Is there a thing as being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Or is it just this thing about being a woman?
About a month ago, during the time E. was in Ankara, I thought we’d walk around and explore the city – which would give me a chance to turn back into being a tourist rather than a local who’s always running around to go to university or work without taking a chance to relax and enjoy what the city has to offer. Even though the first thought that comes to mind when someone asks me what Ankara has to offer is NOTHING. I’ve made it clear to most: Ankara is not my favourite city in Turkey, even though it is where I’ve called home in the past year.
After gobbling down way too much food at my favourite breakfast house in the recently renovated Ottoman district of old Ankara, we proceeded to the citadel which some would say is a must-see landmark. With a city that lacks in terms of historical landmarks and obsesses with ‘modern’ architecture, it definitely can be refreshing on the eyes. So is the panoramic view from above, till you get past what you see afar and notice the settlements within the citadel walls and around.
Welcome to the slums of Ankara.
Approximately one-tenth of Ankara consists of slum settlements. As adventurous as I am, I avoid this particular district of Ankara like plague even if it offers a genuine perspective of Ankara. As much as I love raw tourism with the locals like the next traveller, feeling safe is definitely one of my priorities and there, I definitely do not. It isn’t easy being a single foreign woman in Turkey. It’s more than unsettling at times. It is disturbing to admit that I’ve grown used to leering, the occasional grope on the metro or being stopped by random male strangers for my number in my daily life. I’ve learned that even making eye contact and smiling can be thought as a sexual advance in their mind. I remember when I went back to London some weeks ago and realised how paranoid I was being as I searched a seat next to a woman, avoiding all the men on the tube.
Accompanied by a man, I thought we wouldn’t encounter much problem, other than the curious stares of the locals. Wrong move.
We had no specific plan whatsoever, and just kept walking upwards until we found a way down. It seemed logical enough. We came across quite a few people on the way, to whom we said merhaba but didn’t stop for anything else. Then a wrong turn and all hell broke loose. It all happened so quick that it still is all blurry. Seeing we were going towards a dead-end, we turned around. Some kids – the oldest being barely older than 14 or 15 years old and the youngest must have been as young as 8 or 9 year old – chilling in the corner saw us and came to talk to us immediately. It only got worse as they started following us and then I felt a hand on my bum. I definitely felt them in other places later on. I vaguely remember them asking E. for a fight as well. All of this, just for provocation – a favourite form of entertainment apparently seeing them cackling as they were. It got worse when they realised we weren’t going to “play” with them, got stones thrown at us and even nearly got hit by, from what I recall, beams of woods.
A good cry and a cup of tea later, I calmed down but there is absolutely no reason why anyone has to go through such kind of thing. I tried to make some sense of why they’d go to such length but couldn’t. The worse, they were just kids.But when I remember how people were passive when they saw what was happening to us, I realise that it’s not considered such a big deal by some and that these kids would grow up into those men who believe such behaviour is the norm. Sexual harassment is illegal in Turkey but it is one thing to pass a law and another to change the mentality of the male population. Not that I’m condemning the whole male population – some have been more than helpful to me and I even have some male friends who often offer to accompany me somewhere when I speak of such experiences. Not that it makes anything any better.