Love and death

I am still in the south-eastern province of Sirnak, in the village of Gülyazi. Yesterday, I decided to take a bus to Uludere, the biggest town of the district of Uludere, some twenty kilometres away from Gülyazi. Just to take a look around. On the way back, something weird happened, and I had the weirdest talk in the bus.

It started in the main street of Uludere, from where the bus left. There was some sort of fight going on in the street; a group of men were trying to control two other men who were obviously very angry with each other. I recognized one man I had talked to a few hours earlier in the park, as he tried to calm things down a bit. When he walked away, I asked him what had happened. ‘A girl took off’, was all he said.

The bus driver got involved too, so when the bus left some ten minutes later I asked him what the fight was all about. I was on the front seat, and next to him, in between us, was a young woman of maybe just under twenty years of age. The conversation that unfolded didn’t get a serious tone for one second: my conversation partners were giggling and laughing, which felt totally unreal to me.

Me: ‘What was the fight about?’
Driver: ‘A girl ran away.’
Me: ‘I don’t understand, can you explain?’
Driver: ‘Okay, look, imagine you’re in love but your family doesn’t allow it. Then what do you do? You can run away.’
Me: ‘Together?’
Driver: ‘Yes, together, or the boy takes the girl.’

Me: ‘So what was the fight about then?’
Driver: ‘The two fathers had a fist fight’.
Young woman, laughing: ‘Sometimes they use guns, but this time only fists.’
Me: ‘So there is a problem with their children but they decide not to talk but to fight.’
Driver and young woman laugh very hard, and driver says: ‘Yes, that’s right, they fight.’
Me: ‘So now what’s going to happen?’
Young woman, talking very casually: ‘The girl will be killed.’
Me: ‘Where is she then?’
Young woman, laughing: ‘I don’t know, but they will find her.’
Me: ‘Why does she have to be killed?’
Young woman, in the meantime taking the wrapper off a chocolate ice cream: ‘For honour. You know, honour is the most important thing for us Kurds. So that’s why she has to die.’
Me: ‘How do you feel about that?’
Young woman: ‘How I feel about it? Well, it’s just the way it is, it’s about honour.’

Me: ‘Do girls go voluntarily with the boy, or not?’
Young woman: ‘Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.’
Me: ‘What’s going to happen to the boy?’
Driver: ‘He will be beaten.’
Me: ‘So he can stay alive?’
Young woman, laughing hard: ‘Yes, but you are right, they should kill the boy, shouldn’t they, I mean, the girl can’t help it that the boy takes her!’
Me: ‘Well, I was actually thinking: don’t kill anybody.’
Driver and young woman look at me puzzled and laugh – that’s a good one indeed, don’t kill anybody.

Me: ‘So, imagine, as a young couple, you want to run away because you don’t get permission to get married. Where do you go?’
Young woman, slowly eating her chocolate ice cream: ‘To a big city. Diyarbakir, Izmir, Istanbul.’
Me: ‘And if you get there and they don’t find you, your escape was successful.’
Young woman: ‘Yes, it sometimes happens.’
Me: ‘And if you don’t succeed, you will die.’
Young woman: ‘Yes.’
Me: ‘So soon there will be a headline in the paper: girl killed by family in Uludere.’
Young woman, laughing: ‘Yes, imagine a big headline: ‘In Uludere a girl..’
Driver takes over: ‘… ate a chocolate ice cream!’
The two laugh very hard at the joke.

Me: ‘And the police, what are they going to do?’
Young woman: ‘Nothing, they can’t stop the killing from happening.’

A few minutes silence. I wonder why the two find this such a funny conversation. The first thing that comes to mind of course that this is a way to deal with such horrors, but that’s a rather Western interpretation. I think they just found it very funny that I, a Western woman, didn’t understand this very fundamental issue and kept asking qustions about it. That these basics need to be explained!
Then the young woman takes her bag and says: ‘Can I show you a picture?’ Now she sounds serious.

She shows a picture of herself and a young man, they were photoshopped into the same picture. She says: ‘He’s dead.’
Me: ‘What happened?’
She: ‘He was killed together with 34 others in the bombing by the army when he was smuggling diesel, at the end of December. Have you heard about that?’
Me: ‘Yes, I know about it. My condolences. Was he your brother?’
She: ‘No, he was my fiancé.’
Me: ‘Oh, how very sad. So you were about to get married? Your dad agreed to your relationship?’
She: ‘I don’t have a father, he died when I was very young, I don’t remember him. But my family gave permission.’
Me: ‘But now he is dead.’
She: ‘Yes, I lose the people who love me.’

Mother’s Day

Esra wants to take me to the local shop. I’m not sure why, but she insists and takes me by the hand. In the shop I want to buy her and her sister a notebook because they want to practice their writing all the time. But she doesn’t like it. She wants a gold coloured necklace. I refuse to buy it; I say I’m not sure if her mother would agree. We leave the shop, and then she whispers: ‘It was for Mother’s Day’. So we return to the shop and get the necklace.

