One of the most common comments I get when talking about my solo trips to southern and southwestern Turkey is concerns about my safety. “Were you crazy?” “Did you want to be killed?” “Did you want ISIS to kidnap you?” Similar comments in future tense came before those trips and any other I went hitchhiking or solo. Surely, any woman who has ever even dared to go out alone can relate.
Now, I’m not giving here shits about feminism nor banter about my such great independence, but rather discuss how to get out of every potentially shady situation safe and sound, and get the most of life and travel, regardless of whether you’re a man, a woman or a variation in between.
Potentially a target
You’ve been catcalled. Something inside of you wants to go all meeeeeeow like an attacking cat. Something tells you it’s not the right move. Some dude wants attention.
Some of you may go on ignoring – sure, it’s possible on a busy street, except with needy dominant people who somehow think you are public property, meaning they want you to submit to them so they’d even run after you.
Give them attention, but there’s a catch. For a passing “hello”, a passing “hello” might be the best tactics, to show that you acknowledge that person’s existence. After all, it was only a “hello” and attention was given. In a situation where you have stopped, and then they approach you, just saying a word and then running off if they seem too creepy, is not an option. However, being nice to people, and changing their focus works every time.
Ask them about the town, ask for a place or a street you are looking for, make up something random if you don’t really have questions – puzzle their mind and make them think. One cannot imagine what he wants to do with you while thinking of where that square, statue or shop is located. You’ll be off before he remembers where his desires wandered before the interaction.
Pet their ego with kindness. Every person likes to talk about themselves. Ask them about their opinion about some current issue in the country. Listen to them sincerely and have a discussion. They will like you as a person and even regret their initial bad thoughts if there were any.
Same works when it feels like people see you as a walking wallet. In places where things have no price tags, bargaining will be tricky. Your anchor prices will be set high. Treat the person like a human being, feel curious about the district, the country and how they came about opening a shop like that. Whatever you can ask, keep them talking. Occasionally slip a side question about the price, and keep them talking about themselves. We cannot focus on two things at once that require mental effort. Trying to bargain with you requires mental effort. You’ll mostly hear the right price. Let them do the talking.
In principio that’s what I do all the time. People who look shady still want to feel special. You have the power to let them feel special by offering something to think about. You can be that different person that skews the statistics. You behave differently than the regular crowd. You take a moment to treat someone like a human being with sincere curiousity and you get out of anywhere.
To save yourself, the whole point is to outwit their attention towards helping you. Their help request will overrun initial bad thoughts and there’s a tendency that if we have helped someone a little bit we are likely to help them more, again. Bad news is it won’t save you from psychotic predators who have frontal lobe injuries [read: lack empathy], but it for sure will save you from unpleasant and potentially harmful occurrences and from becoming a victim in stupid crimes that stupid people do when they see you as statistics.
Our minds cannot be focussed on two different things at once. Con artists use the same tactics to rope their marks. Confuse over confusion till the mark agrees to what is wanted. Why not use that technique to save yourself. Flood their mind with interesting things, give them something to tackle and you untangle yourself from their shit.
One of the creepiest experiences I’ve had was in Baku. I was strolling on the streets of Isarisahar, the old town, taking hipster-artsy photos till I noticed someone was staring at me at a distance. I moved a bit. He was following me. I started walking and stopped, he continued a bit further and stopped, staring at me.
“Fuckfuckfuck, this is creepy!”
I walked further, occasionally pretending to stop for photos to think through my strategy of shaking him off. “This is Mission Impossible, I’m a womanized Tom Cruise, I can make it happen!” I thought. I – well, we, apparently – walked further and further around the town, he always no less than ten metres away from me. “Dude, if you want to talk, really, just come and talk, it’d be less creepy!” I thought. There was a pretty photo-worthy door in the corner of a house. He stopped a bit further away. I made a quick run to the other side. “Shitshitshit, it’s just a garden, it won’t lead me anywhere. Shitshit, garages and a dead end. Gotta find a way out!”I found myself behind some van. And he was on the other end of it! Shiiit!? I took a leap and ran through the garden to the other side, finding some shady passages between houses, gardens and old walls, eventually making it to safety. The rest of the day till meeting up with a friend I kept checking my back. Turned out it was a style in Azerbaijan. Some people really think they can and should meet chicks that way.
