On My Tourist Experience in Istanbul in Winter 2010–2011
“If you were Turkish, I’d kick your ass but you’re a tourist so I can’t. Women don’t yell at men in Turkey!”
I remember being a tourist in Istanbul from December 2010 — January 2011. Turkey was the third country I had been to at the time. I chose to visit Istanbul because I knew a girl who lived there (I met her while working a summer job at Yellowstone National Park). I connected with her on Facebook and she was glad to have me in her home as a guest until after New Year’s.
It turned out that I left her home before New Year’s approached because she didn’t like that I was taciturn (she expected me to be chatty and because I didn’t turn out that way, she thought there was something wrong with me). I didn’t like the feeling she gave me about myself as I had already felt self-conscious at the time for being introverted so I decided to leave especially when she implied in her words that finals week was coming up and she really, really needed to focus on studying. The last words she told me were “Be careful” in the phone when she noticed that my stuff was gone.
I wandered around Sultanahmet (the main tourist area in Istanbul) and found myself on a street where hostels were located. I walked down the street and stopped in front of one where a man stood at the entrance and said that it looked like I needed help, did I need any help? I thought that he looked genuinely concerned so I went to him and said that I was looking for a place to stay. He invited me into his hostel where the lights were bright and where many travelers stood around in the lobby chatting. The place appeared presentable, not the least bit shady and the man offered me, in a friendly tone, something to eat and what would I like to eat, he could ask his chef to make something, what about some pizza? I answered yes and he asked me questions.
There were two female travelers who were also from Boston in the lobby (as he said) but I chose to sit in one of the chairs (since I’ve said before, I was quiet and didn’t care for making conventional small talk) and waited for the food to arrive. The man whom I’ll refer to as ‘R’ divided his conversation between me and the two Boston travelers. A short time passed when the two Boston travelers finally left.
The food came: a whole fish for ‘R’ and a small cheese pizza for me. While we ate, ‘R’ offered for me to stay at one of his apartments.
I asked if I could possibly stay in a room in his hostel and when he said he wanted to help, that his apartment was vacant, that it was much nicer than staying at the hostel, I relented and decided to give his apartment a chance. It was a decision that I later regretted (but I’ve learned something from it).
Everything started off fine at the apartment. The apartment was full of carpets (as ‘R’ was a businessman [he sold carpets and owned the hostel]). On the second night, ‘R’ came to check on me like he said he would. That was when he started talking about his life in more detail, that he was saved by someone in the sea when he was 12 and that was the day when he promised to be generous to people, to help anyone who needed it. The conversation we had was rather deep until he started to touch me. He apologized when I rejected his touch and said that I was a good person. He repeated that I was a good person many times. However, he proceeded to say that he thought I was attractive and said that he was in a lot of pain (that his erection felt painful and that I needed to help him feel better). He said he could only feel better if we could engage in intercourse, that he was good in bed. I continued to reject him and asked if I could just stay in one of the rooms in his hostel. He apologized to me and said I was a good person. He said that he wanted to help me and have me stay in his apartment a little longer. That was when he took off his clothes and told me to rub my hands up and down his erected penis. He put a bottle of lotion next to me to use; he told me that he only wanted me to rub his penis up and down and he promised that nothing else would happen. He repeated that he was in terrible pain, that he needed relief. I didn’t know what erections felt like and I’d never know but, at the time, he sounded so pitiful that I felt very sorry for him so I hesitantly touched his penis and couldn’t stand the touch immediately and got up to wash my hands and I heard him apologize. From the bathroom door, from the hallway, I watched him rub his erected penis up and down until he was no longer erect. He put his clothes on, told me that he was going to check up on me the next evening and left. Before he left, he promised he would never tell me to do that again. That last moment, he appeared genuine.
The next morning, his assistant came to the apartment to clean it a little. I’ll refer to him as ‘T’ (‘R’ told me that ‘T’ was coming so I knew to expect him). ‘T’ spoke to me (I don’t know how I managed to sleep that night) and I don’t know what set me off but I exploded. (I don’t recall what I said.) ‘T’ was shocked (on the first time, I met him, he gave e a cup of tea. He was also the one to bring my luggage to ‘R’ ‘s apartment. I had friendly chats with him. That was when ‘T’ showed his true colors and blurted out that he could kick my ass as it was Turkey and I was female but he couldn’t because I was a foreigner. His brother, ‘G’, was there to witness our conversation. I was upset with the memory of what ‘R’ did to me the night before. ‘T’ was really upset and muttered under this breath about what I was doing in Turkey while vacuuming the apartment. I didn’t answer him. His brother, ‘G’ was also upset (He told me not to fuckin’ shout at his brother) but he and ‘T’ remained calm and were later back to their cheery selves (but it was obviously fake). This was because I was ‘the tourist that they had to be nice around. Tourists weren’t supposed to see or hear anything from what the locals were truly like as to assure that the tourists were going to make a second trip to Turkey in the future and also tell their friends to come to Turkey in order to fulfill their part in helping to contribute to their country’s economy’.
That was the day I told ‘R’ (‘T’ and ‘G’ called ‘R’ right away to tell him to come to the apartment after I got upset) that I wanted to stay at the hostel. ‘R’ tried to talk me into staying at the apartment while telling ‘T’ that I was a good person and he wanted to help me.
I wanted to go. He allowed me to go and let me have a discount to stay at his hostel. Luckily, for me, ‘R’ was going away the next day to see his two sons in North Carolina (he was divorced; he was married to an American woman named Michelle) for a month. He also told the receptionist (his good friend) at the hostel to make sure I had a free breakfast. ‘R’ told me that he felt sorry that he couldn’t continue to be there for me (I surely wasn’t).
After that, I thought a lot while spending my remaining time in Istanbul.
I learned that girls usually weren’t encouraged to travel on their own. I was also told that girls who were on their own were assumed to travel because they were looking for men to have sex with. It was the common assumption that when a lone foreign girl was identified, it was automatically assumed that there was no one to protect her, that she didn’t have her family, specifically her father, with her to protect her, that she was free for any man to pursue her for sex.
I would also like to add that I also met a female employee of ‘R’ ‘s who told me that she thought I was really brave for traveling on my own. She was also present the day that ‘T’ shouted his comment at me. I looked her way that morning and saw her profile; she had tears in her eyes. I noticed her eyes. I felt how she felt and I felt horrible for knowing the truth that women just weren’t culturally treated well.
From my conversation with ‘R’ that night, he declared that it was wrong for my friend’s mother to have divorced her father. When I told him that my friend’s mother worked, he shook his head and wondered what Turkey has become.
“Turkish girls aren’t like they used to be,” he said.
Every country in the world is at a different level regarding how men and women treat each other and how they function in society. My tourist experience in Turkey, though, in 2011 near the end of my trip made the impression on me that Turkey had a longer way to go than I would have thought if I had only remained in my friend’s home, in her community, surrounded by only her friends.