We are a few weeks into our journey across Turkey with another 8 days to go until we cross the border into Georgia. We've encountered so many wonderful, welcoming and hospitable people whom we'll remember forever, but the further east we've gone we seem to be having a different experience. We're putting this down to bad luck, because it's not fair to think of it any other way.
It's easy to forget that there are arseholes in every country and you can sometimes be unlucky enough to meet them. Just because they're arseholes to you, a tourist, doesn't mean they aren't also considered arseholes by their own countryfolk.
We arrived into the thermal spring town of Havsa early evening in search of a cheap hotel to do our washing and have a good sleep. We had seen one street on Google Maps which housed a plethora of hotels and, one block away, we came to a junction - one way up a steep hill, one way down. I challenged Mike to a race - who could get to the street the quickest; did the down then go up, or was I about to go very up and then very down?
I struggled up the hill with my bike and ended up pushing on the gravel which moved underfoot. It seems there was a lot of road works going on, but it was clear they had been going on for a long time and the gravel was extremely loose. A man in his 40s appeared from nowhere and helped me push, initially on the right hand side of the bike as I was on the left. I said thank you and he let go only to then appear immediately behind me and continued pushing. Thankfully we were right at the top so I slowed down and was about to turn around and ask him to leave. Unfortunately he beat me to it and grabbed a handful of my butt cheek and let go of the bike. Without thinking, my left hand smacked him as hard as I could, which isn't very hard since I'm right handed.
"Do you think that's OK? Do you really think that’s OK?"
Of course, he couldn't understand my words but I'm damn sure he understood my meaning. I've been told my angry face is quite scary and he disappeared quickly.
Mike and I had split up for literally three minutes and in that time I managed to find the lecherous man of the town. After calming down and checking into a very run down but clean hotel I started to Google about groping in Turkey. It seems it happens a lot but I've learnt a phrase which translates to "how shameful" which works well for peer shaming when said loudly in a public place. Groping, whilst common, isn't socially acceptable in Turkey and that's really important to remember. The men who try it are just the Turkish equivalent of the man on the London Underground who presses himself close to you (yes that happened to me), or the drunk man who slaps your bum on the street (also happened). Since this incident, I've had another man make lewd gestures towards me with his mouth. We make a conscious effort to remember the wonderful men we've met in Turkey, who've given us a place to stay, food to eat and haven't dishonoured me or their country by groping.
Sexual assault happens way too frequently in many countries and my experience isn't unique. It's just sad that it happens whilst I'm trying to enjoy myself, it's sad seeing how angry Mike gets when I tell him what happens when his back is turned, and it's sad that these men are doing a huge disservice to the reputation of their country because not everyone will leave with positive memories after encountering them. Since these incidents started occurring, I've been overwhelmed with the feeling of just wanting to get out of Turkey as quickly as possible. If we were backpacking I think we would've done but since we're cycling and don't want to skip anything we don't have to, we'll keep cycling to the border. I'm always on edge when I'm in public now, making sure I don't make eye contact with anyone. However, I'm determined to enjoy what time we have left in this beautiful country and just manage our interactions until we leave.