I am spending some time in Gülyazi, the village in the district of Uludere where, at the end of December, 34 civilians were bombed by the Turkish army. I am staying with a family that lives in a group of four, five houses. I stay in a room in Esra’s mother’s house. The massacre made her a widow at age 28, and she is now alone with five children between five and ten years old. She explains her situation very simply: ‘Before it was bad, now it is worse’.

Her husband made a living from all sorts of day jobs: herding sheep and goats, working in construction, and sometimes he went right across the Iraqi border, some six kilometres from here, to smuggle sugar, diesel and tea. Now that he is no longer alive, she has no income. Like all the families of the victims, she refused the compensation the state offered them. The family helps out, but her sister-in-law also has no man to provide for her: he was sentenced to four years in prison for ‘aiding terrorists’ and has two more years to go.

The poverty is striking. The house has no running water – luckily the creek nearby offers crystal-clear drinking water. There are carpets and cushions, a television that I think doesn’t work, very basic food, there is nothing in the house that is not necessary. There are no beds, the kids just get a blanket when they get tired and lay down on the carpet or on a cushion. The main electricity plug is burned and out of use. Underneath the TV is a picture of Esra’s father – it’s covered with a cloth so they are not confronted with the loss all the time.

As I write this, the evening before Mother’s day, Esra is wrapping her present for her mother in a piece of white paper and writes a sweet message on it. But the present is not a necklace. Halfway on the way back home from the shop, Esra changed her mind. She ran back and returned with a set of vegetable peelers and a pair of socks. Practical thinking. I do so hope it will bring a smile to Esra’s mother’s sad face.

A kiss on the cheek

The gay men in the film Zenne Dancer kiss on the cheek, not on the mouth. The only time they go further than that is when they need photographs of gay sex, to convince a military committee they are actually gay and for that reason get exempt from doing their military service (which is not a procedure invented for the film but still common practice in the army). Then, when they ‘have to’, we see full kisses, and then the suggestion of sex. The funny thing is, one of the men, the German Daniel, is bisexual, and a girlfriend visiting him does immediately sit down on his lap and starts kissing heavily, as lovers do. He rejects her: he is in love with his Turkish boyfriend.

It must have been very hard for the director and producer to make a film for a broad audience about a gay honour killing and about how gays are treated in Turkey. To find a balance between telling a true tale of gay love and friendship and not shock the audience with too explicit images. Because in Turkey that is what still shocks mainstream audiences: real love, including sex, between two men. 
The other shock in the film is the tragedy the film is based on and which happened in 2008: Ahmet Yildiz, a student in Istanbul from the conservative south-eastern region of Urfa, was killed by his own father because he was gay. The murder is known for being the first gay honour killing that drew widespread public attention. The father has still not been arrested, and is most probably hiding in northern Iraq.

Honesty

In short, you could say that Zenne Dancer (meaning ‘male belly dancer’) tries to find a balance between what shocks Turks in general – gay love – and what is condemned often but nevertheless still happens and often even understood: honour killings. Some statistics: a survey at Bahcesehir University showed that 88% of the Turks object to a gay or atheist neighbour or an unmarried couple living next to them. Stats from the Turkish government show that in Istanbul alone every week an honour killing takes place (and usually women and girls are the victims), and about thousand were carried out in the whole country between 2003 and 2008.

Turkey as a society is not primarily based on freedom of the individual and seeking happiness in your personal life, but on protecting the family and tradition you are a part of. Individual choices are subordinate to that. Who challenges the order, can get into serious trouble.
In the film, that is very well shown by a conversation between the two lovers, Daniel and Ahmet. Daniel encourages Ahmet to be honest to his conservative family about being gay. ‘Honesty is always the best way’, he says. ‘In the end, your parents love you’. Especially that last sentence made me giggle: it is so utterly typical of a western way of thinking. Your parents will at most be shocked for a while about their child being gay, but if you give them some time, they will adjust and welcome you into their arms again. Ahmet replies: ‘You don’t understand. Honesty could kill me.’

Changing attitudes

Ahmets parents do love their son, that is clear throughout the film, but that love is not strong enough to wipe away traditional convictions. Ahmet refuses to come back to his family and get ‘help’ from the Imam to overcome his ‘sickness’. So then the father sees no other way: he travels to Istanbul and guns down his son. In a later scene, we see Ahmets mother, who encouraged the murder, crying uncontrollalby.

