Istanbulistan: The not-so-veiled angst

Adventures in Reverse Culture-Shock

Being a mere mortal and a (very) late bloomer, I suppose I knew that I would eventually confront the feminine angst. But having prided myself for so long on being a tomboy, I somehow hoped it would shoot past me — like those asteroids that we hope won’t make us live through Deep Impact or Armageddon ever again (hear me, Hollywood?).

An oil painting on display at the Istanbul Modern, inspired by the iconic scene from Rosemary’s Baby featuring Mia Farrow. | Artist Unrecorded; Photo by Zeynep Guven —

But here I am, bathing in the glory of my early thirties, midway into 2010s. It is glorious, because now, I get to claim to be a woman equal to men on all accounts. Some glory, I must say, further bestowed upon my fair sex by a series of Trump-like female presidential hopefuls — and of course, Hillary — who altogether tell me sky’s the limit. Some glory, I must say, that gets challenged on a daily basis in a deeply paternalistic, patronizing, and patrimonial socieity — which, incidentally, already produced a female prime minister.

So, yawn.

When my mother was my age, she was no rookie in the land of mommydom. Having already given birth to my brother (whose childhood skill, intellect and determination will surely inspire the best Skynet creation yet) and me — the crying twig whose sole mission in life was survival — John Connor style, she also worked full-time as a physicist.

She spent her days in a stinky-male dominated office and had to live through severe workplace incompetence, as well as Chernobyl (conveniently located less than 800 miles north of my childhood home of Ankara).

Her evenings were split between cooking, cleaning, helping us with homework and ever supporting my wonderful, but workaholic dad. [I still refuse to own an iron or engage in the heinous act of ironing for having blamed the damned thing for usurping many hours of mommytime growing up.]

I’d like to think that times have changed since my childhood.

But I see in my 15 months in Istanbul that change is very much relative.

This condition, of course, is not endemic to Istanbul. In fact, I even kind of despise myself for writing on a topic that has been discussed so many times that all pertinent arguments follow a rhythm more familiar than the contrived plot of a Hollywood rom-com.

So why this cascade of feminine angst now?

Admittedly, seeing baby photos flood my Facebook feed rather than trusted friends’ enraged political outbursts had something to do with this.

But there is something deeper, more sinister lurking beneath the surface. And it has everything to do with the hard, cold reality that the make-believe timelessness of youth is slipping away at increasingly accelerated rates.

Now, when I look at the years I spent growing up abroad, I understand that life was somehow on hold. I knew my figuritive suitcase would be packed literally one day for a one-way ticket home. And life would re-commence. Everything until that flight, in a way, was a series of steps taken in preparation for the big return. Dreams, ideas, ideals could easily be shelved until I opened up a new chapter in my new-old home. [This admission in no way suggests I didn’t enjoy my time abroad. To the contrary, the luxury of putting “real-life” on hold gave me tremendous freedom. And I enjoyed nearly every minute of my time abroad, in my adopted home, where I felt I fit right in and basked unabashedly in the glory of my youth.]

But now that I am here, now that Istanbulistan is the new-old home, I feel the intense pressure of finally being someone; doing something.

But instead, I complain about how this new-old house I moved into keeps creaking, stinking and haunting me in ways I never thought possible.

I question my non-career career that benefits no one in any tangible way. And this brutal reckoning leaves me exhausted, bitter and thoroughly morose.

Here I am, mediocrate at a sum of small things, rather than being great at one thing.

Here, the sum is less than its parts, which barely come together in the first place.

I am left wondering what years of expensive, Western liberal education, separation, and perhaps more importantly, growing apart were for.

Feeling like a stranger in one’s own ‘home’ is no fun. Feeling like a stranger in one’s own ‘home’ while questioning everything is depressing.

So, yawn.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Zeynep Guven’s story.