It has been exactly two years since I came to Turkey to settle and start my Istanbul food tours and cooking classes. Of my 5 stays abroad this has already been the longest one with the deepest immersion into the local life. I have become a part of a Turkish family which gives me a whole different perspective on living in Turkey. Probably that is why – first time in 10 years of my life abroad – I find it difficult to relate to many foreigners living in Istanbul: I have come here by choice and have organized my life how I wanted it to be. Which gives me very little room for ranting about living in Turkey (besides the occasional attacks which some thought to be a joke anyway).
I like Turkey because things happen and get done in not-so-obvious-ways creating lots of room for maneuver. It sound right for me: I have grown up in the Russia of early 90s when the whole system got upside down and you were to figure out how to operate without any system at place. When things get too disorganized or unlogical in Turkey I laugh, or take a deep breath, or have a glass of tea, or talk to my Turkish husband who has the most bullet-proof logic in the world and a viable solution for everything – all of which works likes a charm on the Turkish inefficiencies.
It is thanks to him and my whole Turkish family that I have learned so much about this country, its culture and food. “For how long you have been living in Turkey?” is probably the first question my clients ask me when we meet and I see their bewildered faces when I respond “Two years“. As the walk continues some can’t help saying, “Wait! You must be making it all up! There is no way you can know all that without being a Turk“. See, in Turkey life revolves around family so once you are a part of one you can start fully grasping this country. Then of course Turkish families are very different from each other: I have seen a fare deal of Russian brides encouraged – shall I say – to convert and to cover up in order to be accepted. My Turkish family instead has granted me a full freedom to be what I want to be.
So smart of me, right? Chosen the country where I feel comfortable, found a understanding husband and entered a lovely family of his. But then there are things I could not foresee. That I would be spending much time on the Istanbul countryside where my husband’s parents and then Özgür himself have moved to and are running their lifestyle business – a boutique hotel and restaurant in Sapanca. It sounds like a fairytale – live on the countryside, breath in fresh air, drink spring water, eat products off the nearby farms, possibly garden on our own, create wonderful food and share it with our clients. And with a few days in Istanbul where do my food tours and cooking classes it is living the best of the two worlds, is that not?! But then the challenges have presented themselves very quickly too – perplexes of living with an extended family, lack of socializing with peers (beyond the visits of my sister-in-law from Istanbul or friends coming to see me from abroad) and unbearable workload at our understaffed restaurant kitchen.
Big families are fun unless if you have a strong sense of privacy and have lived alone for a long time before. That’s why I rarely feel I am married to my husband who is more of a brother and companion to me – because instead of forming a little family of our own we have just dissolved in the routines and ways of the extended family we belong to. And in a big family there are many “have’s”. The other day my husband’s cousin said with conviction that my cooking has tremendously improved since my first kitchen efforts in Turkey. Her words made me quite sad: in the attempt to create dishes which will be well received by my Turkish eaters I have stopped cooking international and use extravagant ingredients. Much to the approval of my frugal mother-in-law I have become good at feeding a crowd on the cheap. Which is not necessarily how I want to eat myself all the time.
Lack of quality socializing is another challenge of living on the Istanbul countryside. After spending time with people from very different cultures over the past years my idea of “right”, “wrong”, “good” and “bad” is extremely relative. Establishing eye-contact with a stranger and even greeting her when entering a bus is common in Norway but my get you into a fatal trouble, as we have learned, in India. My international experiences have made me culturally-sensitive in a way I can quickly develop social adequacy in any cultural context. So with this mindset, two degrees and business background I am here socializing with the people who spent most of their lives in very small places. It is revealing and humbling at times. But at the end of the day what bugs you is the glaring waste of your capacity. You become too cowboy at times just like in the case of my Turkish I have learned in Sapanca: initially I was ashamed to speak it in Istanbul as I thought my version was so red-neck.
And then the kitchen.. ah, our restaurant kitchen. I have noticed how I have been pushed out of cooking into lots of prep and washing up. After the New Years I got back to Istanbul with dark circles under my eyes, half of the nails gone, thumbs in cracks and pain in the lower back. It was my choice to enter our restaurant kitchen: I remember how I was competing with our then helpers for the right to assist my mother-in-law. The more I was around the more work was passed to me. My idea was to learn as much as I can about Turkish cooking and offer some help back. At times when my mother-in-law was taking time to teach me extravagant Turkish dishes I felt it was worth it. She also tried to keep me motivated by introducing to our guests as her partner at the kitchen. I wanted it to work. Until one part of my body started breaking down after another. Until I started hating my early wakeups on weekends to assist with prep. Until I found myself ranting on this blog and beyond way more frequently than I had liked to.
My former national athlete mother-in-law is fighting her second cancer. The worse she feels the more fierce she works. And I just can’t keep up with her. And looking at a bag of drugs she carries around I think I don’t want to. I think we are in a deep need for a helper. And because I could not convey this idea for months I am off.
I am leaving our restaurant kitchen. I am at the limit of my physical and emotional capacity and my braincells might have started to atrophy. I want to reverse it and to feel happy again. To be a beautiful and happy woman my husband fell in love with. To go back to the reasons that brought me here. To do the things what I like. My tours and cooking classes, exploring Turkish food in Istanbul beyond and helping my family grow their business in the ways they may not have considered before. So it is time to put my cowboy shoes on a shelf and my heavy-duty apron aside and get down to real work. Which means exciting exciting things are coming up – I hope you are with me this year!