Lacy MacAuley

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a home for my pen, projects, and passions

My experience of intimate partner violence, trapped in Turkey

Maybe I reached too high, and had too far to fall. It has been two months since my return to the US. Intimate partner violence, or domestic abuse, was something I never imagined that I would stumble into. But misogyny and patriarchy run deep, especially in Turkey, and I found myself in a bad situation.

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The first two weeks were quite the love story… Then came our first fight.

I am a radical activist based in Washington DC. I fell in love with an energetic, charismatic activist I met in November when I was present to write about resistance to the G20 Summit, a global event in Antalya, Turkey. After I came home to the US, we talked every day. He was lovely and charming, I thought at the time. He offered a ready smile, engaging kindness, and intelligent conversation. He said all the right things to convince me that he cared about women’s rights and activism. In February, I decided to return to Turkey with the promise of love driving me forward. I couldn’t have known things would turn sour.

I thought that even if this were not going to develop into a deeper relationship, it would be an opportunity to learn more about this Muslim country during an interesting political moment, and I could do some work around refugees. I also thought, hey, at least I would probably make a dear friend.

The first two weeks were quite the love story. I observed that he was drinking heavily, and called him an “alky,” but it was just a joke at first. We went to the beach and historic sites, and he introduced me to his friends. All seemed to be going well, and I felt that the romance was solidly moving forward.

Then came our first fight. I had wanted to interview a local woman for an article on Syrian refugees. He did not approve. He knew the woman and did not like her, so he strictly forbade me from speaking with her. After I questioned his rationale, he yelled and stormed out of the room to go smoke a cigarette. I just stood in the middle of the room not knowing what to do. Of course, as a Western woman, no one had ever forbidden me from speaking with anyone else. It was a strange feeling: Don’t I have a mouth to speak? Why can I not use it as I wish?

This is elementary feminism. No man has the power to silence a woman, just because he is a man. How far backwards things would slide in the coming weeks.

What I found over the next few weeks was absolute frustration of my efforts to do my advocacy work. I had put myself in a place of dependence upon a person who, as it turned out, would have liked to keep me by his side and control my every move. He hindered, rather than helped, the work I tried to do there.

After the first few weeks, I thought about leaving every day, but I had not budgeted for hotel rooms, flights, or buses, nor done the groundwork needed to act effectively there. I had assumed, based on things he’d said, that he’d be helping me with translation and navigating the system. But our conversations made it clear that he had no intention of helping, and was more interested in guilt-tripping me for wanting to do anything else than just spend time with him. I felt stuck.

Things deteriorated rapidly. His insecurity and childishness got worse. In the following weeks, I was violently pushed, blocked from leaving freely, and repeatedly told not to speak. If I spoke anyway, anger erupted. I endured threats that I would be burnt with cigarettes, flinching as he “faked” with his lit cigarette. I had to duck to avoid having sharp objects thrown at my face. I had water angrily poured over my head.

On one occasion, he threw my iPhone angrily to the ground (luckily it did not break) while I was trying to exchange contact information with an Irish woman. He had such a strange look about him that I feared for my safety when I got into the car with him to go home. He proceeded to drive like a maniac, accelerating menacingly towards a wall and recklessly endangering both of us. This was such a strange evening that the Irish woman I’d met earlier in the night actually sent a text message after I’d left, checking to make sure I was okay. Yes, I was, I told her, even if that wasn’t entirely true.

Another drunken, angry moment came after my abuser had arranged to borrow a car from his friend in order to drive across Turkey to visit a refugee camp and get an interview with a certain aid worker. (He did so only when I told him that I would take a bus alone.) The night after the interview, my abuser, holding my recording device in one hand and a beer in the other, threatened to delete the audio interview that we had both worked so hard to get. What triggered his anger that night? I had (politely) corrected him on a fact about the refugee camp that we had learned earlier in the day. I guess he couldn’t accept that his maleness did not equal permission to be right every single time. (I tricked him into giving me back the device, and I backed up the file immediately.)

Earlier that day, he had delayed our arrival at the interview, after pulling the car to the side of the road and irrationally threatening not to drive for another hour. He then decided to steer far out of the way in order to get a beer, despite my urging him to just drive straight to the interview site and get a beer later. We were in danger of missing the interview completely, if we did not arrive before the aid workers left for the day. But his anger had been triggered when he interpreted a vague, unimportant comment that I made about a road while looking out the window and away from him as “not listening” and “disrespecting” him. So thin and frail was his confidence.

Unwanted sex? Rape? All the time. He did not stop to determine whether I consented to sex. Several times, he turned off my wifi and lied about it, a modern-day form of gaslighting. He verbally criticized me for using social media, my main link to the rest of my life back in the US, and tried to discourage me from using it. He forced me to unfriend one Turkish man on Facebook, and wanted me to unfriend many more.

All the while, he drank heavily every day. I tried to pretend that everything was okay, that these challenges were minor, that I just needed to grin and bear it and try to get my work done. I told myself that this would not be permanent, that I just need to endure. Even though things got progressively worse, each time I looked to the horizon. I put silver linings on all of the clouds.

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Not a real smile. This selfie was taken a few moments after my abuser stormed away from me, when I refused to do cocaine with him and his friends. We were on a farm near the town of Serik, far from anything I’d known. I tried to just take solace by the river.

Then there were his attempts to control my social media content, especially as pertains to the political situation in Turkey. He would look at my social media profiles and rebuke me for my commentary. At first, I genuinely questioned my perspective, and wondered if I should take his words into account. After all, he is Turkish and I am not. But I soon realized that I did not share his opinions on Turkey’s domestic or foreign policy. I stood my ground on my right to free speech. Luckily, his efforts at censorship were stymied by his inability to understand my written text in English. But if he could have, he would have loved to have total control over my words. This was an extreme form of control and a violation of my free speech.