The film won a series of awards at Turkey’s most important film festival, in Antalya. It is now in cinemas all over the country, also in conservative cities like Trabzon, Konya and Diyarbakir. I do wonder what kind of audience it is attracting, and about how they feel afterwards. The message of the film is clear, and what should be the most shocking part is the honour killing. How big a part of the audience has to admit that deep down they are more shocked by the one vague but unmistakably gay sex scene? How much will the film contribute to changing attitudes towards gays in Turkey? Can gays really kiss in the next big release film about gay rights?

Dutch Maaike left Turkey – with her children, but without her husband

Dutch woman Maaike Dekkers (32) is married to Veli, a Turkish man. They have two sons, Semih (3) and Kaya (2). Until recently they lived together in Turkey, but last June Maaike returned to the Netherlands. With her children, but without her husband.

Photography: Ernie Enkelaar

‘Veli knew what I gave up in the Netherlands, and why I had such a difficult time in Turkey. ‘Then why don’t you go back to the Netherlands?’, he once said. ‘But I don’t want to go without you!,’ I replied. He meant that I could go to Holland for a week or so, just to gain some strength and energy, but to me it slowly became clear that that would not be enough. One week in the Netherlands would just not be enough to get our life back on track again.

Maaike and her son Kaya. Photo: Ernie Enkelaar. Click to enlarge.

It started eight years ago. I was 24, and on holiday in Turkey with my mother. In Side, a tourist town on the south coast, I met Veli. We were instantly attracted to each other. He was a waiter in a hotel, and I found him different than all the other guys working in tourism. He was not macho, but shy, and he didn’t flirt with all the women like the other men.
He very soon declared his love for me. I was careful though: in such a touristy town women come and go the whole long summer, as I was aware of course. But I did really like him, and during the holiday I just enjoyed his attention.

After coming back to the Netherlands I couldn’t get him out of my mind. We stayed in touch, and I noticed I felt more for him than just some summer butterflies. He was kind-hearted and I’m attracted to that, and he turned out to be very curious. He has no education at all because there was no money for that in his family, but he’s very intelligent. He taught himself German and English, he was interested in many things, open to everything.

I decided to go back to see if there could be more between us. I hesitated at the last moment: I had fallen while horse-riding, my arm was broken and I was not sure how he would react to that. But he showed his most caring side. Did everything for me. Then it became clear to me: he is serious in his feelings for me. That’s why I could let go of my scepticism about holiday love, and give room to my butterflies for him. I kept going back, about six times in two years. Things were good between us, uncomplicated.

I was looking forward to building a life together

But the better we were together, the more difficult I found this long distance relationship. I wanted to be with him. Also, I really liked life in Turkey: less rushed and planned, and on the south coast the weather is always sunny.

When I visited Veli, I did see that life was different in summer than in winter. From May till October he worked hard, always as a waiter in the same hotel, while in the winter he only had irregular temporary jobs, for example in construction. But I thought we could manage with that. And anyway, if I moved to Turkey, I would of course work as well. In the Netherlands I worked in a children’s day-care centre and I had an extra job in a bar to finance my trips and phone calls to Turkey, and I was confident this experience would lead to a job easily. Also because I know my languages: English, German, Dutch and some French.

After almost two years of traveling, six years ago I quit my jobs and left the Netherlands. I had so much faith in Veli and me, and I was so much looking forward to building a life together. Still, I was of course aware that I had no idea what it would be like to not be just visiting Turkey, but to actually live there.

I had everything my heart desired

The first summer was hard. When I arrived, there were no more jobs available ; all summer job vacancies were filled. Veli worked long hours, I knew nobody and my Turkish was very bad. We lived in a village, and as soon as Veli left for work, neighbourhood women came to our house. They rang the bell, I opened the door and the next moment they would be straight into the living room, opening cupboards and drawers. One woman sometimes left her children with me when she had to go to work. I had no idea how to handle the situation, I felt so lost.

But after some time, the tide turned. I got to know some English people who owned a horse riding school. I could work there, even though I didn’t have a work permit. A dream job: I love children and horses. On their land there was a small house where Veli and I could live very cheaply. A paradise: it was far outside the village, we had a lot of space around us, we could grow our own vegetables, the natural surroundings were beautiful and I was outside most of the day.
Veli’s situation also seemed to improve, because the hotel planned to stay open during the winter, so he would have work and health insurance the whole year round. That’s when we got married. When friends asked when I would come back to the Netherlands, I said: ‘I don’t think I’ll come back.’ I had everything my heart desired.

From one day to the other, we couldn’t make ends meet anymore

The situation seemed stable enough to seriously consider having a family. We didn’t have much money, but that didn’t need to prevent our children having a good childhood, did it? There were many poor families, but they had a good life anyway, it seemed to me. In retrospect that was far too romantic a notion. Before you actually have children, you don’t know what it feels like to be a mother and what kind of things you will find important.