I was creeped out for an hour or two, then felt safe again. How come? Am I naive? Do I lack fear, because I grew up in safety with not an idea of predators around?
I cannot comment about my naivete, it’s something I’ve not understood quite yet, but getting over the fear of initiating conversations is something I’ve gone a long way to come near mastering.
I had had hundreds of fears regarding social interactions when I was a teenager. The main trick I pulled on my mind that helped me get more courageous was seeing things from the other’s perspective. I had always been admiring the people who spoke to strangers like they were their friends; who approached me like we knew way back; who weren’t all that shy and boring with their being. “Others must see them so too. Others could see me so too. What don’t I have that wouldn’t let me be so!” I thought. And so began a slow process of getting over the fear of approaching people, reminding myself constantly that they don’t really care nor understand that I feel awkward if I do – they must feel awkward too sometimes. Acknowledging that other people must have similar thoughts and feelings as I did, empowered me worry less of my own quirks.
It’s the key to sincere and meaningful communication. Most people will well. Some just look creepy or simply different. We fear the unknown and therefore label them as dangerous.
Trusting strangers opens doors you normally would find closed or would never find at all. Here, I want to share with you a message from a stranger I met on a bus to Mount Nemrut. We began chatting as the only foreigners in the area, talking about our current trips, Turkish culture, people, and what drives them. The stranger had no strict plan nor clue of how to get back to civilization after the sunset – or sunrise, which are the reasons people get up there. I had intended to set my tent up uphill and enjoy both the sunset and sunrise and then not worry how to get back down. Valuing a companion who actually spoke English well, I offered to host him in my tent. Couchsurfing at 2100m altitude in a tent. Odd, but why not. The area had crept the locals for many years, keeping them to remind me not to trust anyone, not to go up there, not to travel in Turkey. The infamous case of Pippi Bacca was still lingering in their minds – she had been found in nearby mountains. Turkish people had already gained their reputation in my mind as overprotective and so I ignored their fears and remembered not to be overly friendly with the people who worked in the restaurant uphill – only to find that they, too, were regular kind people, feeding the both of us with grilled chicken, for free.
The stranger and I had interesting conversations, took a bunch of pictures and respected each other’s individuality. In the morning we hiked 12km downhill till the first passing car picked us up. We parted our ways in a bus station in Adiyaman – he heading to Van, I to Harput. It had been nothing too special, just two travellers being friendly towards each other and exchanging some ideas. At least so I thought. Here’s what he wrote:
Hello Heli, hope everything’s fine there!!
Just wanna say thanks. Not only for hosting me, but also for the thoughts you gave me. Actually my experience traveling in Turkey wasn’t so good. I was conned in Istanbul at the second day of my trip in Turkey. While on the road , I felt everyone I met were all playing tricks in order to take my money, even got angry easily when I denied them. I did a lot of research about scam in Turkey, and I almost came across all of them. It was the worst period in my life of traveling, feeling nobody can be trust.
It’s just very lonely living without trust.
But you just trust everyone, even inviting a male stranger to share your tent. Because of your kindness, I met a lot of good people in the 2 days, even though I thought they’re bad people at beginning. You changed my mind toward Turkish people. There’s always bad person every where, but it doesn’t represent the whole world. Now I’m having a really good time in Van, hitchhiking , being invited to dinner. …etc. Getting faith of people back, and also get my traveling life back. It’s my last day stay in Turkey, but also my first day begin to like this place.
Because of meeting you make my mind open again.
The 2 days must be one of best experience in my journey.
Anyway, thanks, keep laughing, and take care
I cried reading this. Twice.
We follow expectations that people set us, subconsciously. If we expect people to be unkind to us, they will likely fill our expectations. Trust breeds trust (if money is not involved). Instead of trying to con each other, we have the power to inspire.