And there was the day that we drove out to some farm land near the town of Serik, far from the area of Antalya that I was familiar with, with several of his friends. We were drinking whiskey on the way out to the land. When we got there, we proceeded to walk around and enjoy the land. Then, my abuser told me that all of them would be taking cocaine. (Drug use among men is not shunned in Turkey the way it is in the US. Cocaine is something that Turkish men actually do a shocking amount of.) I told him that I did not want to take cocaine, and did not feel safe with his friends. He took issue with this, and tried to convince me that I should just do the drugs. I refused. He stormed away and presumably imbibed, leaving me to stroll around alone for the next hour by the river.

I shed so many tears on Turkish soil. After angry outbursts from my abuser, he would calm down and often apologize. He would want us to hang out with his friends and carry on as if everything were normal. He would turn his charm back on. He even treated me with some kindness in between his angry episodes. I coped somewhat by getting drunk with him, so that I would stop caring. And I would “forgive” him. After all, I felt I had nowhere to go.

Although services are rare in Turkey for intimate partner violence survivors, they do exist. I now know that should have tried to find one. I even could have gone to the US consulate or US State Department offices. I think I was just too proud. At the time, I didn’t want anyone to know of these issues, except for hinting to family members in e-mails that we were having arguments.

But I know now not to blame myself. Yes, I had made myself vulnerable, but I couldn’t have guessed that this man, who said he cared about women’s rights, who spoke of how many activist friends that he had, who had participated in many protests in the past, would turn on me, and that he would become so angry and irrational.

One-third of men surveyed in Turkey in 2013 stated that it is “occasionally necessary” to commit acts of violence against women, and 28 percent stated that violence could be used to “discipline women.” I did not want to believe that I was in this statistic. I had dreams of him strangling me to death. I was in constant fear of his next angry episode. I had lost respect for him, even as he angrily demanded respect from me in a variety of situations. But I still “forgave” him, too many times.

I honestly think that one of the reasons that I have been silent about this for two months has been that I did not want to feed into the narrative of Muslim men being aggressive. I didn’t want to fuel hatred or racism. But silence breeds complicity, and am now telling this story in order to heal.

Jailed by Turkish police

After a particularly horrible evening of arguments and him violently throwing things, I had managed to successfully collect my luggage, saying I would walk to a hotel. He said he would drive me there. I think he did so because he wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave while he was away, without him at least knowing where I was. We sat mostly in silence. I got checked in at the hotel, still not knowing if I would be able to afford all of this, and we said a very strange goodbye.

Two days later, however, I was jailed by Turkish police for several hours when I tried to simply enter a large public speech in Antalya by the president of Turkey. (They make a habit of jailing reporters and activists, and I didn’t look like I fit their norms. I wrote about this experience with the Turkish police here.) I had an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” sensation. After a harrowing ordeal, I was released that afternoon, and I decided to call my abuser to alert him that all of this had happened. I had given the Turkish authorities all of my information, including my passport information and the address of my hotel, and was fearful that the authorities would show up again to arrest me. Stroking his ego that he was my protector, he came to my side. He may have been awful, but I felt safer knowing that this abusive man at least had my back and would not let me disappear into a Turkish jail.

Final Days, Getting Trapped in Istanbul

The worst moment of this relationship came on our last weekend together. Although I was already aware that I had to get away from him, he had talked me into allowing him to accompany me on a college tour and other activities in Istanbul, and arranged for us to stay in his friend’s apartment. I thought I could use his help with navigation and would save money on hotel arrangements. But the moment that we both arrived in the city, he began angrily arguing with me about directions. I at first tried to smile and calm him down, but then he once again insulted my intelligence. I told him that I was leaving and began walking toward a district with hotels and hostels that I knew. But he grabbed my suitcase and quickly carried it to a nearby taxi stand, closing it into the trunk. The taxi driver spoke no English, and my abuser began communicating with him in Turkish. I had no choice but to go with him, sitting alone in the backseat and crying. What a mistake I’d made to allow this abuser to come with me to another city.

A few thrown objects and another bad argument later, he again apologized. I felt that the situation was hopeless. But again I was too proud to reach out, which was a mistake. I would be leaving the country soon enough, I thought. Either way this will all be over soon.

The next day, we were on the college campus, surrounded by young students who spoke English. I think he sensed he now didn’t have control over my communication, as everyone around me spoke some English. When I tried to ask a young man for directions, my abuser’s mood changed dramatically. He angrily said that I needed to “respect” him, with other young students walking past, and he threatened to burn me with his cigarette. Trying to avoid causing a scene, I remained calm and tried to diffuse his anger. (As if it is my job to manage the childish anger of this man!) A few minutes later, he decided, for basically no reason, that we should not be inside the building we were in, barred me with his arms, and forced me to walk down the stairs and out of the building. I tried to comply with his irrational wishes to avoid making a public scene.

A few minutes later, as we were walking outside on a quiet campus path, he snapped. He began repeatedly pushing me, basically trying to push me off of campus. (His angry words were “Okay, we are leaving! We are leaving!”) A professor leaned out of her office window to tell him to stop. Speaking in English, she said, “I don’t like how you were pushing her.” A man with a phone appeared. We both had to leave. I walked in silence with him for half an hour until we were far away from campus, but at a bus station surrounded by people. I told him that I was leaving for good. I firmly told him exactly why, and told him that no one deserved the treatment that I have received. He responded by taking my bag with my extra money, my iPad, my journal, and some of my cherished keepsakes, telling me that I would have to come with him if I wanted my belongings, and rapidly walking off. He refused to return my bag, forcing me to chase him through the streets. Meanwhile, onlookers appeared somewhat concerned, but no one stopped to help or ask questions. How many cases of abuse fly under the radar as “just another lover’s quarrel”?

