A while ago I got in touch with Jake Olson, he stumbled upon my blog, and like me he is foreigner in Turkey, writing about his experiences and reflections on life in Turkey. Jake invited me for an interview, and I thought it would be nice to do it vice versa. So we interviewed each other. Here you can read Jake interviewing me (in two parts/posts). An here is my interview with Jake:
Jake Olson is a 28 year old American living in Adana Turkey. He has lived in Turkey for 2-1/2 years where he met his wife Rana (a Turk of Arab Orthodox origin.) Jake’s interests include exploring Adana and the surrounding area, reading, Outdoor adventures, pursuing his spiritual life, ultimate Frisbee, learning Turkish, making new friends, writing for his blog, and traveling. Jake and Rana are living out their first years of marriage in Adana. He’s currently teaches and authors The Foreign Perspective (ForeignPerspective.wordpress.com); a blog about life as an American in Adana .
So, you’re living in Adana. My friends said Adana? What would someone want to do Andana! …. So I understand you got married with a Turkish girl. How did that happen? and how did it result in you ending up in Adana.
I originally came to Turkey on a summer adventure where the focus was spending a few weeks experiencing life in a different country. One of the values of the program was to visit a place where there aren’t a lot of other foreigners (tourists.) Adana fit that criteria. It’s not exactly a tourist magnet. Of course, we also saw Efes, Istanbul, Cappidocia, etc, but the focus was living in Adana. That summer trip motivated me to try to come stay for a year in Adana. During that year, I met Rana, and stayed to see what would happen. Before I knew it, we were married. We decided to stay in Adana because it’s ours. (i.e. Antakya is hers, America is mine, but Adana is ours.) It’s where we met, so it’s a great place for us to start our lives together.
What do you like about the ‘Turkish way of (daily) life’?
I love the fact that neighborhoods are still a living reality. They say in Turkey that you don’t rent/buy a home, but the neighborhood. It’s true. My neighborhood has been a big part of my experience. I leave the house and chat with people everywhere. I’m often offered tea by people working at neighboring businesses, other families in the building drop off extra food sometimes. In fact, today I just picked up some Lahmacun at the local oven, we dropped off the meat, and they cooked the lahmacun. They all know me by name there, it’s great. Most people here care what’s going on around them, most specifically about the people around them. You feel this most as a foreigner because you’re reached out to even more.
That you’re also a Turkish speaker gives you quite some more insights into the Turkish culture. Have you discovered some remarkable similarities with your own cultural background from the States?
Oh yea. Most of the core motivations in life seem to be the same. The more readily you can understand the language, the easier it is to see that we’re all a lot alike. We all want to be loved by a few and accepted by the crowd. Most of us believe that a better job or more money would make us happier, (even though we see many examples to the contrary.) We all have deep prejudices about others that are hard to change, and very few people are satisfied with life the way it is. The reality of who we are as people doesn’t change much from Turkish to American culture. When you can’t speak to people, Turks all seem so different, but when you can sit and talk in Turkish, you see more similarities than differences.
Have you come across Turkish cultural things that you just couldn’t get your head around, things you just couldn’t grasp?
I’m still struggling to understand what place religion has in peoples’ daily lives. You see marks of Islam everywhere. In some senses there is deep allegiance to the national religion, and in other senses there seems to be a deep distrust and rejection of it. An interesting paradox is in the total disdain for pork and the blanket acceptance of alcohol use.
You choose a Turkish woman to be your spouse, could you say anything in general (hard… but it’s always fun to generalize , right?) that you love about Turkish women?
As foreigners, we develop quick stereotypes about Turkish women; over emotional, irrational, submissive, etc. Marrying a woman who is level-headed, rational and assertive has made me reconsider my stereotypes to say the least. I will say though that my wife brings a deep loyalty and a depth of emotion into the relationship that I think is directly linked to her Turkishness. I love those things about her.
You’ve been quite a while now in Turkey, what was one of the hardest things to get accustomed to?
I think that by far the biggest adjustment has been adjusting to life without a car and without cheap gas prices. In American a big expression of my freedom was the freedom with which I got in the car and did anything I wanted any time I wanted, on my schedule. In Turkey, I’m constantly adjusting to the schedule of the masses, the bus/train/etc. schedule. It’s been a big adjustment.
And what was the easiest ?
In general everything gets a lot easier when you stop expecting things to be similar to life in your native country. When I stopped judging things by what I was used to, I started getting used to things the way they are here, at that point, you start to accept the good with the bad. For example, if you expect Nescafe (instant coffee) to taste like the standard coffee in America, you’ll be sorely disappointed, but if you see it as a different beverage (not coffee) it’s fine.
What do you miss?
My family, winter, snow, my church, my friends, disc golf, clean cities, having a car, the wide assortment of microbrews and coffee shops we have in the states, pork.
The States are always in the news, especially if it concerns geopolitics. you’re an American. What kind of question do you sometimes get from Turks in the context of current affairs, where the US plays a dominant role?
I’m constantly asked about Bush and the war in Iraq. The thing that troubles me most about the way the questions are asked is the fact that people are all too willing to believe that others (Bush, his administration, the army, etc.) are willfully doing harm to others. Everybody knows Iraq is a mess and that many horrible mistakes have been made, but I don’t think anyone is intentionally doing evil over there. Of course, America’s denial of the problems and mistakes doesn’t help the world forgive them though.
I really appreciate though that people are open to me as an American person even though they are frustrated and angry with American foreign policy.
Here in Istanbul, the people around me tend to look more Westwards and don’t like to be associated with ‘the Middle East’. How is this in Adana?
I would say that it’s almost exactly the same. People I meet still believe what Ataturk taught about Turkey, namely that it’s aspirations and allegiances should be toward the West, not towards the Middle East.
Over they years you probably also learned Turkey has quite a complicated history and still is a complicated case of a nation state. What do you think has been one of the most positive developments you’ve seen over the past two years.
Wow, I wish I had something to say. I think the problems here are worked out over decades, not years. Anything that changes in 2 years is superficial at best. One thing I continually remind myself of when Turkey’s progress seems slow is that when Ataturk died in 1938, 75% of the population was illiterate (90% of women.) In 2000 93.5 % of men and 76.5% of women could read and write. That’s a pretty fast march to modernity. Not much changes in 2 years, but a lot has changed in the last 80.
And what has been negative?
I wish I could say that I see Turkey getting more stable, but the more I learn about Turkey, the more I realize that economic and social catastrophes come and go regularly. My biggest concern about living here long term is related to the constant threat things like earthquakes, military takeovers and financial crises. It seems like these people and this country needs stability.
What hold’s the near future for you in Adana?
We’ve decided to spend the first phase of our married life here (5 or so years.) If I can find a niche where I can keep doing work I enjoy for a livable wage, I think we’ll be here for a long long time.
We”ll that’s it I guess. Thanks a lot.