The Colors of the Rainbow

From time to time I am asked what I miss the most from the States.  Today, I realized I miss the colors of the rainbow.

Turkey is chock full of Turks.  They come in varying colors, dark skin and dark hair, blonde hair and light skin.  I’ve even met some red heads.

But it’s just not the same as living in Philadelphia.  There I could get on a bus and feel immersed in the world.  Blacks and whites.  Chinese, Koreans, Mexicans, Vietnamese, Ethiopians, Russians, Puerto Ricans . . . and so on and so on.  It was great.

In Ankara, we have our fair share of different nationalities and races, mostly due to the presence of many embassies here.  In recent days, I have noticed more blacks than usual.  I’m assuming they are mostly from African countries.  I am frankly embarrassed by how they stand out to me.  I stop to admire the deep dark colors of their skin, how their eyes are set, their cheekbones.  I wonder where they are from.

I’ve seen a few more Asians this month too.

I start to wonder what they are doing here.  Are they all here working at Embassies?  Are they students?  Were they able to find jobs?

Turkey is not an easy place to find a job.  One either comes via Embassy work, or they come to teach English.  Other than that, it’s difficult.  It’s a lucky few who can start their own business here legally, or who can get a work permit doing something other than teaching English.

Last week, I was with some Turkish friends when a show came on the TV about Pakistan.  They were interviewing young women.  Suddenly, one of my friends commented on how she found these women unattractive because they had large eyes and noses.  Without taking time to think about what she said or how I would respond, I lashed out, “Don’t be racist!”  I immediately started to wish I hadn’t said this.  I didn’t want to get into this discussion through an interpreter.  But before my thoughts ran too far, I was truly warmed to learn that she apologized for the comment and added that I was right.  (Honestly, those large eyes were gorgeous to me and I never noticed the noses.)

Then last night, I caught part of an interview on the Discovery Channel of a neo-nazi gang in Russia.  They said that the largest population of ne0-nazis is now in Russia.  They interviewed a 14-year-old girl who said she became a neo-nazi after seeing Hitler on television.  She found him very handsome.  She went on to tell a tale (probably a tall tale) of how she “killed a black” with a knife because she wanted to make friends with the gang.  I was really sickened by this group, the hatred, the deep lack of respect for humankind.

So today, just 10 days after Martin Luther King’s birthday, I want to recognize the colors of the rainbow.  Even though we don’t all get along in the States, I’m glad we are all there, learning and growing side by side.  Today, I am praying that the rest of the world becomes one big rainbow too.  Today, I’m really hoping that one day soon here in Ankara, a black man (or Chinese, or Indian) will walk by and I won’t turn my head.

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16 thoughts on “The Colors of the Rainbow

  1. There are more options to find work in Turkey, not only embassies and language teachers. Many people are being transferred within global corporations. I am one such example and have some more in my company.

    As to the staring bit: I stare and I love to stare because I just love to observe people’s features. I lived in Canada for many years I stared, and here in Turkey I also stare – sunglasses help 🙂 I guess it is the being curiuos about each and every face part – nothing bad in it 🙂

    • I agree, there are other ways. But I would suggest that the corporations are similar to the Embassies in that they are bringing people here to work on a temporary basis. That is different than those who want to live here, but can’t get a work permit. In addition, I believe those corporations have rules to follow, although I am not clear on what they are. Don’t they have a limit of how many foreigners they can bring compared in relation to how many Turks they hire? Or perhaps the have to declare that it is a specialized field for which the foreigner is hired?

      As for people watching, I enjoy that too. But I was taught it was impolite to stare. Regardless, my point is that I would rather stare at them because I am interested in what they are doing or what they are wearing, rather than the fact that stand out in a crowd because of race.

      • Me and the other people in my corporation got tranferred “permanently”, so we are not going back after a certain time. Maybe there are some quotas, don’t know, but surely they had to explain why they are hiring me instead of a turkish citizen.

        Obviously, I am not staring in their face 🙂 I said it as a figure of speech and I did get your point.

  2. . . the abolition of nation states and their artificial borders, visas and permits – in other words, free movement of people – would go a long way towards ridding the world of xenophobes and racists. Let those of us who will continue to enjoy difference.

  3. I love the way you express yourself. You are not afraid to comment on things the way they are and it is refreshing to me. I am open at home but inhibited outside of the house. I am wary of getting into controversies with people unless absolutely necessary and do not want my thoughts belittled but ignorant people. I respect other peoples thoughts and would enjoy meaningful dialogue but American forums promote
    a culture of disrespect and exaggeration and manipulation. It takes a wise person to step back and really see what is going on with open eyes and a courageous person to state the truth. You are both.

    • Wow Ann, thanks for the compliments! I don’t know if I am either of those things. But I do try to see things with open eyes, for as far as I can open them. It’s not easy to remember there is at least one other side to every conflict, if not multiple sides.

