I’ve been here for almost three years, I’m getting ready to leave here in a few days and I just thought that I could share some parts of my notes/experiences on Istanbul. These are tips, complaints, comments, but to me, they are just jokes. That’s how I made it through every day being a visibly foreign woman in Istanbul.
On the Street:
– Of course, don’t wear revealing clothes! I cannot wear any skirts, nor shorts, not even capris. All my clothes should cover my shoulders (and preferably covering my ass). No high-heels, no make-up. (Otherwise, men will make me feel like a hooker, really) Even dresses can bring unwanted attention. My husband screens out clothing for me when I go shopping, which really pisses me off. Even if I end up buying the cute little whatever and wearing it, I’ll end up coming home feeling dirty and immediately hide it in a suitcase.
– Men rarely talk directly to me, most of the time they talk about me, in front of me or around me, or behind me. They love making jokes about the way I’m supposed to sound when I open my mouth; the type of shit I’m supposed to eat, and how lucky I am to be living in such a civilized place (i.e. the world’s best city and the world’s best religion) and married a Turkish man.
– I’ve had people asking me where I live in America and when I told them North Carolina, they kept asking me about North Korea.
– Street vendors always tell me “konichiwa” and keep repeating this phrase until I float off.
– I had this jackass follow my friend and I out of the bar and keep asking me if I’m Japanese. I told him no and kept walking but he kept bugging and said, “Excuse me, excuse me! I wanna learn Japanese! Does ‘konichiwa’ mean ‘good morning?’” I repeated myself about 3 times that I’m not Japanese and I can’t speak Japanese and finally told him that he’s a fat-fuck and please fuck off. He looked extremely confused.
– The men keep leering at me no matter what I’m wearing. I just get speculations about what I do when I wear suits. Is she a banker? Is she an agent? Is she a teacher? Is she blah blah? Blah blah blah blah?
– I was walking through the square of Şirinevler this one weekend afternoon. I was still working at Osmanbey, and was about an hour away from home at that time. Anyway, there was a çiğ köfte stall that just opened and there was a clown walking on stilts. As soon as he saw me, he decided to walk behind me and make these annoying kicking gestures, everyone laughed. I was so angry, I wanted to turn around and grab those damn stilts and bring his funny ass down. But I didn’t. I kept on walking, like what I do 99.99% of the time.
– My friend from Chicago, in the last months that she was in Istanbul, switched to the plainest kind of T-shirt and jeans that you can think of to avoid harassment. My other friend from England always wore dark shades, (it didn’t matter if it was day or night), to avoid eye contact and therefore harassment.
– I’ve purchased a pair of cacophony-proof earphones for going to and from work. Problem is that it’s killing my hearing after using it every day for 2 years. I was using other earphones before but they didn’t cancel out noises enough. These are some of the things I’ve heard shouted out at me: YES! NO! JA-PON! WAOW-WAOW-WAOW, Ching-ching-chong-ching, marijuana, çirkin (ugly), some kind of land animals sounds, flying animal sounds, sea animal sounds, etc…
– These are the kind of reactions I get: leering, giggling, whispering into another man’s ears, following, eavesdropping, starring and walking into something (seen that a few times), wouldn’t get out of the damn way because they were too busy giggling, starring or ogling, elbowing, popping up in front of me to call me“JA-PON!” and then popping back into the crowds.
– I’ve been groped and leered at for so long to the point that before I go out, I practice my attack moves. The last time that I was groped I attacked right back.
– We were reading about some international heroes in Intermediate class and the students were to match the names with the portraits. When it came to Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the girls decided to be funny and said in Turkish, “Haha, it’s sooo obvious, su-iki-chinki…” A student glared at her and the others bowed their heads low. I jumped on it and asked her if my name sounds like “su-iki-chinki” and she immediately shut her mouth. Funny, we were just talking about racism towards the black folks from the articles about international heroes.
– I was teaching a class with my Canadian friend before she left about a year back. As the students were supposed to be concentrating on their tasks, all I’ve heard was whispers about the “Japan twins”. My friend is a Native from Canada. Nowhere near Japan.
In Everyday interactions:
– This one time my black friend and I sat down at a bar at Osmanbey (it happens everywhere, even though some people deny it). As soon as we sat down, the waiter asked, “You, Africa? You, Japon?” We just talked about Turkish stereotypes and a fine example just popped up right in front of us. We laughed and the waiter didn’t get it at all.
– I was having a nice lunch at my favorite kebap restaurant in Bakırköy when the waiter that I call “abi” (brother) came to me and told me how much he hated dirty Arabs (there were a family of five Arabs sitting two tables in front of me). The waiters just kept making jokes and laughing about how the Arabs don’t shower and that they are really rude. Say, who’s nasty and rude again?
– How many times have taxi or minibus drivers or store owners tried to get me to give them their number, or asked me personal questions? One time a taxi driver even tried to flash me.
Excuses People Give Me For Being Harassed:
– I’ve been told that if I wear a headscarf, I would avoid being harassed. The tea lady at our school is Turkish, she wears a headscarf and she gets perverts on the bus trying to grope her too. And I wear long sleeve shirts and long pants at all times!
– My mother-in-law told me it’s because foreign women come to Turkey for prostitution, so men just assume that I’m a prostitute. I corrected her: most foreign women are NOT prostitutes. How come they think that the whole world came here just to try to please Turkish men? Are you serious?
– “They’re Kurdish.” This is the answer that I often get when I talk about some of my experiences on the streets. I’ve heard students say it, too. I’ve even heard my husband say it, and his mother speaks Kurdish!
– “They’re Arabs.”
– “They’re Gypsies.”
They aren’t just Kurds, Arabs, or Gypsies. I’m not a prostitute, and a headscarf won’t stop it. This is not even half of what I’ve been through. There’s something EVERY SINGLE DAY! And most of these happens when there are other people around. It’s sad to say that nobody ever got my back but once.