Some came to Turkey many decades ago, and have lived through coups, rapid economic development and mass urbanization. Some arrived on a plane last week. For some, Turkey is so much “home” that they can scarcely remember what life was like elsewhere; others are just passing through fleetingly.
Some ladies came to Turkey because their husband was posted here on business or in the diplomatic corps. Some are career women and came here on their own work assignment. Yet, others came because they fell in love with a Turkish man. Of these some have been happily married for a long time, while others, although their marriage ended in divorce, have stayed to be close to their children.
Some came for the adventure, some came for the experience of living somewhere different, some came to earn more money or to gain advancement along the career ladder, some came to get away from a situation abroad, some came for love, some came with a sense of duty, some came enthusiastically and full of hope and some came reluctantly, fearfully and grudgingly.
But whatever their story of how they came to Turkey, each and every one will be touched in some way by their time here. Perhaps older and wiser, perhaps hurt and disappointed, perhaps deeply enriched by the experience, but no one will leave the same person as they came.
What about you? What brought you to Turkey? What can you do to stack the odds so that your experience here is more likely to be a positive one for you personally?
An occasional contributor to this newspaper, Matt Krause came for love. He met a beautiful Turkish woman on a flight to Hong Kong, and unexpectedly moved to Turkey in 2003. In actual fact he uses the intriguing line, “I wouldn’t have been on that plane if my black lab Milk Dud had had better social skills,” which teases the reader so you’ve just got to read on.
His memoir on his time in Turkey starts with this thought-provoking poem about koi fish:
Put a koi into a fish bowl, and it will grow to three inches.
Put a koi into an aquarium, and it will grow to nine inches.
Put a koi into a pond, and it will grow to eighteen inches.
Put a koi into a lake, and it will grow to three feet.
The koi fills up whatever container you give it.
He titles his book “A Tight Wide-open Space,” neatly summing up the contradiction that is Turkey. But perhaps it is this conundrum that means our experience in Turkey can range from that of a koi in a fish bowl to that of a koi in a lake. How we view the people and our environment here determines how much we grow while here or how much we remain static and confined to our own self-imposed boundaries and limitations.
Matt has written an immensely readable and pleasing account of five years in Turkey. He came here for love. I am sure that very few would have been as decisive as he when his Turkish girlfriend announced she had decided to return to İstanbul: “I thought about if for about 10 seconds and said, ‘Well I’ll come with you’.”
This impulse was to lead him to a series of life-changing encounters, both dramatic and mundane. But they became life-changing because Matt allowed them to speak to him about his attitudes, his worldview and above all his values.
By marrying into the culture, Matt is exposed to Turkey in a detail that the casual visitor fails to experience. He gains a deep understanding of the individual/group perspective that differentiates his homeland from that of his wife. This underscores the whole story: Right from the very first words of his introduction where he portrays a family going together to purchase sacrifice meat at Kurban Bayramı, and the way all the generations gather with them to celebrate the feast. (By the way, not an introduction to be read by a squeamish vegetarian.)
He moves from a very isolated start, where his only contact is his girlfriend, to being part of a whole new extended family. The first is illustrated by his having to approach the request for a girl’s hand in marriage on his own, while this formal visit in Turkey is normally a meeting of two families: “While my girlfriend translated I also thought about her parents, especially about her father. How was he taking all of this? Would he feel insulted that my family was not here to do this in the proper Turkish way? Would he feel insulted that instead of speaking to the head of my family, someone his own age, he had to listen to a strange foreign kid speaking a foreign tongue?”
The latter is illustrated by his later realization of the qualities of his father-in-law: “For decades Mr. E has watched over his family like a protective hawk, providing love and support wherever it has been needed. Mr. E usually doesn’t even offer his help, he just shows up at your door and starts providing it.”
Krause’s descriptions are perceptive and delightful. This stems from his having reconciled his heart with Turkey. “When you love something, you understand that its good side and bad side are two sides of the same coin.”
If you are seeking just a simple boy-meets-girl, goes to her country and has some interesting and weird experiences tale, then you will find some of the morals Matt draws out somewhat preachy. Perhaps the book could have greater impact on its intended audience and a wider circulation if it were packaged not as a memoir of life abroad but as a personal development book challenging our worldview. A little bit of editing to bring the worldview-change issues to the fore and using the story of life as a backdrop to illustrate these would turn this from a cozy armchair read into a challenging life-coach.
He certainly has some challenging things to say about not judging all Muslims as terrorists (drawn out from a meditation about people whose name is Jihad) and understanding that fundamentalist doesn’t mean violent (we get there through a fantastic story about a lampshade shop).
Most of the episodes of experience he chooses to use in his collage are little gems; a few chapters are mundane, however. But the book is worth reading just for Matt Krause’s 95 percent/5 percent rule. Considering how the Abrahamic story is central to each of the three major monotheistic faiths, he concludes that we are 95 percent similar to, and only 5 percent different from, each other.
“Human nature being what it is, we humans focus on and obsess over the 5 percent. We plaster our headlines with the 5 percent. We think the 5 percent drives the world around us. What actually drives the world around us is the 95 percent. When we allow our obsession with the 5 percent to control our actions, we let the tail wag the dog.”
“A Tight Wide-open Space,” by Matt Krause, published by Delridge Press (2011) $12 in paperback ISBN: 978-146091043-6