When I got pregnant, I immediately noticed I missed my family more than ever. My family-inlaw was hardly there for me. Turkish families are close, it’s said, but Veli’s family only showed up when it suited them, not when I needed them. My parents were not there when Semih was born because he was born a few weeks prematurely. When Kaya was born, only my mother could come, because my father was sick and not allowed to fly. Friends in Holland sent me presents, like baby clothes and Dutch sweets, but none of them arrived.
As if that wasn’t enough, our financial situation changed drastically. My job at the riding school ended suddenly: the owners hadn’t arranged things properly and were thrown out of the country. The hotel where Veli worked decided not to open during winter after all. From one day to the other, we didn’t even have enough money to pay our daily expenses. We couldn’t make ends meet without financial support from my family. For me, it was hard to find work: jobs are never part-time here but always six or seven long days a week, and getting a work permit is very difficult.

Do I want them to have a future like their father’s?

Children are not unhappy when there is not much money. I still believe that, but since I’ve been a mother, I have let go a bit of that Turkish mentality. The mentality of ‘tomorrow is a new day’. That attitude suits me, but not when it concerns my children. No health insurance for six months a year, that’s not okay, is it? Veli would say: ‘Come on, don’t be so negative, nothing bad will happen’. But I found that irresponsible and just wanted to have things arranged properly. The Dutch way, so to speak.

I also thought of the future of Semih and Kaya. In Turkey, if you don’t have money, you can’t send your kids to a good school. Do I want them to have a future like their father’s, without education, with only insecure jobs in tourism with no prospect of a better life? No, I want them to have more opportunities.

I felt increasingly lonely. I couldn’t go anywhere, because I had no transport and the village was too far away to walk. The children, colleagues and horses of the riding school were gone, and I was home alone the whole day with two little children. Veli was home in the mornings and returned from work only late at night. I was always eating alone with the kids, I always put them to bed alone, and when Semih and Kaya were asleep, I would sit alone on the couch. In winter it was the same, because in Turkey men and family come first. I always felt I came second, while I had given up everything I had in Holland, and had to manage as a young mother without my family.

I wanted to fight – one more time

That’s the situation we were in when Veli said: ‘‘Then why don’t you go to the Netherlands?” That was about a year ago now. But how could I go back? Going with the whole family was no option, because for that you need a minimum income and of course I didn’t have that. And without Veli? Maybe there was no other way, but I couldn’t make the decision yet. We loved each other, we had a family and I wanted to fight for that. One more time.

I stayed, but a few things needed to change. I wanted two mornings of child care for Semih so I would have a bit more time for myself. Veli would have to contribute more to bringing up the kids and he would have to seriously search for a more stable winter job.
For some time he seemed to make an effort, but soon our life returned to the same pattern. The importance of a stable life, a stable income, taking care of the family together, he just didn’t see it. In Turkey you are not automatically brought up with that, largely because financial security is just out of reach for many people. Veli himself grew up in a poor family, so for him that’s much more normal than for me as a Dutch woman.

Besides, it didn’t get through to him that I was reaching my limit. That I would really go away if my demands were not met. At least, I think it didn’t get through to him. I’m not sure what was going on in his mind. That bothered me as well: he’s not very talkative. And I only really noticed that when times got rough.

 He didn’t try to change my mind

When I told him I had reached my limit and that I would go to the Netherlands with the children, said he understood me. That he was sad he could no longer make me happy. No, he didn’t try to change my mind. Like I said: he didn’t realize what was happening. He put his head in the sand, also in the weeks before my departure. But this is vague for me too, because our talks about this remained superficial.

I have not regretted my decision after I made up my mind. I was all done in. I had been fighting for our relationship and our family for years, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m a mother, I want stability for the children, and I made this decision for them. That only works if I’m one hundred percent behind it and totally devote myself to a new start in the Netherlands.

And I really didn’t hesitate. I still loved Veli, but my feelings had also cooled down because I got so little back from him. I noticed it at the airport too, when we said goodbye. That was dramatic, of course there were tears, but I wasn’t so much sad for myself as for Semih. Kaya didn’t know what was happening, he was too small, but when we passed through customs, Semih understood his father wasn’t joining us and he couldn’t stop crying.

To be honest: I’m blossoming

Veli misses us terribly; in the beginning he came home from work crying every night. All of a sudden his house was empty, and reality hit him hard. Of course, I’m also sad, but for me it’s different. It took me months to make this decision. I’m trying to get my life back on track. I have a small contract at a children’s day-care centre and work an average of three days a week. The boys and I live in the attic of my parents’ house, where we have two big rooms. I’m trying to find a house, and I want a more stable job so that I don’t need welfare anymore. There have been problems with my citizenship. In short, I’ve immediately landed right in the middle of organized, bureaucratic Dutch life. And I have the boys, for them of course it’s a big change too.

