Sunday, 5 September 2010


Ankara was very different from Istanbul. It looked new and sterile, rows on rows of similar office towers and apartment buildings stretching as far as I could see. Many of the tall buildings were draped with banners of Ataturk and Turkish flags that were easily five stories high, if not more. Smaller flags were everywhere, hanging off balconies and waving from some of the biggest flag poles I have ever seen. I wondered if all these flags and banners were normal, at least for Ankara, but someone eventually told me that August 30 was something like Independence Day in Turkey (Victory Day actually, commemorating the end of the Greco-Turkish war in 1922).
We took one of the smaller buses that look like oversized milk trucks downtown to do some shopping during Ramadan. A couple of cranky-looking, skimpily dressed old ladies got on at the stop after us, and sat down right behind us. As they got on, I was thinking they looked like the sort of people who used to scream at me in the street in Canada to go back to my country.
My friend Kubra leaned over and told me in Arabic, "These two might cause a problem. They remind me of people who used to stop me in the street when I was younger and yell at me for wearing hijab, accusing my family of forcing me to wear it. I was only eight or nine, and I wanted to wear it, but I wasn't old enough to argue about it very well."
A hand clamped on to my arm from behind - I looked, and it was one of the old ladies. She shoved a five-lira bill at me, and I asked her in Arabic what she wanted. Whoops, wrong language. She started jabbing my niqab with the bill and berating me in Turkish. Was she trying to give me money, I wondered? I looked at her blankly as she raised her volume and began shouting at me, unable to recall any applicable Turkish words whatsoever.
Kubra spoke to the lady in Turkish, and the lady yelled at her for a while. Kubra's little brother took the lady's money forward to the driver and brought her change back. I realized what she had wanted.
Kubra eventually translated for me. The lady had assumed I was Turkish and was sassing her, despite the fact that I was wearing Arab clothes and speaking Arabic. She wasn't hard of hearing, and said she heard us speaking Arabic, so I couldn't give her that excuse.
On the smaller Ankara buses, people take a seat, find their money, and pass it to the person in front of them, telling them how many people they want to pay for. The money and the instructions are passed along the bus by the passengers to the driver, and then the change is passed back. I had only ever taken the big Istanbul buses, where you pay when you get on, and Kubra's brother had paid for us when we got on this bus because it was nearly empty, so I didn't know how it worked. It was probably a good thing I understood very little Turkish, because the lady behind me complained very loudly to her friend the whole trip.

There are areas in Ankara where almost everyone wears hijab, but it's rare to see hijabis downtown. Most people I saw there were wearing revealing Western fashions. It was interesting to watch people walk by in outfits that seemed more suited for an Italian catwalk than a Turkish street. People stare at me, and they were watching me far more closely than I was looking at them. Several people turned their heads all the way around as they passed me, and collided with others. One man walked into a lamppost. That must have hurt, I felt a bit bad for him.


  1. What an experience, I thought that in general hijab is being more accepted in all Turkey, But I must be wrong!..
    In our areas, the one wearing very revealing clothes get the stares and not the one covered :D

  2. Turkey places great importance on secularism (or the government does, not all Turkish people do), so the hijab is not really generally accepted in Turkey. They can't legally wear it in government schools or Universities, after all.

    I am stared at in Turkey a lot more than I was in Canada, even when I wear Turkish clothes, but that's partially because the niqab is rare in Turkey, and people don't think it's rude to stare so intently that they walk into things.

    There are neighbourhoods where everyone wears hijab, and areas where almost nobody does. Downtown Ankara is one of the places where almost no one wears it, but nobody pays much attention to me in downtown Istanbul. I even saw a no-smoking sign in Arabic outside a mosque in Uskudar :)

  3. That was en-lighting, especially that i'd love to visit Turkey one day inshallah...:)

  4. I definitely recommend it if you get the chance, it is a very beautiful country.