The other day I had the pleasure to do a mid-morning walk with one of the country’s leading mayors in his magnificent native city. The rays of a late spring sun almost showing off its full summer splendor may have led less investigative commentators to a somewhat rose-tinted perception of that when ‘The Boss’ shows you around all looks fine, great, perfect. In the full knowledge of that ‘curiosity killed the cat’ I nevertheless could not refrain from persistently asking multiple questions about this or that infrastructure project, listening in to what ordinary people had to tell their mayor as they freely approached him at almost every corner of our just over four kilometer long tour and once having parted ways began to reflect about the state of relations between ‘them’, our elected office holders, and ‘us’, the electorate. Actually, as far as I am concerned it should be more of a ‘we’ anyways!
Expatriates seldom get to know their local Turkish office holders. One reason is that work keeps us busy, another that family matters matter more or that we simply do not wish to get involved at all as we are not able to cast our votes at the ballot box.
Yet living in an adopted second home country, owning property here and perhaps even sending our children to a nearby school should not result in us living a kind of China Town existence in the sense of that whilst we live bang in the thick of things we are hardly ever noticed nor taken particular care of.
On the one hand expatriate life in this country, Turkey, is so much easier as our hosts if evaluated from personal experience are more than happy to let us in on their lives, their daily chores or fortunes. Turks love to chat, love to chat over a glass of freshly brewed tea or a pint depending on personal preference of course!
On the other hand Turkish politicians need more time to get used to ‘us’ as they understand only too well that we do not have a vote despite living full time in their town or city. And there is of course the language barrier. However, let us be fair – how many German or French mayors speak fluent Italian or Greek or Turkish or…
So how can we as expatriates – regardless of whether Turkey’s EU accession will happen sooner (hopefully) or later (regrettably) which will imply that all fellow EU citizens are able to vote in local Turkish elections similar to all Turkish citizens residing in another EU country would be able to vote in our local elections (but not for national parliaments) – get closer to Kuşadası’s political managers?
Option A): Become a member of one of the manifold local charities or non-governmental organizations and establish contact with the Municipality. Prepare a bi-lingual info leaflet, drop it off at the Belediye, and invite a representative to your next (relevant) meeting, ideally with an interpreter in tow.
Option B): Check out this newspaper and the internet as well as the municipality’s own calendar of events and participate in public events hosted by the Belediye. Most recently the 36th National Tourism Week was an occasion upon which elected office holders and ‘non protocol’ guests would mix and mingle and be totally at ease with each other. I participated in an event nearby and whether it was the district governor or the mayor or the president of the chamber of commerce everyone was there and was ready to talk and listen.
Option C): Get in touch with your Turkish neighbors and inquire about whether and when they are about to go to a small or large scale public event with the attendance of the mayor and/or one of his deputies. It could be the opening of a new stretch of road, the inauguration of a new public building or a cocktail for Turkish businesspeople. Your Turkish hosts will be only too happy to introduce you to the office holder as they love to be seen in the company of Kuşadası’s international residents and guest’s as after all we live in a tourism resort of the highest caliber! Learn a few phrases in Turkish before you set off!
Option D – Z): You tell me!
I think it is high time that our Turkish elected office holders accept us right into their midst and once the ‘we’ is established begin to listen to our concerns, too. There is an Advice Center, there is a Help Desk embedded in the Belediye, but expat contacts with politicians should not be limited to expressing justified concerns about a problem here and there. It should be about a new, more multicultural approach promoted both from our side as well as from that of the Town Hall. It worked tremendously well in the city where I had the pleasure to do my ‘Mayor plus international import’ – morning walk, so why not here in Kuşadası, too?