Am I safe in Turkey?

It’s a question I get askeTerrorism in Turkeyd often and right now I’m inclined to say:

I’m not safe in Turkey.

I’m not.

What I mean is, I’m not safe from other people’s fears and what they create around me.

The atrocities and struggles we see today – acts of terrorism, restricted freedoms of expression, divisions in society, hatred towards others – they’re products of fear.

People’s fear of losing power, or not gaining power.

People’s fear of the truth being told.

People’s fear of cultures they’ve never experienced, or countries they’ve never visited.

People’s fear of other people they’ve never met, or the religions they’ve never understood.

The truth is, if I ignore the fears of others, and focus on my pleasant day-to-day life in Turkey, I do feel safe – especially in Istanbul. In the very city that just yesterday was devastated by a bomb in the heart of the city’s tourism district of Sultanahmet.

You see, Sultanahmet is a place I call home. It’s where I spend most of my time. It’s one place in the world where I’ve always felt at peace, because it’s where East meets West every day and many friendships are formed.

My favourite thing to do in Istanbul is sit in a cafe in Sultanahmet, savouring a Turkish tea, whilst talking to tourists and locals. I’m always amazed with how easy conversations with strangers start here with anyone from Australia, Canada and America to Algeria, Syria and Saudi Arabia. We instantly have a common topic to discuss – Istanbul and all the magnificent historical attractions of Sultanahmet.

To hear of the bombing yesterday that killed and injured people in “my home” is something that is too difficult to comprehend – as it is for many with an affection for the city.

The fear now is that this dreadful event may tarnish tourism and many businesses may flounder. Inshallah (god willing), it will not be this way. Like New York, Bali, Madrid, Paris – any tourism hotspot that has overcome terrorist attacks and continues to attract world travellers – I intend Istanbul will too.

But, just how can we overcome this?

I believe, you become what you think. You become what you create. However, influencing this are the thoughts and act of others. What other people think and what other people create can shape our reality and collective thoughts are powerful. Another way of looking at this is, positive thoughts bring positive results. Negativity breeds negativity. Fears can breed negativity.

I’m in Australia at the moment and it’s been somewhat trying when the topic of “my home” comes up in conversation. I’m constantly asked to respond to other people’s fears about Turkey with the question: “Do you feel safe Turkey?” Instead of asking about the good things happening in my life in Turkey or what I enjoy about the country, people “auto-reject” within seconds to focus on the negative.

I’m growing frustrated because Istanbul is my home and I believe inflicting negative views, essentially invites further negativity. I don’t want that for my friends in Turkey or Turkey itself. Like a sensitive vampire lifting their cape to doom, I hiss back: “Do you feel safe in your hometown?”

The counter question is always met with silence or a stutter of random comments. “Well, do you?” I poke with my words, hoping they might come to the same conclusion I have. That is, a reality distilled from fears. The reality that threats to our personal safety and lives occur every day, everywhere in the world. We have perhaps become desensitised to many of them, because sadly, they have become to norm.

Alcohol and drug related violence, car accidents, homicides, drownings, falls, electrocutions, deaths by exotic animals and gun violence in America. Scan the morbidity and mortality statistics on these around the world and realise that the chance of succumbing to these issues are far greater than terrorism, but like terrorism, we cannot always predict when these afflictions will strike.

So, what can we do?

Be aware of your fears and how they may impact on you and others.

Question the sources of information around you – are they reliable and unbiased?

Choose positivity over negativity and put the right intentions out to the world for you, for others and the places affected by terrorism.

Mourn those who have lost lives and livelihoods in the terrorist attacks around the world, and remain defiant – never to let another person’s fears stand in the way of your life goals and happiness. (Waleed Aly says it best here)

And, for Istanbul’s sake, be positive. Be like a good friend going through hard times, come visit to help her heal.

Please don’t feed the fears.

Instead….

Love Life Istanbul is it safe in Turkey

My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed and injured in Sultanahmet on January 12, 2016. 

********

Other articles on this topic by fellow bloggers and writers:

Don’t hide from Istanbul by  (January 12, 2016)

The New Normal by Janey in Mersin (January 13, 2016)

This isn’t chaos this is my home by Life in Istanbul (January 13, 2016)

Is Turkey Safe from Isis and Terrorism by Turkish Travel Blog (June 2015)

 

 

 

 

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Love in the time of elections

There are times in Turkey where I read the local news online and wonder if I’ve been duped. The headlines and content of the news can be so absurd I find myself scrolling through the website looking for the disclaimer saying:  “This an onion.”

An onion piece is a satirical news article based on factual events. They’re often good for a giggle and say the things we wish to say in our world full of injustice.

When this headline appeared on my Facebook newsfeed I clicked on it it with curiosity.

Davutoğlu promises to find spouses for unmarried if AK Party is elected

It had to be an onion right? Davutoğlu, the leader of the AK political party was offering to set up weddings for those who elect him in the snap elections on November 1?

Then I saw the news source…

Today’s Zaman – a reputable and rather serious English-language daily based in Turkey.

Nope, no onion piece here…this news was true!

Free husbands and wives for all if you vote for AKP!? Can you be serious?

Apparently you can.

So cancel your OKCupid accounts people…AKP have got this.

The news has sent us single yabancı (foreign) ladies into a “joking” frenzy online as we conjure up our perfect mate in Turkey.

