Category Archives: Moving abroad

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 …

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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?

The Tale of My Pants and “The Hounds From Hell” …

Fidget and Fifi - The

Fidget and Fifi – The “hounds from hell”

Dogs were never part of the master plan. For a start, when we arrived in Turkey just over a year ago, two cats travelled with us and they had made their utter disdain for all things canine abundantly clear.

However, that was before our landlord unexpectedly ambushed our daughter with a puppy while Bec and I were out shopping one day, (https://theparsleysabroad.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/puppy-love) and before another bundle of blonde fur decided to camp on our doorstep until we lost the will to stop her moving in last Christmas Eve.

We’ve done our best with them since then. They’ve had all their shots, they’ve made their dining requirements clear (only chicken with dog biscuits and gravy will do), they get walked every day and they have bossed the cats out of their favourite sleeping spots which they now inhabit in typical untidy heaps. To be honest, we thought we were doing okay …

Then in April I met the owner of the summer season accommodation and restaurant on the northern boundary of our garden while I was walking them one day.

“Are these your dogs?” he asked with the kind of smile which usually precedes some complimentary comment about how cute they are.

“Yes,” I replied as they gambolled about his legs trying to chew his shoelaces. “Sorry; they’re still just puppies really.”

“Yes, we love your dogs – but you will have to stop them barking,” he said, suddenly fixing me with a deadpan stare.

“I’m sorry – they do get a bit excited when they meet someone new….”

“No. I mean you must stop them barking all the time. I have a business next door to your house and they disturb my guests all the time. I pay my taxes. We are going to have to agree what you do about them.”

To be frank, the sudden accusation that I was the owner of two hounds from hell came so much out of the blue I wasn’t sure what to say next.

“Um … They are dogs and they are going to bark sometimes, like all the other dogs in the village,” I heard myself saying.

“No. Your dogs make all the other dogs in the village bark. Your dogs bark all the time so you have to make them stop. Maybe you come to my house for coffee and we can talk about it more…”

I’ll admit that at that point there had been two or three nights over the past six months when I’d had to get out of bed in the early hours to tap noses and wag a stern finger in front of furry faces after half an hour of yapping at shadows, but suggesting our two were solely responsible for the nightly cacophony across the whole village seemed a bit rich, especially coming from someone only resident in the area for the summer months. Nevertheless, sensing I wasn’t going to win this particular argument, I said something non-committal, made my excuses and decided to consult our neighbour – and one of the village bigwigs – Tommy later. I didn’t need to wait though. Within an hour of me returning home and discussing our dilemma with Bec, the phone rang.

“Stiv … It’s Tommy.”

“Hi Tommy. I was going to call you actually….

“Was it about your dogs?”

“Erm …. Yes. How did you know that?”

“The man near you. He called me. He says your dogs bark all the time. You will have to make them stop or he will call the Jandarma (the local police). If you still don’t stop them, he will throw poison over the fence. You don’t need this so you must stop dogs barking …”

“And how do you suggest I do that? It takes time to train dogs to stop barking. You can’t just switch them off… I’ll do what I can now I know it’s a problem but ours are no worse than half a dozen other dogs up the lane. They all bark as well. And what about the cockerels, the peacocks, the sheep, the cows? This is a village. There’s always a noise somewhere.

“While you have dogs, you will always have trouble,” added Tommy ominously.  “It’s up to you but you have to stop them barking or people in the village can make trouble for you.”

He was proved right – at least to an extent. The same complainant has since left a terse note on our gate after we had tea with friends reasoning, as it wasn’t late, the dogs would be fine on our balcony for an hour or so.  We have also had a visit from the village head man – sent by the same neighbour – who instructed us to stop our dogs barking “all the time”, even though we’ve since had considerable success with reward-based training which has limited outbreaks of barking to no more than a handful, usually provoked by lost tourists riding up to our gates on noisy quad bikes. On another occasion, I found the dogs being deliberately provoked into a frenzy before I could reach them by an old man from another neighbouring property poking a stick though the gate and waggling it about in front of them.

With this in the background and our status as “guests” in Turkey apparently at stake, we have been forced to resort to English habits and have kept the dogs inside at night almost since the summer season began.

I was therefore horrified the other night when, after Bec and I had gone to bed, our daughter returned home from a meal out with the two teenage holidaymakers she has befriended and accidentally released the dogs into the garden at midnight.

Such had been our recent success with training them, any late-night barking has been reduced to a flurry of yaps before the dogs have remembered themselves and resorted to merely wagging tails and excited sniffing of hands and shoes. However, this time, something clearly alarmed them as I heard them run full pelt into the darkness of the orchard, barking hysterically as though our lives were in dire peril.

