Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Other side of Paradise.

Göltürkbükü is paradise for me. The skies are blue (though I have been here for torrential downpours. One October my terrace turned into a swimming pool and I had to climb out the window to sort out a blocked drain. If I'd opened the door I'd have had an indoor pool.) The quality of the light that is an immediate mood enhancer. It is better than any anti depressant to me.

This is where I come when my head is whirring and I feel overwhelmed.

I relax, read, listen to music and  even become a proper housewife, I clean and iron  and have time to enjoy cooking. I'm even a little house proud.

Here I feel cared for and cherished by my friends. I'm the cared for rather than the care giver.

I'm often asked will I move here permanently, for now the answer is no.

To move here permanently would depend on many things. The main issue being my 85 year old Mum lives with me. I plan to retire in two years time, she will be 87. I will not uproot her at that time nor will I leave her for long stretches of time.

Though being the loving daughter that I am, she knows now as my retirement is looming she is on borrowed time. I have given her three options:

  1. She can "kick the bucket"
  2. She can find a toy boy and move out. 
  3. She can move to one of the female monasteries of Meteora, Greece and live out her days, listening to birdsong, among the rose gardens, in tranquility and prayer.
Last week she came home with a leaflet from a dating agency in Knock that she picked up in the back of the church. She handed it to me with glee. As another school year ends and my retirement gets closer she decided it was time to get working on her options.

Seriously, what would life be like to live here permanently. It depends on what end of the social scale you dwell. Most of my friends here are on the lower end of this scale.

Metin, the caretaker on our complex, has become part of our extended family. He has visited us in Ireland, something that many of his countrymen will never do. It is almost impossible to get a visa for many countries unless you are well off. How he got the visa is a story in itself and he would not have been able to do it alone. That story is here. Irish Tourist Visa for a Turkish National

 His wages are about €350 a month, though he is luckier than most, his accomodation is free and his social insurance is paid and it is full time. Much of the work here is seasonal.  His two year passport cost about €250, visa application fee €60 euros, documents copied, translated and notarised €350. In total the best part of two months wages. You can see how this becomes out of reach for the lower paid worker. He also had to pay a tax to leave his own country.

His job  here is to be available 24/7. He has no set hours and no set holidays. If he want time off he must ask. Most times he has to find a replacement at his own expense. His duties include going to the shop in the morning for the bread and newspapers and anything else that might be wanted. Some of the people wait until he is back and them decide what they want and he must go again. They hang off the balconies and bellow for him. He carries in their one bag of shopping from the car to the front door.

He also walks their dogs, feeds their cats, looks after the gardens, cleans the swimming pool and fixes anything that goes wrong. We are going to the Black Sea region on Saturday  for four days. We invited him to come with us. He only got permission today, on the understanding he pays his replacement, and one of the other house owners is going to supervise the new guy. We have fought for better conditions for him and a contract outlining his duties and hours of work but have run into a brick wall. That is not how it is done. What he wants more than anything is to find a wife, but because he is not a house or car owner the girls in this area won't look at him.

My friend across the road is a little further up the ladder. They own their own house,  though, technically speaking, the bank does. She has two sons, both of whom are now engaged. They bought a taxi for the sons and her husband has his own water tanker. These jobs are only profitable in the tourist season. So she gets up at 05.30 every morning to make fishing nets. Sometimes she does not finish until 10 o'clock at night. The loans have to be paid. None of what she earns is spent on herself.

In addition to making the nets she cooks and cleans. In the morning when her eldest son returns from his night shift she takes a break to clean the taxi. She is told not to go out into her garden if their tenants are in. They might be looking at her. She also cannot be seen talking to Metin, it would be misconstrued.

Her youngest son is doing his military service, 15 months away from his young fiancee. Military service is unpaid in Turkey, it is a big loss of income to a household.

He wants to get married as soon as he returns home in September. In Turkey, weddings are expensive for the boy's family. He is expected to buy many gold bracelets for his intended. The wedding itself goes on for three days. The party takes place in both houses with food constantly on offer. The whole village is invited as well as all the relations and friends. There is often 600+ people to be catered for.

In my friends case, her house is split into two apartments. The bottom apartment is rented but it was always planned for one of the sons.

However, the fiancees family is insisting my friend's family buys a house for the young couple. This, in an area where house prices are inflated well above the norm because of tourism, is a huge added burden. Her hair is turning prematurely grey. Already she works all hours to keep the family afloat and the loans paid. Her arms ache from the repetitive work, making the nets.

I suggested the young couple elope, cuts down on wedding costs. It seems that because they are already engaged, the rules are they must still have the big wedding party at home. You can only escape the wedding if you elope before the engagement. Too late for my friend!

