Now before I get accused for being a misogynistic bimbo and flogged for giving into archaic gender roles, let me just make a general statement to anyone who thinks I’m doing that or that this post will be such: Don’t be this crevice in my arm.
Now. Back to business.
As a young woman, fairly savvy, well-educated, and, pardon me here, but it beckons, aherm, one tough cookie, I feel that it is my duty to address that living in this real world, traveling its streets, eating its food, and getting to know its locals comes with a degree of danger. I, like a lot of tough young women, demand my independence and stubbornly walk home alone, wear high heels, and keep over due library books to prove it. But I here in Istanbul ((or anywhere) and it probably would have happened anywhere), for the first time on my own (meaning without a relative or old friend on every corner), probably for my own safety, should go about my fiercely determined independence differently and more cautiously. Especially after my little scare today.
But before we get to that let me treat you to the breathtaking view that I get to see each morning:
So back to this morning.
I like to run. I like to run in the cold. I like to run in the sun. I like to run in the street. I like to run with stinky feet. When asked what would be the first thing I’d do in Istanbul I almost immediately said running (okay, the first was to stuff my face with Baklava and Turkish Delight. YOU CAUGHT ME.) But jet lag is a darn rascal and the first thing I did was sleep…for 16 hours…and then some more…
But this morning, finally, I decided to run. I had a light Turkish breakfast, made my bed, got on my shoes, and headed out the door.
Even before I came to Turkey I thought about running. I researched about the city and was expecting not a lot of room on the cobble stone side walks. I anticipated the crazy taxi drivers and the rampant street cats. I even harassed my family into getting me pants. Running pants. I don’t wear pants while running. If I could, most days I’d not wear pants. But I kept reading about how women should wear pants while running in some conservative countries. I thought at first that that would probably be respectful to the conservative Muslim population and that I could respect that. I thought later that maybe I should just wear what I normally wear (respectable, breathable, slightly above the knee and roomy shorts) because I am a young and modern woman with the right, power, and confidence to wear whatever. I had a small Gollum moment debating this issue. I brought pants anyways. I was grateful. They are warm.
Pants aside (figuratively) the run started off really nice.
Like everywhere else I have run, the route was sprinkled with cat calls and beeping horns. And despite having the disposition of cat-with-laser, I have taught myself to mostly ignore and not look around when cars pass. But to you single young women traveling, I say look around and keep an eye on your surroundings and the people you pass and the cars that drive by. Remember the route you took and how to get back, keep an eye out for suspicious behavior, and just be alert.
A friend of mine who is a security guard and who could probably kill you with her pinky, once told me that women who are distracted or have tunnel vision are those who are targeted. This makes sense to me. It also makes sense for anyone who has ever been pick pocketed. So look around and leave the ground staring for chumps. Also, staring at the ground is bad running form in general.
So, here I am. Running along, being alert, being low-key in my comfy pants. So what happened, you ask? Well, now that I’m calm and retelling the story it sounds really, kinda lame. But it’s my story so, ahem.
I wanted to enjoy the view of the Bosphorus so I started to walk and I came up to where a car was parked on the side walk. I saw that there was a man inside the vehicle. He looked at me on the side walk and I walked past breaking our brief eye contact. But then the car started to back up in reverse. Okay, makes sense, he needs to get back onto the street. Parallel parking is a lot of fun. Oh wait. There was no car behind him…I continued walking, but faster. He sped up and matched my pace while in reverse. I started shaking and I looked around at the empty sidewalk for a safe place to cross the street. He followed behind me and drove backwards for about 50 feet, until I could cross the street safely. I made sure that he didn’t leave his car and walked into a grassy park.
I’ve rewritten that story a few times to make it sound less scary and also to make it sound less lame. I didn’t want to freak out my mother and I didn’t want to sound like a huge baby. But I write the TRUTH (I’m an Amurican!) so here’s the point no matter how lame or how scary it sounds: It scared me out of my wits.
And that fear completely ruined the run. So I marched back home. I was literally too scared and too tired to run anymore. Which actually is problematic because I’ve always counted on that as defensive maneuver number one.
I’ve since calmed down. I’ve been sitting and thinking about all of the ways that I’ve been taught how to defend myself and ways to avoid trouble. I’ve thought about all the humorous experiences I’ve had in Seattle with hobos. I’ve thought about real near misses. Nothing, ever, has legitimately scared me like this. And even though it was a minor incident and nothing really happened I attribute my absolute terror this afternoon to 1. being in a completely unfamiliar place 2. trivializing dangerous situations and 3. realizing that I am a lone traveler.
But I did think about what what I did, could have, and should have done. And maybe this will be a benefit to you and piece of mind to me the next time I go out.
1. Take a buddy. I’ve been referenced via Facebook and trusted mutual friend to a few women in Istanbul who hopefully will become my new best friends. Sometimes that’s not possible, but I saw a lot of women on the way and few of them were alone. I had the idea that I wanted to take pictures on the route but I couldn’t bring myself to abandon my safety for the sake of journalism (there goes my foreign news correspondent dream). When you have a friend it makes it easier to enjoy your surroundings because someone has your back. Which brings me to my next point.
2. Don’t be distracted. Phones, cameras, pretty shiny things on the ground. I made a note of each person and car I passed which I generally always do to be able to identify my surroundings later. Be aware. It makes you less of a target and helps you make decisions like…
3. Cross the street and change up your route a lot if you think you’re being followed. Go into public places. I like to run towards incoming traffic and on small roads, but as you can see, one creep ruined that for me.
4. Look into parked cars. I saw the guy in the car before he started following me. He did it anyways but if he was just sitting there noticing a distracted girl I could have easily been grabbed while passing. I crossed the street whenever I came across a parked van or saw someone sitting inside. Paranoid, maybe. Safe, yes.
5. Keep an eye out for passing cars. I like to memorize license plates. Especially if I see the same one over and over again.
6. Look around. Watch people, suspicious behavior, sketchy places, the road ahead, etc. I really wanted to take a picture of these sketch guys just sitting on a rail but something kept me from that choice.
7. Go with your gut. Your safety comes first no matter how weird you think you look.
8. If you’re international and in a foreign speaking country, know the number for English-speaking emergency numbers.
9. Be low key (wear pants if you need to) and don’t bring unneeded attention to yourself if you are nervous about traveling. Be cool. Today I was grateful to have pants. Most people say don’t wear flashy jewelry because you’ll get targeted for pick pocketing.
10. When I was flying by myself I really wished that İ had brought less as far as my carry-ons went. I felt weighed down as I navigated an unfamiliar airport with tons of new things to see on top of being as nervous as I was. This is more practical advice, I wish I could have observed more than be worried about my things.
Anyways, there it is. My tips from an honest experience of being really scared, no matter how lame it really was. I did really want my mommy. But I’m safe now and I’ll be ready for another adventure tomorrow.
And as always, I am hardly an expert so if you have insight, additional advice, stories, or hate mail, please comment.