I finally caught up with him and told him once and for all to return my bag so that I could go back to our room, in his friend’s apartment, and collect my things so that I could leave him. He refused to tell me his friend’s home address, phone number, or even last name so that I could contact the friend and access my luggage. Then he threatened to steal all of my luggage and bring it back with him across the country, all the way from Istanbul to Antalya.

When I threatened to call the police, he gave me the most evil eye and told me that domestic abuse was not taken seriously in Turkey. He said, accurately, that we would likely both wind up in jail if I did that, and he would simply talk his way out of the situation. After all, I had no bruises or broken bones, and with his silver (forked) tongue he could easily talk his way out of the situation. How dare he discuss these injustices now, I thought, injustices that he had learned from his feminist friends, in order to perpetrate his own male violence against me. But I knew that he was right.

Instead of opening a court case against him that I was unlikely to win, I let him successfully use the threat of him stealing all of my possessions to force me to stay one more night, marching forward like a prisoner. I had no freedom to leave. That was one of the strangest nights of my life. But I survived. I made it out. I had stayed with him for more than two months.

Spirit, Shame, and Stigma

The physical abuse was accompanied by degrading comments. Like many abusers, his real desire is for control, and he sought that through psychological means first. He said I was disorganized, I was too proud, I was a “prostitute” for accepting donations for my advocacy work, I was social-media-addicted, my social media wasn’t even very good, I made him wait an extra five seconds (not exaggerating, five seconds!) while downloading the latest US State Department travel advisories, which made him flip out and yell at me for ten minutes, I had probably had sex with all of the Turkish men who were my Facebook friends, I talked too much, I asked him the wrong questions, etc etc.

His desire to degrade me, however, only made me push back harder and verbally defend myself. I am no shrinking violet. He can try to push, but there is an iron rod at my core that will not budge. He was unable to shake my sense of self-worth. I believe that is why he progressed from psychological means of control to physical ones.

How can a radical activist and a feminist find herself in a relationship like this? An abundance of optimism is perhaps my greatest crime.

In the end, though I had been dependent upon my abuser in Turkey, I had the privilege of getting on an airplane and leaving. At the end of all of this, I was able to cross the Atlantic Ocean and get away from him forever.

Turkish women are not so lucky. Although they experience more freedom than women in other Muslim countries, about 42 percent of women in Turkey report intimate partner violence. Meanwhile, Turkish officials make unhelpful comments telling women to avoid public laughter and not to be “inviting” in their behavior, lest they become victims of sexual violence. The Health Minister and President say that the “most important career” for a woman is motherhood. This does nothing to improve the status of women in Turkey.

“Sometimes, it’s not violence, but the threat of violence that makes life so hard,” I was told by a wise woman. Maybe that is why Turkish women can seldom be seen outside the home at night. Maybe that is why they are so quiet. Maybe it is the constant threat that wears you down, more than the dramatic, but occasional, acts of physical violence.

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Although they experience more freedom than women in other Muslim countries, about 42 percent of women in Turkey report intimate partner violence. Here, a woman plays music on a street corner in Çanakkale, Turkey.

I haven’t known how to talk about all of this without feeling re-traumatized. Also, as much as I know that I should not feel guilty, there is the stigma of “if it happens once, shame on him, but if it happens twice, shame on you.” I feel like this stigma is compounded and multiplied for a feminist woman like myself. Shouldn’t I have had the strength to bust out of there at the earliest hint of trouble? I ask myself that question, too. I was riding an aggressive surf, and it was calm between the crashing waves. Surely I could have slipped out unnoticed when the waters were quiet?

There are hundreds of reasons that women make the choice to stay with an abuser at first: for self-preservation, for economic reasons, for their children. Maybe they have been demoralized and believe the lies their abuser tells them. But we survive, and leave when we can.

I know that the choices I made were for self-preservation. I tried, with cheerful resilience, to make the most of the situation. I stayed because I was trapped without money in a foreign country, I barely knew the language, and I knew the justice system was unlikely to believe me if I called the police.

Healing, Opening, Writing, Telling This Story

I am still dealing with the post-trauma aftershocks of all of this. It is honestly hard sometimes to go forward. I have barely done any writing for two months on my experiences in Turkey, despite the country’s deteriorating political situation. I have had a creative block, walking around with my head on fire but unwilling to talk openly about it. Why? This is what is real for me now: My experience of intimate partner violence.

It is funny that my family and friends were so worried about terrorism, about bombs or ISIL or the Kurdish fighters. And no doubt the various attacks that happened while I was there were also traumatizing. But what my loved ones should have been worried about was the man next to me in my Facebook photographs, with his Cheshire smile. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it until now.

There is a deep place inside of me now that knows what it is like to be truly unsafe, to feel like I have nowhere to turn, to simply go through the motions for self-preservation. But the past is getting more and more distant, and each day is a new chance to heal, to forgive myself, and to move forward.

Telling this story helps. Writing things down is a form of releasing them, giving them little wings. I survived. I feel stronger now. I feel wiser now.

