Category Archives: Life challenges

The doctor will see you now …

I think I’ve only ever been in hospital for treatment a couple of times in my life but, the other day, I found myself inside one in Antalya.

I’ll admit I was a bit worried for 48 hours but it was my own fault really; I was being a typical bloke. I’d known there was something wrong for a while but hadn’t gone to see a doctor in case I was told something I didn’t want to hear.

Without droning on about my symptoms, I’m happy to say it turned out to be nothing serious – at least nothing that can’t be treated with a few tablets.

But the episode did highlight preconceptions I had which, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel pretty foolish about now.

So, in case there are any other idiots like me out there who think it’s better to soldier on rather than consult the health experts, I thought I’d use this blog to share my experience of the Turkish system*.

(* The following is not the result of scientific or detailed research. Other people’s experiences are also available).

Clinics and GPs’ surgeries

Clinics serving expat communities may be a little different and geared to reflect the European experience but, if you visit a more authentic Turkish surgery, don’t expect to have to make an appointment to see a doctor or deal with a Rottweiler behind a reception desk; there may not be one. You walk in, take a seat and wait your turn.

The waiting area may seem pretty full on arrival but bear in mind not all of the folk hanging around are necessarily patients. It’s not unusual for Turks to bring a few family members along so as many as five or six could troop in to see the doctor at once.

In Turkish society, doctors seem to be held in some awe and are therefore used to being shown considerable respect. As a result, their manner can sometimes seem aloof or even brusque. It can take a little getting used to if your previous doctors have always spoken gently or hedged their bets when it comes to a diagnosis.

But it’s worth knowing that, if a GP decides further tests are required, you won’t have to wait weeks or months to see a consultant. You will probably be sent to the hospital or to see a specialist immediately. If you can drive, great; if not, you could find yourself being bundled into a taxi.

On arrival at the hospital

Unless it’s an emergency admission, the first port of call for expats is not the main reception desk but usually the Tourism Office or International Desk.

All you need to do is introduce yourself and explain why you’re there. Simple.

The interpreter will take your ID or residency permit, check if you have relevant insurance and, if it’s valid, guide you to the doctor or consultant you need to see.

Sometimes, you will have to wait a little while; on other occasions you may find yourself sitting across the desk from a consultant within minutes of arrival.

Not having to hang around can be a revelation but being swept along can also be a bit bewildering. Blood tests, ultrasound scans, X-rays or ECGs can all happen on the same morning – remarkable if you’re used to waiting months for an appointment. However, it’s probably not a bad idea to keep a note of who you’ve seen and why.

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An unexpected visit to the OFM Hospital in Antalya was nevertheless comfortable and, ultimately, nothing to worry about.

The consultation

If, like mine, your Turkish isn’t yet good enough to follow a technical consultation, your interpreter will stay with you to help you overcome the language barrier. It’s … novel, having an extra body in the room discussing your health but it’s better than important details being lost in translation.

You may also find Turks are not always shy when it comes to things like privacy or personal modesty – at least not when the patient is male. For example, if you’re asked to partially undress for an examination, you could be moved to another room or even another department without being given the chance to cover up.

Staff, orderlies or even the cleaners may come and go mid-procedure without batting an eyelid and Turkish patients don’t seem to mind; indeed, from what I’ve seen, a selfie with a relative looking wan and hooked up to a saline drip on a hospital bed is something of a staple on many a Turkish Facebook feed.

Also, plonking you semi-clad in a wheelchair and pushing you to the next test is probably quicker than waiting for you to get dressed and then undressed again, which helps speed the process along for those still waiting in line.

However, what you can expect is sincere and spoken sympathy from all who pass. Nursing staff, a hospital porter, members of the hospital administration team and even other patients wished me all the best on one short journey between consulting rooms.

Results

Feedback on your tests is impressively rapid. Analysis of blood samples or X-rays taken in hospital can be back within hours. It’s the same with ECGs while it’s likely the doctor will even give a live commentary on what they can see during ultrasound scans.

If you’re the sort of person who likes the facts served straight, it’s refreshing to be given a diagnosis so speedily. It’s not so great if you prefer a sugar-coating though.

