For ages I thought this song was ‘only little boy’, not quite a classic Peter Kay mishearing of a song but regardless it describes how I frequently felt while living in Turkey. Particularly in Ankara. In the end my perceived isolation was what really drove me to fight to get out. I did have friends but it was a bit like moving to London and having friends, then finding them scattered throughout a sprawling mass of a city that takes ages to cross and is incredibly costly. In addition, the limited number of foreigners and fleeting nature of expats, as well as the expats always having way more money than the rest of us plebs, meant they just didn’t get why some of us couldn’t nip to starbucks for their weekly catch ups.
Moving back to the UK and having Mersin as a base for when we come to Turkey, now means the lack of foreigners or fellow English speakers is not something I am too bothered about. I do notice that there are decidedly fewer here than in Ankara but then perhaps that is because I don’t feel the need to seek them out. Our Mersin base being away from classic tourist areas of the west has its advantages in that I don’t have to see the more embarrassing elements of the ‘Brits on the lash’ culture, or ‘what goes on holiday stays on holiday’ rubbish that does quite a lot of harm to those people who live in the country all year round. It also means that I have never got sucked up into the bitchy expat set that some foreigners report, or have to put up with those who decide Turkey is a great place to live only to find – shock horror – pork is not on the menu.
Of course that paints a very stereotypical picture of Brits overseas and not a particularly pretty one. I should point out that I have met some brilliant people over the years here and continue to do so. I really admire those of my friends who love it here and have set up really great lives. I also admire those who understand and respect the fact that I always felt like a square peg here and never quite grew to love the country.
Since buying the flat here I have met some foreigners though. In our first year there was a curious old lady who seemed to have a vague story of trying to avoid some dodgy German Turk that she felt may hunt her down and destroy her life. Never got to the bottom of that, although I did keep her card which described her as some kind of spiritual life coach. I avoided following that one up. Then there was the English speaking Turkish lady with a daughter who sort of befriended me at the pool, when it was convenient, but who was trying to sell her flat and never saw her again the next year.
More recently there have been a couple of black girls who seem to appear on Sundays and speak English. I haven’t yet worked out who they are connected to and because they are girls my boys go all silly and avoid them.
For the most part I try not to speak too much English. Not because I am trying to avoid drawing attention to myself – that would be utterly pointless given that I stick out like a saw thumb with my blue eyes, blonde (ish) hair, and appalling attempts at preening. Rather it is a vain attempt to encourage the boys to speak more Turkish when out and about, to try and encourage the other kids to play with them, and to stop Turks (both adult and child) from using my kids as an opportunity to use their appalling English. So for the most part, attempts to communicate with me and the boys are met with responses in Turkish and a request to speak to the boys in Turkish not English.
Today though was different. A small family, clearly listening to us, came over and asked where we were from. I couldn’t possibly respond in Turkish as the woman spoke with a thick London accent. Wow a proper yabanci. And on replying she turned to her husband and said ‘Northern, I thought so’ (midlands actually, northerners don’t like midlanders saying we’re northern but she is south of the Watford gap so all of us are to her). From that point we had a really good natter. They don’t live in Mersin either but have family in our site. What was really good about meeting her was that I discovered that many of my worries for the boys she mirrored with her son: Turks not playing with him and excluding him; other kids not speaking Turkish to him; husband having a humungous family, and so on.
Not only did we have a good old natter but the boys seemed to get on really well. Her son is an only child so feels quite lonely in Turkey. So my boys have already arranged a play date and they’re all really excited. We even managed to arrange to meet in a park this evening for more nattering and playing. Her son is a bit younger that Lai but physically much bigger – not hard given that Lai refuses to grow.
It makes such a change because often I will meet someone but the arrangements to do something together never materialise. Sadly, as they only come to visit family they aren’t staying as long as us, and may not come back next year. But for now it’s really quite nice to have someone who also sees herself as the crazy yabangee, managing kids and a husband’s extended family. Plus her whistling loudly to call the kids back from running off made me feel less weird about sticking my head out of sister-in-law’s yayla window to shout at M, who was sitting in his aunt’s yayla a bit further up the hill. Fellow fishwives.