My heart goes out to all of the women who are surviving right now under the thumb of an abuser. I am speaking to you. You have more strength and power than you know. Reach out, get help. You may feel, as I did, that there is no help for you. But there is always help. There are people out there who are ready to love you, believe you, and help you. You can get your life and your joy back. You have a unique gift to share with the world, and the world deserves to hear from you.

*Note that I tried to post this article on a blog for Personal Domestic Violence Stories, but the story was not accepted, perhaps because of political content. So I post it here.

If you think you might be experiencing intimate partner violence or domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States.

Filed under: activism, feminism, human welfare, intimate partner violence, lacy's life

enraged gunmen, inevitable outcome

Police violence and state violence inevitably lead to backlash. Killing will never bring peace, and I do not condone the politics of force, of the gun. But the horrible shootings in Dallas have been coming for a long time. My fellow people of conscience, how can we act surprised?

When so many black people are slain, and not one police officer is actually convicted of wrongdoing, people get frustrated. And in a society full of guns, no one is safe. Enraged gunmen are the inevitable outcome of unchecked state violence and militarization. We cannot act surprised that frustrated gunmen will retaliate.

The way to peace is not through more violence or militarization, but through more justice, equality, and love. Always.

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spontaneous march to Congress

I was proud to be present for the historic filibuster on the Senate floor last night. I joined about 50 people who spontaneously marched all the way from the candlelight vigil in Dupont Circle, Washington DC’s historically LGBTQ neighborhood, to the Capitol Building. We marched through the party district of U Street, getting cheers from the revelers at Nellie’s a bar popular in the LGBTQ community. (Favorite chant: “We’re here, we’re queer, get these guns out of here!”)

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This is me at midnight after marching two hours to the Senate. (Photo: Esquire Magazine)

Then we went inside Congress and watched the filibuster in progress, with our rainbow scarves and with some wearing orange T-shirts that said “ENOUGH GUN VIOLENCE.” No mobile phones are allowed inside so I did not get nice photos of Senator Chris Murphy, but he was going strong the whole time I was present. I stayed until just after 1 AM. The filibuster ended at about 3 AM, and resulted in the Senate Republicans allowing a vote on a very watered-down gun control measure.

Lacy Senate Orlando Gun Violence Demo 1 - Esquire

And another photo of me taken moments later. (Photo: Esquire Magazine)

Esquire Magazine‘s Charles Pierce actually wrote about the filibuster. The veteran journalist expressed a very real and human frustration on gun violence. (The magazine also featured two photos, both showing me in the center from different angles. No idea why. I think they didn’t realize they were looking at photos of the same woman.) Pierce wrote:

“On Monday evening, there were mothers and fathers and loved ones of people who were killed in mass shootings gathered in the lobby of the United States Senate just after the United States Senate had disgraced itself, and many of them were holding onto each other and weeping, and there didn’t seem to be any point to wandering into their midst to gather quotes, and the question, “How do you feel about what happened today?” seemed obscenely trivial. So I stood on the fringes and watched these people and, for the first time in a very long time, got genuinely and deeply angry at a political event I was tasked to cover.” -Charles Pierce, Esquire Magazine

Of course, more needs to be done to stop the violence. Working toward equality and community empowerment are all important parts of the real solution. But Senate Republicans are now moving forward with a vote to take some extra measures on gun control, which is a good first step.

It’s hard to ban hate, homophobia, transphobia, or Islamophobia, but it is easy to enact more gun control laws and save lives. Hope we continue to see some action in this direction!

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tears for orlando

Yesterday I was at the DC Capital Pride Parade, a day of celebration for the LGBT/queer community, and was given hope that we could all live in a world with less hate. Today, the news from Orlando has crushed my heart. The victims of this terror were those who are only seeking to live for love. The worst kind of violence that chills the soul. The solution, however, is never more violence, but more love.

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I’ve been struggling with the closeness of the these shootings. Feeling like I’ve escaped violence, in Turkey and the US, through sheer luck. The feeling of “it could have been me” is a bit self-centered, I know, but it is real and I am very rattled…

After the parade yesterday, I almost went out to party with friends afterwards, and would have been on a dance floor at an LGBT/queer club, but had a schedule conflict. That night someone attacked the community in another city. If this attack had happened in DC, it could have hurt me or someone I care about.

In Turkey, three terror attacks occurred in places that I had recently been, including two that killed tourists in Istanbul on streets that I had been on myself. One was in the city of Bursa the day after I was there. Another was on a street in the old town of Istanbul, a few weeks after I was there. Of course, one of the scariest moments in Turkey was when I was captured and detained by Turkish police for simply trying to attend a large, public rally with President Erdogan. Then there was the sexism, oppression, and violence towards women that I am still processing…

Am I invincible? Of course not. I know that when my time comes, I will go calmly to that light at the end of the tunnel… But I still have a song in my heart, and I do not want to die just yet… the nearness of all of it is just a bit much.

Love to all who are having a hard time like me processing and healing from all of this violence. I am with you.

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no escaping risk – another bomb in Turkey

Another tragic bombing in Turkey. Today a car bomb shook the historic bazaar district of Beyazit in Istanbul, hitting narrow, ancient streets that I was walking in early May, looking for gifts for friends and relatives on my last full day before returning to the US. The bomb killed 11 people and wounded 36. Of course, my heart and thoughts are with the victims and families.

While in Turkey, I actively avoided tourist areas and traveled to populated areas mostly at off-peak times. I had an ominous feeling the day that I was on these streets, Monday, May 2, moving many times to avoid areas that could be targeted. But today’s bomb shows that, really, there is no way to escape risk. Even here in the US, the San Bernadino shooting proves that nowhere is totally safe.

