Thursday, January 3, 2013

My lonesome hitches in a country where girls don't hitch alone

21.11.2012. That's the day of my last European hitch. Almost one month passed before I stuck out my thumb again, which seems like a very long time, considering how difficult it is for me to survive two weeks without even the shortest hitchhiking trip. Since most of my yabanci friends left home for Christmas and locals had other things that kept them in the city, I hit the road on my own. Normally I would probably jump up at such opportunity without hesitation, but in Turkey, a country where hitchhiking alone as a girl is assumed by many as a foolhardy and where a lonely girl encounters plenty of situations which are not as dangerous as they are annoying, I anticipated the sole act of hitchhiking with eagerness and impatience but everything that comes along with it – was something I wished away.

In Europe hitchhiking as a single girl is fast and enjoyable. In Turkey, in most of the instances, it's only fast. In Europe the first questions a new driver asks you when you get into the car are "where are you going," "what is your final destination," usually followed by “really?! You're so brave/crazy.” In Turkey it's "what's your name," "how old are you," as if was a date. Of course, there are people who don't pick you up in hope of an affair and whose only aim is to bring you safely to your destination. On the way to Konya, I got a ride with a Palestinian man who told me in fluent English about his friend walking around the world, a truck driver who talked about me to his English-speaking daughter and let me chat with her for a while, and two teachers who were really helpful when I had to contact Nur, offering me to use their phone and taking to our meeting spot.

There are also excellent drivers who go above and beyond to help you and make you feel comfortable. On my way to Ankara last May I hitchhiked with a young guy whose English was as shaky English as my Turkish, with no hopes for more than standard preliminaries, but who did everything to make a long ride from the western suburbs of Istanbul to Ankara enjoyable - told about prominent buildings of Istanbul that we passed, shared delicious Turkish sweets, introduced to traditional Turkish music, invited for a late dinner in his town, Safranbolu, showed its historical center, stuffed my backpack to the limits with even more food, called Ale to tell him how my trip was going and when I would arrive in Ankara, arranged a bus ticket and made sure I was on time in the right place on the bus station.

However, when I look back at my trips, the positive experiences are just a dim memory overshadowed by tens of rides where the drivers asked me about boyfriends/behaved in too familiar manner with me/offered to bring me a few kilometers further under the condition that I have sex with them/lasciviously stared at me/even at my refusal insisted on me carrying on riding with them not because my stories are so fascinating and they are curious about my exploits, but because I'm çok güzel, even if my clothes look like a weathered dishrag, my ponytail is dirty as a cow's tail and my eyes are narrowed to slits because of only five hours of sleep last night. Most of all, by the ride where I had to escape from the car in the middle of the night because the driver who in the beginning seemed normal, at some point appeared blatantly drunk and was becoming verbally aggressive (speaking a language I could understand).

Sadly, these negative experiences also influence my split-second judgments of eventually benevolent strangers - if one negative experience follows another, I become suspicious of the motives of people giving me rides. There's no way of making eye contact, smiling or accepting compliments, which could be interpreted as an invitation to making further advances. Sometimes a lot of time has to pass before I'm certain the driver has no bad intentions.

Sometimes my drivers tell me about themselves - they might be well-behaving husbands or loving dads longing to see their families after a long day at work. Nevertheless, when they find themselves in a one-on-one situation with an Western girl, they're anything but models of gentleness; their unrestrained Turkish lust is coming to the fore. I think they're basketcases unable to be cured of their convictions that female visitors to Turkey who travel on their own, especially hitchhiking, must be women of easy virtue. It's really frustrating when my responses to their nosiness - always simple bilmiyorum (I don't understand) - seem to fall on deaf ears and a lewd driver still keeps on challenging me with uncomfortably questions, as if hoping my level of Turkish will improve from staggering to speaking like a native in just five minutes. They usually contain words like evli (married), (wife), erkek arkadaş (boyfriend) and in spite of understanding these key words, I never give then an answer, which is none of their business after all. Sometimes I'm happy not to understand everything - at least I don't have to bother about the bullcrap these flippant men are telling me. Could I understood them entirely, I probably would give them a piece of my mind - and in some cases I still try really hard to tame my fiercest rages and not talk back (I already picked up some Turkish cusswords), and only the thought that I would have no chance with much stronger man, should he become aggressive, dissuades me from doing so - there's no point to let myself get beaten up for a few lecherous words.

So far nothing that would effectively discourage me from hitchhiking on my own in Turkey has happened - and inshallah it says this way for ever. Over the course of almost four years I learned how to wear thick skin and stay alert in situations where I could be harmed. If I gave up hitchhiking, no matter now troublesome it might appear sometimes, for a comfortable yet totally dull travel by bus or train, the journey would lose everything that makes it an adventure. Hopefully for the next months a major part of the adventure won't be dealing with people who are just a fraction of my overly positive experience in Europe.


4 comments:

  1. Hi Ewelina! I'm reaching out to you on behalf of a feminist website called 5harfliler (you can check it out at 5harfliler.com) We loved reading about your adventures travelling alone in Turkey, how brave of you. We would like to translate and republish your article with your permission on our website. Please reach us at 5harfliler@gmail.com Looking forward to hear from you, hope all is well.

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  2. *hearing

    The post is up by the way: http://www.5harfliler.com/otostop-ewelina-turkiye/ Thanks again.

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  3. I reached your article via 5harfliler. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I feed very ashamed of my country because I am a Turkish girl who live in Ankara. and yes you are right; in Turkey, men behave women who are hitchhiking as whores. I am so sorry. I hope you will have better experience at next time.

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  4. Merhaba Seval, thank you for your feedback. Turkey is definitely a country where women have to wear think skin when they travel alone, especially by thumb. I have friends who were effectively dissuaded from hitchhiking here for years after some bad experiences; I'm still not giving up. Remember that apart from these ill-willed people there are also really warm-hearted Turks who reminded me in times of trouble that I can still could on good people in this country.

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