For the first 4 months after arriving in Turkey this was the most asked question of me by Turkish people besides the usual “Where are you from”. A guaranteed request every time I took more than 10 feet away from my apartment — with my flatmate.
They were not comfortable asking me on my own because for the obvious reasons: Turkce yok, and they incorrectly assumed that my flatmate was Turkish (she wasn’t) because of her looks. Also, I think, they felt more at ease with issuing this request in her presence; it acting as a safety measure to mitigate any misunderstandings or any possibilities of aggression on my part. To be honest with you, it was not only issued in her presence but to her first- always, as if she were my manager or photo agent.
So the very first time when this request was issued in Turkish to her as we were making our way home, the hunched brow bone and lost look on her face drew even more confused looks from the requester.
Honestly, that very first time when we were asked, I thought they were asking us for directions to a photocopy center. Never would I have imagined in a million years anyone asking me for a photograph. In the West that kind of request was only reserved for celebrities or people with some kind of notoriety, which I am pretty sure I did not have?
After a few minutes of us pointing in a particular direction and hand gesticulating left, then right, then straight ahead, the requester finally pulled out a smart phone and opened up her photo application, pointing to herself then to me.
I think our reaction was comical.
Us both being from the West, me Caribbean- her, American of Persian birth, we knew the cons of taking pictures in this day and age. Where would they end up? How would they be used?
But the requester, who was nothing more than a teenaged girl with an undeniably and uncharacteristic 90’s hip hop look, I believed, posed no threat. I believe.
However, I was about to gracefully say no and walk away.
Sensing that that was my next move, the look of disappointment and embarrassment washed her face.
You would think that she had won the lottery with my reversal.
My roommate waited impatiently by the side as several angles were taken to ensure that there would be a choice of the best photo.
Continuing on our journey we pondered what had just happened.
My flatmate questioned why I agreed to do it.
I didn’t want to appear rude or abrupt in a place and to a people that were new to me and with whom I would have to coexist while living among them.
I thought nothing of it until this incident occurred every time the both of us were walking anywhere. EVERY TIME.
This was compounded by constant pointing and staring, which in the West is considered rude, not quite here. However, I must admit many times this was countered with hugs (women), handshakes (men) and a genuine hospitality to a foreign person.
But the incessant identification as different- solely based on my skin colour did bother me. And slowly but surely I came to the understanding that I was being objectified as ‘other’ and that I, in always acquiescing to photographers, was complicit.
Thumbnail photo taken by Murat Dutlu of Murat Dutlu Photography
Originally published at www.petrainthemiddleeast.com.