Perhaps it’s because Turkish society is generally less litigious; perhaps it’s because illnesses are generally embraced rather than being seen as a badge of weakness. But, whether you’re in hospital or among Turkish friends, don’t expect any discussion about your health to be dressed up or couched in cautious terms.

If you see a consultant, it’s likely you will be informed succinctly of any condition you may have and what you should do as a result.

The chemist

Personally, I find the Turkish fascination for the “eczane” perfectly understandable. There always seem to be hundreds of them around each and every hospital but I haven’t yet met one who isn’t unfailingly patient or pleasant.

Also, the array of drugs available over the counter is more extensive than you may be used to elsewhere in Europe; there’s no “nanny state” intervention if you want to buy more than one packet of Panadol, for example.

However, some favourite remedies offered in other parts of Europe may be absent for reasons I’m afraid I’m unable to explain. As a result, a bottle of Night Nurse is usually among the “contraband” in our suitcases on a return from the UK (purchased only after a lecture from the chemist on using it as a cold remedy and not a sleeping draught, of course).

So, in conclusion, if anyone’s new to Turkey and finds they’re not feeling great, I’d urge them not to worry too much about the complexities of seeing a doctor. Although its does rely on personal insurance, I’ve found the Turkish health system is pretty simple to use, generally well-equipped and very responsive.

Of course, I hope I don’t have to use it again for a while but, if I do, it won’t be with any trepidation.

* Sincere thanks to all health professionals who saw me in Fethiye as well as staff at the OMF Hospital in Antalya. Also to Mrs Parsley for resisting the urge to kill me anyway for being reckless with my health and to family and friends who rallied round for a couple of days to keep the house and business ticking over. You all know who you are …

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‘Ow much?!

When we moved to Turkey it didn’t take us long to work out that there are times when the local economy operates on a three-price structure.

There’s the price the tourists pay; there’s the price for expats – although, personally, I don’t like the word – and then there’s the price paid by the Turks.

We didn’t mind that much to begin with and, to be honest, when we found ourselves paying less for goods and meals out in the village shops and bars after a while, it felt like we’d made some progress.

But sometimes, when we venture away from our usual haunts, we find we’re back to square one. A little bit of the local language helps but, when Turkish friends ask how much we paid for this or that (no one’s shy about asking that in Turkey, by the way) they’ll wince and pronounce we handed over far too much.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a meal out or a big purchase like a car – the hiss of breath or a shake of the head has frequently condemned us as mere babes in the art of negotiation.

Mind you, we’ve learned the reason for their disappointment isn’t always the damage done to our finances. Sometimes, the hissers of breath and suckers of teeth are rueing a missed opportunity to take a cut themselves in return for the referral.

We’ve learned to haggle with the best on our own account when it’s appropriate. Even our teenage daughter is now proficient at bartering.

Nevertheless, it would perhaps be a little conceited not to concede that we’re sometimes still paying a higher price than the locals, although it’s never seemed a big deal in the scheme of things – at least not enough to make a song and dance about it.

Like many others, we’ve found our happy places, our trusted trades folk and taxi driver, and we tend to push most of our business their way.

Having said all that, when you live abroad, there will still be times when you suspect you’ve been well and truly had – and that can rankle enough that you’re still suppressing indignation weeks later.

And with the economy being what it is in Turkey at the moment, the risk of it happening has increased significantly. Inflation is currently running at over 20% and even the basics like bread and groceries are costing quite a bit more. As a result, some Turks are covering their losses by caning foreigners’ wallets.

Their arguments for it can be hard to swallow. We’ve been told some are doing it as they believe yabancı (foreigners) ought to feel privileged to stay in Turkey and should therefore pay an inflated price for it. Others presume that, if you come from overseas, you must have loads of money stashed away so you can afford to pay much more anyway.

Of course, those who see the expat community as convenient cash cows are not going to say so openly. They will present your bill with a smile and hope you will pay without a word – and, of course, many do.

I know we have and it’s not because we don’t realise we’ve just been stung. Often it’s simply because we Brits are just so …. well, British … and don’t like to make a fuss.