Moving toward a world without terrorism is to pursue policies that empower communities, reduce inequality, and end state violence toward minority groups, i.e. the brutal war being waged against Kurds by the Turkish military with tanks, bombs, and aircraft. Desperate people lose perspective and commit violence upon the only people they can reach, other everyday citizens like themselves, who are mostly just trying to live decent lives.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Live in love, die in peace. We cannot end violence with more violence. There is a better way.

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seed family culture

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Small walnut trees with an important history. Seeds smuggled into the country from Germany by yours truly.

In Germany last year I was given a wonderful gift by my cousin. She gave me walnuts from a tree planted by my great-grandmother, which stands tall and stately next to the stucco house in downtown Sprendlingen, built in the 1700s, which has been in my family for generations. I smuggled the seeds back to the USA and gifted them to family members.

My father planted his grandmother’s seeds, has eight saplings, and is now planning to locate the walnut trees in his yard in Virginia, USA. These little trees look healthy and happy.

This is the kind of seed-saving and seed-sharing that should be the family and cultural heritage of us all. Let’s plant the seeds today for living communities and living economies

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healing from intensity

Intense experiences in Turkey are still being processed and cleared within my spirit. I have been back in the US for a week now. It has rained every day here in the Washington DC area ~ a soft, welcoming cleanse.

Growing, green. I am encouraging everything in my soul to bloom. Heads of oak trees are visible, emerging from the fertile soil. Water and sun is all that they need. Today I took some time away from the job search to rejuvenate in the wet forest, and be held in the arms of the nature spirits.

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powerful Syrian refugee moms

Mother’s Day solidarity with the powerful Syrian refugee moms I witnessed in Turkey. Many of these women have come through fire bringing only what they can carry, with fierce determination to protect their children and give them the best lives they can while living on the margins. Despite the adversity, these women do what they need to do to bring forward the next generation, which is humanity’s most important work.

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missing and not missing from Turkey

Home from Turkey for seven hours now, back in the Washington DC area. What I’m not missing and missing…

NOT MISSING
~ Right-wing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
~ Being asked why Americans like Donald Trump
~ Getting detained by police for simply trying to attend a free, open-to-the-public political speech
~ Sexism. Misogyny. Everywhere. All the time.
~ No toilet paper in bathrooms
~ Turkish Law, Article 301, which says that it is illegal to criticize “the Turkish Nation, the State of the Turkish Republic or the Grand Assembly of Turkey”
~ Witnessing the tired bodies of the math teachers, poets, and everyday people of Syria now living on the margins, doing the trash collecting and underpaid farm labor

MISSING
~ Beautiful, amazing Turkish friends
~ Activists who are committed to struggle and free speech under a government that suppresses dissent and centralizes control
~ The clever, bright eyes of the Syrian refugee children
~ Friendships that mean something, and last a lifetime
~ Neighbors who know their neighbors, visit regularly, and ask if there is something they can get for you at the market
~ The best food from one of the earliest “breadbaskets” in history
~ Fresh-squeezed orange juice, with oranges from the family grove, from a wandering street vendor
~ The feeling of being in an ancient trade nexus, where the descendants of the ancestors still practice their craft
~ Cobblestone streets
~ Sunset over the endless blue Mediterranean

In recorded history, there has always been, and shall always be, Turkey

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mayday in Taksim Square

Yesterday I ran around Istanbul looking for protests with Önder Arslan and Jenna Pope. (Jenna has a long history of hardcore photography of radical action, including at İstanbul’s Occupy Gezi.) Here in İstanbul, there is a tradition of mass protests on May 1st, International Workers’ Day. Major clashes among protesters and police have been the norm.

But we found no protests. There had been a last-minute decision by most major labor unions to cancel the feisty marches and instead hold a calm, government-sanctioned rally in a faraway park. So only a few small groups held surprise actions, which were quickly and violently suppressed by the police. This resulted in the tragic death of labor union member, Nail Marviş. (Video link below.) Attacks by PKK and ISIS also took place in southeast Turkey yesterday, which resulted in the death of five police officers.

So we met no tear gas or water cannons today, and just walked and walked around the Taksim area looking for action, along with other reporters. I hope that Turkish activists and freedom-lovers are able to overcome this government repression, come together, fight, and win. İnşallah. “God willing.”

LONG LIVE PROTEST.

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supplies for Syrian refugee families

Delivering supplies to Syrian refugee families in the Kepezaltı area yesterday, Antalya, Turkey, coordinated by the women of Antalya Helping Hands/IWA. Families happy to receive rice, oil, diapers/nappies, clothes, and shoes. So much more support is needed. But today, it’s nice to know that these families will not go hungry.

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Atatürk’s children’s day

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Today is “National Sovereignty and Children’s Day” here in Turkey. Despite recent warnings about terrorism in tourist sites, downtown Kaleiçi, a popular historic district of Antalya, Turkey, was crowded all day with families of adorable children dressed in various costumes. Fireworks are visible tonight over the Mediterranean.

The holiday was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, widely known as the founder of modern Turkey, to celebrate children and remember that they are the future. Most families buy the kids some ice cream and a balloon, walk around the city, and let the children enjoy the day.

In the past, some lucky kids got to join the Turkish Parliament for a day. But this year President Erdoğan’s party, AKP, decided not to allow many government celebrations, with the official reason being fears of terrorism and respect for the gravity of the armed resistance in the Kurdish southeast. Many observers grumble that Erdoğan’s real reason for not allowing this day as a celebration for children is that he wants to try to reverse the legacy of Atatürk.

