For many there is something as sweet as honey about Turkey. But can a foreigner’s life here remain forever harmonious?
“There is something very seductive about [southwest] Turkey: maybe, just because it’s the antithesis of the UK.” A comment made some years ago by a holidaymaker for whom this part country seemed just foreign enough to make it exotic for the quixotic: a Mediterranean climate, hot summers, snow on the mountains in the winter, a hospitable culture, wonderful food, and for would be settlers, competitively priced real estate.
For many there is something as sweet as honey about Turkey. But can a foreigner’s life here remain forever harmonious? As anywhere else, there are positive and negative aspects and for some the balance changes.
Stories about love, commitment, happiness, grief and some tough decisions about the future help to reveal how and why foreigners choose to live here and why on occasion they choose to leave.
Clare and Recep Boldurmaz, 36 and 37 respectively, met in 2003 when Claire decided on a ‘try dive’ for part of her Turkish holiday experience. Recep was a scuba diving instructor.
Their relationship blossomed and Clare came to live with him in Fethiye. Claire explains how she was able to make this decision while still pursuing her career.
“I was (and still am) working from home, working for conference companies producing conferences happening in the UK. That mostly entails writing conference programmes and inviting senior level speakers. I also do events PR for large companies – getting their top executives to speak at senior pan-European conferences.”
They made a commitment to each other and to Turkey and lived in the country for five and a half years. “We lived in Fethiye for most of that time – apart for the last year which we spent in Özdere near Izmir (my husband is from there, so we went to be near his family and also to improve my Turkish.)”
[inset side=left]England is nowhere near as bad as many Brits make out! Recep[/inset]But sometimes, natural events and hard facts about the life in the tourist sector can mean difficult choices. “Once I got pregnant I wanted to be near my family. Recep had also had enough of seasonal work for a while. It was never clear each year whether he’d have a job or not until the last minute. He also found it hard not working in the winter…and of course I found it difficult hardly seeing him in the summer! He craved a Monday to Friday job to give him regular work and weekends off which is luckily what he’s found here.”
They have now moved to the UK and live in Telford, Shropshire, with it’s mixture of rural towns and villages together with Industrial new towns, it seems to have helped them find the settled life style they were searching for.
Their baby Alex, born in the historic town of Shrewsbury, is now 7 weeks old. Clare is near her family and Recep according to Clare, “thinks England is nowhere near as bad as many Brits make out! He loves certain things…. pubs and their vast array of beer being one of them! Of course he misses aspects of Turkey… and like me misses the weather at times.”
Recep has now got a job welding at a local Japanese firm (he’s got experience in that field). They’ve now taken him on permanently. This is fortunate in the current employment market – jobs are thin on the ground.
They plan to come back to Turkey but are not sure when that will be.
It appears that wherever people end up they are left wanting something – tangible or intangible. But sometimes the choices are more complex and potentially heartbreaking.
Chris Johnstone and his wife Pat had been holidaying several times a year in Turkey for 20 years and had developed a close relationship with the [then] un-spoilt mountain village of Hisarönü.
“I remember it was the perfect place to come and switch off from the world. No one could call me and I could unwind: Simple, reasonable and hospitable. Most importantly, there was absolutely no hassle.” As it had become a sort of second home for them it seemed logical for them to invest in some land and build a house according to retired regional newspaper managing director Chris.
The Johnstones like some before and many after were seduced by the lure of the lifestyle.
[inset side=right]We don’t feel this area has progressed as much as it should have. It is beautiful but a lack of investment means it is lagging behind other places. Also there have been issues with bureaucracy and the assumption that all foreigners are wealthy, which have upset us. Gerry[/inset]He continues, “We bought a plot of land in 1998 and slowly built a house (my design) but with out any real plans to live in it full time.” Things changed for Chris dramatically when at the age of 57 he suffered complete liver failure and underwent a liver transplant at Birmingham Hospital.”
“Three months after the operation Pat and I decided we couldn’t live our lives standing on the edge of a precipice. At the time I had four part time directorships but at 57 decided that retirement and a new life in Turkey was just what we both needed.” He says he has never regretted that decision.
“After enjoying the wonderful life style for five and a half years, Pat found she was having trouble with her knees. By the time we headed back to the UK for health checks (I had to go every few months for my liver) I had to help her climb the stairs.”
Doctors and physiotherapists were puzzled by her problem and comprehensive tests were made.
While this was going on Chris has a check up and mentioned to the doctor he had experienced some breathing difficulties.
The results for both of them brought more devastating news. Chris had lung cancer and Pat, Motor Neuron Disease.
These tragic diagnoses meant some very hard decisions had to be made. Pat and Chris decided it was probably better to be ill in the UK.
Chris explains how they sold everything in Turkey and returned to the UK and a quiet but beautiful apartment in Poole, Dorset. “But it wasn’t Turkey.”
Chris had to have half of one of his lungs removed but was pronounced clear of cancer.
For Pat there was no positive prognosis or outcome. Her health and consequently her mobility rapidly declined. Doctors at the Hospital for Neurological Diseases in Holborn, London did all they could for Pat but on May 24th 2009 at the age of 68 she died; a year after the original diagnosis.
Chris has scattered her ashes in the high mountain pastures above Fethiye and is now planning to live in Turkey once more.
Meantime, in the mountain valley community of Ovaçık behind Hisarönü, Gerry (56) and Gloria (58) Houlihan are packing their bags. They are returning to the English Home Counties after a long but not completely happy love affair with the country they have known for 17 years.
They explain how they came to Ovaçık. “We started holidaying in Turkey when tourism was in its infancy. We came on a last minute deal because we desperately needed a break from work. After a week spent recovering we went exploring and ended up adoring the place.”
“We eventually bought a property here in 2003 and in 2007 we came to live here, when we retired. We wanted to live in Köyceğiz, further along the coast but the land was rezoned so we couldn’t have sold it to foreigners. It limited our options.” In the event they found their home in Ovaçık friendly and accepting.
Gerry believes his Irish upbringing, in Kerry, influenced them. He loved the fact that everything appeared so relaxed, friendly and informal. “It’s like Ireland with better weather. We were absolutely in love with the place. It certainly wasn’t sophisticated and we really appreciated that.”
“Originally our house was surrounded by fields. We knew we wanted it when we saw a photo in a real estate window.” Through a series of surprises, fate and good fortune they found it.
Gloria continues, “We are going back to the UK for a few reasons. I miss my seven grandchildren. Gary’s health means he needs to have regular check up and his diabetes means extra expense. I want a good book shop and we wish there was something here like golf, for exercise.”
Garry takes over. “We don’t feel this area has progressed as much as it should have. It is beautiful but a lack of investment means it is lagging behind other places. Also there have been issues with bureaucracy and the assumption that all foreigners are wealthy, which have upset us.”
“We now feel that there isn’t enough for retired people like us to do. They assume that all the expats here want to do is booze. That’s not the case. In the winter it’s dark and quiet with very little to do.”
It seems they have many reasons for leaving Turkey but insist that no particular reason takes precedence. But when they do finally leave Gerry has decided that although a “drastic decision,” they will not come back to the country they once loved because it will make them too sad. He will miss the people, the weather (winter and summer) and she the countryside. It seems like the end of a love affair.
They are planning on selling their house to Chris Johnstone and will be having a six-month holiday in France on their way back to their new house in England, which is about 10 minutes from where they originally lived.
Jane Tuna Akatay and Özlem Öztürk