May 26, 2014

Woman on a Bicycle

Last night in the park I saw a woman on a bicycle. She had a long blue skirt and a white headscarf that stood out in the darkness of the walking track.

Here in Urfa I have never seen such a thing. In six months in Turkey, actually, I haven't seen such a thing–a local woman on a bicycle.

This woman braked next to me as I was walking laps. I immediately told her how wonderful she was. Was it her bike? Yes. I said that I too had a bike, in Canada. Did she ride it often? Yes. Every Sunday night. She likes it and is losing weight. The woman said that riding a bike was more fun than walking, and did I want to take it for a lap? I said no (it looked small), but encouraged her to continue. We grinned at each other every time we passed.

In stopping to talk, she interrupted a chain of thoughts about what I did and didn't do in Urfa. There is no expatriate culture here, at least that I know of, and I felt an immediate keenness to fit in and have a low profile. I dyed my hair a darker colour and dressed more conservatively. I wore a flat expression and saved my smiles on the street for women. A friend mentioned I could buy a bike in Urfa, but I immediately dismissed the idea as not only physically dangerous (where would I ride it? there is no such thing as a bike lane here) but also socially unacceptable.

Socially unacceptable how, though? No one would stone me. No one would tell me to get off the bike. I didn't want to make a scene, is the real reason.

When I'm abroad, I like to blend in. It kills me when visitors speak loudly on the bus (don't they notice how reserved everyone else is?! don't they hear how much English stands out?!). Of course I will never blend in–at least not in this region, where I don't look like any of the ethnic groups–but I like to do what I can.

This may be a weakness. A savvy international type (I still don't know where he's from or what his first language is) once told me I was the worst kind of traveler. I adapt. I avoid causing friction or conflict. What a disservice I was doing, he said, to the people in the places I visited. They might never travel widely, physically or through books or movies or discussions, and my interaction was perhaps their best shot at being shocked into considering other ways of living.

One counter-argument is that there are subtler ways to broaden people's ideas than explicitly going against the grain. But let's save the counter-arguments.

I didn't get a bike here. I kind of wish that I had.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder about this, too. In general though, my own curiosity and desire to learn trumps my desire to teach by counterexample. I mean, I want to try things according to my new culture´s rules, test out the waters, see how it feels, see what I can learn. I think then I can make the decision to go against the grain. It seems to me that if you are going to a break rule (stated or implicit), you should know what the rule is, why it exists, and you need know (and explain) why you´ve decided to do things differently.

    Sounds like you´ve done that. I say get a bike!


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