Without thinking, I was out of bed, down the stairs and in the garden. At that point, my only concern was warnings of poison, the visit from the head man, and possible “trouble” from villagers who, for all I knew, could soon be at our gates with pitchforks and burning torches demanding our immediate expulsion from Kayaköy.

It was only when I hurtled onto the porch and down the short flight of steps into the garden that I wished I’d also considered some additional clothing. Dressed in nothing more than what I can only describe as saggy, unflattering but comfortable pyjama shorts, I was confronted by two teenage girls and their parents, hopping from one foot to another as two excited dogs barked around their ankles.

Presented with four complete strangers turning up at their house in the middle of the night, the dogs were giving it the works, backing off to circle them and then darting in with upturned faces to bark shrilly and excitedly at any sudden movement.

With my distinct lack of decency in mind, I tried to persuade the family to walk briskly towards the house, bringing the dogs into range where I hoped our daughter would be able to intervene and bring them in – but to no avail. It quickly became evident the only way to quell the noise quickly would be to stride masterfully up the drive and assert some authority.

It worked on the dogs. One recognised the tone of my voice and was back inside like a shot. The other retreated into the vegetable garden and rolled over on her back, showing her tummy as an apology and awaiting collection. It only took a few seconds to make the detour from the drive, pick her up in my arms with some stern admonishments and then carry her back to the house.

However, those few seconds were probably more than enough for the bemused family. I left Bec to call an apology and a farewell from the house as I strode back in, contrite dog under one arm, and unflattering bottom cleavage peeping out of the top of my shorts.

To date, I have no idea if our intolerant neighbour was in to hear the barking or if he intends to make another complaint. All I can do is hope karma or fate takes into account the excruciating embarrassment and decides that’s punishment enough…

SP

A Sign Of Embarrassment

Sign

A red-and-white sign at the top of our lane reads “Çıkmaz Sokak” and, as we knew “sokak” translates from Turkish as “street”, it was a natural assumption that adding our house number would give us the first line of our new address.

The rest was a little less obvious. With no postal deliveries made to individual homes in Kayaköy, we sort of got the impression you could more or less make up your own and if we’d gone with “The Lane Behind Cin Bal Restaurant, Follow It Until You Fall Off The End”, nobody would’ve raised an eyebrow. It seemed the only important bits were the name of the village and the district number; as long as they were included, our post would find its way to the local shop for collection.

The first indication that things are not quite as simple as that came when we were going through the residency procedure.  Our ever-helpful neighbour Tommy had volunteered to take our application forms to the village head man for the necessary sign of approval – but he was soon back:

“You have not filled in forms right,” he said. “This is not your address,” he added, pointing to the line faithfully filled in 47 Çıkmaz Sokak.

“Oh but it is … There’s even a new sign saying ‘Çıkmaz Sokak’ at the end of the road,” I said.

“I know. But it is not your address…” insisted Tommy. “You have to go to belediye in Fethiye and get it changed.”

“Eh? If it’s wrong – which I don’t think it is, by the way – can’t I just fill in a new form and start again?”

“No,” said Tommy gloomily. “Head man has seen it now so we must start with getting new address…”

We won’t bother with the details of what happened next. Let’s just say, after two days of form-filling, traipsing from one official building to another and smiling hopefully at stern-faced officials, the whole tortuous residency procedure was complete and the seals were put on our (ultimately successful) applications to live in Turkey. (If you’d like a bit more on that particular episode you could always read an earlier blog, The Day We Ran Headlong Into The Language Barrier).

However, the issue over the wrong address still baffled us – at least until our latest Turkish lesson at the weekend.

We’re on to verbs and teacher Bülent was explaining the verb “çıkmak”, which means “to exit” or “to leave”.

“Ah… So that means our road is the one which leaves the village,” I said somewhat triumphantly.

“No. Not really,” said Bülent. “‘Çıkmaz’ is not the same as `çıkmak’. I know it looks similar but ‘çıkmaz sokak’ means what you call a ‘dead end’ in English. Or maybe ‘no through road’.”

Yep. That’s right. For six months, I’ve been happily telling people we live at “No 47 No Entry”. Suddenly, all those odd or slightly pitying looks made a bit more sense. Tommy and the head man weren’t being obstructive either. By not really explaining why I had to change my application form, they were just trying to protect me from some future embarrassment.

I would like to end by recording my thanks to both – and by continuing to resist a powerful urge to crawl under something and hide.