We’ll fume afterwards of course; we may even vent our spleen on Facebook or vow never to go back. But we can still be bounced into paying well over the odds because we’re just not that keen on confrontation.

I know the Turkish love of banter or even bare-faced cheek has sometimes loosened a little extra from my wallet but I’ll also admit to letting something slide just because I didn’t want to cause a scene.

But, using tactics recommended by friends, we’ve learned it is possible to sidestep at least some of the wide boys simply by asking for a price for whatever it is you’re buying up front. If you don’t like it, walk away. Sometimes, the asking price drops considerably before you’ve reached the door.

Similarly, some good advice we were given after living in Turkey for several months was never to buy from a business which doesn’t advertise its prices. Of course, it’s supposed to happen by law anyway but, like many things, it’s not a rule regularly enforced.

And, lastly – although I suspect quite a few would disagree – some of our Turkish friends have advised against tipping at restaurants. In their view, it’s something tourists do; if we do it too then it reinforces the argument that Brits have more money than they know what to do with, increasing the risk of being overcharged next time.

I suppose none of it is rocket science really. In fact, as a naturalised Yorkshireman, it ought to be harder to prise money from my wallet anyway.

But if I had a rewind button and could do the last five years again, I don’t mind admitting I’d be applying our friends’ top tips from day one. I suspect quite a few others would too.

It’s That Pelican Time Of Year

My mobile rang yesterday and when I looked at the caller display, my heart sank.

It was Çagri.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s a lovely guy. He’s always pleasant and he’s certainly efficient in what he does. But, because he’s an insurance broker, I know when his name appears on my phone it’s going to cost me money.

It’s not Çagri’s fault that all the policies we have are due for renewal in January; it just seems to have happened that way. It’s also not his fault that lots of other bills always need paying at the same time as well.

But, just the same, when Çagri calls – although I always try to be as bright and cheerful as he is – inside, I can’t help getting that sinking feeling and an urge to hide my wallet.

When you first arrive in a new country, it doesn’t really occur that you’ll be opening bank accounts, setting up direct debits and buying new insurance policies all at roughly the same time. It’s just stuff that needs to be done.

So neither of us really gave any thought to the idea that, once we’d made a start, annual bills would fall at around the same time every year and – bracketed by the kids’ birthdays as well as Christmas – our bank account was always going to take a hammering in January.

Turkey’s economic situation hasn’t helped this year either. With inflation running at over 20% and the pound now worth almost 7tl rather than the 3.43tl it was when we arrived, insurance premiums have gone through the roof.

The result? We’ll probably be having fewer of life’s little luxuries and shopping at the markets where, thank God, fruit and veg and many of the basic requirements of life are still delightfully cheap.

But, if you’re planning on making 2019 the year you make a fresh start somewhere sunny (and possibly as far away from Brexit as possible) take my advice and try not to buy everything at once.

Take your time, plan a little and stagger any significant purchases. If not, to borrow a phrase from Blackadder, there will come a time of year when you find yourself feeling a little like a pelican; no matter which way you look, you’re still facing an enormous bill.

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Fruit and veg from the markets … Still cheap enough to help keep us cheerful in a punishing month for the bank account.

Learning Our Place

 

here-be-dragons

Maps.

Something you don’t find many of in Turkey and, when you remember the country was invaded as recently as 100 years ago, I suppose it’s easy to understand why. When your homeland borders seven other nations – and when some of them are notoriously unstable – it probably makes sense not to make it too easy for any foreign force to find its way from A to B.

However, when you’re getting to know your patch and having to make do without names for many streets, roads or even landmarks, it does mean you pretty much have a free hand to make them up yourself.

As an example, there’s a spectacular waterfall near Kabak which the daily boats trips along the Turquoise Coast sometimes visit in the summer. After taking some pictures of visitors showering in the icy water I asked friend, neighbour and boat captain Tommy where we were…

“”The Waterfall.” he replied.

“Yes; I know that. But what’s this place called?”

“I just told you … The Waterfall,” he said, looking a little perplexed.