To be honest, I’m blossoming. I ride horses again, I sometimes go biking with the boys into the polder, I see friends, I work. People tell me I’m radiant again. At the same time, I miss part of myself. I still love Veli, I still love Turkey. Nobody in my family, none of my friends knows what life in Turkey is really like, what it was like for me and why I also miss the atmosphere, the sun, the Turkish lifestyle. Only Veli knows that part of me. And he is not here.

Was it a good decision to take the children away from their father?

Veli wants to come over, but I’m not pushing that. It’s not possible yet, because I still don’t make enough money to get a residence permit for him. We want to try to get him to Holland for three months before the tourism season starts again in Turkey, to see how he likes it here. He’s been here before, he found it ‘nice’, but I’m sure he can’t adapt here. In Turkey he has energy and is an active man, in the Netherlands he loses all his energy and becomes not my husband, but my third child. He can’t deal with change so well. He doesn’t fit in here, he fits in in Turkish life.

I feel that I am drifting away from him. I love him, but it also hurts me that he made so little effort for us. Of course I sometimes ponder in my bed, when I have time to reflect on this period in my life: was it a good decision to take the children away from their father? Will the boys ever hold this against me? How often are they going to see their dad? I don’t know, I can’t look into the future. But I take into account that we won’t make it as a couple, and that in the future we will both just be the parents of our children.’

 

‘Aid to Kurdish municipalities delayed’

ISTANBUL – Although the earthquake in the east of Turkey intensifies brotherhood between Turks and Kurds, on the other hand ethnic tensions are rising. Saban Isiktas, working for the Istanbul office of pro-Kurdish party BDP: ‘There are rumours that the aid to Van is being delayed because Van is governed by the BDP and not by governing party AKP. I think that is indeed the case. We are always treated differently.’

In the city of Van and in the nearby village there have been small protests against a lack of aid. Such reports don’t come from Ercis, which is evidence enough according to some: Ercis is an AKP municipality. It is common knowledge that in Turkey municipalities which are governed by the governing party have easier access to state services, whoever is in charge in Ankara. Whether even in these times of crisis non-AKP municipalities are being discriminated against, remains unclear.

The complaints that there is a lack of aid and rescue workers in smaller villages are commonly heard. Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay however claims there is enough aid. Some Turks also say that tents of the Turkish Red Crescent are being stolen and sold to victims. By the PKK – but it is unclear how they would know the alleged thieves are PKK members.

From the Kurdish side there is criticism about the number of battalions sent to the disaster area: 11 according to state TV TRT. Whereas 22 battalions are stationed near and across the Iraqi border in the fight against the PKK. It is in the end not even a week ago that 24 soldiers got killed by the PKK, the biggest loss for the Turkish army in a single attack since 1993. Many Turks support the cross-border fight against the PKK unconditionally, but for the victims of the earthquake, the numbers raise questions, especially in view of the lack of aid in remote villages.

Kurds and also many Turks are furious at TV talk show host Müge Anli. She thought it was remarkable that the Kurdish victims of the quake wanted aid from the government. In her TV show she said: ‘First they throw stones at the police, and then they ask for help?” A wave of criticism came crashing over her and a wagon of her TV station ATV was pelted with stones and pushed over.

Back to brotherhood: on October 30 there will be a big benefit concert in Istanbul with performances by many artists. The funds raised will go to Red Crescent.

Turks give en masse aid to earthquake victims

ISTANBUL – After the heavy earthquake yesterday in the East Turkish province of Van, everywhere in Turkey initiatives have started to gather aid for the victims. Municipalities coordinate the aid, arrange boxes and transport, and civilians bring blankets, coats, nappies,  socks and sweaters.

A truck arrives at the town hall of Kadiköy, a municipality of Istanbul. it parks by the entrance, next to people who are unloading their car. Huge plastic bags come out, with clothes and blankets. Long tables are placed inside the hall, people are busy selecting goods and taping boxes together. ‘Kadiköy shares’ is written on labels on the boxes, accompanied by info about whats inside. ‘The first truck leaves at eleven’, says deputy mayor Hulusi Özocak, ‘and another one at noon. We’ll continue sending aid the rest of the week’.

Local politics

From many places in Turkey trucks are on the way to Van with aid collected by civilians. Quite a distance for many drivers: from Istanbul for example it’s about 2000 kilometres. In the region itself of course also the aid started rather quickly, also because of tight organisation by local municipalities. Many municipalities inform people about places where aid is collected via Twitter and Facebook.

In the town hall of Kadiköy both young and old contribute to the aid efforts. A group of four teenagers eficiently puts boxes together. One of them, Özgür (17): ‘No, we don’t need to go to school. We are students of a trade school and we decided to do this as practical work.’ Most of the others are also volunteers, and it’s all coordinated by the municipal aid department. Kadriye Saglam, head of that department: ‘We continuously give aid to poor areas in Turkey. When a disaster like this occurs, it’s easy to organize extra help and just work a bit harder.’

