The past few days I have been very unhappy, frustrated and irritable. Part of it is that my mouth hurts and I think it's from clenching my teeth at night and also the pressure of my wisdom teeth (no, I haven't gotten them pulled yet). The other part is that when I go out, even in my rather calm neighborhood of Mecidiyeköy, the amount and type of attention I get from men is close to intolerable at times. I must go from looking foreign to looking pissed off and foreign within a matter of minutes. Sometimes I will endure someone's stare for an entire block. Sometimes one man will see me and nudge his friend and then they both just watch me. Sometimes they mutter things under their breath as I pass. One time a man walked by me and, while there was plenty of space on the sidewalk, he ran half his body into me and I couldn't help but feel slightly groped... so much so that I actually stopped a few steps later to check of he had stolen anything from me.
All of this just feels more like a lack of respect than a compliment. I say this because when I mentioned to my female Turkish friend how often men stared and yelled out to me asking, with hope in their voice, if I am Russian, she said it is like a compliment because they think Russians are beautiful. *I researched it a little and some people think that it's a little more psychological than that... that Turkish men like to sleep with Russian women because it feels like they are "conquering Russia" in that act.
All in all, I know from traveling since I was young that people treat a tourist woman differently and also that they are attracted to them because they are new in their eyes, but the lack of subtlelty here is what infuriates me. As I walk past a local mosque on the second day of Ramadan and almost every man on the block is staring at me with dark, hungry eyes... I feel the literal pull between the two strangely coexisting aspects of Istanbul, though I have a hard time identifying them perfectly.
On one hand we have this old, old city. It is jam-packed full of history, significant cultural and religious places. There are mosques everywhere and many women wear the hijab and many men stroll around with their rosaries.
On the other hand we have intense consumerism, so many shopping malls, short skirts, high heels and heavy makeup, nightclubs, alcohol and the idea that this is Europe.
The clash of these two things can be strikingly beautiful or unpleasant...
At times I love it. Like when I saw a girl in a hijab with a long full covering dress and then her bright pink converse all-stars peaking out. That makes me smile.
Other times I can't stand it, like when I saw a man smacking his wife as they walked down a main street and then grab her forecfully by the arm and pull her along.
It's confusing. I know that I am a modern independent woman who has just as many rights as any man. But as a yabancı (a foreigner) living in a new city, it can feel that I am what I am seen as, and I am not sure I like it.
I know, I know: don't let others define you, and I don't. I am just irritated when it feels like how other see me does not line up with how I see myself.
I don't feel very comfortable defining myself as a bellydancer here, I say the words but the reaction I get seems like I just said I am a stripper or a prostitute. It is lowly and sexual.
In the U.S. it felt like I had said something synonymous with "artist" because the thought of it being an ethnic dance form is easy to understand. Here I feel like I have to explain what that means and it still isn't easily swallowed.
Honestly, there are times when my dancer spirit feels totally pushed down, away from who I am and I think, perhaps I shouldn't try to do that [dance] here? Judging on how little I like the attention I get just walking down the street, how would I like the attention I would get from performing? I worry that it would bring on more unwanted looks, words and experiences.
And then I wonder, then what the hell am I doing here? And hope that something shifts in my life so that I can feel artistically fulfilled.
I want to teach regularly. I want to perform to quality live music from this region of the world and I want to do this all for fair compensation. Do you hear that, universe?
Because this is who I am.