It seemed a little laconic for such a beautiful place which I felt deserved something more poetic so, subsequently, when I posted the images on Facebook, I called it “The Secret Waterfall”.

I have no idea if it was as a direct result or if it was just a coincidence but, soon, the tourism groups on Facebook seemed to be awash with requests for more information about the location of “The Secret Waterfall”. Boat captains were being urged to head for it and it seemed – even if I wasn’t the first to use it – the name had certainly stuck.

But not all locations we’ve come up with names for are quite so … romantic. Others now in common use around our house – largely used to describe locations on our regular dog walk routes – include Dead Sheep Gorge (because there was one); Wild Boar View (because there was one – in fact, a family of five); Biscuit Rock (as it’s where the dogs used to stop for a break and a treat) Hot Hill (because, in summer, it really is when you have to climb it) Runaround Dog (as the dog at this house invariably runs around barking when you pass by) Flagpole Farm (yep, you guessed it) and finally Pooh Corner (I’ll leave that one to your imagination).

I suppose, as a result, it’s now much easier to understand how far-flung places in America’s Wild West or the Australian Outback got their outrageous names. Admittedly, Runaround Dog doesn’t really match Boing Boing or Lick Skillet for imagination but we really only invented our location names so we could tell each other where we were when we saw an eagle, found a porcupine quill or encountered something unpleasant someone else had left behind.

But, to our slight embarrassment, we’ve noticed some of our friends have started to use them too. Albeit unwittingly, it seems we may be responsible for parts of the picturesque and historic Kaya Valley becoming known by some less-than-salubrious identities, at least among some of the English residents.

So if you ever become a nation’s leader remember this: although a lack of maps and street names may make life a little harder for an invader, it does leave your homeland exposed to a different risk. You may remain a free nation and be able to determine your own destiny – but you may also end up with a Rubbish Road (because it’s where people seem to tip stuff they don’t want), an Outraged Olive (a tree which reminded one of us of Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow) or a Pooh Corner which has nothing whatsoever to do with cute bears.

You have been warned …

Another Story Of Mice And Men

We didn’t really think that much about the scuffling from behind the sofa to start with. A rare night with decent broadband meant we’d enjoyed about an hour of Strictly and were halfway down a bottle of wine so we were quite relaxed about what we thought was Rubbish Cat’s latest mad outburst of energy. He’s usually pretty laid back, but every now and again he likes to do a wall of death around the living room, either pursuing or being pursued by some imagined feline adversary.

But, if we’d know what the noise was actually all about, it might’ve been a bit different… As Bec tidied the room prior to our retirement for the night, she lifted a bean bag.

“Er… Steve?”

“Mmmm?”

“There’s a bloody great rat over here…”

“What?!”

It turns out the scuffling was actually Rubbish Cat’s entertainment for the evening. He’d brought a rodent friend in to play. Safe to say it didn’t survive, which is probably just as well. The thought of a colony of ratty guests setting up home inside the stuffing of the sofa or in the dark recesses under the sideboard wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. Indeed, it was enough to prompt me to resolve to check the outhouses for evidence of further habitation the next day…

So, after the morning routine of dog walk and breakfast, I donned some gloves and ventured into the dusty, cobwebbed shed which houses the intricate system of switches and pumps which control our water works. It’s been home to a rat before so it seemed a good place to start (https://theparsleysabroad.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/rats-my-secrets-out/).

Opening the door, some immediate scuttling suggested my suspicions were not unfounded and, sure enough, as I switched the light on, a small, sleek body darted into a dim recess where a shelf meets a cupboard. While gingerly prising the cupboard door open, some faint squeaking suggested there was probably more than one culprit too – but I was entirely unprepared for what happened as I lifted a sack of old fertiliser off the shelf.

I can only describe it as an explosion of mice. They showered onto the floor at my feet, immediately scattering in all directions – out towards the door, behind the water pumps, along shelves and through gaps where the tiled roof meets stone wall. I opened another door and this time a full-grown rat plopped onto the floor, looked a bit startled and then made a break for a gap behind a cupboard unit. Another door, another couple of rats…

The sheer numbers involved reminded me a bit of the last installment of The Hobbit when, just as the good guys think they’re winning, it turns out a whole new army of orcs has been laying low behind a hill waiting for the command to strike.

