The Bengali Runaway: Sapik

TW: injured cat, pervert

I knew Bodrum wasn't for me when I drove through it a week earlier, fresh off the boat from Datca. And as if to cement my initial feelings, the taxi driver slowed down to avoid an injured cat on the road. It lay there, it's body immobile, eyes shut, mouth opening and closing in a silent cry. A trickle of blood trailed down one side.


'Oh no!' I cried. 'Oh no!'


Shock ran through me. I had seen dead mammals along roadsides but never an injured and potentially dying one.


'Dog and cat fight,' said the driver, indicating to a large black dog casually walking away from the scene of the crime.


I felt sick.


'You should call the vet,' I said, miming a phone with my hand.


'Yes, yes,' he replied.


A week later, I moved hotels from quiet Ortakent to busy Gumbet. My family were coming to Bodrum for a holiday and I had to stay another week to be with them. If that hadn't been the case, I would’ve run off to Kusadasi by now.


I arrived at my new hotel hot, sweaty and aware of the fact that I was getting older. After a shower and a rest, I decided to explore the local area to get my bearings.


Bodrum was built on mountainous terrain and Poyz Hotel sat on a hill. The short walk to the beach consisted of a couple of steep roads and pathways. Once safe on flat ground, I turned a corner and arrived at a massage parlour. Maybe this was what I needed after trekking 20 minutes in the heat with a heavy backpack and an even heavier suitcase.


I walked in and requested to see the price list. Five seconds later, a blond lady came out of the massage area and started talking loudly.


'I just had the best massage of my life,' she cried to the room. 'Umit was so good. It was magical. Absolutely magical!'


I shuddered internally. There was something extremely trashy about a loud Brit in a Turkish massage parlour. I couldn't stay there any longer. I quickly snapped a photo of the price list and ran out. But outdoors was no better. Beach clubs and loud music flanked me on both sides. I walked along the coast, passing the marina and trying to escape the noise pollution, only to be met with club music booming from a large and ugly pirate ship about fifty metres into the sea. It was as if the captain knew I was trying to outrun all the noise and decided to blast the music at an abnormally loud level in jest.


I kept walking until all the boats disappeared along with the music and noise of the city, and all I could hear were the wind and the waves. A large brown ship floated by and I counted nine people abroad, spread out over three levels. It must've been a working ship.


Up ahead, a single van sat silently with its door open. And further along to the left, a man stood with his back to me, urinating on a pile of rubbles. I averted my gaze and carefully made my way down the steep slope to a white cemented pier. There, I sat on a step and enjoyed the deep blue of the sea.


Was this the place in Clara Salaman's novel - The Boat - where Johnny and Clem discovered the yacht while seeking shelter from local thugs in a storm? I later found out it had been based on a true story.


A shuffling sound of tumbling pebbles pulled me out of my reverie. I turned to see a man in a black helmet on his bottom. The fall must've been painful.


'Are you okay?' I asked.


He didn't reply at first but eventually said something which I didn't quite catch. Once he managed to get himself up, he walked past me, asking, 'where are you from?'


Aloofness overcame me; it was such an unoriginal question. I couldn't be bothered to deal with being told I didn't look English, nor explaining where Bangladesh was on the map so I muttered, 'India.'


The guy walked all the way to the end of the pier, paused and then came back.


He asked where I was from again, and then without waiting for an answer, went into a monologue about how he was born in Germany but lived in Florida. His accent was an odd amalgamation of Turkish and Floridian, and possibly something else.


'This place isn't good for fishing, there are too many rocks. I don't like Bodrum, I have a holiday house here but I only came because my mom was sick. She was just so skinny, you know? So I had to see her. Twenty years ago, Bodrum was high society. It had educated people. But now it's ghetto. Loads of Kurdish people moved in and they're always calling out for customers on the street. And I don't want to be around these people. They don't help themselves, you know?'


What he said intrigued me. I knew people were drawn to Turkey because of its art and spiritualism but that's not what I had experienced. The mystical aspects of Turkish culture had eroded on the west side over the last two to three decades. And as the weeks went by, seeing new places was no longer enough; I wanted something deeper.


The one-sided conversation suddenly turned into a topic about sex. Naturally.


'The men here, they don't have access to women in school so as adults, they're a little bit crazy for women. And Turkish women, they don't like the men too much because the men give them too many problems. If a woman gets into a relationship with a man, and then decides she doesn't want to be with him anymore, the man goes crazy. He damages things, can get violent and sometimes kill the woman. So women think it's better not to have a man, you know?'


Based on my experience, most Turkish men were perverted but not violent. I experienced loads of advances but never felt unsafe so it was unusual to hear of Turkish men becoming physically aggressive towards women.


The guy continued talking at me for another five minutes and then ended the conversation just as suddenly as he started it.


'Okay bye bye,' he said, giving me a half-hearted wave.


'Okay, bye,' I replied.


I remained where I was for a little while longer and then eventually got up to return to my hotel. I had run out of walking space as the path ended at the pier. To my left was the face of a jagged cliff. If I really wanted to, I could’ve walked around it. The water was shallow enough and I could’ve held onto the rocks for support. But it felt like hard work and I couldn't be bothered to do it at the time.


