If I Could Take it All Back Now, I Wouldn’t

English: Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
English: Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its not my blog without some Eminem. Ive seen him twice in concert and both times were awesome.

So Im in Turkey and have been for a few days, after a few days in Jordan. I literally have no idea what time zone Im on, what day of the week it is or when Im supposed to be sleeping so its 2am somewhere in the world and Im awake. For a little bit – I used to think the story I told myself about getting back from China and only being awake for 3-4 hours at a time and then sacking out for 8 over a two week period was a ridiculous story. I now recognize it was completely accurate.

Life in Turkey is interesting after 1.5 days in Jordan. In both places, I am a novelty. I am taller than everyone in the country it seems, especially as a woman. I have seen very few Black people in either country, but the ones that are there are usually African and I dont dress or act African. I also have insanely curly hair. How people deal with those differences is the big rub.

In Jordan, I was with my best friend. When we go to restaurants, people do not look at or address me – it would be considered extremely impolite until I ask to be addressed. Although it seems many women in the country would expect the man to be the public face in that situation. Its not that different than in America, where perhaps the man might order for you – but its sometimes considered paternalistic and archaic. Well not in Jordan. People were very kind and willing to help. Its like there are no lines between the in-group and out-group, at least not publicly. A man standing on the side of the road when we are trying to get a suitcase into the car feels extremely comfortable weighing in on how we should position it for best use.

On the streets, there are just large bands of roving boys/men. The few women you see are always accompanied by a man, or you see them in the restaurants or shops, never just out on the streets with friends. When I catch someone staring at me, which happened constantly in the day I was there, they always look away quickly so they do not get caught staring impolitely at a woman. The roles inside the home seemed rather traditional as well. The family we visited – the woman was primarily responsible dealing with the children when they were problematic; but, the father spent just as much time playing with them and attempting to discipline them – they just didnt listen. 🙂 She did not speak much English and I spoke very little Arabic, so most of our interaction was the four adults sitting in the room watching Nick cartoons (which are really weird) and then some BBC programming. While the kids ran in and out with the new toys we had gotten them, that made a ton of noise. Im pretty sure the parents will disown us soon.

Turkey is a whole different world.  We are staying in the extremely touristy section of Istanbul – Sultanahmet. I got off the tram, after three hours of traveling from the airport, and immediately got accosted by a man selling carpets. I am apparently incapable of figuring out how to say no, without feeling guilty and rude, so I followed him around the corner and down the stairs of this building – knowing that I  would be the star of Taken 3 – Im an idiot. Fortunately, they just wanted to give me apple tea and try to sell over priced carpets to me. The next male encounter was on my way back from taking some scenic pictures of Istanbul that night. People just throw random English out to see if you will take the bait, and I did. He eventually showed me a phone full of pictures of random Asian women he had also taken pictures with. And then made me link arms with him as he walked me back to my hotel – I originally just thought he wanted me to eat at his restaurant! Apparently I was wrong, because when I forced him to leave me before he found out where I was staying, a kiss on the lips was requested. I quickly said no, and ran away, taking a detour just in case he tried to follow me. These interactions quickly made me miss the ignoral of Jordan. Here, Im just another American tourist, to sell cheap crap to, and potentially hook up with.

So a novelty in both worlds, but such different interactions. There is something dehumanizing about both styles though. In both, I feel like less of a person – one as an object to be held apart and the other as an object to be exploited  Neither seem to consider me and what I would want, although of course neither is my culture so I probably do not warrant an entire change of style, based on my mere existence. I dont know how I will make friends in either world. Im a third gender in Jordan. Men treat me more like they would other men – they can say things they would never say in front of their wives, sisters, mothers, (mostly consisting of gay jokes and farts), but I am still not a man. They still must treat me far more conciliatory than they would normally, without the strict structure surrounding their interaction with Muslim women. In Turkey, Im a tourist. Im neither gender nor human – Im money. And considering I do want food, and jewelry and maybe even a rug by the end of the trip, it will probably work for them to “Ask me one question” before I go. 

Im sure things will continue to feel unsettled – this is a lot of change for me in a short time, after what seems like a lifetime of same. And I miss my bed and my own bathroom and not traveling while having a period. But so far, I still embrace my decision to leave the known and travel out into the world that I still cannot believe I found. Im sure there will be many more surprising things to encounter during the next two weeks in Turkey, but I will try to post some pictures soon. My new hobby (photography) awaits.

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