Our conclusion is:

He must have the eyes of Burak Özçivit

LoveLifeIstanbul özçivit

The hair of Engin Akyürek

Love Life Istanbul -engin-akyurek

The smile of Yiğit Özşener

LoveLifeIstanbul yigitozsener

The body of Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ

LoveLifeIstanbul full-kivanc-tatlitug

And, if he insists on having a moustache, then let it look like Burak Özçivit‘s too!

love life istanbul moustache

He must like to read like Kenan İmirzalıoğlu

 

And swim like Çağatay Ulusoy

LoveLifeIstanbul cagatay-ulusoy

 And…. I’m sorry what was I saying?

LoveLifeIstanbulWhatwasIsaying

Oh yes, he must show concern for me like Tolgahan Sayısman

LoveLifeIstanbul Tolgahan Sayısman

And when we fight, look angry at me like Burak Hakki

LoveLifeIstanbul burak-hakki

And when we make up, welcome me home like Mehmet Akif Alakurt

LoveLifeIstanbul Mehmet Akif

But most of all he must have the humour of Yılmaz Erdoğan

 LoveLifeIstanbul yilmaz-erdogan

And the sense of adventure like Engin Altan Düzyatan

LoveLifeIstanbul Engin-Akyurek

Though, let’s get serious. Who are we kidding? If political parties are doing the matchmaking and we’re after an adventurous guy with a sense of humour…

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

this might be the best we get!

Recep-İvedik-4-Resimleri-31

(Sahan Gökbakar as Recep Ivedik, 2008)

How you can REALLY help donate to refugees

Welcome, fellow humanitarians.  I guess you’ve stopped by because you’ve realised that the lives of refugees are just as worthy as your own, and you’re now keen to donate to make a difference.

LoveLifeIstanbul 1

If you’re looking to donate new or used goods, your services or your time to helping refugees in Turkey then head to Lisa Morrow’s Inside out in Istanbul for a summary of the current groups and initiatives (as of September 2015). Also check out the agencies and groups doing good things for refugees world-wide. These are listed at the end of this article.

Beyond the initial motivation to donate there are some practical actions donors can do to help volunteer efforts, and in turn, help the refugees get what they need faster for their  passage to peace.

1. Ask

Ask what the immediate needs are of the group(s) you’d like to donate to. Check their website. Link to their social media pages. Contact their coordinators.

Food is obviously high on the list of needs but these needs can change.

The groups helping refugees in Turkey are largely run by volunteers – volunteers that don’t have budgets to buy or rent large storage spaces. They rely on the kind donations of people for shelving, boxes and rooms to store items in. For this reason, storage and security of those donations after-hours can present a challenge for volunteers – especially when flooded with goods kindness.

Asking the organisation what they need as a priority will not only help them manage the stock and space they have but will also direct your donations to the areas of most need.

2. Think

While we’re on the space issue, when sorting or buying goods to donate, do think about the lives of the refugees you’re donating to. Are they on the move or in camps? Think about the logistics they face in getting from point A to B. Think about the climate they’re in, their genders, ages, their sense of fashion and aim to support these needs as a priority.

Items that cannot be given out to refugees by volunteer groups do take up space or require additional management to distribute them to the right receiver. Keep the needs of refugees at forefront of your mind when deciding what to donate.

Think small and compact for personal belongings such as hygiene products and toys for children.

Think light-weight for carrying in small bags.

Think maximum reach for donations (i.e. If buying baby clothes or shoes, donate those with unisex colours so boys or girls may benefit from your donation).

Think practical.

3. Don’t donate

Yes, I said don’t donate….IF the item you wish to donate is one or more of the following:

  • Sequined disco dresses
  • Skin tight short dresses
  • See-through clothing
  • Short shorts
  • Short skirts
  • Tops with revealing/plunging necklines
  • Dusty shoes with holes in them
  • Shoes that are broken or on their last steps
  • Clothes that are stained or tattered or full of holes
  • Stiletto shoes
  • Evening gowns
  • Racy lingerie
  • Opened or half-empty personal products
Not ideal for distributing to refugee women.

Not very appropriate items to donate to the ladies feeling war torn countries.

(Yes, my research has shown these items have been found in the donation bags to refugees!)

Even though these items are given with good intentions, these items are not appropriate to give to refugees – who dress more modestly. Not only do they contribute to the space issue, they take up the time of volunteers who spend hours sorting and categorising clothing. These volunteers wish to get on with helping refugees – rather than reminisce about the days of disco!

Basically when deciding what to donate, put yourself in the shoes of a refugee and ask yourself: Would I wear that? Would I need that? Would I want my husband/wife or my children to wear that? If the answer is no, then keep it for another donation drive elsewhere. Donate only those items that you feel a refugee will genuinely wear or use, rather than using the call for donations as an excuse to clear out the wardrobe.

4. Do donate

In terms of clothing, there can never be enough good quality clothing for all shapes, genders and sizes. More helpful clothing items that can easily be distributed are:

  • Ladies long cotton skirts
  • Ladies long sleeved cotton tops
  • Ladies shalwars either worn by themselves or under skirts
  • Primary school aged kids clothes (6 – 12 years), including shorts and pants
  • Comfortable pants for men
  • Winter jackets, beanies, gloves, scarfs, enclosed shoes (especially now winter is coming)
  • New underwear for all ages, genders and sizes
More appropriate donations for ladies...