Bed and couch

On twitter an initiative started to offer shelter to earthquake victims. Via the ‘hashtag’ ‘evimevindirVan’ (my house is your house, Van) people could offer their bed or couch, and the offers where collected and organized via several organisations.

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Right after the earth quake on Sunday and also on Monday I reported about the disaster for several media. Besides the piece above I also wrote this one on Monday for Dutch news agency ANP. On Sunday I provided ANP with short news updates and background information; they can’t be put together in an article and were used together with other news agency reports about the events.
On Sunday I also worked for the American radio station ABC.
On Monday morning you could hear me on Dutch national radio. If you know Dutch, you can listen to that here – it includes an embarassing confession.
On Monday afternoon (Monday morning in Canada) I was a guest, via Skype, in the nationally broadcast Canadian TV show Canada AM.

 

‘They always got back on their feet again’

For monthly magazine OnzeWereld (OurWorld) I regulary contribute to ‘Around the world’, a series in which every month another theme is reported about by several journalists around the world. For July/August the theme was the question: ‘Who do you take as an example in your life?’. I interviewed Delal Seven, and besides that there were stories from Mali, Yemen, Israel and Brasil.

Delal Seven (30, food engineer) takes her grandmother and grandfather as an example

“My grandfather and grand mother could never really be children. My grandmother, the oldest child, had to take care of the family starting age 12 because her mother died. Granddad was always ‘the man in the house’: his father left for the United States when he was still small. Working hard without complaining turned into their way of survival.

Granddad and grandmom come from a village in the province of Bingöl, in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey. That’s my home. My father was a state employed teacher and for his job we practically moved every year to another part of the country. In the summer we went to Bingöl for three, four months. I always immediately adapted myself to the life there. Herd goats, work in the fields. I loved it.

My grand parents were poor, and especially in the southeast life was tough. In the eighties the armed Kurdish struggle started and it became even more difficult. Many villages were burnt down by the army. Not the village of my grand parents, but many people were arrested and fields and forests were burnt. My grand father has been in jail too for a few months. Every Kurd was a suspect, and my family was especailly watched since my uncle started fighting for the PKK.

I can hardly remember my granddad and grand mom sitting down. They always got up again to do something. They had to. That strength and perseverance is an example for me. I have it too, even though my life is easier than theirs. I went to university and have a job now, but I had to fight for that too. The struggle of my people is also not over yet, that hurts me.

My grandmother died four years ago of cancer. I can still picture it: she sitting down next to her husband, her head resting against his chest, his hand on her head. She was so sick. After her death, my sister and me decided to take our grandfather in to our house and take care of him, here in Istanbul. He can build a house with his own hands, but he cannot cook. In the winter he is with us, in the summer he returns to the village and the neighbors take care of him. Kurdish families find it wonderful that I take care of my grand father now. They even use me as an example for their children.’

Photo: Serkan Taycan

Happiness – 4 women share their story

Are you happy? Where ever in the world you ask that question, you can always identify with the answers. Journalist Frederike asked women in the Turkish city of Bursa. What defines their happiness?

‘Green Bursa’ is how Turkey’s fourth biggest city, Bursa, about a hundred kilometres south of Istanbul, is often referred to. And indeed, there is no lack of parks and lanes, and then there are the surroundings of the city: huge forests and green hills. It’s a city with more than two million inhabitants, but it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly busy because the city is built spaciously. There is a lot of economic activity: because of the car, food and textile industries Bursa is actually one of the richest cities in the country. The city is modern, but rooted in tradition: it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire before 1453, when Istanbul was conquered, and the city breathes history.

A good city in which to seek happiness. Especially when it concerns women, because Bursa has been a developed city for centuries and that has also given freedom to women. Much more than in the east of the country, for example, where family traditions oppress and the male dominated culture doesn’t give women many possibilities. More too than in small villages around Turkey, where you will easily become the subject of gossip if you stray from the beaten track.

The modernity and the traditional roots of the city are reflected in the women of Bursa. Happiness, it turns out from conversations with four women, doesn’t play a big role in making choices. Often there is even really a choice. Getting married is obviously one. Having children – or at least trying to have them – is another. And Turks, both men and women, generally don’t work out of a longing for self expression but out of pure necessity. The question of how happy they are doesn’t seem to be one they often think about in daily life.

Her face glittery with party make up

Take for example Arzu Yahsi (33). She is still wearing her party dress and her face is still glittery with party make up. A pearl necklace, matching star-shaped earrings. A friend, a bit younger than herself, just got engaged this afternoon with an official ceremony and reception. It reminds her of her own wedding in 2000. ‘The same night we had already had our first fight.’ She married young, as tradition demands, but when her marriage turned out to be dramatic, she decided to get a divorce – an increasingly common phenomenon in Turkey.

