Given the complexities of the many fine balances you need to make when both living in a foreign country and raising dual national kids in said country, it’s no wonder that everywhere you go you’ll find communities of expats. Not only is it easier to communicate and relax in your native language but whether you’re living in a country you’re not native to or raising bi-cultural kids, you’re going to have more in common with others in similar situations than anyone living in the country of their birth or a monolingual home. Living abroad expats and Even when it comes down to laughing about the minutiae of life with kids, not having to explain what kelle paca is and break through the squeamishness of the idea of lambs head soup and simply joke about your kids newly discovered love of it connects expats in a way that is fundamental and basic. I’m not sure how I’d have navigated residence permit applications when I first moved to Turkey or with whom I’d have been able to share frustrations about the blood work I needed to get our marriage license or how I’d have handled a maternity system so different to the midwife-led system of the UK were it not for the expat communities – both real life friends and those connected with online.
Living abroad foreign press in your native tongue translates or expands on the coverage of news you get from your host country. The (now-to-you) foreign press becomes a corner stone of the expat network you rely on to navigate decisions and essential paperwork, understand complex issues. the foreign press become corner stones of the support network you rely on to navigate decisions and essential paperwork, understand complex issues and share the odd aspects of daily life that are strange to those not living here but normal for us. A network of foreigners within the host country provides a safe sounding box to discuss decisions like homeschooling that are out of the box for society and legally complex or unclear. It’s also much easier to share the odd aspects of daily life that are strange to those not living here but normal for us with other foreigners who understand that while tripe soup may be a favourite with your kids it;s a very odd choice for breakfast. Not only is it easier and more natural from a language perspective to read and discuss in your mother tongue but it is also easier to discuss anything related to politics or cultural issues with people raised not only in similar debate cultures to yourself but navigating the same complexities themselves. If you’re speaking a different language in a different country it sometimes feels difficult expressing your opinion about anything more dividing than tea choice without risk that you’re in any way making negative judgement on the(ir) (for example) educational or political system, or overstepping the mark of what’s culturally appropriate.
A few years ago when we moved to Iznik there were two rentals we were interested in; both closed complexes and a similar set of facilities; both used as summer houses (a familiar concept here) and a full-time residence by Turks who either live in cities and come for the holidays or live abroad and come back to visit family. We were told in no uncertain terms that to look around one of the houses was pointless as it wouldn’t be welcomed if I moved in; the same complex in which a foreign convert friend was abused for her headscarf last week and “advised” that it would be better for her husband to drop their kids at a swimming lesson. The same complex that I planned to go to this week with my (non-turkish speaking) friend when she dropped her kids off as both a show of solidarity and the intention to fully defend us from any such vile abuse. Now, I’m staying as far away from there as possible.
The society and family I grew up in taught and encouraged us to question and argue until you understand the answers. Anyone who ever had a religious studies or jurisprudence class with me or shared a meal with me during election time knows how it goes against my nature to let a question/issue drop until I understand the answer or complexities of the topic in question. There is a great difference in being comfortable with the politics of turkey, the governments’ handling of the press and the reality of the current situation of both foreigners and Turks as a direct result of the attempted coup, and whether I am comfortable with Turkish politics in general. For Brits and Americans in Turkey in particular, as I’d expect for Turks in the UK, the subtleties in these differences are unspokenly understood making it is more natural to discuss these endlessly complex issues with people who share a common background. When politics is off the table, Turkish life is much easier to navigate by keeping a line between those with whom you discuss certain issues and those with whom you can speak freely.
When you can relate as much to articles about body shaming and read articles about how freeing it is to shed your clothes in public, when you understand the sexualised nature of western societies and are strongly against beauty pagents for little girls, when you not only understand the reasonings behind but also support male circumcision yet vehemently oppose FGM, when your religion prohibits abortion yet you actively support planned parenting, when you’re too liberal for the muslims and too muslim for the rest, when you’re so strongly on the side of democracy that you’re seen to be fanatically an AKP supporter yet you are no fan of the leader of the party, when your family and friends includes Brits and Turks from all political spheres and lifestyles, your words too easily get lost in translation, even when speaking the same language.
I practise my religion in ways that cause a political divide in the country we live in and suspicion in the country I grew up in; we’re raising two children who need to understand both sides of history (the Roman era being the simplest example of the sensitivity of this!), we believe in democracy and are staunchly against any form of discrimination, we smoke cigarettes after we open our fasts. With my family having only a surface understanding of Turkish culture and Islam, and our Turkish family not speaking my language or understanding my context; while I have a decent grasp of the theoretical history of the country, I haven’t the foggiest idea what it actually feels like to live in fear of reading any book I choose and nor did I grow up with stories of waking up one day to find yourself unable to read the newspaper. I do however understand both what war on your doorstep feels like; and how the lack of risk of anything so extreme affects your comprehension of and empathy with all issues except the (always unnecessary) loss of lives.
Turkey is a country that not only houses a breathtakingly large number of refugees and is strategically used as a gateway for passage to Europe both of which impact international affairs, it also has a fairly bad rep in the UK. If you read the Sun and watch Jeremy Kyle not only are the Muslims coming to get you but they’ll do it by tricking your Grandma to marry them to get them a visa. Brits have an image of Turkey that’s negatively unrelated to their politics; the US has a political involvement with Turkey that many are wary of and an ever growing anti-muslim rethoric. Throw Turkey’s stance on Israel and Palestine in amongst these and you’ve got a political and societal blackhole whatever point you view Turkey from. The world feels threatened by an terrorism masquerading under Islam, few agree with the actions that have undermined press freedom in Turkey yet many are directly impacted by there being no limit to the freedom of speech. Non-muslims around the world and liberal thinkers and minorities in Turkey do not want their lifestyle imposed open through either political or discriminatory actions. I don’t want to be slandered and have my lifestyle scrutinised in the press simply because of my beliefs and nor do I want my family and friends to have their choices judged and restricted to support my religions rights. The idea of blatant political racism against religion in Turkey is not an unknown but it would be as hard to describe it as islamophobia or say it was purely islamically based, just as you couldn’t call Trump’s campaign an attempt to strengthen Christian values or Theresa May’s agenda visa stance to strengthen a national identity. Turkish culture and traditions are largely centred around either the transition from the Ottoman empire to the secular state under Ataturk or Islamic holidays and values. Living here it is hard not to see the connections and the path that led from the banning of the fez through prohibitions on speaking your native language, restrictions on both religious and secular practise and it’s snowballing towards the unexpected (not entirely surprising) terrifying events of the past weekend.
The current political situation is one complicated by a complex (and recent) legal and political history; the divisions and cracks in society are widening as Islamophobia spreads quickly through the west and our rights as either Brits or Turks are simultaneously yet drastically different called into question. Tensions rise between international powers, and Turkey, peoples feelings towards refugees are tested both in Europe and in Turkey, and Britain’s place in it all is being debated. There are ISIS recruiters in Turkey and thousands of law enforcers from judges to police officers to public servants have been arrested in connection to the attempted military coup. Just as I started to accept and began to see the joy in the no-mans-land of our native, everything you thought you could trust is called into question and everyone views everyone with suspicion. Paranoia is real, and it’s scary as anything to accept that there are reasons for feeling this way that could have very real repercussions on your lives.