More appropriate donations for ladies.

Clothing is not the only the thing to donate though. By researching the agencies linked to this article below you’ll find there’s plenty to contribute to, such as:

  • Food packs
  • Sanitation packs
  • Hot food donations
  • Donations of toys
  • Donations of reading material
  • Donations to help cook or set up a new home
  • Funding for programs and initiatives
  • Calls for volunteers to donate their time to teach, coordinate groups, and organise volunteers
  • Donations of boxes, shelving and other furniture that help organise premises for volunteers to work.

Again, ask the group(s) your interested in helping what their immediate needs are and go from there.

5. Categorise

The volunteers in clothing distribution centres are overwhelmed with clothes and one of the greatest things you could do is to help them out too. When sorting through your donated clothes try to categorise them into separate bags so they can be stored faster and the volunteers can spend more time in helping refugees directly.

Here’s some suggested categories you can either box or bag your donations in.

Suggested categories for clothing donations to held volunteers sort and store items.

Suggested categories for clothing donations to help volunteers sort and store items.

Winter and summer items should also be ideally separated and categorised as it’s likely they’re stored separately. Labelling or categorising items into sizes may also help when large quantities are given.

6. Gratitude

The world has not seen this mass level of migration in many years and those who have come forward to donate their time to helping are giving up work, time with family, time with friends and time to themselves. In donating to refugees, also donate some gratitude to those helping, because the other risk to this crisis is volunteer fatigue. Say thanks and keep them energised. Better still, go give them a helping hand.

08788d73bd8bbf8ab75e035839ff6025

#SyrianRefugees #RefugeesWelcome #Syrian #HumanityThanks

Keen to donate your time, services or goods? Here’s a list of agencies with donation programs to help refugees:

Care Packages for Syrian Refugees (based out of Bodrum, Turkey)

Lesvos Volunteers (Based out of the island of Lesvos/Lesbos, Greece)

Halklarin Koprusu

Caritas in Istanbul

Small Projects Istanbul (Based out of Istanbul, Turkey)

Ad.Dar Istanbul

Hayata Destek (Support to Life)

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRC)

International Rescue Committee

International Committee of the Red Cross

Save the Children

Care International

Refugees-Welcome

Doctors without Borders

Registering a foreign phone in Istanbul

Register phone in TurkeyChances are whenever the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy are released you’ll want to get your hands on one as soon as possible. But, when you’re living in Turkey, the cost of an unlocked handset for these state-of-the-art babies is likely to blow the budget. Chances are you’ll be buying them duty-free or asking a friend to bring one back from America where the prices are considerably less.

However you procure the phone, you’ll find the unlocked device becomes locked and unusable within days or weeks of putting a Turkish sim card in it and switching it on. Turning it on and off again, won’t solve the problem this time.

To avoid this inconvenience, you’ll need to register the mobile phone within 120 days (as of October 2015) of entering the realm of Turkish telecommunications. It will cost you approximately 165 – 205TL to do so depending on your telecom provider.

So what do you need to do to register a phone? Read on to find out..

1. Decide which telecom provider is for you

Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea are the dealers to choose from to get a pre-paid sim card for your unlocked foreign mobile phone (CEP) in Turkey. They all offer promotional packages (kampanyalar) throughout the year with calls, sms and 3G for as low as 35TL per month. Just shop around to get the best deal. Make sure you get a package with 3G – you’ll need it to GPS your way through the maze of Istanbul streets and to keep in contact with friends when you’re stuck in Istanbul traffic!

I use Avea and for 28TL a month I get 2GB of internet use, 5000 sms and 500 minutes of calls. I got it on a promotional deal three years ago and never use up the credit. Other friends have Vodafone or Turkcell and pay more per month so shop around to find the right package for you.

Know that, whilst the telecom provider websites are not in English, most stores have English speakers. So you don’t need to use their websites to add credit to your pre-paid sim card. After you buy your sim you can top-up credit at stores, or buy “top-up” (kontrol) cards at confectionery kiosks around the city, add credit via your Turkish bank account through internet banking and even (my favourite) add credit to your phone at Garanti Bank ATM/cash machines around the city without needing a TC number (Turkish citizen identification number).

2. Ask the telecom provider for the price to process the registration of your phone

When deciding your telecom provider, ask them how much they charge to process the registration of your foreign phone. In 2014, when I went through this process, Avea charged 35TL, whereas Turkcell has been reported to charge up to 70TL. You don’t pay this until after a trip to the Tax Office. This fee is in addition to the actual registration fee charged by a Tax Office.

3. Visit a Tax Office to register your phone

To register your new foreign phone you need to go to a Vergi Dairesi (Tax Offıce) with your passport and pay 135TL (price as of May 2015) over the counter. If you have an ikamet take that with you. I believe you can also visit Ziraat Bank to register your phone too.  Four things to be aware of at this stage:
1. Your date of entry to Turkey in your passport must be within the last 120 days to be able to register a cell phone bought overseas. If your arrival date is beyond 120 days you cannot register your phone and will have to wait to re-enter Turkey again to complete the registration process.
2. You can only register one foreign mobile phone every two years.
3. If you’re a tourist (i.e. you have no ikamet/resident permit) registering your phone will keep the sim/phone unlocked for six months. If you’re a resident or citizen registering gives you access indefinitely on that handset and sim.
4. The handset is registered to that sim. You can’t easily change telecom providers/sim cards after registration.

