We moved to Istanbul at the back end of 2011. As can only be expected, there were many hiccups, ups, downs and frustrating moments in those earliest days as we fumbled our way step by step. But, of course, perseverance is key in the ‘Expat Uphill Battle’ and as each challenge is mastered, slowly but surely you will win the uphill battle.
Istanbul, September 2011
We are mostly settled in and unpacked. A small army of removal men carried our worldly possessions from the road, down 24 steps to our gate, down a further 8 steps to our front door and then distributed them about the house where there are 3 flights of stairs, (which is a further 50 steps). Did I tell you that Istanbul is quite hilly?
Sweetpea has started school, leaving Pickle and I to try and find activities to fill our days. Our first attempt at finding a playgroup was a bit of a wild goose chase. I’d driven to the supermarket a couple of times thinking this would be sufficient practice before heading out into the real traffic.
It was woefully insufficient practice.
I ventured out at rush hour, braving both chockablock artery roads and steep winding side ones. Matters weren’t helped by the monstrous hire car that I drove for the first two weeks. It was a cumbersome, tank-weight car with squishy tyres and a put-put 2CV type engine. Going uphill felt like the car was desperately swimming against a rip tide. Did I mention it’s hilly?
Eventually arriving frazzled and white knuckled at the address I’d been given I plastered on a smile, walked in with an excited toddler in tow and asked about the playgroup. It turns out my map was out of date. We were not a playgroup, I don’t know what sort to establishment we were at because the staff spoke limited English and my Turkish was non-existent. I think they could see that I was on the brink of total unhingement and kindly googled the place I was looking for, called them and gave me the up to date address.
Returning to the car I had a silent meltdown, lots of deep breaths, reprogrammed the sat nav, ready (not at all ready) for round two in the traffic. Meanwhile the soundtrack “Go play? Go play Mummy. Play now Mummy?” was looping enthusiastically in the back of the car. Giving up was not an option.
We eventually arrived at the right address. Relief! But the playgroup was closed. Momentary despair and annoyance (why didn’t they mention that in the phone call).
Determined not to turn tail and flee home just yet I went for round three. I headed to the supermarket and explored the floors above it where I found a bar, a hairdresser, a gym and a Gymboree (hooray). I signed Pickle up on the spot ensuring a regular weekly activity to look forward to and then went to buy groceries. As well as groceries I found a friend. Basically, I introduced myself to a complete stranger in the milk aisle on the basis that I heard her child speaking English. “Hi, are you British? We’re British. We’re new.”
Rather than treating me like a deranged stalker, the nice lady turned out to be the best possible kind of friend at hand. She stopped for a chat, gave me her phone number and email address on a scrap of paper and invited me to a an International Family Fun Day. A slightly stressful, but ultimately successful morning.
As we arrived at the Fun Day a few days later (having assured my husband that the invitation was genuine and that I would be able to pick out my new supermarket friend in a crowd), our taxi driver darkly said “problem var” gesturing to the riot police gathering all about and helicopters circling overhead.
Hmmm, not to be quite so easily deterred from our first official social engagement we gamely stepped out and headed to the party. Apparently there are often demonstrations and protests in this area of Istanbul. Mostly they are peaceful, although there was minor drama when we were all herded into the bar area because teargas had been deployed and was wafting our way, it was a novel way to meet new people.”
Yes, the first weeks in a new country are always a bit of an uphill battle (both metaphorically and literally in steep and winding Istanbul). Step by step we get there though and when we have time to stop, catch our breath and look behind us, that’s hopefully when we’ll be surprised at how far up the hill we’ve already battled.