Leaving Turkey was with a mixture of excitement to be moving on to another place, culturally and topographically, and sadness because Turkey is the country that I had spent the longest amount of time so far, learnt the greatest amount of the language, seen the most ‘sights’ and have met the most people … both those I had actually stayed with and those who just took an interest in my journey in passing.
My experiences with the majority of the people I encountered was positive and I was given more support and hospitality than I was ever expecting.
On learning the language … I was able to answer simple questions because these were mainly the same for each person …and utilise some of this vocabulary for other situations and circumstances ….!!
a) where are you from? England is nice!!
b) where are you going? your not sure? … oh yes the next town/city is nice!
c) are you with a friend? why not?
d) are you married? why not?!
e) do you have children? why not?!
f) how old are you? really!!
g) profession in England? oh, a teacher (!!) thats good!!
h) where do you sleep? you are sleeping in a tent? alone? outside campsites? aaargggg!!!!!
i) why alone … thats bad right?!
j) aren’t you afraid? …. its dangerous cycling alone, as a woman!!!
Some of these would apply to the male cyclists I have met but there was much more of a concern for my safety (as a woman) and my ability to achieve my goals and actually interest and confusion as to why I might want to do this and not be in a relationship, at home, caring for children. The expectation (and confusion) were even more pronounced when people heard my age … especially as I look much younger than I am!!
The occasional difficult issues that I encountered with men were few and far between, did have some impact on the way that I felt about travelling alone as a woman in Turkey but did not stop me from meeting men, women and families as I travelled.
I found the cultural expectation in relation to keeping my body almost fully covered quite a difficult one to come to terms with and my sense of how to do this was not always compatible with the places I was visiting. I found that in Central Turkey I needed to be more covered than anywhere else and my usual attire of skirt, leggings and cycling top was just not enough and so I reverted to wearing trousers sometimes with the skirt and a shawl over my cycle top … to mitigate any sense of body shape at all.
Its frustrating to feel the need to do this in order to manage others perceptions of me but since I was the one making the decision to cycle within that social and cultural environment it was up to me to conform to some of the social expectations and yes to discuss them when appropriate and challenge them from my personal perspective.
In addition to it’s wonderful, caring and generous people, Turkey is historically amazing and utterly beautiful in its diversity of surroundings.
Turkey …. I will return!!!!