Arzu’s marriage lasted for nine years, and last year she and her husband officially separated. She still has a hard time dealing with that, even though she really wanted the divorce. ‘We got married just after he finished his army service. He changed so much. He was jealous, aggressive, he wanted to control everything, from my looks to who I visited when.’

Arzu lives in the city centre of Bursa, on the third floor in a narrow street. Small living room with pink couch, white walls, a simple carpet, a TV. A room for her, a room for her 8 year old son, Cihan. She doesn’t have to think about the question of whether she is happy or not. ‘I’m unhappy’, she says. She gives her happiness a 5, on a scale of 10. She sums it up like this: she doesn’t see her son often enough, her parents have health problems, her brother is jobless, and her salary is not in tune with the responsibilities she has at work. For four months there has been a new love in her life, but that hardly contributes to her happiness, she says. ‘I’ve become scared. Scared that he too will change just like that.’

Her biggest grief is that she doesn’t see Cihan enough. Even though her marriage was bad, looking back she gives her married life a 7. ‘I saw Cihan every day, and now only from Friday afternoon till Sunday evening. On weekdays he’s with my ex. I miss him so terribly much, I can’t describe that feeling.’She walks away, her party dress feels too tight and she wants to get out of her tights. She comes back in a pink jogging suit, with tears in her eyes and a pack of paper handkerchiefs. Why she is crying exactly? ‘I keep wondering if it was maybe my fault that our marriage didn’t work out. He has a new girlfriend and I think he treats her properly. He gives her presents. We were together for nine years and he never gave me a present. Was I such a bad wife?’

She focuses on her work. In ten years she worked herself up to being branch manager of a bank and she works long, stressful hours. Good for her self confidence,, but happiness? No, she doesn’t find that in her work. Work is necessary. Happiness is in her son. Only when he is grown up, Arzu thinks, will she be able to really feel happiness again. ‘When he becomes independent, does well in life, goes his own way, that would make me happy. He’s doing very well in school. Recently he got an A for a test. That made me very happy.’

‘My future husband has to find me’

What a contrast with Selin Yazicilar (28). She doesn’t think for a second and gives the happiness in her life a 9. It shows: she is radiant. Why? In love? No, on the contrary. She is free and can do whatever she wants.

Selin is hardly ever alone: she has a lot of friends and often visits her huge family. And she travels: she has seen a lot of Europe and every corner of Turkey. She usually travels with a friend, on her own or with a group. She can afford it, because she studied economics and is head of a financial department of the Bursa municipality. ‘No, that was not my dream job as a kid. I wanted to be a TV or radio producer. For that, in secondary school you had to choose a social stream, but well, my friends chose beta classes so I did the same.’

But however free and modern her life is, in the end she also wants a traditional life. Marriage, children, her family close by. In five years’ time she wants to look back at her wedding day and hold a son or daughter in her arms. She had a serious relationship between her 19th and 24th years, but eventually it broke up. But she is not looking for a man. She says: ‘My future husband has to find me.’

And he should, in line with the demands of modern Turkish women in search of life fulfilment, meet a set of demands: an equal level of education, an equal job and an equal income. And a car, because she has one too. Selin: ‘I have a certain level of material wealth, and I want to keep it when I get married and have a family of my own.’ What if she falls in love with a poor guy? She looks shocked: ‘I will really not fall in love with a man without a career or a certain standard of living. I won’t lose my senses!’

She means to say: you create your happiness all by yourself. Selin: ‘By positive thinking, by knowing what you want. And of course, I’m healthy and I have a good family, those are the presents I got in life. I know how unhappy it can make you if you lose those things, since I lost my father four years ago. I could think negatively, I could lose everythng that makes me happy, but what’s the use of constantly being aware of that?’ And it won’t happen to her either, she’s convinced of that. ‘Because I have a positive attitude.’

Havens in her busy day

In a slightly more traditional neighbourhood just outside the city centre lives Zeynep Teymur (33). Her life is in the hands of Allah. And he is generous to her: her prayers are heard. She is living in Turkey again, in her own house opposite her mother’s, she has a child and a happy marriage. ‘My husband and I lived in Australia for five years. He worked as a teacher, I worked in a child day-care centre. Beautiful years, but I missed my family and country dearly.’

She still prays every day, five times. It takes her a maximum of ten minutes per prayer and those are the havens in her busy days. Zeynep and her husband Ahmet have a small business in office materials: the shop is stuffed with an enormous variety of school exercise books, note blocks, pens, pencils, leads, envelops, gift paper, school books, hobby glue, glitter glue , super glue. The shop is open seven days a week, and Zeynep works six half days, more or less from two in the afternoon till six at night. In a corner of the shop there is a desk and a chair, with internet connection: after four o’clock daughter Alanur (13) does her homework there.

