Today’s topic will be driving in Turkey. I just spent three months driving around America, where the lines are clearly defined. The rules are hard and fast, and those choosing not to abide by them will be hit or pulled over. It is so easy to drive in America, that a button exists on almost every car there called cruise control. In Turkey you will never cruise, and you will never be in control, of anything. As I start driving here again, I’m surprised all over again at what chaos it is and how angry I get doing it. Sometimes it’s the driver turning left from the third right lane. Sometimes it’s the blatant running of a red light just to get stuck in the middle of an intersection and therefore preventing anyone from the other directions from going anywhere. But today’s adventure was the merger who flies off a ramp into your lane full speed, without even looking or caring whether there is already another car in the spot he’s trying to get to. I shout, “Hello!” in my angry, annoyed voice that drives my kids crazy when they are in the car with me. But what I’m really trying to get across is, “I am here. I exist. Do you see my presence here?” And even more underlying is, “Do you care?” Because as far as I can tell, the drivers don’t actually care. They will act as if I were not in fact sitting in that lane taking up space, and they are actually willing to risk a car accident to continue in this pattern of thinking.
So why does this bother me so much? Why can’t I just accept it, jump in, and do as the Romans do like my husband. Is it because I have a chip on my shoulder? Because I’m a foreigner? Because I’m a serious minority by being a woman driving a car? Maybe. I’m willing to agree that it’s probably some of all of those. But I also think it’s something more. I’m actually not willing to be ignored. I am here. I do exist. I do matter. I feel like I’m yelling this inside my head all the time these days.
My kids sometimes treat me otherwise. They lie on my head with their feet in my face in the middle of the night, because we all have jet lag. As I’m about to fall off my own bed this thought enters my mind. As I clean up the dishes for the millionth time after I just spent two hours making the dinner, and everyone clears out of the room or falls asleep on the couch, I might be tempted to think these thoughts. As I sit in the background while my husband runs and leads everything, and I silently fill the tea cups, keep the children quiet, and clean up as the night progresses, I may again broach this topic in my head. And while this may be because I happen to be a very selfish person, I wonder if other people feel this way too sometimes. Especially here in Turkey.
I’ve silently pushed my grocery cart through the store relishing the few moments of silence without my kids, when I suddenly got shoved aside by another driver of a grocery cart that clearly wanted to be where I was. Or I may have gotten my feet run over. Or I may have been standing in line and someone just moved up to the counter past me as if there was no line at all. These are my experiences in public. This is what happens where no one knows me. If we are willing to treat complete strangers with such rudeness, how do we treat those in our homes? If my giant Volkswagen Transporter is in your way and you are so determined to get to where you need to go that you will almost hit me, your journey is obviously more important than the others around you. If you cannot be bothered with a few traffic rules, if they don’t apply to you, what rules do apply to you?
I’m ranting to the drivers out here in Turkey, but I’m really voicing the cry of many ignored, unheard voices around me that I’m burdened for. My pride is wounded, and my self-centered American self feels affronted, but the real deal is my humanity. Do I matter in Turkey? Does anyone care what a foreign woman has to say? Does anyone care what a Turkish woman has to say? Does anyone care what their fellow neighbor, spouse, or relative has to say? This culture is so filled with obligatory phrases that sometimes conversation seems scripted. We’re all just saying what we have to, and then we move on to focus on ourselves.
I want to stop. I want to yell at all the people around me to notice me, to acknowledge me, to value me. And then I realize that I need to notice the people around me. Am I doing this too? Have I adopted this cultural norm? Is it even Turkish? Have Americans just made it look more appropriate to be be selfish? Maybe I’ll give my kids permission to tell me to notice the other drivers needs, and back down. Maybe I’ll notice the man selling me apples at the pazar and ask him about his day. Maybe I’ll silently pour that tea and just suck it up and let the other women get a break from doing it for once.
I’m not cruising through life here with any sort of control. But I’m here and just like my van, I can go somewhere while I’m here. I can throw my set of learned “driving” rules out the window and yet stay on the road. Not being appalled at the behaviours I see, but using different rules to make a difference. I do exist. And instead of forcing people to acknowledge it with my loud voice, I will choose to make it known by acknowledging that others do too. We’re all on this road together after all.