Either way, it’s been a joy to join in this celebration for the children of Turkey, a reminder that the world that we are in is ours only for the briefest time

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I was detained by Turkish police

International incident anyone? Today I was detained for over two hours by police in Antalya, Turkey, for attempting to enter a public speech by President Erdoğan. I waited with security for an hour outside the event, then was brought to a local police station, where I was questioned for about an hour. Don’t worry folks, I’m free and safe now!

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A selfie in front of the spot where all the trouble began, the security checkpoint.

President Erdoğan gave a speech today at 2:30 PM at a sports arena in Antalya to mark the opening of “Expo 2016,” an international exhibition event that begins tomorrow at a giant outdoor fairground outside the city. The event was billed as free and open to the public. No tickets. No reservations. I was a bit worried about the risk of terrorism, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see a head of state like Erdoğan. I headed to the event, arriving about 30 minutes early as people began to flood in.

What happened was shocking. I approached the first security checkpoint, and the woman asked me to open my bag. I had traveled light, carrying just a small belt pouch with my camera and wallet, and another bag with my notebook, pen, and Turkish-English dictionary. The woman took out the dictionary, turned it over in her hands, and then asked (in German) what my name was. I answered. She called over another man who examined my passport, then took a photo of it. In the end, she nodded me through security.

The next security checkpoint was the problem. A woman patted me down and looked inside my bags. She took my pen (no pens allowed I guess), and then asked me for my passport. She looked at it a little while, then called over a plain-clothes security officer who examined my passport, took another photo of it, and asked me questions (“Why are you in Antalya? Are you traveling alone?”) He then walked me over to two important-looking men in important-looking black suits. After looking at my passport a bit more, they took yet another photo of it, then told me that I was not permitted to enter.

“Go,” they said. “Okay, why?” I asked. They would not give a reason, not even saying anything in Turkish. Again they said that I was not permitted to enter and told me to leave. The plain-clothes security officer walked me to the exit, past the crowds of people with their Turkish flags and scarves.

Standing outside this second security checkpoint, I stayed to watch as the general public streamed through security. You know, I had planned the whole afternoon for this, so I was in no hurry to leave. I wondered why I was barred. Were they keeping all foreign citizens out? Did I look too much like an activist? Like a terrorist? This is still a mystery to me. I did not see anyone else get asked for their ID. I saw a security officer take barely a passing glance at a woman carrying cola bottles which, had they been gas, would have been suitable for molotov cocktails. Others carried in giant water bottles. I wondered, what is this security process actually about?

I had been standing there for a few minutes when I decided to take notes on what just happened. (Luckily there were leftover pens on the ground from other hapless note-takers who were stripped of their pens.) A security guard and the same plain-clothes police officer walked over again. “What are you writing?” the officer asked. He then asked me several more questions. I was trying to struggle through a conversation in Turkish, when the guard told me to wait. She would phone another officer who spoke English.

I waited in the hot sun as the speeches began. More calls. More waiting. One more photo of my passport. Finally a friendly-looking officer bounced forward and shook hands with all of us and said, “Hello, how are you?” in English. Remaining polite, I asked simply why I was not allowed in. “They didn’t let you in because they couldn’t understand you, because of the language,” he said. I smiled and said, “You can see me. I am not dangerous. I just want to see President Erdoğan speak.” He laughed and said, “Yes I can see that.” He said that they had called President Erdoğan’s security detail. They would run my passport and then I would be allowed inside. He said that they would be here in ten or fifteen minutes.

No one from Erdoğan’s security detail ever arrived. Finally, after another half hour of waiting with the security guard and the plain-clothes officer, and more phone calls in Turkish that I did not understand, these two walked me to the edge of the security area. They shook hands with two plain-clothes officers from the local police station.

“They will bring you to the police station for passport control,” they said. I swallowed hard. “Am I being arrested?” I asked. (I quickly found the word for “arrest” in my dictionary: tutuklama.) “Yok,” was the answer. No, I was only being brought for “passport control.” I asked if I would be brought back here. They indicated that they just needed to ask a few questions, and then I would be brought back (I wasn’t). At that point, I was brought to a white, unmarked police vehicle.

I was brought to a room in the police station, I think the main office of the station manager. Four other officers were present. My attendant officer, a station manager type of officer, and two others who ran my passport information through computer systems and began looking things up about me. I asked if I could use the bathroom, and I was walked there and left inside a windowless little bathroom while the attendant officer waited just outside the door.

In between my dictionary, an officer’s phone translation app, and another officer’s fragmented English, a conversation continued along the lines of official questioning:

Why do you want to see President Erdoğan speak?
How long have you been in Turkey?
How many times have you been to Turkey?
Who are you traveling with?
What publication are you writing for?
Where are you staying?
Where do you live in the United States?
What is your US phone number?

Of course, as you, my friends and family know, my life is sort of in a transition point right now, and I’ve been working on a few little projects and mostly just living and learning. This is hard to explain to bullheaded police officers who may want to think I am a spy or something… or maybe worse, an Erdoğan critic?? But I answered their questions as well as I could.

At a certain point, after I had told the officers all about the writing I’d done while in Antalya for the G20 Summit in November, I broke down. No more Ms. Nice Lacy:

“I don’t understand why this is important. I only wanted to see the president of Turkey speak. Now I am here at a police station.”

I quickly looked at the clock. “Now it is almost 4 PM. Erdoğan is of course finished speaking. There is no speech. I want to go.”

At that point, the police officer who had been doing most of the questioning basically threw up his hands and left. They then offered me a coffee and walked me out into a little enclosed courtyard (surrounded by walls and barbed wire) while the other officers remained inside investigating me via computer.

