I wrote this blog post when I was feeling very low after experiencing sexual harrassment whilst hitchhiking. This post is not meant to scare women, and I hope that you will find the comments section at the bottom useful, as a number of people have commented.
I have previously written a lot about Turkey, gushing about the people, the culture, the nature. And whilst I still love Turkey, it is certainly a country of deep contrasts. There is super-traditonal next to super-modern; hideous five-star hotels close to poor farmers´ houses; modern women walking alongside the traditional women who wear headscarves and baggy Turkish trousers; a generosity and kindness that I have known nowhere else, and yet a huge amount of racism towards Kurdish people.
And I have experienced contrasts with the men, too. I have hitchhiked hundreds of cars here, and I have always encouraged women who want to hitchhike alone, as most people think that we shouldn’t do it. However, I want to list my bad experiences here, because sadly they are starting to add up (BUT the good experiences far outweigh the bad).
– Yesterday I started hitchhiking alone since sadly parting with my friend, Julien. One of the last things I had said to him was, ‘I am not looking forward to the hitchhike along the Mediterranean coast because last year I got offered money for sex.’ Sure enough the conversation in the FIRST car went like this:
man: ‘do you like whisky?’
‘do you like Turkish men?’
‘I don’t understand you. I speak very little Turkish.’
‘do you like sex?’
‘NO. Stop the car now. I am going now.’
‘no, no. If you don’t want sex, no problem’.
(Ten minutes pass)
man: ‘sex is a good way for a woman to make money.’
‘stop the car now.’
‘no, I don’t want sex, I am just saying.’
This was between the towns of Adrasan and Antalya on the south coast.
– Last year, on the same coast, a young man offered me 500 Lira for sex. I angrily got out of the car.
This happened close to Alanya.
– On the Black Sea coast, a man told me that he would take me hundreds of kilometres out of his direction, and then started asking me inappropriate questions. Again I angrily got out of the car.
– Close to the Turkey-Bulgaria border my truck driver got out of his truck to help me with my luggage. As I stepped down from the truck, he grabbed my arse. When I shouted angrily at him, he replied, ‘but I have sorted you another truck ride!’ (Because he had called a co-driver to take me over the border and therefore felt he was owed something).
– Hitchhiking between Ankara and Istanbul, a long-distance bus took me for free (which is not unusual in super-generous Turkey). However, for the whole journey I had hassle from one of the workers on the bus, who asked me inappropriate questions.
– My worst experience has been between Manavgat and Antalya, also on the Mediterranean coast. I DID NOT follow my gut instincts, and you should always follow your gut instinct as a hitchhiker. I got in the car because it was getting dark and I wanted to get to Antalya. As it got dark, the man drove me off the motorway down a very dark country road, heading away from Antalya, and saying, ‘me and you have dinner together’. I said no, and he replied, ‘me and you go together’. I stayed calm and explained that I had a boyfriend who I loved very much. He saw sense and drove back to the motorway. This is the only time where I have thought, ‘I could be in trouble here.’
– On the road close to Kaş (also on the Mediterranean coast!) a young driver put his hand on my leg and took my hand in his. I ordered him to stop the car.
– In a car going down to Olympos (hoho, also on the Mediterranean!) a man in a car asked me if I had a boyfriend. I made up a Turkish boyfriend, and he replied, ‘so you can have sex with me. I am Turkish!’
There have also been maybe two or three more times when I have asked drivers to stop the car. And countless times where the driver has rubbed his two index fingers together. This is a gesture that most women travelling in Turkey will see. It can mean many things, but more often than not it means sex.
However, like I say, Turkey is a country of contrasts, and although I have had these bad experiences, the amazing experiences have far outweighed the bad ones. I have had many invites to drink tea with lovely people, invites into family houses and eaten dinner, bus drivers taking me long distances for free out of kindness, men paying for bus tickets for me because they are concerned about my safety. I have slept in drivers’ houses with no problems. I have met so many amazingly kind people through hitchhiking.
I have also written a more positive note on hitchhiking in Turkey here.
I will still hitchhike alone in Turkey, but I thought I should write about these experiences for other hitchhikers. None of my bad experiences have ever been physically threatening and the driver has always stopped when I demanded strongly. I just think women need to develop a thick skin in Turkey. And there are obvious precautions I take when hitchhiking: I follow my gut instinct and am not afraid to say ‘no’ to drivers who stop. I say ‘no’ every day in Turkey. It’s better to be overly precautious. I don’t really wear makeup, and I wear baggy clothes. I never get in a car whose reply to my ‘where are you goıng?’ is ‘where are you going?’
It is also important to bear in mind that Turkey is by far the country where I have hitchhiked the most. I have taken hundreds of cars here, and so of course the odds of bad experiences are greater. Having said that, Germany is the country where I have hitched the most after Turkey, and I have had ZERO problems. I believe that the patriarchal society of Turkey and the beliefs about a woman’s role in life are responsible for the problems here. Turkish women would not usually travel alone, let alone hitchhike alone. Also, the fact that there are many package tourists does not help the image of foreign women in Turkey (but I am not blaming the package tourists for male chauvinism!)
I am having a break from hitchhiking here for a few days. I don’t feel positive enough right now, and I also had an uneasy experience with my Couchsurfing host, whom I had previously stayed with and trusted. It seemed to me that this time he was expecting to have sex. So I am getting buses for a couple of days! (And hurrah! I can now argue in Turkish with bus ticket sellers who try to rip me off! And I get my money back!)
I would like to hear other people’s experiences of hitchhiking alone in Turkey (and male hitchhikers, too, because men sometimes also get hassle).
I am very much looking forward to my trip back to Georgia and onwards to Armenia. I think I am ready for a break from Turkey for a week!!