  4. Great post Terry! Sadly, I still find America more racist than I would like. When we were moving to Turkey, some of my father’s friends said some very unkind comments about this part of the world. I really wish everyone could learn to get along and get over their differences!

  5. Most of them are students here, they are mostly from Africa, Iran and Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Balkans, which are the countries with which Turkey has intense diplomatic relations, but still pretty much every nation is represented at Turkish universities. Besides, the Turkish government provides scholarships, both to study BA/MA/PhD at Turkish universities or to learn Turkish at one of the various TÖMER :). It’s a more affordable option that Western Europe or the US., and there are many top quality universities here, especially in Ankara and Istanbul.

  6. Kind of depends on where you go. There are quite a few refugees in Ankara. We live close to the Vatican Embassy and U.N. building, so it’s not too uncommon to find people of various races receiving their services and living close by. I’m seeing more Somali’s and North Africans (ie: black) people these days. There is also an Arabic (Saudi?) school nearby, so quite a bit of Arabic in the neighborhood. Near that is the Huawei building with plenty of Chinese who work there living nearby. Plenty of Ukranian and Russian wives of Turkish husbands with kids on the playgrounds as well.

  7. Hi, the majority of Blacks are students from Somalia, Sudan, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania. I am from Jamaica and I can say for a few of us its very difficult, even just to walk is a problem. Turkish people are always asking to take our photos and when we say no, sometimes they snap and run. In Bursa we were called zengi and Kara. I have a friend at Anadolu uni who is suffering from depression because noone speaks with her. We rarely go out and when I do since I am mostly alone its tedious, you walk in a simple cafe sometimes the waiters arelaughing like they do n ot expect me to eator shop. I am a graduate student in Ankara and even on campus noone speaks with me. I am not going out of my way to extend SELF, I have lived in France for 2years, travel to the states and never met discrimintion until I arrived here.Ihave more travel experience than more than half the Turkish poulace. The Turkish men think Black women are cheap, I cannot tell the amount of time I am walking about my business and cars stop with men, one was even counting out money and showing me. Most of us really, love Turkey but the attitude of the people, even professional adults is appalling. Women pointing me out to their children as if I am a museum object, why do they act like blacks did not exist long ago under Ottoman rule. Even in the west of Turkey there are darker skin Turks. We got here through hard work and perseverance to educate ourselves, but it comes at a steep price.

    • Dear Marsha, I am so sorry to hear what you have gone through here. I am sure it is much harder than being in a country where a mix of races are more common. However, that doesn’t mean that the racism is more prominent here. Because I look white, but am half black, I had to listen to insufferable idiotic comments by whites who had no idea I was black. I try to see it as being lucky. It was an eye opener. If I looked black, they simply would have said these things behind my back. I would have been spared the pain. But I call myself lucky because now I know that racism is much more common than many would think.

      As for Turkey, I know its hard, but try to give them a break. It is not common to see a black person here, so you are a bit of an oddity to them. Years ago I had a friend who was 6’10” tall. (Sorry, I don’t know what that is in cm.) People stared at him everywhere he went. He used to get really nasty about it. But he really “stood” out in a crowd. People just didn’t seem to know how to behave themselves around him. They said stupid things like “How’s the weather up there.” He wasn’t black, so we couldn’t call it racist.

      I have no idea what their intent is by using words like “kara” and “zengi.” But I do know younger people sometimes think it’s okay to use the word “nigger” because they hear it so often in music and movies. Be sure that there are American teachers here who are trying to teach them. Speaking of teaching, education plays a big role. Turkey has a very long and rich history. With so much to learn, I doubt they study much about these issues in school. I doubt they learned much about slavery. If they had, we wouldn’t see commercials here of men in black face, dressed as an Aunt Jemima maid, to sell cookies. Painted black faces, sadly, is a big part of comedy routines here. I think they just don’t know how insulting it is.

      As for the women being cheap, it is pure ignorance. They do the same with Russian women here. And that doesn’t just come from the men. Many, not all, Turkish women believe that all Russian women are whores. It’s really sad. Yes, some were BROUGHT here for such work. But not all of them.

      I wish you all the best here. I am very proud of anyone who pushes through the education system, against the odds! So congrats to you. I hope you can take solace in knowing you are not alone and that this is not the only place where racism runs rampant. Be good to yourself. Get out anyway. Live life. Be strong. As the old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” As hard as our lives sometimes seem now, we have to remember that there were those who went before us that suffered more so that our lives would be easier. And technically, it is much easier. Please keep in touch.

  8. Maybe you have seen my husband! Haha he is one of the few Black men in Ankara…. but not African Dark… more of a milk chocolate 🙂 We are from the states and he is playing volleyball out here! I am always looking for American women to connect with when I am here overseas in a foreign country. I would love to be in touch.
    Chelsey
    chelseybergmanncala@gmail.com

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