At this point I was holding it in but felt like crying. I told the attendant officer, who had not let me get more than two meters away from him since I had gotten into the police vehicle, that I wanted to go and that I could easily walk or take a taxi. It was then painfully clear that I was being held against my will. After the officer looked something up on his translation app, I was told in English, “Okay, you must wait. These are standard operations.”

Finally, I was given back my passport. I was walked outside the front door of the police station, but still inside the security perimeter. I was hopeful that the end was near. I said, “thank you,” and shook the hand of the station manager, and said that I would just walk or take a taxi. I pointed across the street to a taxi stand with two taxis waiting. But then I was told that I was not yet free to go. I could not just be released, I had to be driven to my place of dwelling. Why? The first reason given was “Syrians. This is dangerous.” I again said that I could simply take a taxi. Then I was told several more times that I must be driven.

During the drive, the same three plain-clothes police that I had ridden with before were in an unmarked vehicle while they drove me toward the Kaleiçi area, where I am staying. Just after we had exited the station, one more plain-clothes police officer stopped us, leaned into the window, and asked “Why are you in Antalya?” I basically told him that I had answered that question about ten times already, and wasted no time telling him the short answer, in a not-very-patient tone of voice. He threw up his hands and said “Okay okay,” and left. As we drove away, another officer looked at me and offered a brief explanation: “He is boss.”

During the drive, the officers turned up electronica music while one officer hung his tattooed arm out the window, saying hello to friends he recognized. They also found time during the drive to hassle and tease a likely-homeless man who was collecting money from drivers through car windows. One officer spoke a little English and tried to chat with me about pop music and Raki (Turkish liquor), but I was not exactly in the mood to shoot the breeze. Finally, the drive was over and I made it home. The time was almost 5 PM.

Of course, I am now a bit worried that I will be a target for surveillance or other persecution by the local police. Friends here in Antalya have got my back, know the police system, and can find me if something happens, but I am still a little on edge. The police have all of my information and, well, police are prone to bad decisions, unethical behavior, and bully tactics.

This has been my little taste of “international incident” for the day. Adventures and misadventures…

Would it really have been so bad to let one small English-speaking woman in to see a politician’s speech in Turkish? (I haven’t yet looked up the speech but there is some information about it here: http://www.sabah.com.tr/…/erdogan-expo-2016-turkiyenin-en-b…)

I bet President Erdoğan didn’t have anything interesting to say anyway!

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two sides, Turkish soldiers

The other day, the local mosque here in Antalya, Turkey, played a funeral message for a local soldier killed by the Kurdish resistance party, the PKK, on the eastern side of the country. The sad song was played intermittently throughout the day, and people stopped to listen.

It is mandatory for all Turkish men to serve in the military. Men over 20 must endure 12-15 months of military service, and they do not have the right to be a conscientious objector. The only way out is for men living outside Turkey who can pay somewhere from 4,000 to 8,000 US Dollars (almost as much as the median family income of 8,575 US Dollars).

That means that when the Kurdish forces commit “terrorism” (or acts of war, depending upon your perspective) against the Turkish military, it’s not a career soldier, but the boy next door who dies.

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This is me, taking a pic axe to the hard ground to plant cedar trees with the “Red Soldiers” soccer fan club in Antalya, Turkey.

A few days ago I planted cedar trees with the “Red Soldiers.” (Despite the name, they are actually a soccer fan group, not communists, though there are fascinating links between soccer hooligans and activists here in Turkey – for example, soccer hooligans were the actors in some of the memorable moments of Occupy Gezi in 2013.)

Two of the people also planting trees were an older couple with sad smiles. These two, I was told by a friend, lost their only child to the Kurdish forces some years ago while he was serving in the military. Their son had been a “Red Soldier” soccer fan. They come to the events because when they see the young soccer fans, the vigor and the glint in their eyes, they remember their son.

Another reminder that war is hell, for both sides…

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“a normal school that is clean”

I visited a school for Syrian refugee children today here in Antalya, Turkey, with two phenomenal women with Antalya Helping Hands/IWA as they delivered clothing, books, toys, toilet tissue, and school supplies.

There were 150 precious children packed into a school had no electricity and crumbling walls. There are five tiny classrooms and perhaps ten underpaid adult staff, who have been giving all they have for the children. Everyone is thankful for what they do have, but it is a far cry from the normal life that they left in Syria.

“We just want a normal school that is clean,” is what one young student told me. She also told me that they get sick due to the damp conditions in the building. I was filming and interviewing for a modest project to come out soon, with the help of an interpreter who himself has seen death and disease, fleeing Syria with his extended family…

At the of the visit, the students gave me roses…

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troubled shores of Mediterranean

Tomorrow, if all goes as planned, I’ll participate in a supply delivery to an unpermitted Syrian elementary school here in Turkey serving refugee children. The school is staffed by Syrian teachers and classes are in Arabic. Turkey has more refugees than anywhere else (three million of them), but refuses to teach refugee children in Arabic, insisting instead that they go to Turkish schools (after they get registered), where they cannot speak the language and where Turkish students and teachers discriminate against them. The result is that so many bright, amazing children have had their education replaced by trauma and stigmatization, and unofficial schools exist everywhere.

Here a sunset view from the troubled shores of the Mediterranean.