You can find the address for your nearest tax office by Googling, ‘Vergi Dairesi adres’ and your district.  Avoid visiting them at lunchtime as they close usually from noon to 1pm.

When you pay the tax office the 135TL they will also take the IMEI number of your phone. Dial *#06# to get this. The Tax Office will give you a receipt / Certificate of Registration to present to your telecom provider. Keep this somewhere safe.

4. Go back to your telecom provider

Once paid up at the Tax Office, go to a store of your telecom provider. It doesn’t need to be the same one you bought your sim card from. The store may say they can’t process the registration for you, but ask for the address of their nearest store that has the authority to do so.

When you find yourself in the authorised store, give them your receipt from the Tax Office or PPT or Ziraat Bank and your passport so they can take a copy of your last entry stamp. Finally, pay the fee they charge for processing the registration for you.

5. Use your phone

The telecom provider will process the registration and usually within a few days your Turkish sim is activated so you’ll be whatsapping and Facebooking again from your new handheld device.

Please note, there’s rumors that the system is changing. If I get any confirmed reports on this I will update the information above which leads to the final point…

6. Know the process can change!

Like any country in the world – bureaucratic systems are prone to change, but in Turkey it can mean a process that works for one person might not work for the other. So please use this information as a guide only. Anyone with a different experience is welcome to leave comments below.

JUNE 2015 UPDATE (WORTH READING):  Many people (who have resident permits) can go directly to PTT and obtain an e-devlet password (cost is 2TL). With this password you can log on to https://www.turkiye.gov.tr pay the tax fee online with a credit card and register the phone as easy as a click. Take your residence permit and passport to the PTT to do this. This also avoids any extra service fees the provider might require.

June update provided by the wonderful and knowledgeable people at oitheblog.com

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR TOURISTS:

Those travelling to Turkey as a short-term tourist need not worry about this process if they keep your foreign phone and foreign sim card on international roaming. It however becomes a problem the moment you put a Turkish sim card in a handset bought outside Turkey. My advice to tourists here on a short stay visas is soak up the free wifi everywhere and communicate for free with people back home via wifi-based apps like Skype, What’sApp, Viber, Voxer and FaceTime. Facebook also now allows you to call friends too via their app or send a voice recording to more than one person. Go to your Facebook inbox and send a voice recording to friends by selecting the friends you wish to message and press the microphone icon at the bottom of the message screen.

Hey Mister, break the Chain

One billion risingI promised myself I would not get political or too opinionated when I started Love.Life.Istanbul. I wanted to keep it light-hearted and “fluffy” because there’s plenty of blogs out there of a more serious and intellectual nature.

But when I read this article this afternoon I had the urge to honor Özgecan Aslan, and at the same time, support the many women’s advocacy groups worldwide who work to stop the harassment of women; not just domestic violence, not just physical violence – but the direct and passive harassment women can endure in private and public places.

These advocacy groups, usually run by volunteers, work tirelessly to raise awareness, change public policies and speak out on the behalf of women through events and other means. It’s why events like One Billion Rising (featured in the article) should be encouraged to occur, not discouraged by officials. These groups promote a crucial message that rallies people together for the same cause, creating a ground swell of like-minded people to take action and instigate change.

As women our safety is often on our mind either consciously or sub-consciously. We’re conditioned to be mindful of what we wear, where we go, and what to avoid to stay safe. Personally, I long for a world where we reduce the need to teach women to be safe and rather, teach our men to keep us safe.

Now I admit I do wear rose-coloured glasses, but this movement needs to start from the top and filter to the grass roots levels – flooding societies worldwide.  Let women wear what they want, let us walk the streets how we like, ride public transport without the threat of inappropriate touches and let us do what we want freely and without judgement – like dance.

One Billion Rising is an international event held every February 14, coinciding with Valentine’s Day. It’s an event with a message pertinent to societies worldwide, especially Turkey where cases of “femicide” and violence features in the news on a regular basis.

In readiness for the event, women and men around the world learn choreography by Debbie Allen via YouTube and later, on February 14, they congregate in locations in their cities to dance together to the beat and lyrics of the same song (Break the Chain, by Tena Clark).

In Turkey, multiple events are held around the country and a little Turkish flavour is added to enhance the experience. After performing the choreography, participants eagerly join hands and halay (traditional line dance). This can go on for hours and at times joined by local musicians with the zurna (mizmar) and davul (drum). It’s an absolutely empowering experience – one of my favourite moments in Istanbul where I have seen hundreds of women of all ages laughing and smiling…with supportive men by their side. It’s no wonder the event continues to grow in numbers with more men participating.

One Billion Rising, Besiktas, 2014. Photo Love.Life.Istanbul

One Billion Rising, Besiktas, 2014. Photo Love.Life.Istanbul

This year, the event coincided with the tragic news of Özgecan Aslan’s murder in Mersin, southern Turkey. Özgecan, an innocent 20-year-old-woman so heinously taken from those who love her, would have been in the hearts and minds of those participating in One Billion Rising around the country.