Slightly overwhelmed I retreated to the house…

“Where’s the cat?” I asked Bec.

“Dunno; he was hanging around a few minutes ago but I’m not sure where he’s gone.”

“Bloody typical. Just when I really need him, he buggers off.”

Forced to fight this battle on my own, I cleared everything I could shift out of the shed, armed myself with the garden hose and let rip with a powerful jet of water, hoping – somewhat like Frodo and his friends in later episodes of Lord of The Rings – a good flooding would drive the enemy from my lands.

So far it seems to have worked. I’ve left the shed door and cupboards open so they don’t make such comfy, dry and safe accommodation for guests with long tails and nibbly teeth. After recounting my battle to Bec, I even earned a vague: “Well done, dear.”

As For Rubbish Cat, I’m not sure how he feels. He does now sometimes sit at the door of the shed peering in – but I’m not sure if the look on his face is part of the atavistic hunting urge or disappointment that I seem to have removed his source of entertainment…

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Rubbish Cat and that look I now get after removing his source of entertainment

A Dog’s Life

We’ve not really posted much for a while, and there’s been a good reason. Something tragic happened in our little family and it’s taken time to come to terms with it.

We didn’t want to blurt it out but neither did we want to ignore it, and writing about other events in our lives just didn’t seem important.

Now, as we enter a new chapter, it feels like the right time to explain.

Our two dogs, Fidget and Fifi, weren’t perfect and it’s fair to say they gave us some challenges. But they were also our ‘Princess Pups’ – they enriched our lives and we loved them dearly.

Fidget

Fidget

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Fifi

When we lost them back in May, it hit us all hard. Small though they were, the hole they left was huge. Without going into too much detail, high winds brought down power cables into puddles left as a result of a nearby pool being drained. On a walk one morning, the pups reached the live puddles first….

Anyone who’s lost a pet knows how traumatic it can be. It didn’t help that we were all apart at the time – Steve and Emma in the UK for Em’s exams, and me at home alone. We all agreed we couldn’t even think about another dog, that we needed time to get used to being at home without ‘the girls’ bouncing around.

Then I saw the photograph on Facebook. ‘Dave’ was a young German Shepherd who was found by holidaymakers. He was in a bad way and only had the use of three legs due to a break in the fourth that had fused as it mended. He’d been living on the streets and, although they were looking after him, they were leaving in a few days. ‘Dave’ needed a home, somewhere he could rest and recuperate.

I felt torn. Part of me didn’t feel ready to take on another dog, but I kept returning to his picture, looking at his face. “Help me,” his eyes seemed to beg.

After a couple of days I mentioned it to Steve and we agreed we would take him in, albeit on a temporary basis. Two days later, we brought him home. He was quiet and unsure of himself, but so gentle and trusting. He didn’t know how to play and was unaccustomed to treats. He didn’t like having eye drops administered – he had an infection – but he didn’t make a fuss while we did it. He’d sit patiently outside the door waiting for food. He accepted a collar and lead, but a short walk up the lane was quite enough to tire him out.

That was three months ago. And now?

The new boy in our lives - darling Dillon.

The new boy in our lives – darling Dillon.

He’s enjoying two walks a day of 5-6km each, and half the time he’s up for more. He loves shoes and regularly steals them off the racks outside the front door – he doesn’t chew them, just hides them in his secret stash. His favourite game is ‘fetch’ with a squeaky rubber ball, though more often he runs off with it to do a victory lap of the garden. He’s started to use his bad leg to walk and play, and can even jump easily – if not gracefully – into the back of our Land Rover. He loves other dogs and people; he’s kind and friendly and has the sweetest temperament, as well as a cheeky, mischievous streak. Essentially, now he’s safe and cared for, his body can use its energy to recover, rather than just survive.

We’ve renamed him, as ‘Dave’ just didn’t seem to fit. He’s now ‘Dillon’ – or Dill. We always said we’d have a dog called Dill – and anyone who remembers The Herb Garden will recall he was Parsley’s best friend.

