Breakfast under our belts, we leave Istanbul behind. Unfortunately we had not one second of free time to enjoy this vibrant and colorful city, but we promise ourselves we’ll surely be back soon. Pinky swear!
The plane takes us to Mardin, a small town situated in Kurdish Turkey, at about 15km of the Syrian border. When all goes well, we’ll be turning this cosy little place into our base camp for the upcoming days.
I soak up all the beauty and can feel my anxiety, based on biased ideas, disappear. I’m digging this.
From the moment the plane hits the ground, it dawns on me how mixed people are around this area. And actually, what did I expect?? In all honesty: grimness, veiled women and obedience. Shame hits me hard when I come face to face with my prejudice, and I realize that I actually enjoy the sight of all the young girls on high heels and in skinny white trousers, calling for a cab whilst next to them, an older lady with beautiful and colorful veil, moves towards her family with such a grace…. ‘Elegance’ pinpoints my thoughts, and I let the charm of it all embrace me. I soak up all the beauty and can feel my anxiety, based on biased ideas, disappear. I’m digging this.
The old part of Mardin snakes around the hills and with a bit of goodwill we can spot the Syrian border at the horizon. Mixed emotions dawn on me, because here we are, hanging around like carefree tourists, while, only breath away, people are fighting for their lives. The center of Mardin, though, feels peaceful and gives nothing away on the turbulent period they’ve been through. Jewelry shops and beauty boutiques interchange, and while the odour of home-made milk soap fulfills me, I start dreaming of my scheduled visit to the local hammam, that ‘accidentally ‘lays right next to our hotel. I do my research well 😉
We wander around through little streets and alleyways that open out onto a terrace with the most breathtaking view over the Mesopotamian plain. It’s the end of the afternoon and young girls are clustering in the cosy sofas, over a glass of chai. They chat and giggle and remind me immediately of my girlfriends at home. Once again I notice how there is little difference between veiled and unveiled women, and it gives me a sense of independence and freedom of choice. A natural way of living. And once again I feel like coming home.
The sun is kissing my pale skin, leaving red marks, and I absorb every beam of light. The warmth of the sun, the local atmosphere, the tea and amazingly fresh food….
That evening we are invited by my parent’s old friends, Ramazan and Ilhan. More than 10 years ago, they met up after my parents lost their luggage whilst traveling around in the area. Ramazan and Ilhan were there to help them out, and the rest is history. This supersweet and caring couple lives on a big yard in Kiziltepe, right next to a freshly constructed highway. Chickens and cats welcome us alongside Ilhan and before we even realize it, this amazing lady serves us the most elaborate dinner! She must be a magician! We take place on the carpets, enjoy the beautiful meal, and talk about life when the grandmother walks in to the room. I’m immediately stunned by her appearance and need to suppress my curiosity. I don’t want to look like a crazy, nosy girl (that I actually am), but the tattoos on her face and around her ankles fascinate me tremendously, and I’m story-thirsty. But she silences me, winks and whispers ‘I’ll tell you all about it when the boys are not around…’ We nod secretly and proceed with our dinner.
Smalltalking around, we start chatting about the love story of Ramazan and Iljan. I’m taking on the big risk of asking about how Ramazan and Ilhan first met up, and giggles fill up the room. The simplicity of their love story makes me smile. “Ramazan came over to visit my brother, when I was about 20y old. I saw him, liked him immediately, and that’s about it! Not much later, we got married, and now we have 5 children together!”. I’m stunned! This lady is 35y old, just like I am, and I feel like a frustrated, aging teenager, with my childless and single life. Ow well, nothing new there, I feel exactly the same when I’m at home, surrounded by #momlife-filled social media.
Now, not every relationship flows this well, because weddings don’t necessarily take place out of romance in this area, and young girls still get married off, even into their own family.
Now, not every relationship flows this well, because weddings don’t necessarily take place out of romance in this area, and young girls still get married off, even into their own family. The government took on the effort to counteract, and started organizing medical check-ups to prevent people from marrying with a relative. It’s a start, but clearly doesn’t influence those who really need the examination and information.
The conversation keeps on flowing and all of a sudden I see faces freeze. Stories arise about illegal marriages, that, unfortunately, still take place. Legally it’s forbidden to marry under the age of 18 (unofficially 16), but these rules don’t always get applied strictly, especially in small villages, where a nice dowry can offer solace in bitter times, or properties and material possessions stay in the family by arranged marriages.
Ilhan tells us about a 14 old girl from the neighbourhood who, just a while ago, called the police, seized in panic! Her parents were going to marry her off to a man of forty. Thriven by panic, the police reacted as fast as they could, arrested the parents and put the young girl in an orphanage.
These kind of situations are poignant and illustrate the ongoing confrontation between the old and the new, traditions and newly found women’s rights.
I’m excited for Ilhan that her family and kids make her this happy, that she can move around freely and is secured of love. And I get her, I believe her, this woman has a certain type of glow over her. She enjoys the uncomplicated life. She reigns over the household with a gentle hand, and that ’s all she needs. Every loved one lives close to her and that gives her eternal energy, love and freedom.
That night I hit the pillow with a head full of stories and some necessary self-reflection.