Changing My Viewpoint

A while back I realised that I had an attitude problem. It wasn’t immediately noticeable to everyone, in fact for the most part, nobody knew.

But I knew and it was eating me up inside.

This attitude was one that is probably not uncommon in expats. It’s a negative view of the country you live in, a pessimism that colours your view of everyone and everything. For a short-term expat this leads to a lot of comparisons with how things are done at home, a lot of communal moaning at expat social events and a lot of stories to tell when you eventually escape back ‘home’.

For a long-term expat,  for someone married into the culture and with no plans to leave, it eats you up.

When you find yourself exhausted by your own pessimism it really isn’t healthy. When every positive piece of news is followed by a sigh and a ‘Well let’s see how long before this gets messed up too’, you begin to bore yourself. no plans to leave, it eats you up.

My realisation coincided with a generally negative time for Turkey. This summer has seen the highest level of PKK violence in Turkey with raids, bombings and kidnappings. Twenty-five soldiers were killed in an explosion in a bomb depot in Kutahya. Over 60 refugees drowned when their overloaded boat sank off the coast of Izmir. Against this painful reality several court cases have called into question freedom of speech and media rights. The prime minister gives long speeches that are increasingly authoritarian and removed from the reality of life for the majority of Turks. The opposition are worse than useless. Our next door neighbour is engaged in a civil war and missiles have fallen on Turkish soil and killed innocent women and children. Turkish planes are banned from Syrian airspace and vice versa. Our Greek neighbours are in disarray due to an economic crisis that could spread throughout Europe. The latest report on Turkey’s application for membership of the EU was so negative (and rightly so) that the opposition tore it up.

With so many truly negative things around me I decided to do what I always do – run away.

Whenever life gets a bit much my habit is to read, escape into another person’s world and lose myself. This time I decided to do the same with one big difference. This time I’m reading in Turkish.

Many years ago I tried to read a Turkish book. I found that although I was turning to the dictionary repeatedly my main problem was that I had chosen the wrong book. The author was such a complete airhead I felt the effort of all my translating was wasted. Reading in Turkish was relegated to the end of the never-ending to-do list.

Now I’m 11 years in the country and I feel it’s time to try again. I’m going to read a mixture of modern and classic Turkish authors in Turkish. I’m going to review the books and will blog anything of interest that I come across during my reading. My aim is to change my view of all things Turkish, to readjust my attitude to one that is genuinely positive, regardless of the hard realities around me.

If you have any suggestions for books I should read, please do share, I’m only finding my way around the world of Turkish literature.

  • Powerful notion Catherine, good on you woman! I relate albeit nuances are obvious considering I’m a Dutchess living in the U.S. Last month I discovered for the first time that my strength lies in being Dutch in a foreign country, and that I can try to create what it is I’m missing. In May I took on the organization of a women writers group, great 320 members at the time and slowly but steadily I’m forming the salon I’ve been craving for years. Of the now 453 members a good number of regulars are returning to our gathering spot. No bemoaning of what I left behind, but becoming the host of a community is changing my attitude. Proactive is the word. I bet you’re going to draw a lot of like-minded and also plainly interested folks both expats and native speakers. Kudos Catherine, you rock!

  • Amanda van Mulligen

    Wow, Catherine an amazingly open & poignant post. Getting caught in a negative spiral is never good, expat or not, The important thing is being open to seeing the positive – in such a troubled land in these times that’s hard in itself. As my 5 year would say “applause for yourself” and I hope project “attitude readjustment” is a success. Look forward to hearing about the journey 🙂

  • Virginia Miller

    I recommend a book called, “Mehmet, My Hawk.”  I think the Turkish title is “Ince Memed,” by Yaşar Kemal, publshed 1955.  You might want to compare it to a recent bestseller from Pakistan titled, “The Wandering Falcon,” by Jamil Ahmad.  Both books are excellent, and I think quite similar.

  • Thanks Virginia. Yaşar Kemal is on the list… I’m intrigued to see how this will influence my reading in English too!

  • Thank you Amanda. That’s a very cute and wise 5-year old!

  • It’s funny you say that your strength is being Dutch abroad. When I first arrived here I threw myself into the culture, partly out of what I felt was necessity. As I became more comfortable and secure here, I began to return to being an expat and Irish. It was as if I needed to prove I could be the same (or nearly so) before I could fully embrace my differences.
    I’m glad that being a community leader is helping you take ownership of where you are. A step on the other side of the fence is enough to change point of view.

    Thanks Judith, your wisdom always shines!

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