I first came to Turkey as a backpacker in 1990. It was summer, stinking hot and my hostel in Sultanahmet frequently ran out of water in the showers. By day I was intoxicated from exploring the city, and at night from drinking suspiciously cheap Black Sea cognac.
Each morning I ate breakfast on the rooftop terrace, sipping ruby coloured tea as I watched American warships sail past on their way to the Gulf War. I was hooked.
However I was still finding my feet in life so I went back to Australia where I spent the next ten years completing a university degree and working in various jobs, mainly in the book trade. I also reconnected with the man who’s now my husband, and when we travelled through Turkey in 1996 for six weeks, he fell in love with the people and the country too. For a number of years we lived between Australia and Turkey, working as English teachers in both places. Then one day we suddenly realised we had more in common with our friends in Istanbul than in Sydney.
We moved over in 2010 but making the decision to stay permanently, and actually making it happen,wasn’t all smooth sailing. We’d previously been in Istanbul for a year and then Kayseri in Central Turkey for two, but each time working as English teachers living in accommodation arranged by our employers. They took care of most of the bureaucracy and paperwork so all I had to focus on was learning enough Turkish to buy food, clothes and other necessities. It wasn’t until we bought an apartment that I truly lived in Turkey, becoming immersed in the language and the culture. My memoir, Waıtıng for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, is born of this experience. It starts with my first visit to Turkey when I stayed in Göreme for three months and then jumps to our move to Istanbul, setting up a home rather than a house, deepening existing friendships and meeting new people, all while dealing with the emotional impact of my mother’s death,
Ever since I started writing about my life in Turkey, everyone wants to know if I was afraid to make such a big leap. Wasn’t it a risk to move to a country where I didn’t speak the language, share the religion or really know the culture? I never felt that. I love discovering new places and delving into what makes a country and its people tick. At first it was a case of watch, read and ask lots of questions, but these days I’m fairly fluent in spoken Turkish, mainly self-taught. Consequently I speak with a huge range of people, from market vendors, my hairdresser, a cleaner at a mosque or random passengers on a bus, as well as English speaking Turks.
I use all the information I glean from these different conversations in the features, travel articles and other writing I do. In Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries I look at how the clash of tradition and modernity in Turkey results in something fresh and unexpected. In this collection I use my physical journeys in Turkey, from Istanbul to the very east of the country and back, as a way to explore how I’ve changed as a result of living here.
As well as being naturally curious I studied sociology, and I’m fascinated by the way Istanbul is different things to different people. For some, Istanbul resides in the Ottoman history of Sultanhahmet and the Grand Bazaar. Others think turn-of-the-century Istiklal Street and Beyoğlu hold the key. However Istanbul is much more diverse than this. It’s not one thing or place, or even both that makes the city unique. It’s something else, what I call the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul and it inspired me to write Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City. I write about things as seemingly mundane as street markets, drinking a cup of coffee or shopping for underwear. In Istanbul they take on a different meaning, especially once you venture past the tourist sites and into the backstreets, local neighbourhoods and squares of this vast collection of villages wrapped up in the one enormous city.
I have a lot of friends in real life and on social media who holiday in Turkey regularly or live in coastal towns, who’ve never been to Istanbul. If that’s you, read one of my three books on Istanbul and Turkey, or my blog Inside Out In Istanbul and Facebook page of the same name. Then you’ll understand what fuels my passion for Istanbul – the non-stop energy, an endless list of places to visit and things to do, but most importantly, its humanity.
Inside Out In Istanbul
Exploring Turkish Landscapes
Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom