweden.

Being in Turkey is probably the most uneasy I've felt on my trip so far. And to recap, I sleep on stranger's couches and hitchhike. However; my uneasiness doesn't come from a place of risk or fear, it's rooted in the inability to relate to the culture. From the minute I got off the plane, I felt like I was in a different world. I asked several airport officials if I needed a visa before getting in line. They all said no. After waiting in the passport line for close to an hour, I get to the front and guess who needed a visa? The people I asked at the airport simply didn't know if I needed one or not. But the dynamic between men and women in Turkey is so fragile and outdated that rather than admitting they didn't know, they just picked an answer and "no" appeared confident, knowledgable and conveyed being in charge. As if their word somehow changed the immigration laws. This set the tone for the rest of my time in Turkey. The sheer arrogance of the men, the weakness in the women and the religion that seems to keep everyone bound to their unbalanced lifestyle. 

My first "stupid American" moment came in the bathroom at the airport. (After the visa fiasco.) There were five stalls but two were occupied, so I went into the first available. It was a hole in the ground. No seat. Nothing. Just a hole. I promptly turned around, walked out and went into the next one, same thing. "Oh shit." At this point I'm wondering how in going to ever pee in this country. I try stall number three. Same hole. "Fuck." I give myself a little pep talk and hover like I've never hovered before. All while being careful not to touch anything and holding my purse and laptop bag because of course there are no hooks to hang your stuff. If they can't be bothered with a seat, a hook is just out of the question.  

I exit the stall just in time to see a woman come out of the 4th stall. It was a normal toilet. I saw the look of horror on the other woman's face when she saw inside the stall with the hole in the floor from whence I came. Welcome to Turkey. Land of chauvinistic men and regrettable bathroom choices. 

My first stop was Kusadasi; a summer tourist destination consisting of bars and beach clubs. There were at least two large cruise ships in port on any given day, with most of the tourists coming from the UK. Turkey is primarily Muslim and I happened to be there during Ramadan. That's where people fast all day until sundown and then go to a Mosque to pray. A loud bang signifies the end of the fasting each day, followed by prayer chants over the city's loud speakers for the call to prayer. The first time I experienced this, I was sitting at a bar, drinking a glass of wine and I flinched, thinking a bomb had gone off. The waiter came over and explained what was happening. On cue, all the bars and restaurants turned off their own music so as not to interrupt the call to prayer. He pointed to a modest white building in a park about 100 meters away and said that was the Mosque. In a few minutes time, dozens of observant Muslim men and women who don't drink and were fasting all day were making their way to the Mosque. Walking right past me as I sat at a bar in my low cut dress, drinking wine. In this city built on summer fun and drinking, the people who live there spend their nights praying in a Mosque surrounded by drunk tourists who likely think all Muslims are suicide bombers. 

Going to Turkey alone was a big mistake. My normal system of making friends with guys is seriously flawed here. As I mentioned before, most of the men in  Turkey are incredibly arrogant, possessive and chauvinistic. Which I blame primarily on the way the religion represses the women while elevating the men. Being friendly or polite is not the way to go while traveling alone in this country. Smiling at someone gives them an open invitation to relentlessly harass you. I made the mistake of dancing with a couple different people at a nightclub and as far as the men here are concerned, that's an invitation for them to go to bed with you. At the end of the night I had to leave through a side door because there was almost a fist fight over who I'd be leaving with. And mind you, I was not consulted about any of this. They were battling it out amongst themselves and I was to go to the winner. I had no say as far as they were concerned.And this seemed completely normal to them.

By the end of my eight days in Kusadasi I was running out of places I could go where I didn't have a problem with someone who worked there or a local regular. It got to the point where the waiters would scream at me from across the street. Demanding to know where I ate that day and why I didn't come to their restaurant. Telling me what time they had a break of got off work and insisting I be there at that time. When I would try to walk away, some would even grab my arm and physically hold me there until they were done talking. Normally, I'd cause a scene and probably punch someone who grabbed me like that, but in Turkey it's common. And drawing more attention to yourself is never a good plan. 

Before I get accused of being racist or intolerant or whatever the popular term is these days for having an opinion, I'll say that not everyone is the same. I was lucky enough to meet some perfectly lovely and respectful Turkish men who knew how to treat women and were embarrassed by the actions of their countrymen. But it might be worth mentioning that those "nice" guys didn't identify themselves as practicing Muslims. I'm now headed to Izmir which can be described as even more "conservative" than Kusadasi, since it's not as touristy or beachy. One of the legitimately nice Turkish guys I met text me today to say to be careful what I wear while in Izmir and if I thought Kusadasi was bad, I'm in trouble. I thanked him for the advice but I have zero plans to adjust my wardrobe based on the actions of ignorant men. Just because the women in their culture won't get their shit together and say enough is enough, I certainly won't be appeasing anyone with false modestly in 100 degree weather. 

Despite the asshole men, Turkey as a whole is pretty cool. It would be a good place to come with a mixed group of people, guys and girls. The dollar is very strong here and everything is very affordable. The food is amazing and instead of chips or nuts, they bring you fresh fruit with your alcohol. I thank that for my lack of hangovers and dehydration at the beach. But if you're bothered by smoke, don't bother. EVERYONE smokes here. Inside, outside, doesn't matter. I'll head to Istanbul next week and then probably Greece since it's so close. 
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