Anyone for a Turkey dinner …?

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to relinquish your chair, dear boy,” said the gentleman in the fedora sitting opposite in a rich English accent which could have been cultivated in the halls of Eton.

“You see, there is absolutely no way on earth I could entertain the idea of eating an entire meal with my back to the door.”

“Gunfighter?” I asked with a smile.

“No, dear boy. Just something I learned in Morocco,” he replied without a hint of mirth.

As we duly swapped seats, I was thinking this was hardly a conventional introduction to the village’s ex-pat community  – albeit an intriguing one.

But then what had I been expecting? If I’m honest, I’m not sure…

We’d seen groups of Brits gathered in bars and restaurants of course, and we’d even been told by Turkish friends that if we wanted to make their acquaintance, then they always seemed to meet in the same places and at the same time every week.

From a distance, others we’d seen in bars and restaurants up and down the harbour in Fethiye during the summer looked to be close-knit groups; mostly retired, mostly deeply tanned by years in the Mediterranean sun and, I’m afraid to say, emanating that slightly superior attitude that as a race the British tend to use, particularly towards people in the service industry.

So when it became evident that most of Kayaköy’s ex-pat community would be attending the same (and only) restaurant in the village laying on a traditional turkey dinner on Christmas Day, I’ll admit to being a little apprehensive.

But despite the slightly unorthodox introduction, I needn’t have worried. Aside from his slightly Coward-esque demeanour, I found my closest fellow dinner guest entertaining, charming and a fascinating raconteur. Another retired couple sharing the same corner of the tiny “lokanta” also proved to be kind, patient with our lack of experience “in-country” and generous to a fault.

Indeed, in such an intimate setting, it was easy to forget the temperature was mid-20C outside, that tinsel and Christmas trees had been scant to say the least and that not a single TV ad so far had tried to persuade me to buy a three-piece suite.

We pulled crackers, read out dreadful jokes, ate far too much and, after a thoroughly enjoyable few hours, waddled out the door after bidding our hosts (both Muslim and Christian) a merry Christmas.

As we left, I glanced across to the tea house next door – a bastion redolent of Turkish tradition, card games, backgammon and cigarettes – which hardly seemed to register our paper party hats and slightly raucous farewells.

Sensing that indifference, it would’ve been easy to suddenly feel a long way from home; for family and friends in the UK to seem a long way away – and I can’t deny we have missed them.

But, instead, that sudden realisation of juxtaposition, the sudden contrast, underlined many of the things which inspired us to try life in a different country in the first place.

Christmas is about family and friends, about reconnecting. But it’s also about giving thanks for what we have – and, at that moment, I was grateful all over again for that sense of adventure which brought us here six months ago.

Christmas dinner

The rest of the Parsleys tucking into a traditional turkey dinner. Merry Christmas!

SP

It’s Not Unusual – But I Blame Tom Jones

IMG_1695

The “ghost village” above Kayakoy

Perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the valley, Kayaköy’s “ghost village” attracts visitors from all over the world.

The population exchange in the early 1920s saw the original Greek settlers repatriated to their homeland, with the empty homes they left behind offered to Turks sent home in turn from Greece.

However, deterred by rumours of poisoned wells – and as they were farmers more used to level plains anyway – few moved in; gradually, over time, the old town was left to decay until an earthquake devastated the area in the 1950s.

Timber was in short supply so the local authorities allowed indigenous Turks to take what they could from the empty buildings. Today, just the walls still stand as a testament to a turbulent era described beautifully in the book Birds Without Wings.

The story has helped to ensure that, every summer, thousands of visitors head for the mountains above Fethiye to see the ruins for themselves.

And with tourism booming in Turkey, it’s not surprising that there are now at least two dozen bars and restaurants dotted along Kayaköy’s winding lanes, catering for both tourists who stay in local accommodation and the day-trippers who arrive on quad-bike safaris, on coaches or even on horseback.

Most establishments offer “gözleme” – traditional Turkish pancakes – and, of course the famous “kahvaltı”, a generous breakfast of salad, cheese, olives, eggs and spicy Turkish sausage, nuts, dried fruit and honey, often finished off with melon and sweetened tea.

After a few months here we already have our own favourite haunts – just as we did back in the UK – and a couple of nights ago we were enjoying a drink with friends in a restaurant where a group of ladies in their 50s had stayed for a week of yoga classes. The 12-strong group was saying its farewells before heading home to the UK and it had been a restrained and refined affair.

But then someone swapped the gentle background piano music for a spot of Tom Jones.

