Jane comes from Sydney. Married to a Turk, she has been visiting their family in Turkey for years before finally deciding to move to Mersin in 2012. In this Interview, she tells us about her daily life in her new home.
Where are you from, Jane, and what are you doing nowadays?
I grew up in Sydney, Australia. I am married to the usually annoying but generally lovable man who is forevermore known as The Turk and we have been (cough) blessed with one overly dramatic but generally lovable teenage daughter.
Having visited The Turk’s family many times over the years, it was always a dream of ours to one day escape the rat race and start a new life in the village. Finally, in 2012, we turned our dream into a reality when we built our home and moved to Mersin, Turkey or to be more correct, a fishing village outside of Mersin, Turkey – oh and I hate fish and fishing. A lot!
Why did you choose to expatriate to Turkey?
I’m originally from the northern beaches of Sydney where I spent the better part of my childhood either at the beach or outdoors with friends. It was a great childhood full of adventure. Kids these days just don’t get the same experiences as there is too much pressure put on them by their family, their friends and by society as a whole. In Sydney, Daughter spent all her time at school or taking extra classes to keep her ahead of the game. Surely this was not what her life should be? Where was her adventure? Finally, her health began to suffer (she was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata) and we realized that living in Sydney with its disconnected lifestyle and the stress it was putting on her was unhealthy and so, after threatening to do so for many years, we packed up our lives and our two fur-babies and moved to the village. Within three months, Daughter’s hair had started to grow back in, she was quickly mastering the Turkish language and she was learning to just have fun which was in short supply back in Sydney. Some might say it was a pretty extreme sea change, but it was definitely the right decision for us as a family.
As an Aussie expat, what were the procedures you had to follow to move there?
For The Turk and Daughter, there was no problem as they were already Turkish citizens. For me, however, the procedure for obtaining my Residence Permit became an annual debacle that had me threatening to return to Australia on more than one occasion. With each renewal came a new complication that had to be dealt with swiftly to ensure that I was not an illegal or overstaying my visa. Now, I am a Turkish citizen, which in itself has brought me new headaches, but it does make daily life a lot easier.
What has attracted you to Mersin?
You know, the first time I visited the village I felt myself at peace. I truly felt like I belonged there. It was very kismet. Does that make sense? Now I feel like I am finally home.
Was it difficult to find accommodation there?
We had no difficulty with accommodation as we had built our home before the move. Mersin is currently experiencing a construction boom right now and there is a lot of choice out there for potential buyers or renters from city apartments and villas to larger blocks for farming.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
No! Sorry, I mean NO! Wait, I mean YES! I swear!
Seriously though, if you don’t adapt you’d never survive. My first year here consisted of me really mucking in and trying something new every day. From learning the language, bartering for goods, meeting my nemesis in the form of a rooster (before he became BBQ), dealing with officials in my horrid Turklish or even the overwhelming experience of a Turkish funeral. I immersed myself in an effort to learn how to live the Turkish way of life but in time I realized that this just wasn’t who I was. Now I think I have a good mix of Turkish culture and Janey culture. I have a few expat friends and I have my Turkish family, but it did take time and a lot of tears before I found that perfect fusion of both.
What does your everyday life in Mersin look like?
For me, life revolves around my family. Once Daughter has left for school, my husband and I have kahvaltı (breakfast) together and discuss our day’s activities. If I have nothing arranged with friends, I usually spend my time with my sister-in-law or visiting family in the village where I just get stuck into the nitty gritty of daily life. I can often be found baking bread, making salca or even harvesting parsley if need arises. Everyone pitches in. Life is simple. I find that I like the simplicity.
Of course, my day always ends with a glass (or two) of red on my terrace watching the sun set over the village. It truly doesn’t get much better than that.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Mersin? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
For us as a family, the cost of living in Mersin is quite low. Back in Sydney, both The Turk and I worked long hours and so our meals would usually be takeaway or restaurant brought. Now, of course, I have time to prepare our meals starting with a trip to the local market to purchase everything fresh. We still have all the luxuries that we had in Sydney but the cost here in Mersin is minimal in comparison. We have a pretty comfortable life here.
How do you spend your leisure time?
I’m probably going to sound like a walking advertisement now, but Mersin really does have so much to see and do. I mean, we’ve got pristine beaches just outside the city, the Tarsus Mountains for hiking or skiing and there are archaeological and religious sites to explore as well. Mersin literally has the best weather in Turkey. Fact. It is warm and sunny from March through to November although August could best be described as an ‘Armageddon hellfire’ kind of hot. January is our wet month and it actually snowed two years ago on my birthday, but generally Mersin is a pretty great place to spend your time outdoors. It is also quite central, so it can be a great base for traveling west to Antalya, north to Cappadocia or even east to Hatay or Gaziantep.
Your favorite local dishes?
Now we are getting onto my favorite subject – food! I was once told by a well-known Australian chef that visiting Mersin is a foodie’s dream, and I totally agree with him! There are so many regional specialties that are made from recipes passed down through the generations that I wouldn’t even know where to begin, so perhaps I should just describe what I would consider to be a perfect meal in Mersin.
A meal in Mersin isn’t just about the food, it’s also about the ambience. You might say it’s not a meal, it’s an event.
It will start with meze. Plates and plates of it. My favorite is Biber Ezmesi (capsicum and tomato) and there must always be fresh baba ganoush and hummus. For your main, there is nothing better than a Turkish mangal (BBQ), but if I had to choose a local dish I would probably go for İçli Köfte with lots of side salads. İçli Köfte is similar to Kibbeh and is a small parcel of bulgur stuffed with spices and beef or lamb. They are either deep fried or boiled and taste like little bites of goodness. Now, no one has ever made İçli Köfte better than my mother-in-law, but many have come close. To finish off, I would have the famous local dessert called Künefe which is a cheese pastry soaked in sugar syrup and served with ice-cream.
What do you like the most about Turkey?
The people – definitely the people. This is a country that is under a lot of stress right now. Despite its current political climate and the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees living here (in fact there is in excess of 250,000 Syrian refugees living in Mersin alone), the locals are still the most welcoming people on earth. And with the people comes the humor. Honestly, daily life here can be challenging, but for this Aussie chick it’s no ‘wakkas’ as I can always find something to make me laugh out loud.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
No, I miss my family and friends and, although I hate to admit it, I also miss how easy it is to get an everyday task done in Australia. The bureaucracy in Turkey will do your head in. I swear, it’s not unusual to find yourself curled up in the foetal position at some Government office sobbing, “One more document. Just one more document”.
True story. It happens to expats. All the time.
What has motivated you to write your blog “Janey in Mersin”? How does it help?
Janey in Mersin started out as a way for me to keep everyone updated back in Australia. I honestly didn’t think I would do it for long as it is well documented that I have a low attention span. I also didn’t think it would become as big as it has. Primarily, it is a way for me to vent, to mouth off, to laugh and, on occasion, to cry.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Turkey?
Get all your little ducks lined up in a row. Be prepared to wrangle with Government officials when obtaining your Residence Permit (or anything else for that matter). Practice the art of patience (or maybe read The Art of War). Oh, and learn a little Turkish or even learn a lot of Turkish because believe me when I say you are going to need it.
What are your plans for the future?
To continue to live in this crazy, beautiful country and experience all that it has to offer for as long as I can.