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change, far from home

Change does happen. Here in Turkey, where life feels on the edge of a knife sometimes. A new State Department advisory warns of potential terrorism in Antalya, where I’ve been most days. I am here until May 3rd. The political climate in Turkey is changing, and not for the better…

It was when I was standing at the Antalya airport on Saturday, speaking with a number of people offering services to German tourists, that the State Department advisory came out. The group was alerted within nineteen minutes. Responses were mixed. One German-born woman shrugged her shoulders and said, “They are always saying this.” Others from the team calmly asked nearby police to check two strange trucks that were nearby (which were harmless). Security was high for the rest of the day. Needless to say, I’m doing my best to stay away from large crowds or targets, and trying to stay safe.

I spent a little time last week in a room with the young parents of a three-year-old Syrian girl. She was running around the room and was fascinated by a little plastic book. But her father said that every time a plane passed overhead here in Turkey, she ran and hid under the bed. Even at her age, she remembered Syria, and the bombs.

Even as I’ve been here, President Erdogan of Turkey actually was in Washington DC speechifying. His bodyguards caused a ruckus when they pushed around protesters, stole their signs, and tried to intimidate reporters. That’s “freedom” according to Erdogan.

I am learning a bit of Turkish, eating too much amazing Turkish cuisine, and spending good quality time looking out at the Mediterranean, while working on some writing projects and trying to get a bit of good work done.

My horoscope for today says, “True to your usual form, you have demonstrated your aptitude for innovation by adjusting to certain unforeseen changes.” Changes are inevitable and I am trying to embrace them as I find myself so far from home.

Also, there is a new constellation in the universe, my newborn niece Ursa Helena Safley. A magical reminder that, when one believes in the basic convergence of good in all life, and the imperative of the forces of good, change is a thing to embrace.

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threw myself skipping-stone

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In my darkest moment
feet shuffle with lightness
not weighed down
with history and meaning.
Can I finally learn a lesson,
rather than keep pouring this heart onto the pavement?
I will not pour my soul
onto the factory floor –
I will not compromise
In will remember that I am here
after having followed dog whistles
and rainbows – after shouting
out my heart so loud it cracked
the office windows of the elite…
after playing my dreams like a harp that crashed the party
– the cocktail party at the end of the world.

So, so far from home
But the choices made were to throw myself skipping-stone
across the water – like a Jesus who won’t drown.

My eyes search for anything familiar –
something to trust –
but they find only myself,
still asking the same questions
in front of the mirror.

Filed under: poems, Uncategorized

the divinity in all life

All life is sacred. Terror is not just in Brussels. Yes, we need to mourn those who were lost in Brussels. We also need to mourn those who were lost in Lahore, Pakistan, and those who were lost in Baghdad, Iraq, to ISIS/Levant/Daesh. These other two attacks have occurred just in the week since the Brussels attacks. Our failure to BEHAVE AS IF THE DIVINITY IN ALL LIFE MATTERS only leads to more blindness, hate, and heartbreak.

We need governance now that leads from the heart. We do not need violence, retaliation, or more bombs. I believe that humanity is better than this. May love prevail.

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“Bombs. We left.” -Syrian refugee

Resilient, amazing refugees. We just returned last night from a refugee camp in Torbali, Turkey. Services there are provided by a wonderful, small German nonprofit organization called German Alliance for Civilian Assistance e.V. – gemeinnützig. The people there are mostly displaced Syrian farmers and farm workers. Syrian refugees now provide cheap labor for farms in Turkey, and over the past three years have replaced many jobs formerly held by Turkish workers. Syrian hands now do much of the fruit picking, vegetable washing, and other farm labor in Turkey.

“Bombs. We left.” That was the simple explanation from one man, who through pantomime and a few words of English, explained that he had olive trees in Syria. Now here in Turkey, he is a low-paid farm worker. After I was invited inside his family tent for tea, seeing his wife, two children, and extended family, I could see the simple life desired by them: just a life of peace.

Lacy - Torbali Refugee Camp

The brightness of the children at the Torbali refugee camp will forever be with me. (Photo: Önder Arslan)

These refugees are part of a stable camp. A survey was conducted in the camp that showed that not one family wants to go to Europe. What most want to do is simply build a life for themselves here where it is safe, save money for their return to Syria, and go back as soon as they can. Turkey has more refugees than any other country, and most are just trying to stay safe.

Children there are brilliant and inspiring, but have no school and few activities throughout the day. There are five Syrian teachers in the camp, but they cannot earn money from teaching, so they must also go out to the fields to work.

In the short time that I was there, after I did some interviews for articles, my task was folding and sorting clothes for a small donations supply center. But I could not ignore the children, who watched us all day like television. They constantly tried to get our attention in creative and innovative ways. I got the feeling that mostly, they just wanted a little smile, a kind word… They just wanted to be seen.

I played a few little number games with the children, mostly how to say numbers in English and identify the written numbers on a page that was present. (The only actual page with writing that I could find was an order slip from the volunteers’ lunch.) Kids were so eager for new activities that many ran over just to participate.

One woman there was part of a family traveling with her mother, brother, sister-in-law, several cousins, and many children. We went to the hospital with her because she had stomach pains, couldn’t keep food down, and had other aches and pains; she doesn’t speak Turkish, so needed help to navigate the hospital system. Thankfully, she had many tests run and has no serious ailments (food poisoning or stomach flu may be the diagnosis), but the whole experience must have been harrowing. She is one of the lucky ones. Many refugees have illnesses that go untreated for far too long.

There is so much more to say about this. My main takeaway is that people are amazing, resilient, and full of heart. Everywhere. What most of us want is very simple. We want love and we want peace.

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Lacy MacAuley ~ International Relations ~ Radical Dreamer ~ Justice Lover ~ Thought Dancer ~ Heart Writer ~ Divine Dakini ~ based in Washington DC

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