Without knowledge of the intention of One Billion Rising, you could agree with the President’s comments in the article. How could anyone dance at such a tragic time on that day of mourning? To that I say: Before judging, read the lyrics of Break the Chain – the song the world dances to for One Billion Rising. Surely the song speaks the words we all seek to achieve for a safer world, and surely, knowing the importance of these words, you would take our hand, dance, “rise up” and “break the chain” too setting a standard for others to follow so no family has to experience the pain that the Aslan family are experiencing today.

Lyrics to Break the Chain (listen here)

I raise my arms to the sky

On my knees I pray

I’m not afraid anymore

I will walk through that door

Walk, dance, rise

Walk, dance, rise

 

I can see a world where we all live

Safe and free from all oppression

No more rape or incest, or abuse

Women are not a possession

 

You’ve never owned me

Don’t even know me

 I’m not invisible

I’m simply wonderful

I feel my heart for the first time racing

I feel alive

 I feel so amazing

 

I dance cause I love

Dance cause I dream

Dance cause I’ve had enough

Dance to stop the screams

Dance to break the rules

Dance to stop the pain

Dance to turn it upside down

Its time to break the chain, oh yeah

Break the Chain

Dance, rise

Dance, rise

 

In the middle of this madness we will stand

I know there is a better world

Take your sisters & your brothers by the hand

Reach out to every woman & girl

 

This is my body, my body’s holy

No more excuses, no more abuses

We are mothers, we are teachers,

We are beautiful, beautiful creatures

 

I dance cause I love

Dance cause I dream

Dance cause I’ve had enough

Dance to stop the screams

Dance to break the rules

Dance to stop the pain

Dance to turn it upside down

It’s time to break the chain, oh yeah

Break the Chain

Break the Chain

 Change can start today and it starts with all of us taking responsibility to make the world safer. Act with compassion – it’s the least we can do to honour Özgecan and the millions of women in Turkey and worldwide who have experienced or who are experiencing violence and harassment in their lives.

My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Özgecan Aslan.

Başınız sağ olsun

 

Break the Chain:  Produced by Eve Ensler and V-Day, directed by Tony Stroebel, written and produced by Tena Clark with music by Tena Clark and Tim Heintz, and featuring dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen.

Social media: #‎OzgecanAslan‬, #sendeanlat, #1billionrising, #rise4revolution, and @vday

Readings from the other inbox

Valentine’s Han SoloIt’s the evening of Valentine’s Day. The temperature outside hangs around eight degrees Celsius and I’m cooped up in the warmth of my own blanket and being at home. I’m sulking slightly with no Valentines in sight to shower with chocolates, a candle light dinner and all the romance that goes along with February 14.

It’s just your average Saturday night in – in lambswool lined pink UGG boots, an oversized woollen jumper and fleecy purple “pazar pantaloons” (pants for the local Friday market) – they offer the ultimate level of comfort thanks to their soft material and low-lying crutch.

(I know! How did I not get a date tonight!?)

Like a little kitten teasing a piece of string, I reach out to my emails and Facebook page poking around for people to play with. There’s not much happening there.  Nothing but photos of loved up couples, red roses and single women professing quotes and statements akin to “girl power”.

I, on the other hand, have a power ballad spooling in my head as I sip from my second glass of wine.

All by myself,” by Jamie O’Neal. It’s a single-dom anthem from a favourite movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary.

A sense of fear creeps over me as I reminisce about the details of the movie. Bridget’s look, her age, her living situation! Seems all quite familiar…had I become Bridget Jones?

When the movie was released I was early 20s and never imagined myself to be Hans Solo on Valentines Day beyond 2005. But here I am. Mid 30’s, blond-ish hair to my shoulders, slightly podgy, a couple of “hello mummy” knickers in my drawers and with, “Absolutely no messages. Not a single one,” not even from my mother!

The illogical urge to Google, “How old is Bridget Jones,” to compare our ages and somehow determine the success of my life is disrupted when I spot messages in my ”other inbox”. The kitten strikes as I open to read what awaits.

You see there’s a reason why I hide my identity on this blog. I like to protect my  “other inbox” on Facebook from unwanted prying eyes. Messages in the other inbox are typically from would-be-if-they-could-be keyboard Romeos of the cyber-world. Fellow bloggers report how publishing their names to posts attract these tragic star crossed “lovers”. Men who believe their cutesy messages will have foreign women swooning to their Facebook page and more. It doesn’t work, it just infuriates many. It does however, somewhat entertain me this evening – or at least give me fodder for this week’s post!

Peering into the box I note the friendly messages discretely disguised as bait to gain a reply. Ismail writes:

“Hello, do you live in Istanbul? I live in Istanbul. We should meet up.”

I consider responding with: Tebrikler (congratulations) Ismail. Look hard no feelings but I lived in the same city as Hugh Jackman and Heath Ledger once…and neither of them wanted to meet me either. Take a lesson from my experience – it’s you, not me. Goodbye and good luck.

Stalker

Then there’s the overly curious Daryoush, who asks:

“What did send you to Turkey? Courage !?”

And inquisitive Yalcin who probes:

“How are u :))) can l ask u something? :)”

No, Yalcin, no you cannot ask me something..no matter how many smiley faces you purge. I fear contact with you would only end up with endless text messages and tears – your tears as I block you from my life forever.

And then there’s the voyeuristic, Ahmed:

“Oooooooo pretty, do u have any videos??”