For now, I'm accepted as the slightly crazy, fun loving, Irish woman. I wonder how long would this last if I  lived here permanently. For now, I'm forgiven for coming without my husband, for being the one to do all the talking when he is here (He says I don't let him get a word in edgeways in English, why would he learn Turkish), for spending time in the company of a young man, though this has raised eyebrows in some quarters. I can say things with a smile that will make the men laugh but if their wives were to say the same there would be trouble later.

Life for the less well off is not easy in Turkey. There is little or no opportunity and encouragement to get your foot on the ladder. You can be honest and hard working but unless you have a car, a house and money in the bank, you are invisible to those even a little better off than you.

So for now, fighting the class system in my own small way, my paradise will remain my holiday paradise, my escape, my dream. A friend once told me,while sitting beside her pool chatting with some other friends one of them said. "We used to read the books, now we are the books"  

To live here permanently would change all that. What do you think?


  1. Being a caregiver is hard, the escape is something I learned is very very necessary. If you like your visits to Turkey then don't fix what isn't broken :)

  2. I love that your mom wants it to be her decision (joking or not). That kind of attitude will serve her well. As to whether you move permanently or not, well ... I'm glad it's not my decision.

  3. It's a hard choice, isn't it? It does sound like continuing to visit is a wise choice. Moving there full time might take the shine of' what a hard life for a lot of the people who do live there permanently. Incredibly hard.
    Thanks for opening my eyes to how other people live in other parts of the world.
    Josie x

  4. Your Mums 3 options were a crack up Mary. I think the novelty would certainly wear off if it were to become a permanent change. Who knows? There is only one way to find out I guess. Perhaps a 3 month stint? Is that longer than you spend there now.
    Its amazing how hard life is in non-westernised countries. Weve been to Bali a few times lately and life is tough. It sure does make you appreciate it how lucky we have it.
    Good luck with your decision Mary and more Mum sequels in the same vein would be fun...:)

  5. Lalia, I think we all need to escape sometimes. If the escape became the norm, a new escape would be necessary.
    Thom, my Mum is wonderful, she drives me nuts, but if I have half her kick and drive at 85 I will be doing well.
    Josie, I think we all find that when we look deeper at any place, life can be very difficult for a section of the population.
    Maureen, at the moment I come any chance I get. I spend two months in the summer, a week in October, a week at New Years if I can get away with it and two weeks at Easter. I'm usually counting the days until I'm back. Mum enjoys the joke too, she loves to tell people what a cruel daughter she has. The day I stop joking is the day she will begin to worry she says.

  6. This is a hard decision. Ireland and Turkey could not be any more different. As for your Mum, she is in good spirit despite her age...You already seem to know Turkey very well and you know what lies behing the facade -the tough working condition, and the lack of money-.At the end of the day, it is about finding out where yuo would be happier. Good luck.

  7. Strangely enough Muriel, Turkey and Ireland are very similiar in some ways. We encounter so many things that were the same in Ireland but 50 years ago. Family and hospitality are king. Our sense of humour is also very close. On the other hand Turkey's infrastructure is way ahead of Ireland. There isn't anywhere in this country I couldn't get to using public transport. At home I can't even get to my nearest town without a car.

  8. Now I know where you get your spunk and humor from - your Mum :) I realize that you had a birthday recently and though belated I wish you a great year ahead. May you find an answer to your question about settling in 'paradise'.

  9. Your mom's choices were actually hilarious! Well, decisions like this are always tough but weight the pros and cons, talk it over with people who matter, with people who would be affected by that change, your own thoughts, your own strengths and all that jazz! Good Luck!

  10. Thanks for the birthday wishes Corinne. Hajra I personally think option three is her best. She loves nature, spends her time talking to every animal and bird in sight. She also prays a lot, usually for a better daughter. She would be far enough away in Greece but not that far that I couldn't pop over to see her now and then. However she seems to be leaning towards the toy boy. If she is not careful talking to the animals a new option might crop up. She could be locked away, after all she did give birth to a cilgin kiz

  11. You have a great sense of humour, it seems inherited from your mom, which makes for a fun blog. Love your mum's options. The part about life in Turkey - not yours but the people's with monetary and social limitations, reminded me of Mexico. How hard and expensive it is to get a visa, the enforced non-paid military service, expectations for a lavish wedding despite lack of money, and that poor woman weaving nets from dawn to way past dusk, etc. It makes me realize how fortunate we are to live in countries where we can actually enjoy our lives. Most of the world is similar to Turkey where life is a hardship and demanding in ways we couldn't believe. We should stop whining about our self-absorbed selves and thank God or whatever for being able to live at least with some comfort, and travel where and when we like, and marry merrily, so to speak, and not have to do hard physical labor for a pittance. Thanks for the insights into another culture - and this morning's laugh.

  12. I've always loved learning about other cultures, and your posts paint such a clear picture. I find myself drawn into the lives of your Turkish friends, wondering what will happen next. Excellent writing Mary!


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