Getting a hair cut should be a fairly simple procedure and yet I have found it to be one of the lesser known, but very real challenges of expat life. Plenty of expat blogs cover all the obvious, big ticket hurdles to being a successful and happy expat: emotional resilliance, repatriation, culture shock, depression, leaving well etc. But there are plenty of lesser known hurdles we face as we ricochet around the globe and getting a decent haircut is firmly on that list.
Whether I’ve asked for ‘a trim’ or ‘the same but shorter’ or shown a picture from a magazine or a photograph of my own hair I seem to have had more than my fair share of awful expat haircuts than I care to mention. Here are a few of my lowlights…. Continue reading →
Everywhere you go in Turkey, fixed on front doors, swinging from taxi rearview mirrors and even incorporated into jewellery designs, you will see Nazaar Beads. They are flat, blue, circular glass ‘eye’ beads. They are to deflect, distract and ward off the evil eye or bad luck with their bright colour.
However, should your nazaar bead crack or break, unlike the 7 years of bad luck associated with cracking a mirror, it means that the bead has done its job and warded off some invisible evil or bad luck that was heading your way. Then all you have to do is buy a replacement bead to continue to live in peace and harmony. A neat marketing ploy!
We discovered a shop called Pasabache. The shop sells both ‘life’ products, i.e. everyday kitchen wear and also boutique items – which include a selection of covetable, beautiful, fragile and more expensive Turkish glass wear and ceramic (including high-end giant Nazaar beads). As we entered the artfully lit boutique display area, Pickle looked around and gleefully yelled: “Ikea Mummy”. I gave him the evil eye* and we left very quickly.
* In modern English giving somebody the evil eye just means glaring at somebody, not cursing them. Just to be absolutely clear, I did not put a curse on Pickle, I was just embarrased and gave him a cross look.
When we lived in Istanbul we all made an effort at learning Turkish. Success was mixed. I enjoyed my Turkish lessons, although – the more I learnt the more confused I got. Seemingly Turkish is grammatically more closely related to Japanese or Korean than to any European languages.
Sultanahmet is the original heart of old Constantinople, now Istanbul. This is THE area that draws tourists in the by the coach load. The magnets being Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Basilica Cisterns, all located within spitting distance of each other.
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 paperand 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.
August 2011 – Istanbul: First Impressions
We’re finally here all together after six long months of Mr Incredible having an horrendous bi-weekly Istanbul-London commute. It’s hot and sunny and the children in particular are getting lots of warm smiles and attention from everyone. Pickle especially attracts cries of “cok guzel” (pronounced choc-goozelle) and is often scooped up and cheek-pinched by complete strangers. He’s not entirely sure about this hands-on attention being more accustomed to a restrained British smile or coo-ee.