Yes I doooooooooo, Ahmed. Lots of them. Of cats mainly. Can I send you more than one…daily?

An oddly self-proclaimed, Endoplasmic Reticulum emails:

“A writer could be so beautiful?”

That message left me feeling a little insecure. Is there a stigma that I don’t know about – that writers are unattractive creatures hit by the ugly stick? (I confess, I may have just googled, “good looking female writers,” to prove the stigma wrong …)

There’s even a doctor in the house who writes:

“Hello beautiful lady, How are you doing? I am doctor Sawyer Braschi. I will like to be your friend and come over to your country to set up a clinic. I hope to hear from you soon, Thanks.”

Doctor

Dear doctor, do you say that to all the ladies? I may be inclined to change my country if you are to follow.

But some keyboard Romeos seem to go to a lot of trouble to gain a lady’s attention. Take, for example, poet Semih who confesses:

“I have seen angels in the sky, I saw the snow fall in July. I’ve seen things you only imagine to see or do, but I still have not seen anything sweeter than you. hello. How did you … you have to be an angel.”

If I had consumed more wine by now I may have replied with some poetry of my own:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

What drugs are you taking?

Because I’ll have some too!

But I don’t reply. I never do. In fact – newsflash other inbox traffickers – I doubt anyone ever does!

Satisfied I’m not as lonely and desperate as those in my inbox, I log off from Facebook, pour my third glass wine, adjust the crutch of my pazar pants, stretch my UGG boots towards the TV and wonder when the next Bridget Jones movie will be out. I look out to the night sky and ponder this Valentines. I thank my lucky stars. Thank god I’m single and happy (girl power). Thank god I have a home and comfortable clothes…and thank god I’m not dating a man from my other inbox!!

Got some keyboard Romeos of your own? Feel free to share your other inbox below!

A very Turkish Valentines breakfast

ValentinesFoodThis post goes out to the lovers of Istanbul; the ones on the countdown to Valentine’s Day and searching for that special something to surprise their Turkish other-half.

Now, you could shower your loved one with grand gestures and expensive gifts, but, you don’t need to break the bank or go overboard to show someone you care. Keep it real, keep it simple and mix it up with this low-fuss, inexpensive gesture of love.

Kick-start your romantic day the LoveLifeIstanbul way – a shared Turkish breakfast complete with sliced juicy tomatoes, an assortment of white and yellow cheeses, olives, eggs how you like it, jams, bread (don’t forget the bread!!!) and love heart cucumbers.

Yes, love heart cucumbers! I know, I know it’s kitschy but it’s simple, adds a little flare to your Turkish breakfast and is sure to surprise – making your loved one smile from ear to ear on February 14.

Cucumber love hearts 1

Make a diagonal cut through the cucumber keeping the slices even and slim.

Cucumber love hearts 2

Now take that slice and cut diagonal again so there are two slices.

Cucumber love hearts 3

Flip one side over and plate.

Cucumber love hearts 4

Too easy, right!? Kind of cute? Go ahead and practice before the big day.

If you’re feeling particularly proud of your creation and plating technique feel free to Facebook or Tweet it with #lovelifeistanbul to return the love.

Afiyet olsun and enjoy your special Valentines.

10 things I miss about you…Istanbul

As an expat, no doubt you’ve been there. When you set up a new life in a new city, you seek out your hometown comforts in your newtown surrounds. Maybe it’s going on a mission to find the best coffee in your new neighbourhood, or seeking friends who connect with your nationality, or posting pleas online to find the products, the food, or the experiences that once made you hum in your hometown.

Perhaps you seek these things to close the gap between what you know and what you don’t know. Assimilation is simply gentler on the soul when your creature comforts are close by. They provide a steady platform, a familiar base, to dive head first into discovering a new and wondrous culture and its peculiar ways.

As time passes, the gap between the known and the unknown lessens. Your list of creature comforts grows to include the offerings of your newtown. You gain a sense of belonging, and with it, a new lifestyle and perspective emerges. You no longer feel like you’re drowning in the tides of cultural change. Instead, your wading, maybe even riding the waves, and your struggle with the oddities of your newtown, that once left you perplexed, have washed away.

You’re a local now (of the expat kind at least). You know where to find this and that, or how to get from point A to point B with ease. The language, the culture – all start to make sense. You respect it. In fact you no longer judge it, you indulge in it. Your two worlds, once awkward and creating friction, finally get along. Your newtown isn’t new anymore – it’s a place you call home.

I hadn’t realised how much Istanbul felt like home until last year. I packed away my work from home freelancing threads and suited up to return to my former corporate life in Australia. (Note: Hence my absence from this blog). I was immersed back into my old lifestyle and my hometown culture and after living in Istanbul, Australia didn’t feel like the home it once was.

I was perplexed. Had Australia changed? Had I changed? Had I really been that Turkified!?  I had to rediscover my hometown like a newtown to re-create my sense of belonging. I had to reassimilate.

I initially struggled to adapt to the oddities of Australia such as the abundance of space, the swearing, the drinking, the huge houses and other material values. I struggled with the need to be on time, to plan, to drive within the white lines, even to drive! All the things that once seemed familiar were somewhat awkward for me. I began to miss Istanbul. I began to miss…

1. Spontaneity

The traffic, complicated streets, the weather, the “rules aren’t for all” bureaucracy of a city of over 14 million people were factors that taught me I wouldn’t get what I wanted, when I wanted in Istanbul. My inner control freak died years ago as I embraced the city’s manic spontaneous ways which offered a more satisfying alternative to my initial plans.  It became a part of my lifestyle to “go with the flow” and embrace spontaneity.

