Dutch in Turkey: ‘I want to go home’

Live in Turkey with your loved one: very romantic of course. Or is real life tougher than that? Yes. For Maaike, Ralph, Barbara and Charlene there is hardly any romance left. They want to return to Holland.

(more pictures will be published later!)

Maaike Dekkers (31) lives in Evrenseki on the south coast:

A brother in law moved in with her and her husband: Maaike’s marriage hardly survived that. After four months she was so fed up with it that she sent the brother in law away. Unforgiveable, said Maaike’s husband Veli, because you should support family, unconditionally. Maaike: ‘But in the end Veli understood me. I’m Dutch, I’m not used to something like that, I value my privacy. And besides, his brother didn’t do anything to help. When I came home after a hard day’s work, the breakfast things were still on the table and he was on the couch being useless. I just couldn’t accept it any longer.’

Maaike is sitting in the garden on a typical Turkish sofa with big cushions, under a sun umbrella. Next to her is a vegetable garden and trees, behind which a waterfall can be heard. Behind her a meadow, where sometimes horses are grazing but now some dogs are sniffing around. In front of her the house where she lives with her husband Veli and her sons Semih (17 months) and Kaya (4 months): cosy, one floor, a small leak and a 250 lira rent (about 125 euro). The sand path that leads away from the yard passes by a small creek and fruit trees to a small Turkish village. If you drive a bit further, you come to the tourist town of Side.

A plane back

It would be idyllic if you didn’t know the daily hardships. The demanding Turkish family can be dealt with, says Maaike, but the lack of security and money is getting her and her husband down. Veli works during the tourist season and earns enough for Maaike’s residence permit, a once a year ticket to the Netherlands and of course the daily groceries, and you end up way below zero. Without donations from the Netherlands they would never make ends meet. ‘If we could go to Holland tomorrow’says Maaike, ‘we would go’.

She is ready to let go of her pride, to consider her perseverance ‘finished’. Those sides of her character kept her from taking a plane back to Holland the first year after she moved to Turkey. She arrived in Turkey five years ago during summer. From those days she mainly remembers the neighbourhood women: ‘they came as soon as Veli went to work. When I opened the door, they immediately walked in to the living room. They opened drawers and cupboards, and one of them just left her kids with me when she went to work. My Turkish was bad, I really didn’t know what to do. And I couldn’t find work: all jobs were already taken as it was half way through summer.’

Suitcases packed

The winter was even worse. Veli’s work stopped and he had hardly been able to save any money because he had bought furniture on credit. Don’t tell Maaike you can ‘live on love’ when you don’t have a penny in your pocket. ‘We were together all the time and couldn’t do anything because everything costs money. Except going for walks, but after some time you know all the roads around here, believe me.’ She has been ready with her suitcases packed to leave Turkey and Veli behind, but pride, perseverance and love restrained her. ‘I kept thinking: things will be okay.’

She doesn’t think that anymore. Life in Turkey stays as it is: hard and insecure. She had several jobs, but all temporary, illegal, six or seven days a week and sometimes for only 400 lira a month. Now that she is a mother, working is out of the question: there are no part time jobs, and she didn’t become a mother to work full time (six days a week). Besides that: day care for her children would cost more than she could ever earn.She hardly talks to anybody. In the mornings Veli is at home, but for the rest of the time she is always by herself. She eats with the children; at night when they are asleep she sits on the couch alone. She has no means of transportation, it’s too far to walk to the village. ‘In general I’m okay with being alone’, she says, ‘but not this much.’ She remembers the weeks after she had her second child: her mother was there, but nobody else visited her, not even her family-in-law. ‘Turkish families close? Yes, when it suits them’. Presents that were sent from Holland, like baby clothes and traditional Dutch cookies, either didn’t reach her or the packages were opened. ‘My father is sick and couldn’t fly. He hasn’t seen Kaya yet.’

A third child

Her third child she wants to have in the Netherlands. But when that will happen, she has no idea. She thinks she cannot meet the requirements to get a residence permit in Holland for her husband. The route via Belgium, which many couples use to get around the strict Dutch criteria, also costs money, and they don’t have that. Maybe a third child remains a dream.

Ralph (41) lives in Istanbul:

Starting August 1st he has a job in the Netherlands again. He worked for the same boss before, in a media company. He will be playing tennis again, and running. Meeting with friends in a bar now and then. Taking his five year old twins to the neighbourhood school around the corner. Visiting his family whenever he wants. Getting really good Dutch peanut butter in the nearby supermarket, and a good block of cheese. ‘Maybe it sounds too provincial, but I’m so much looking forward to it!’

Ralph and his Turkish wife Fidan left Holland around two years ago. They were looking for a more relaxed life and settled in the coastal town of Bodrum, where they first met years ago. The children were small and they thought: “if we ever want to live abroad for some time of even emigrate, we have to do it now”. Bodrum turned out to be boring, they moved to Istanbul, Fidan found a good job at a hotel and Ralph started working as a freelance camera man. Everything was fine, Up until the moment Fidan got fired suddenly, without her being told the reason. Ralph: ‘then I thought for the first time: if that is how it works, I’m not sure if we can stay here.’