‘I was born and raised in this neighbourhood’, says Zeynep, ‘and I always want to stay here. I feel at home, I’m part of this community. I know everybody, everybody knows me. I like that.’ And elderly man comes into the shop with some text written on a piece of paper. Can Zeynep and Alanur please put the text in a computer file, print it and make twenty copies of it? Alanur starts typing. It’s an invitation for a ‘mevlüt’, a farewell ceremony for a deceased person. Zeynep talks to the customer, gives him tea and a chair and helps Alanur with the graphic design of the text.

‘I wanted to be a teacher as a kid’, she says. ‘That didn’t happen, but I’m very happy that I work and I’m not just a house wife. Sometimes I would like to have more time for Alanur. She goes to school, of course, but still.’ That’s why she doesn’t give her happiness a 10, but an 8.

Quitting work is not an option: the shop needs her. Her situation is an exception to the rule in Turkey: usually women work full-time, or they don’t work. Part-time jobs are rare and would also not pay enough to live on. Working is often not a way to express and develop yourself, but pure necessity in a country were social welfare just doesn’t exist.That Zeynep and her husband have only one child doesn’t influence her happiness. Not any more. She has been sad about it when she didn’t get pregnant again, but she found comfort in her religion. ‘Allah wanted it like this for us, and that’s why I could accept the disappointment.’ Alanur still asks for a brother or sister now and then, and Zeynep then tells her that she can pray for it, but that that’s all they can do. ‘I don’t pray any more for a second child. It’s okay the way it is.’

‘I am 46, who wants me?’

The consistent life of Zeynep is in sharp contrast with that of Selma Polat (46). Her life is: start over again and again. Her husband worked as a policeman, which means you’re transferred to another city every five years. When her first daughter was born, in 1985, she lived in the extreme south east of the country, in the province of Hakkari. When the second was born, five years later, they were living in Tekirdag, west of Istanbul and not far from the Greek border. ‘I learned to quickly make new contacts, but of course that didn’t change the fact that his work defined our life.

The time in Tekirdag she remembers as one of the happiest in her life. You could just leave the key in your front door when you left your house, the neighbours were all friendly and helpful, and she enjoyed being with her two little daughters. But that ended again when her husband was transferred. ‘I didn’t immediately move with him because the children were still so small and he wanted to try to get transferred back to Tekirdag. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. We had to pay rent on two houses, but luckily I found a job in a kindergarten. My parents-in-law didn’t like it that I worked, being a young mother, but the job was necessary so they saw there was no other way. The job made me happy, working with children was great.’

That she doesn’t work now largely defines her lack of happiness in life. She applies for jobs again and again, but is never hired. Not in day-care, not as a secretary, not as a telephonist. ‘I’m 46, who wants me? They prefer young girls just out of school.’

So she spends her days with her now retired husband. In an apartment on the sixth floor of a group of concrete apartment blocks close by the highway on the outskirts of Bursa. Not the sort of surroundings that cheer you up, she agrees. ‘But we moved to Bursa because Şeyda, our youngest daughter, studies here. We could have found a home closer to the city centre, but then Seyda would have to travel far every day. From here it’s only a short distance to the university.’

Her work raising the kids, that was her life, her happiness. She doesn’t expect to find work again, her youngest offspring will soon leave the nest. She has to give it some thought, but then decides the happiness in her life deserves a 6. Just enough. ‘We are healthy, we have health insurance, no financial worries. Our daughters are doing well. That’s happiness, right?’

Selma and her husband will go to a city close to Bursa next week. A smaller city where they still have a lot of friends and where life is cheaper. Maybe they will buy a house there. The first in their lives, because her husband’s work always made it more practical to rent. They could go to that house when Şeyda has her holidays, or maybe move permanently when she has graduated and ‘settled’. In five, six years maybe. Maybe then Selma will be ready for her ‘old days’. Now she’s not yet ready. She doesn’t yet accept that the things that gave her happiness are gone.

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:
‘IF WE COULD GO TO HOLLAND TOMORROW, WE WOULD GO’

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:
‘THE TURKISH WAY OF WORKING, I CAN’T DEAL WITH IT’

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.

Parenting

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:
‘I PREFER AMSTERDAM’

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:
‘MY LONGING FOR HOLLAND IS GROWING.’

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

Turkish couple married for ninety years

ISTANBUL – Adbullah (112) and Elif (110) Adigüzel from the Central Turkish village of Arguvan have been married for ninety years, according to a report in today’s daily paper Radikal.

The couple met during the Ottoman era and they say they married out of love. They had 10 children and the number of grand- and great-grandchildren has reached 113. The couple, who didn’t let go of each other’s hand during the interview with the newspaper, believes that the secret of their long relationship is that they always loved and trusted each other. Their longevity is due to the healthy food in the village, Elif thinks. They live with their youngest child, a son of almost seventy.