Antalya, Turkey—A week in the life of a traveller.
Marhaba! It’s been a few days since I’ve returned from Turkey and I have to say it was a wonderful experience to be able to see so many different places. My family and I went as part of a tour package to Antalya, which enabled us to visit spectacular sites, such as the largest archaeological excavation area Ephesus; and a wonder of the world Pamukkale, amongst others. Despite this, I am not naïve to the fact that I probably haven’t seen the reality of the country or experienced anything of the real, present Turkey, as we mainly remained in tourist areas. However, there were elements, which I am sure, were very real, eye-opening and just new to me. In fact I settled in so well, that on my return to England I felt the culture shock hit me like a tonne of bricks.
For me, visiting a country is not about whether the hotel will have a rounded pool or a square pool; whether there will be chips to help me survive the week or people that speak English to make my life easier. Admittedly, the pools were amazing in each hotel (we stayed in 5 in total over 7 nights), albeit a bit cold but then we had the Mediterranean Sea as an alternative option (singing Mr Probz Waves was a wonderful moment). Of course, most people we met knew pretty good English and there were buffets that would have satisfied all nationalities from Chinese food to Italian food to Mexican food and to their very own Turkish cuisine. But again, we were at tourist resorts so this was expected; we were not living with the regular civilians so we didn’t really get to experience the full Turkish lifestyle. Our tour guide Feray (meaning bright moon) did an excellent job in conveying all her knowledge of the country from the best food, music, pass-time, economy and the country’s overall charm. She sang us songs aboard the coach, shared famous Turkish jokes and quotes with us, all while showing us her country.
I found myself absorbing everything- from the colours of their flag, which was everywhere as our trip coincided with their national independence day (29th October), to the smells of fresh, clean air not yet polluted by modern day fumes. We visited a carpet factory, where I was lucky enough to weave in my little thread to this masterpiece creation; watch how silk is formed from the silkworms and meet with the businessman who shipped these beautiful rugs, of all materials, worldwide- at lofty prices. In the same day we went to a jewellery factory and a leather showroom where I could not walk away without making a purchase of course-diamond’s are a girls best friend! We marvelled at the feather-light weight of the leather and enjoyed the fashion show that they had organised. A great way to entice the tourists. Agriculture was another aspect that captivated my attention. Everywhere we went we were met by ripe, red pomegranate’s, shocking yellow lemons, oranges that burst with sweet tang, olives in every person’s eye and row upon row of different flavour in their fields. There were greenhouses far and wide to occupy the winter months as well. Then there were the animals! I have never seen so many cats in my life! Running through your feet in the restaurants or posing on the stones at Kusudasi, dogs lazing in the outside grounds, never aggressive, always tame and lazy, chickens and cockerels, parrots at the Kursunlu Waterfall, and camels, and donkeys, and horses, and birds. A beautiful country full of colour, full of so much to offer the world. But there was a downside.
I went on holiday thinking I am visiting a Muslim country; I packed my prayer mat and my abaya and thought how wonderful it will be to hear the Adhan (call of prayer) five times a day rippling through the air. Across seven nights I heard the adhan four times, maybe five. The most vivid moments being on the Pamukkale mountain tops, which was a beautiful experience to be at such an amazing place and be able to remember the Creator; the second most vivid being at Antalya City when we went shopping and that was because the mosque was standing about 100 metres away. Don’t misunderstand-we saw numerous mosques! The number was spectacular in fact, from one minaret to three minarets; but there was no other sight of religion. On return to England after some research, my mother and I found that this was due to Attaturk (the founder of the Republic of Turkey and whose face was everywhere) banning a lot of the concepts and fundamentals of Islam, which the Ottoman’s tried to preserve. How ironic that they then idolise him so. Feray was expressive in conveying to us that their imaan is with God and the individual, and they do not need to wear hijab or grow beards etc. Which is absolutely true, your relationship with Allah is between you and Him and He knows what is in your heart. However, the desire to become westernised is clear in their behaviours, in their speech, in their appearance, even if they are sooo adamant that they do not wish to become a part of the European Union, and therefore the western world, which a lot of the regular people we met expressed explicitly to us.
Again, I emphasise I visited a tourist area and therefore recognise that this could have been an explanation for this eye-opener. I am not deterred from an entire nation, and I hope to visit next year Insha’Allah. Maybe it will be Istanbul that hosts us next time, so that I can see the city life and witness firsthand the clash that the country faces of western and eastern culture, and the preservation of the Ottoman Empire. One thing is clear, marhaba means welcome and Turkey welcomed their arms to us and gave us great memories, which I can now share with this audience.