Since I’ve already wrote about how I arrive to Turkey here, this post is about my first day at IYACA NGO office and how I’ve got my perceptions straight about Kayseri social customs and lifestyle.
I was looking forward to this day, because this was the first day as a volunteer for a NGO. And it was even more special, because I am in a foreign country, I don’t know their language or their culture. And on top of all that, it was the day before their biggest religious event, Ramadan.
The office was nicer than I’ve expected. I was surprised to find a four room apartment, in the center of Kayseri, with a computer just for us (the volunteers) to use, Wi-Fi internet, a kitchen and tree balconies.
The week before getting to Kayseri, I was reading about city customs and lifestyle. There is not much information about that, mainly because it is a conservative city, quiet and peaceful. I was a little concern about how women should behave in such a conservative city like Kayseri. But from what I’ve found on the internet, there were the ideas that stick to my head:
- Women should take care what they wear in public. Although not all Turkish women are so conservative to wear a scarf over their head and cover entirely their body with long sleeve t-shirts and long pants, everything related to this subject suggested not to wear uncover shoulders and shorts.
I was spending a lot of time before I got here, thinking what clothes to bring, so that I would fit in the scenery. I look up the weather, and I found out this was going to be the hottest period of the year. So I was concerned what to wear to not feel to hot, but in the same time to keep up with their customs.
After my first day walking around the city, I found out that wearing a tank ( or anything that would reveal my shoulders) was not a problem – lucky me, but I’ve not seen anyone wearing shorts. So uncovered shoulders are ok, but long pants are a must ( or long skirt/dress).
- Women should not smile to men, and even ignore the strangers. This was more as a caution method of not getting unwanted attention from Turkish men.
I was concern about my smiling habit J. I tend to smile a lot for no reason, when I’m walking on the street, sometimes smiling at the salesmen when I buy something, or when I’m talking.
Indeed, most older women here do not smile randomly at other people.
But at IYACA I’ve met with a lot of young students and volunteers, and I was very surprised to observe their genuine will of life, and cheerful attitude. There was a mixed group of young women and men, friendly to each other, just like in any European country. So I got more relaxed knowing that my assumptions about Turkish social customs were not true.
So girls can hang out with boys, there can be mixed groups of friends, and smiling is allowed and it is not misinterpreted. But it is not a bad idea to keep this friendly behavior among people you know, and it’s better to be accompanied by some male friends when you go out, for example for a glass of tea.
- Here is no nightlife.
And this is the end of it. J Of course here are a lot of coffee shops and even more places where people hang out to drink Turkish tea. Some are the gathering spot for elders and some are frequented by youth. But even the ones that are full of youth, close at 10 pm or 12 am.
There was nothing that I couldn’t live with, in order to respect their lifestyle and customs. They are more conservative that others, but not absurd. They understood we are coming from a different culture and how some of their customs can seem a little strange to us. But the Turkish volunteers were really helpful with explanations about every topic we’ve opened.
There was a lot of fuss about the Ramadan, everyone getting ready, there was the “Welcome to Ramazan” festival, in the city center, with a lot of people coming to see the show, all sorts of craftsman demonstrating their crafts, a lot of children running around. Everyone seem to be having a great time, drinking some USUM SUYU, having some traditional sweets like lokma ( gogosi) and dondurma (the Turkish name for ice cream).
This is a short video that I made to get the general idea about the festival:
A more detailed post about the festival can be found here.