He’s carved out his own niche in our home and our hearts, so much so that we’ve decided to adopt him for good. We did wonder if we were doing the right thing – not because we don’t love him or aren’t certain we want him, but because, in our little backwater, he’s not popular with the villagers.

His breed, the way he looks, means he’s automatically regarded with fear and suspicion. The locals are convinced he’s a vicious killing machine that will decimate their flocks and probably rip out their children’s throats. Even though he’s always on a lead and barely gives livestock a passing glance as we go by, a couple of steps towards them has people almost leaping into the bushes to escape this fearsome menace.

We do worry, when we walk him, that he’ll sniff out poisoned meat and eat it without us noticing. Somebody could even come to our house when we leave him – though we don’t, very often – and feed it to him through the gate, or even shoot him. It happens, sadly.

But we’ve decided that we’re his best option and we’re delighted he’s going to be a permanent member of the family. The girls are forever in our hearts, but there’s space for him too.

It’s good to have a dog again.

Don’t Call Me Baby

Angry baby

I was sitting on a beach chatting the other day with friends who are not resident in Turkey but who visit regularly. Naturally, the conversation sometimes turns to the challenges we face living abroad and, although I can’t remember now which particular one I was addressing, I know I was elaborating on differences between life in Turkey and the UK.

Suddenly, in a pause, a compact, dark-haired lady sitting nearby interjected abruptly, asking: “So you live here?”

“Yes,” I replied, smiling, expecting the usual questions about what it’s like to reside in permanent sunny splendour, surrounded by beautiful scenery and such lovely people.

“How long for?” she added. And, suddenly, I knew what was coming.

“Just under two years now,” I said – and waited.

“Oh, well, you’re just a baby then…” And BOOOOM!  She was off, relating stories of her own about her 18 years in country and very deliberately putting me in my place as an inexperienced incomer.

I’m not sure why it happens but I think it’s maybe because, as a resident of a country where so many head for their annual holiday in the sun, you sometimes find yourself the subject of some fascination. After all, you are living their dream and they want to know what it’s like. Start talking about it, and you can soon find yourself the centre of attention. Personally, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with but I’ve come to realise that others crave it.

I’m by no means saying all ex-pats do, but some seem to believe their years in Turkey are a badge of honour which ought to be respected and they don’t want to see a relative newbie steal their thunder.

Usually I shrug inwardly and leave them to it. In the early days then yes; sometimes the interest from holidaymakers we’ve met was flattering. But now, if anyone asks about my life here, I try to keep my answers brief. It’s partly because I don’t want to stamp all over people’s dreams with tales of the reality; they don’t want to hear about freezing cold houses in winter, flaky internet, unreliable water and electricity supplies and life with no Cheddar cheese. But I’m also aware I’m still learning every day myself and one of those lessons is that there might be someone with more time under their belt than me lurking somewhere nearby ready to pounce – and sometimes, as on this occasion, I find it irksome.

I’ll happily listen to good advice and I recognise there are plenty of people who have lived here much longer and know far more than I do about the potential pitfalls. But being patronised always puts my teeth on edge and I found being called “just a baby” particularly presumptuous.

The thing is, although I may have only lived in Turkey for a couple of years, I have lived overseas before. My work has also taken me abroad many times, even to a couple of war zones. But this particular lady seemed determined to pigeon-hole me as a romantic fresh from the UK, still wearing rose-tinted glasses with nowhere near the experience necessary even to talk to tourists.

It’s by no means the first time it’s happened. If you live in Turkey, I suspect you’ll find as we have that there is often someone itching to tell you how little you know, how naïve you have been or how much better they have managed or adjusted to life here. The trick is working out which ones are worth listening to.

Of course I don’t have all the answers and probably never will. I’ll freely admit we’ve made some howlers and learned a few things along the way. But isn’t that what life is about? I certainly feel I’ve as much right as anyone to tell a few funny stories to anyone who shows an interest.

But do me a favour. If we meet and I ever describe you as “just a baby”, slap me. Okay?