A good education

What he means to say is: he is adventurous, but when you have children, stability is also important. And a solid income, because if you want to give them a good education in Istanbul and thus send them to the international school, it will cost you a thousand euros a month for two kids. Ralph: ‘An insecure job makes that good school out of reach. A Turkish school is not an option. Turkish education is all about studying and achieving. The boy living next door is ten years old and is sometimes still working on his homework late at night. Horrible.’
In Holland both Ralph and Fidan had a good job, in Turkey Fidan has to provide the financial stability. For Ralph it’s difficult to get a work permit and he also isn’t sure whether he wants to work for a Turkish boss. ‘I see it at Fidan’s work: companies are managed in an immature and emotional way. If the boss doesn’t like you, you’re out. If the manager is incompetent but related to the boss, he won’t lose his job. I can’t really stand that.’ By the way, Ralph’s Turkish is also not good enough for many jobs. ‘Mistake on my side, I put too little energy into it.’

He now runs his own events organisation bureau, and the business is doing better and better but not well enough yet. ‘We had to make a decision now, and the future of our children played a big role. In Turkey children only have to go to school from age seven, but if we want to go to Holland, we have to enrol them in school now.’ Their choice is made.


They will miss Istanbul, and Fidan’s family, which also lives in the city. ‘I have travelled a lot’, says Ralph, ‘and I know no other city like Istanbul. Dynamic, international, great night life. But we hardly have a chance to enjoy it. Fidan goes to work six days a week at eight o’clock in the morning and on week days only comes home between ten and eleven at night. I am responsible for the children. In the beginning I loved parenting, but now I find it difficult: two five year olds demand all your attention, they are basically my social life. I love getting some exercise but I’m not going out for a run at eleven at night after Fidan comes home. There are great clubs here, but they are far from home and we hardly ever go there.’
The good thing is: Istanbul is only three hours away from Amsterdam. Soon things will be perfect. They will live in stable Holland, will both have a job with normal working hours and will have no fear of losing their jobs and being left without income. And when they feel like it, they can catch a plane and enjoy Istanbul for a weekend.

Barbara Lauwrens lives in Istanbul:

When the photo shoot for this story is over and the photographer says he also does advertising photography and film, Barbara quickly gives him her business card. ‘if you ever need a model, or an actress that can also sing, you can always reach me at this number.’ That’s how it works, she explains: in Istanbul work often comes through coincidental meetings. ‘That’s how I got my first film roll: I met an actor and director, and I said: ‘Couldn’t you write a role for me?’. He called me half a year later and now in his film I play a singer.’

Learn the language

It’s another step on the ladder to success. When she moved to Istanbul, one and a half years ago, she thought she’d be much further ahead now. ‘I was going to learn the language in a year’, she says, ‘and then find work. But Turkish turned out to be more difficult than I thought. I already had to turn down an offer to do TV presenting only because my Turkish is not good enough for that.’
It’s important for Barbara to be successful in her work. She had a good life in the Netherlands: after a musical education in London and classical singing at a Dutch conservatorium, she had already been working independently for ten years and made a good living. Then, on a trip to Istanbul, she fell in love. She didn’t want to keep travelling between Amsterdam and Istanbul, and  her boyfriend moving to Holland was not an option because he has a child in Turkey. ‘Then you have to choose: end the relationship, or move.’

Of course, she has had her doubts. ‘I didn’t want to come to Istanbul just for my boyfriend, because that puts pressure on your relationship. So I found a goal in my work, but so far it hasn’t turned out the way I wanted. The film I play in now is my first acting project. Low budget, it just covers my costs. But I can use it to make a good promotional film and hopefully that will take me further.’

Small jobs

Financially she’s okay: she rents out her apartment in Amsterdam, whenever she is in Holland she finds some work to do and in Istanbul she sometimes takes small jobs or gives workshops that are related to her profession, like voice projection. ‘But I’m not prepared to do just anything. I can easily find a job as an English teacher or in another job. Six days a week for 1500 lira, that’s 750 euro. I don’t do that. i want to act.’

In the beginning she tried to find work by going to auditions, mostly for advertising work. But that lead nowhere. ‘I didn’t understand what was happening: they only ask your name, age, height and weight. And because I was afraid they would ask me something I wouldn’t understand I felt insecure, which is of course no good.’ Now she knows networking is everything, and her network is expending. ‘The chances of making it here as an actress are bigger than in Holland, the scene is quite small. I can both sing and act, and that’s rather exceptional here. And also my looks are a pro.’ Not only her red hair and blue eyes are remarkable, she also looks younger than she is. ‘How old am I? Sorry, I will really not tell you.’
A part in one of the many Turkish tele-series, that would be great. But that, so she heard, doesn’t pay so well either; as an unknown actress you may get a thousand lira for an episode, and that’s for one week filming.