One evening in Sydney, I was spontaneous. I ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to break-up the predictability of my working day. I gazed down to the peach-hued sails of the Sydney Opera House illuminated by sunset. A pearly patriotic smile flashed across my face and I sighed. I thought, this is beautiful, this is unique, this is just…

just…

not…

2. The Bosphorus

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Not to “diss” my country’s beloved iconic landmark. Sydney Harbour is an unmissable destination. But a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I peered down on the waters of Sydney Harbour. I missed the energy and the busyness of the Bosphorus – a waterway that divides Europe and Asia – that had fed my senses daily.  I longed to sit on a rickety wooden bench or a rocky outcrop on the cusp of a continent and feel the Bosphorus breeze on my cheek, watch a sunset silhouette the old city skyline, hear the caw of seagulls hoover overhead and taste the bitter-sweet flavour of a crimson glass of …

3. Çay (Turkish tea)

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A brewed English breakfast could not fill the void in Australia. Neither did an Earl Grey self-served in a shapely glass. I joined the corporate coffee culture instead where the day could not start without the jolt of a barista-style skinny cap, flat white or double espresso. Drinking them glued to the computer in the vortex of consumerism where deadlines were “by yesterday”, I yearned for a tulip-shaped glass of çay served with plenty of…

4. Keyif

Keyif, the art of idle relaxation. An art that brings pleasure, joy and contentment in the company of friends or strangers – without the deeds of deadlines – was lacking from my life.  I missed keyif on a Sunday morning or late into the evening where conversations jumped from global news, to family news, from gossip about the neighbours to truths about friendships and from telling jokes to stories of meaningful matters.  I missed the friends who were masters of this art and the banter associated with such gatherings. I wanted to engage again with people and say…

5. Turkish pleasantries

“Hayırlı olsun,” (let it be with goodness) was something I could not say within the fluidity of English when friends shared good news. “Geçmiş olsun,” was in my heart when, “Hope they get well soon,” flew out of my mouth. Phrases that don’t translate well in English that once left me perplexed were constantly on the tip of my tongue. “Güle güle kullan!” (Use it with smiles), “Kolay gelsin,” (May it come easy) and…

6. Afiyet olsun!

Before dinner. during dinner, after dinner.  My way of wanting to bless everyone I dined with with, “Afiyet olsun,” (enjoy your meal) was the hardest habit to break. “Bon appetit,” would spill from my lips instead, which proved too fancy. After all, when did Westerners ever acknowledge a co-worker dining on a ham sandwich in the lunchroom so formally?  Instead, I said nothing, I put my head down between conversations and ate whilst remembering to …   

7. Appreciate my food

554477_132225386902332_1282653357_n My Turkish friends once said to me, “Why do you eat so fast? Yavaş yavaş!” (Slow down). Eating fast was a by-product of my fast-paced, do everything by yesterday lifestyle in Australia…and I was slipping back into that realm. Life is too short to eat lunch by yourself at your desk.  Turkey had taught me that. Food is to be appreciated.  I now took time to savour the flavours and the keyif served generously on the side. Come to think of it, I missed the cuisine and the fresh produce to make up those meals in Turkey! I longed to swap the long polished aisles of my Australian mega-supermarket for the chaos of my…

8. Pazarlar! (Weekly street markets)

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Twice a week the main street near my home in Istanbul transforms into a fresh food market where I stock up on locally-grown produce. Not only is buying easy on the purse, it’s always entertaining to hustle with the head scarfed housewives and their three-wheel canvas carts to bag a bargain or two from rows of fervent sellers. More importantly, I missed what the markets created – I missed…

9. Life on the streets

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Whether it’s festivities in the streets, kids playing in the lane, remnants of chalk etchings of hopscotch on the path, or seeing wooden baskets lowered from apartments to collect goods from the bakkal (market), I missed seeing all the cues of life on the streets of Istanbul.  Sure, the drone of the eskci (junk collector) that resembles, ”Bring out the dead,” is a nuisance at times but I did miss the morning call from the man peddling pogača (small baked bread) from the street,  the call of, “Buyurun abla.” (Can I help you sister) as I walked through the markets, and the call of, “Bir lira,” (one lira) from the sellers with the yellow and red carts and most of all I missed …

10. The call to prayer

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The call, made five times a day, had become part of my list of creature comforts that tell me I’m in a place I call home. I missed hearing it – reminding me to pause, to “stop and smell the roses” and be present in that moment of life. Most of all I wanted to be where I loved hearing it most; atop a rooftop terrace at dusk, on the edge of the Bosphorus, with a crimson tea in hand, after a spontaneous day out with friends and with the call of a thousand muezzinler echoing across the city.

That same sound etched in my memory eventually called me back to Istanbul. Even though I tried, I could not find the things that made me hum in Istanbul in my hometown surrounds. After all, the things I missed were intangible in Australia. I could not put my finger on them or find them in my neighbourhood. I was somewhat lost without all my creature comforts surrounding me. My soul could not settle and a wave of homesickness for Turkey washed over me. I could have given more time for the feeling to subside, to settle, to become still. But my second home was calling me.

