I’m going to stray away from my normal happy topics about the pazar, baking and our Turkey trips to talk about some local news.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the missing American woman from New York in Istanbul. Local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations have been searching for Sarai Sierra, 33, who has been missing in Istanbul since Jan. 21, when she didn’t return to NY. I feel sorry for the family and hope she is found, but there are a lot of strange circumstances surrounding the story.
Since I’ve been following the story, I have seen and heard many comments online following these news reports and in particular comments being made about Istanbul, Turks and Turkey. Of course, this story is discussed quite differently among my expat friends and me here in Istanbul.
I’m quite angry and frustrated by these ridiculous, zero-fact based and ignorant comments. I have a difficult time believing these statements are being made by Americans whom have actually traveled to Turkey. Unfortunately, many of these comments are based on stereotypes.
According to 2011 statistics released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the top 3 outbound destinations Americans traveled to were Mexico, Canada and Europe. Mexico received 19.9 million U.S. visitors while Canada was visited by 11.5 million U.S. travelers. In third place, Europe received 10.8 million U.S. visitors. In fourth place, 6 million Americans traveled to the Caribbean.
In comparison, according to a Jan. 6, 2012, article in the Hurriyet Daily News, 733,193 tourists from the U.S. visited Turkey in 2011 compared to 619,000 Americans in 2010. That’s an 18.45 percent increase.
In the past few years, Turkey and Istanbul have been declared top travel destinations by travel experts such as Travel & Leisure, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. Last month, CNN placed Istanbul on its Europe’s 10 Hottest Destinations for 2013.
|A view of sprawling Istanbul from the Sapphire Building.|
For the record, I’ve lived in Istanbul as an American with my husband for nearly three years. I’ve gone out late at night in Taksim and met my girlfriends – by myself. I’ve never had any problems. I’m not going to walk down a dark, barren street by myself. I wouldn’t do that anywhere.
My husband has never feared for my safety nor NOT allowed me to go out by myself. (Some commentators have said men shouldn’t allow women to travel to Turkey by themselves. I hate the word – allow.)
During the day in Istanbul, I walk around the city all by myself and sometimes with girlfriends. I’ve walked across the Galata Bridge dozens of times. I visit outdoor markets, small stores and the Grand Bazaar that are run by male Turks. I’ve never been assaulted. The occasional rude comment is ignored. I consider myself a big city girl and am smart about what I do.
|View from the Galata Tower over the Galata Bridge and Sultanahmet in Istanbul.|
Generally, Turks are very helpful and kind people. They will go out their way to help you if you are lost and probably will offer you tea along the way.
There have only been a couple of occasions, on crowded buses and the subway, where I felt uncomfortable because a Turkish man was trying to get a little too friendly. Learn a key phrase like “Terbiyesiz” and shout it out. People will assist you. And even if you don’t speak Turkish, you’ll be fine if you tell someone to F*** off in English.
Bad things can happen anywhere.
How safe is America?
For more than six years, I lived in NYC, Washington D.C. and Baltimore in the U.S. Each of these metropolitan cities has bad neighborhoods where you just don’t go. I’ve been out late at night there too, but I’ve played it smart. By the way, rude and horrible men live in these cities too.
In fact, Baltimore has consistently ranked in the top 10 of America’s most dangerous cities, according to the FBI. Have you watched The Wire? In 2010, Baltimore's violent crime rate decreased about 5%, but it’s still plagued with drugs and poverty and ranks in the top 15 U.S. cities for all violent crimes but forcible rape. Despite these crimes, I’d move back to Baltimore in a heartbeat.
Do I need to mention all the gun-related problems that have happened in the U.S. lately?
Do you think parents in Newton, Conn., sent their children off to school knowing a crazed shooter would kill 26 people at this elementary school?
How about the mass-murder shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that killed 12 and injured 58 others last year?
How about the recent nanny in NYC and several parents who have drowned and killed children in bathtubs during the last few years in the U.S.?
I repeat – bad things can and DO happen everywhere.
Misconceptions about Turkey
Now, I’ll address some of the comments I’ve heard online recently and in the past by friends and acquaintances.
‘Isn’t Istanbul a desert?’ I was asked this by an American woman at the Charlotte International Airport in N.C. last year. Nope! Istanbul is bordered by the Bosphorus, Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.
Turkish women have no rights. In fact, Turkey granted women the right to vote in 1930 – while France and Italy didn’t until 1945. Isn’t that interesting?
Istanbul isn’t safe because it’s so close to war-riddled Syria. Please take a look at a map! Syria is located about 1,200 km away from Istanbul.
‘Do you ride a camel?’ I heard this one from a friend when I first moved here and laughed. The only time I’ve been on a camel is while sightseeing in Cappadocia, Turkey.
All Turkish men have harems. From 1453 to 1922, harems were part of the Ottoman Empire and the Sultans in power, but that ended when the Turkish Republic was established. I have heard of married Turkish men having mistresses, but that’s no different than American men having affairs either.
All women are covered and wear traditional burqas. While many women in Turkey do wear head scarves and long trench coats, you rarely see women wearing a full black burqa unless it’s a tourist from Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries. In fact, you’ll see plenty of modern-day Turkish women wearing short dresses or skirts and colorful high heels in Istanbul. Despite the uneven, cobblestone streets, Turkish women seem to love wearing insanely high heels.
|Some of the more traditional women you'll see in Istanbul.|
|Daily life in Istanbul on Istiklal Cad. in Taksim.|
Now, I’m not saying life in Istanbul or Turkey is fine and dandy for everyone. The city and country certainly is not without its faults and bad people. Minority populations such as the Armenians and Kurds have experienced terrible things here too. In the past few months, there have been four violent attacks against Armenian elderly women and an Armenian school teacher was killed.
I also think the Turkish government has a fair number of issues, but I won’t delve into that topic.
I repeat: bad things can happen anywhere.
So this is just my two cents from an American woman in her mid-30s who is living happily and safely in Istanbul.
Here are some interesting travel articles:
Huffington Post: Are Travelers Safe in the Middle East?