Feel the freedom

She rents her place in Amsterdam out for short periods, so she can live there again whenever she needs to. She has all her insurances in the Netherlands, and the two businesses in her name are still registered, even though they are not very active at the moment. ‘If I give that up, I lose all my security. And when I’m in Amsterdam, I want to be in my own house, and cycle through Amsterdam on my own bike. Feel the freedom, because I miss that here.’
Because Istanbul; she didn’t fall in love with it. ‘It’s too big and too busy, the traffic and air pollution drive you crazy and I think huge parts of the city are grey and not beautiful. The Bosporus runs through it, that’s marvellous, but still: I prefer Amsterdam. Or Berlin.’ If within six to twelve months she feels her acting career is really going in the right direction and her Turkish is substantially improving, she will stay. ‘It would be great to harvest the fruits of the seeds I’m planting now. Play beautiful roles, total independence. Like I used to have in Holland.’

Charlene Krutzen-Onuk (31) lives in Alanya on the south coast:

Charlene’s husband Güney is crazy about Holland. The clean streets, the homeliness, the regularity, the nine to five jobs. Boring? No, that’s not boring, that’s peaceful. And when Charlene looks at her own country through her husband’s eyes, she sees it too: Holland is beautiful and offers security. There she can do what she really wants, she says: ‘Have a second child, maybe even a third. I really don’t dare to do that in Turkey.’
And so they will leave Turkey in November. Charlene works for a big travel organisation and can start working in the office after the summer season, in Rotterdam. But they will live in Belgium, because the rules to settle there with a non-EU citizen are less strict than in the Netherlands. If they went direct to the Netherlands, Güney would only be able to come half a year after Charlene, and they refuse to be separated as a family. A few years later, after Güney gets his residence permit, they can move to Holland.

At first sight Charlene’s life seems just fine. She works for a Dutch boss and earns a Dutch income. Güney also works, and her mother in law is always available as baby sitter for their son. Her Turkish is practically fluent, she knows a lot of people, she often works outside and can to an extent choose her own working hours.
The reality is that both Charlene and her husband only work in summer and have to earn their income for the rest of the year. Charlene: ‘And from that income we also have to provide for my mother in law. We pay everything for her: the rent and other monthly expenses, food, clothes, insurance. She has had Parkinson’s Disease for years now and the insurance doesn’t cover all the treatments, so we have to take care of that too.’

She thinks mother in law secretly wishes to join her son and daughter in law in Europe. ‘She doesn’t say it’, says Charlene, ‘but she talks a lot about visiting us. That’s okay of course, but living with us? My husband once proposed to do that here in Turkey so we can save the rent of her apartment, but I didn’t consider that. She is a sweet woman, but I love my privacy too.’

Exploring night life

Not so strange: seven months a year Charlene works six, sometimes seven days a week, often including nights. Her husband works as a DJ in a club and is out practically every evening and night. Sometimes, when she is exploring night life with a group of young Dutch people, she also visits the bar where her husband works, so they can see each other shortly. Every moment they have together at home with their son must remain undisturbed. It must be great, Charlene dreams, to work in Holland and have the weekend off, and the evenings too.
Maybe she will get used to the more relaxed life in Holland. Or maybe she will find it a rush too, once she has the three children she would like to have. You get used to where you live, that much she learned after six years in Turkey. ‘People on holiday’, she says, ‘are jealous of me because I live right by the sea and in such a nice climate, but I don’t even realize that anymore. Like they probably don’t really see how beautiful Holland is.’

But despite all that, she’s not only looking forward to going home. ‘An office!’, she says with big eyes. ‘I will sure take some time to get used to that! Turkey has many great sides, I’m happy here. But ever since we made the decision to move away, my longing for Holland is growing.’ It’s as if she only now permits herself to feel the homesickness.

Pictures of Charlene and Maaike by Hilmi Barcin

3 replies
  1. Rudi
    Rudi says:

    I’ve read the stories and they all are the same and I agree with all of them. I’ve been living in Istanbul for about eight years, teaching English for the last five years and sometimes a gig as a barok singer. I still have to choose between paying my bills or risking the electricity cut of until my next payday which is at least two weeks later than supposed to.
    Going back to the Netherlands?? I’m considering it knowing that life there will be easier though more boring.

  2. annita
    annita says:

    als ik dit alles lees denk ik aan laatste x wij in bitez verbleven,
    in restaurant zitten we alleen zoals we dachten als nederlands talige,doch, links en rechts zaten, toevallig belgish-turkse mannen, zei zegden ook turkije te missen,hoe losten zij het op???en daar geen euro aan kwiijt te raken??,winter werken in Belgie voor enige maanden met intrim-kantoor, dan terwijl ze nadien toch hun stempelgeld hebben, in zomer een zaakje of in hotel werken in Turkije,slim he!! geen onbetaalde rekeningen, zon, en een dubbel paspoort zorgt voor de financiele oplossingen ,,,,,,,!!!!!

  3. Sofia
    Sofia says:

    … O, wat een ontluisterend verhaal… kan me er wel wat bij voorstellen en het is goed dat je het zo opschrijft en de kern raakt, het heeft dus niets te maken met de liefde voor de partners maar puur de samenleving, levensstijl die er in Turkije heerst, zo iets merk je niet bij een leuke vakantie of een stedentripje in Istanbul, doet me denken aan het boek van Stine Jensen – Turkse vlinders.


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