“Be like water,” a friend said to me, and,“Su gibi git, su gibi gel,” (go like water, come back like water) flowed freely from my tongue.

5 reasons why Istanbul is like a lover

Oh BradMany people I meet, who live in distant lands, say to me, “You’re so lucky to live in Istanbul! I wish I could live in Istanbul.”

I’ve comforted visitors who shed tears as the call to prayer plays over the city, because Istanbul has touched their heart like no other city has. I’ve also noticed my fellow expats freely personify the city like their lover: “Istanbul and I have a love hate relationship, but Istanbul is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Many love stories about Istanbul made me realise – Istanbul really is like a lover! Here’s five reasons why -written in the Oh Brad! style for those who have fallen for this dramatic city.

  1. Oh Istanbul, when we first met you wined and dined me and showered me with compliments – it was love at first sight.
  2. Oh Istanbul, you keep your secrets close to your heart. You’re so mysterious. It keeps me intrigued and when you share your secrets with me I just love you so much more!
  3. Oh Istanbul, you leave me without a car or cash, and I wonder if I am meant to be with someone else but, I’m glad we met – I’ll never be the same.
  4. Oh Istanbul, when you treat me well it is like heaven on earth, but when I start dissing you behind your back, you retaliate and treat me mean.
  5. Oh Istanbul, I know when we part ways, my heart will be broken and I’ll have urges to run back your arms, because I will crave your spontaneity and easy going nature.

Recently, Istanbul and I have had a tough relationship.  Now the sun is out and the days are longer I am appreciating Istanbul more. We have fallen in love again and our future is bright.

6 tips for the new Istanbul expat

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

Today I read a post from a lady moving to Istanbul. She was looking for advice on arriving to Istanbul and what to look out for. It inspired me reflect in my time here and write this piece. These are a couple of my survival tips for those who are fresh off the plane bound for the expat life in Istanbul.

1. Make Turkish and Kurdish friends and accept invitations

Some of the greatest experiences I have had in Istanbul are with my Turkish and Kurdish friends. Invites to festivals, concerts, TV shows, holidays and weddings are all made possible through these networks. Through them, I have experienced the real Turkey and through their genuine hospitality and helpfulness I have become a better person.

2. Get schmoozing online

Facebook pages for Istanbul expats are good resources for asking questions, getting local news and finding new friends.  Sites include (to name a few) Expats in Istanbul,  Istanbul Expat Centre, Foreign Women of Istanbul (Women only), Expat Events in Istanbul,   Istanbul Expats & Internationals Group, Expat @Savers and Cook’s Corner for Expats in Turkey. Send a question out to the world via these sites and your life is often made a lot easier!

We’re also pretty lucky in Istanbul to have a number useful English websites and publications. These tell us what’s on, what’s hot and tell us where all the best places are to eat and drink. Check out My Merhaba.com, TimeOut Istanbul, yabangee.com,  The Guide Istanbul and Internations.org. You can register to receive updates or join their social networking pages to keep up to date with all the latest news.

3. Book your appointment for your residency permit

In 2012, the Turkish Government changed the 90-day  back-to-back tourist visa conditions which many of us loved for its easy renewal process. Now you can’t get back-to-back visas and if you want to stay long-term you need a resident permit called an Ikamet. Many expats  have gone through the Ikamet process in the last 12 months which has  bombarded the appointment system making it difficult to get an appointment when you need it most. My advice for any DIY expats (e.g. those who don’t have the support of  a large company), who wish to stay more than 90 days, is to book your appointment fast (click on the links labelled E-Randevu).

Be patient as the system is fraught with glitches. For example,  when I used it last, I couldn’t log back into my appointment to print out my appointment documents. I had to go through the process again which pushed my appointment out to a later date and I couldn’t log back into cancel my appointment.  Facebook and Internations have been filled with SOS calls from expats who were unable to get their residency permit before their visa expired. There are means and ways around this, but I have learnt, what works for one person in this process – has not worked for others. Plan ahead and book ahead.

4.  Get an IstanbulKart

This card will be your ticket to the tram, the metro and the bus and provides discount fares. You can buy it from magazine kiosks near bus, metro and tram stations. They cost 10TL and you add credit to the card as needed – which again can be done at any magazine kiosk.

5.  Register for Yemeksepeti.com

You’ve had a tiring day and you’re stuck on the couch unable to move. Hello YemekSepeti.com! From your smart phone (yes, they have an app) or laptop you can order food and drinks from many restaurants around town and they deliver to your door. Feel like Turkish cuisine? Ding dong – delivered to your door! In the mood for Chinese or Japanese? Knock knock! Delivered to your door! Or maybe you devoured one too many Efes the night before and need a greasy fast food fix? Hello, Big Mac at my door.

6. Register your foreign mobile phone

Within a couple of days of landing in Turkey, make sure you register your foreign mobile phone with a phone company, otherwise your phone will be locked eventually and it’s costly to unlock it. The regulations on this keep changing so it’s best to visit Avea, Vodafone or Turkcell – the main dealers in Turkey – for more information. A fee maybe payable.

There are more tips I could share but I will leave that for later posts. These are just a few key tips that have helped me assimilate to life here. Feel free to add more tips for other expats below.