On my way back, my legs decided to take a short detour through the half-finished construction work I had passed earlier. A hidden dirt track led to the other side of the shrubby mountain, revealing a gorgeous landscape of green and yellow brushes. I could imagine how magical it must look during golden hour.


Wildflowers grew sporadically. Bright yellow and deep red. One specimen in particular captured my interest as it had both white and purple flowers on the same plant - probably male and female. Down below, I spied a couple of fishermen trying their luck on a hidden beach.

The halted construction work lay around the white buildings in the distance

A group of young Turkish men sun themselves on a slab

I didn't know where I was going; I just kept walking and eventually saw an old windmill


Some time later, perhaps a quarter of a mile in, an old man came into my view. He had white hair with a smattering of dark grey on the lower half, but he was fit and walked with ease uphill towards me. He had an angry look on his face and a small part of me felt wary. As we passed, we made eye contact.


'Merhaba,' I said.


He stopped and looked at me curiously with his blue-grey eyes.


'Merhaba,' he said. 'Nasilsin?'


'Iyiyim. Ve nasilsin?'


I didn't understand his next response as that was as far as my Turkish went but his actions made it clear. He indicated holding a pair of balls with his right hand, grinning at me with a gleam in his eyes.


It was sickening.


This was the end of my eighth week in Turkey and I had had enough. No more politely laughing and changing the subject or turning away wordlessly. These desperate men needed to be confronted - that was the only way they would learn.


'What?' I said coldly.


'What?' he replied.


'What?' I said again.


'What?' he replied again.


He didn't understand the word but surely he understood what I meant based on my facial expression and tone of voice? No, apparently not as he continued to stand there, smiling. And for the first time ever, I felt unsafe in Turkey. The place was remote and if I screamed, no one would hear me.


I turned to walk away when I spotted another man up ahead taking photos of the sea. His path curved to meet mine so I walked towards him, hoping he wasn't a pervert too.


'Merhaba,' I called out once I was close enough.


'Merhaba,' he replied in a low voice.


'Do you speak English?'


'Yes.'


'Do you mind if I walk with you?'


No response. He probably knew as much English as I knew Turkish.


'Sapik,' I said, closing the distance between us and pointing my thumb over my shoulder.


'Sapik,' the guy repeated.


I had made a point of learning the word 'sapik' after meeting Murat in Side - an old man who was supposed to be my driver but instead, made my stomach churn with repulsion. I didn't get to use the word on him but it was certainly useful in my current situation.


'Evet,' I replied.


'Evet,' he repeated.


OK… whatever. I walked with him for a minute and then came to a natural stop where the mountain gave way to a few grey slabs below.


'Okay, gule gule,' I said.


'Gule gule,' he replied.


I stood and admired the view. A group of topless young men lounged around on one of the slabs to the left.

After a while, I turned around to soak in the rest of the green mountain above, only to see the old man sat on a white rock about 30 metres away, watching me.


The ground was uneven and my fake Birkenstocks were not suitable for running on this terrain. The old man seemed very comfortable with it though, he probably walked through here regularly.


I started walking again and a minute later, stole a glance up. The old man was walking parallel to me. Anger bloomed in my stomach.


Here I was, a foreign woman enjoying a nature walk by herself, who decided to say hello to a local man because it was the normal, polite thing to do, and this dirty old grandpa takes it the wrong way and presumes it is an invite for an impromptu shag in the bushes.


What was it with the men in this country?! Well, actually, I sort of knew the answer to that. The Turkish-Floridian guy had confirmed it to me earlier.


Most Turkish men were sex-starved. Men and women generally didn't mix while growing up due to religious and cultural reasons, which meant they didn't really understand nor know how to behave around one another. The desire for sex surfaced in men hard and fast after being suppressed for a long time, leading them to presume any interest from a woman - no matter how small or innocent - is sexual, and act inappropriately towards her.


I noticed how young lads in their late teens and early twenties differed greatly to older men - they came across clueless and innocent, almost endearing in a way, while the older men were like dogs on heat. At some point in their early-mid twenties, they changed and became confident in approaching women for sex at every turn.


I met a British woman in Fethiye who had been coming to Turkey for almost a decade before eventually moving here last year. She told me Turkish women were not sexual and often withheld sex as a form of punishment.


I also figured Turkish men saw western women on TV - highly sexualised and objectified - and assumed all western women were like that. And a lot of western women who come to Turkey took advantage of that. So what's created is an unhealthy kaleidoscope of sex-obsessed Turkish men who don't know how to court a woman, loose western women taking advantage of Turkish men, suspicious and jealous Turkish women who don't mix with travellers and tourists, and other western females who have come for a cultural experience but are met with unwanted advances in every direction.


Fixing that mess would take an entire lifetime.


I stopped walking again to appreciate the view from another angle. I looked back to see if the old man was still following me. He was, and this time, he had his phone out and was making his way down. It looked like he way trying to take a photo of me.


'HAYIR!' I shouted.


He stopped and indicated to his phone.


'HAYIR!' I roared.


He immediately turned and walked away. That's right you piece of shit, walk away. I felt a little empowered. But really, I needed to learn self-defence. Then I'd never feel vulnerable when walking alone.