Mary Gioffrè is a solo-travel enthusiast – she talks about it in her blog Anime in Viaggio – and she also decided to live some work experiences abroad as an English teacher. A few years ago she arrived in Istanbul and decided to live there. Here she tells us about her experience as a woman in Turkey, and how it changed her at that point that she decided to give over to social activism for gender equality.
Which was your first solo-travel?
My very first solo-travel was a weekend in Barcelona in 2011. I still remember how awkward and uncomfortable I was, so that I didn’t even want to go eating to the restaurant for fear of being judged by other people! Until then I had travelled only with my family or friends, a solo-travel was a completely new experience for me.
A few months later, at the beginning of 2012, I went on a sabbatical leave with a one-way ticket. I spent 8 months travelling between Australia and South-East Asia, without planning or supports, alternating couchsurfing and hostels.
I am a solo-traveller because it makes me happy, it makes me discover new sides of myself and makes me feel alive! Travelling companions can be found along the way.
After lot of solo-travels, you decided to live in Turkey, where you live/are still now. Can you tell us how did you arrive there and why have you decided to stay?
I came in Istanbul for the first time in 2011 with my brother and I really loved it. At the end of my journey in 2012, after taking the CELTA certificate for the teaching of English language worldwide, I was going to move here but bureaucracy, together with my lack of experience as a teacher, discouraged me.
So, I decided to left again to go to South-East Asia, this time in Cambodia, to gain some experience. At the end of my Cambodian experience (a year and half), I tried to move to Istanbul. I didn’t want to live once again so far from my family, but at the same time I was looking for a place a little bit different from my culture. Istanbul was the perfect compromise: divided on two continents, European enough to make me feel comfortable in everyday life, Asian enough to result interesting and “different”, three hours far from Milan on plane. It is a year and half that I am here, one of the most emotionally intense moments I have ever experienced. This is not a city easy to live in, it is huge, very crowded and frantic, but also very very stimulating. You never get bored here!
Which is your experience in this country as a woman?
From the very first moment I set foot in Istanbul all alone, I was positively impressed by Turkish hospitality, but at the same time I realized that I was so vulnerable as a woman alone. Since I’ve been living here in Turkey, I’mmore aware of my female status. Share tweet. Persistent looks, kindnesses I was not used to and which I mistrusted because I did not understand the intentions (and lot of times there was no intention at all, it was just part of Turkish hospitality!), insistent and curious behaviour that made me uncomfortable. I perceive a biased approach towards myself because I am a woman. Sometimes they treat me as a princess, brought to the skies, welcomed and waited on hand and foot and other times they treat me as an easy girl, especially because I am a foreigner and with a limited knowledge of Turkish. Hardly ever in an equal manner, just like a normal person.
I remember that in my first days in Istanbul, after finding a job in an area that I didn’t know, I started to look for a home in that residential area far from the city centre. I used the Airbnb website and a Turkish boy hosted me for a few days. It couldn’t have gone better, he helped me to look for a home, he made me discover sides of Istanbul that I didn’t know yet but, after moving in my apartment, he started to follow me on every kind of social network, to call me several times a day and to send me messages. He went on for months even if I always ignored all his proposals. An insistent behaviour that almost scared me, but that is pretty common, as confirmed by my Turkish colleagues.
Of course, it is not possible to generalise, but the men that I knew were quite jealous and possessive, totally opposite feelings as regards my sense of freedom and independence. Perhaps, it’s for this reason that I have been more and more interested in the cause of the women, in the gender-based violence and that I started a collaboration with Onar Instanbul, a NGO founded by three Italian and a Turkish girls, of which now I am an active participant and that deals with women’s empowerment and prevention of gender-based violence.
*Update: Mary got back to Italy in June 2017, about one year after she answered to our interview.