The first interview I did with Angie has been published by one of the daily newspapers here in Turkey. It’s a shortened version, but very excitingly includes a photo. Have a look at the Sunday Today’s Zaman website to check it out.
I was warned before I contacted Linda that she might be hard to get hold of, that she was one of those people who “does stuff.” I found out later that “stuff” includes two walking groups, Turkish classes, an art club, Stitch ‘n’ Bitch (all the explanation you need is in the name,) that she volunteers for the Calis Children’s Charity and is on the committee organising Fethiye’s first ever Race For Life. In actual fact she wasn’t hard to get hold of. I think perhaps busy people are more efficient, she agreed to be interviewed and within three days I was back in Eyna, drinking coffee and enjoying hearing her tell me about her life in Turkey.
Discovering Turkey: not quite as foreign as expected.
“I first came to Turkey in 1994, I didn’t know anything about it – I thought I was coming to a desert, I went to the doctor and had all my injections done! While I was here I went to Kaya Koy and as soon as I got there I just knew this was somewhere I’d want to stay. I came back for holidays once or twice a year with my children and we always stayed at the same place in Kaya. In 2011 I moved over with my partner John and we got married here last April. We decided to live in Calis – there were just so many things we wanted to be involved in and the cost of petrol going back and forth from Kaya would’ve been a fortune.
“In England I was a manager for a company providing domiciliary care for people with learning disabilities. It was a lovely job, it was a non-profit organisation so it was never about making money just about the quality of the care. Then Social Service’s budgets started getting cut and cut and I didn’t want to be in charge of something that just wasn’t a good service any more. So I started working all the hours I could, overpaying my mortgage where I could, until we could afford to come here.”
A different way of life.
“It’s so beautiful here, and the people are so lovely. I really love how close families are, how there’s still respect for your elders. They still have a lot of values here that are missing in England.
“Things aren’t the same once you’re here though, just little things but we have ways of doing stuff in England that aren’t the same here – we’re very overly polite, we stand in queues. And the driving I just hate it, someone drove into me last week. I don’t enjoy driving, but I don’t like being a passenger either. It’s just a cultural thing – we’re very inclined to wait whether it’s in a supermarket or a car but people here aren’t – it’s not personal they do it to everyone.
“At the same time people are so generous. When we do the school visits with the 3C’s, the people really have nothing, but they won’t let us leave empty handed. And my neighbour, when I had a cough recently she went all round to load of different pharmacies and kept bringing me different potions to try. It just wouldn’t happen back home.”
I’ve been reading Sian’s blog for the last few months. It’s a lifestyle blog. More specifically a ‘life in Turkey’ blog which of course I can identify with. However what sets it apart is its outrageous positivity. Not in an alienating no-normal-person-can-possibly-be-this-happy way, but in a seize-life-with-both-hands-and-run-with-it way. Sian is a self confessed optimist, a person who doesn’t see the point in waiting for life to happen but actively thinks “sod it, let’s go for it.”
I am not quite sure what to expect when I go to interview her. I’ve never actually seen her in person, though candid snap shots pepper her blog, and more than once her collection of tattoos, and her distaste for wearing dresses, is mentioned. I know she made the somewhat unusual choice to move to Turkey way before retirement age, and not in the company of a significant other – she’d been happily single for fifteen years at that point – but with her two rather elderly cats. I know that since arriving she has fallen in love with a man (and his motorbike) and that she is an active volunteer for The Calis Children’s Charity, aka the 3 C’s. I have no idea how all these rather disparate puzzle pieces fit together, but I am looking forward to finding out.
We meet in the beach-front Eyna Cafe, the home of the 3C’s charity shop, the 6TL for coffee and cake deal, and an immense rubber tree that provides the cooling type of shade a plastic awning-extension just can’t. I have been half expecting her to be loud, maybe a little sweary, to have the kind of hair that says ‘recently I was a completely different colour’ or ‘a few more days and I’ll turn into dreadlocks.’ She is none of these things. In fact my initial reaction is surprise at just how reserved she is.
She tells me how she discovered Turkey, the seven visits in three years to a friend who’d recently made the move and how she began to research the possibility of coming herself.
“Things just fell into place. I managed to sell my flat in Kent. I got a part time online job with a UK firm. Then most important of all the quarantine rules were relaxed and I could bring my elderly cats without them having to spend six months in limbo. I just didn’t have any excuse not to come.”
Finding the Minu Hotel
It’s hot. Unsurprisingly. It is midday, mid-July, and this is Fethiye – a seaside, sun-baked town on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. I am trying to find the Minu Hotel to interview its owner, Angie. My stomach is jumping – butterflies beating against the sides, continuous shocks of adrenaline. My first interview and I have never been to the hotel before, have only my scribbled google-map instructions to navigate by. Fethiye isn’t large, but the hotel is in the old town – streets coil around each other, there aren’t specific landmarks. People will happily give you directions, and my Turkish is good enough to understand them, but there is a less than fifty percent chance the person will actually know the place you are trying to get to. Which won’t stop them “helping.”
To my immense relief I find it easily. The hotel is exactly where google said it was. There is even a street sign. I locate the entrance, half hidden between a cafe and a tourist-tat trap, and follow the signs up the marble stairs. The reception is white and airy. I can hear the hum of activity from the old town but the room seems to float above it – cool, clean, modern but not stark. Angie is waiting for me.
I’ve known her for a year or two now. Known in the way that you do when your kids are at the same Turkish school and you are both expat mothers in the playground. We’ve chatted a time or two, compared notes while we watched our kids play at a Burger King birthday party, but we are both busy people. We haven’t ever socialised outside of our kids’ schedules. I am glad to have the opportunity now: Angie is one of those rare people who has managed to build up a successful business; who has integrated into the community without compromising herself or her values – I am immensely curious as to how she has done it.
She hands me an iced water and we sit at one of the scrubbed pine tables in the hotel’s lobby. The interview begins before I’ve uncapped my pen, before I’ve even asked a question. I quickly realise that Angie is one of those people who doesn’t just know how to talk, but how to communicate. She knows why we are here, what the Women in Turkey Project is about, and she is ready to tell me her story.
An expat with Turkish roots.
I knew she was half Turkish, but what I didn’t know was that her mother left Turkey when she was sixteen, married Angie’s British father when she was eighteen, and that Angie was born and raised in England.
“My mum isn’t really very Turkish – she never taught me Turkish” she says. “It might have been different if we’d lived in one of the big cities with a Turkish community, but we didn’t we lived in the South. I never fitted in.”
I’m surprised – Angie seems like one of those people who could fit in anywhere. After ten years in Turkey feeling the daily foreignness of being six feet tall, pale, and blonde, I have forgotten my own childhood. Where actually most people had the same colouring as me, even if they weren’t quite so tall. I have forgotten that the ‘Mediterranean look’ was not so common in the UK of twenty years ago.
“I was too dark.” She continues. “Back then I had to work really hard to make myself fit in, to be popular.”