Perhaps there had been some over-indulgence when it came to pre-dinner cocktails or the sauvignon blanc, or maybe it was simply the balmy Mediterranean evening – but it wasn’t long before there was dancing and, by the time Tony Christie took over with Amarillo, even the waiters were being encouraged to throw a few shapes.

To cut a long story short – and to protect the innocent – an hour later we’d all gone through a bit of traditional Turkish dancing, Abba, Adele, some Elvis and the inevitable rendition of Pharrell Williams’s Happy – and there was little sign of anyone wanting to go to bed.

The sight of the normally super-efficient maitre-d’ gyrating on the bar and whirling his tie around his head, a normally-reserved and shy member of the waiting staff stripping off his shirt for a particularly energetic Turkish dance and the host’s rendition of Zorba the Greek (a couple of times) are going to be with me for a while.

I have no clear recollection of how it happened but I found myself pouring drinks behind the bar so a few more staff could do a bit of dancing and then being left to blearily jab my finger at the sound system to keep the music playing.

By all accounts, the next day, all was back to normal; everyone was at work and apparently none the worse for wear.

I wish I could say the same but, for me, although one night of spontaneous excess was great fun, it also felt like something of a watershed in our own relocation. We were part of an evening which, for one reason or another, we’ll all remember.

That means, for the first time, we have an experience in common with members of the Kayaköy community – even it is a little embarrassment that, just for a couple of hours, we all forgot we’re not 20 any more

SP

The Day We Ran Headlong Into The Language Barrier…

Before we came to Turkey we were determined to make an effort to learn the language. We reasoned that if we wanted to integrate into village life, then being able to communicate without resorting to the usual pantomime of sign language would be important.

We made friends with the owner of a Turkish restaurant in Yorkshire and tried to visit once a week to practice the pronunciation of a few rudimentary phrases we thought might stand us in good stead. We bought phrase books and – although one evening with friends descended into an inevitable and puerile quest for rude words – made enough progress to be able to count to 20, say “hello”, “yes”, “no”, “pleased to meet you”, and even “Can I have the bill please?”

The thing is, once we arrived in Turkey, every attempt to use the language seemed to be greeted with accented but perfectly understandable English. Communication, it seemed, wasn’t going to be the problem we thought it might be …

But that was before we encountered officialdom.

If you’re a foreign national and you want to live in Turkey, then you need a residency permit – and that’s when you’re likely to come across bureaucracy for the first time.

I’m sure Turkey is no worse than anywhere else. Every nation has to have its established procedures and each one must seem equally convoluted to an immigrant. But here, anything official is definitely conducted in Turkish and, having been lulled into a false sense of linguistic security, suddenly, all our shortcomings were exposed.

Despite help from our Turkish friends who patiently tried to explain what was happening (thankyouthankyouthankyou), I’ll admit I lost count of how many offices we visited – or even why. All I can remember is sitting in front of a procession of desks while council officials, the village headman, tax officers and even policemen argued – sometimes vehemently – with our interpreter about details on the multitude of forms we’d filled in.

Perhaps the worst moment was when, during one encounter with the “belediye” – the equivalent of the district or county council – I noticed grins among the Turkish families waiting their turn at the desk as, without looking up, the official dealing with our case started waving our forms above his head, muttering something aloud which I took to be some sort of jest.

I thought smiling might at least help to portray my forbearance of the procedure, or at least that I was trying my best to co-operate – but the gimlet eye and sudden stiffness in the bearing of the officer suggested otherwise.

I still have no idea what our offence had been. Maybe there was a detail missing or a box not ticked … but, for an awkward ten seconds, it seemed our applications were in jeopardy. An interjection from Ahmed, our driver and interpreter, seemed to diffuse whatever faux pax we’d committed and minutes later the official’s stubby finger was tapping a final form I had to sign – but it felt like a close-run thing. The disdainful and pained look the official threw me as we left said it all.

After that, even the appointment at the harbour-front offices of the Fethiye passport police seemed more amicable. There were still no smiles, but at least the silence and the regular thump of an official stamp on a piece of paper felt reassuring. All we can do now is wait and hope our applications are successful.

If you found this blog and thought it was going to be an idiot’s guide to residency applications in Turkey, I can only apologise. I’m afraid I’m still none the wiser about the proper procedure myself.

However, if you are about to embark on a residency application, I’d thoroughly recommend having someone who speaks fluent Turkish alongside you at all stages of the process.

As for us, Turkish lessons have now begun in earnest with two-hour sessions booked for every Saturday. So far, we’re not much further forward than the Janet and John stuff – but at least we’ve made a start…

SP