Postcard from Turkey

With dog as my co-pilot in Byzantium
By Veronica Remsbottom, November 2011

After completing my MBA, I decided to get a dog and was united with Maya, a five-month-old Border Collie mix. While living in San Diego, we had many adventures on road trips, at dog parks and dog beaches and everywhere else. In October 2010, I accepted a position in Antalya, Turkey, as a head teacher of a language school. Maya and I spent a year there.

We lived in the city center, near Kaleici, the old city, which was once surrounded by stone walls. It has lots of little shops and bars and cafés.

Maya and I became a central fixture in this community. Many of the shop owners came to know her by name. Small kebab shops line the streets with lamb and chicken roasting in the window. Since our first days, Maya would automatically sit and look up at the men serving the kebabs with her bright brown eyes and they always gave her some chicken. Even if we walked on the other side of the street, they would see her and yell, ”Hi, Maya.”

When I went out with friends, she usually accompanied us. She became so intertwined with my identity, that if she wasn’t with me, it was almost guaranteed that I would be asked, “Where is Maya?” Frequently, toddlers beelined for her (while their parents temporarily stopped breathing in fear); Maya would sit as straight as possible to let children pet her. Maya has set her paws on ancient sites such as Termessos, a city Alexander the Great failed to conquer, and taken road trips along the coast and boat rides on the Mediterranean. 

Among my constant concerns in Antalya were the street dogs. Some of these dogs have been strays from birth, while others were abandoned after they were no longer puppies and couldn’t serve the purpose of luring customers into shops. Given that Maya is a social pup, she enjoyed playing with the Turkish street dogs. For the most part, they are friendly and we encountered few problems with aggressive dogs. Considering everything I read before I left, this was a much-welcomed surprise.

I have seen and experienced the best and worst between humans and dogs while in Turkey. There have been times when I was yelled at in Turkish because Maya made eye contact with someone. Maya has been kicked as we walked past and had stones thrown at her. People have screamed and run to the other side of the street, simply at the sight of her. I have seen abused street dogs and those with their ears cut off. But I also saw those dogs fed and other abandoned puppies rescued from the street.

The most amusing thing that I learned in Turkey is how children imitate barking differently. If you ask a Turkish child how a dog barks, she or he will say, “How how.” American children will say, “Ruff ruff” and English children say, “Woof woof.”

People often asked me if I regretted bringing Maya with me because of the complications involved. But the way I see it, if on our journey, she helped one old man smile before he went to bed alone, two traditional Muslim women become a little less afraid after a lifetime of fear, or three children giggle as she gently licked leftover sesame paste off their sticky fingers, if bringing her helped anyone forget about their troubles for just a second as they laughed at her silliness, then the cost, sacrifice and perceived burden was worth every penny, kur or euro.

Life is hard. Life in a foreign country is even more difficult. Having Maya with me was the best thing. No matter how challenging my day had been, I knew that she would always be there with her unconditional love and acceptance, wagging tail and kisses.  

Veronica Remsbottom is from San Diego, Calif. She traveled and lived abroad for short periods while in college, but plans to live in every region of the world to get a better grasp on management styles and cultures. Bringing Maya with her was never a question. Veronica and Maya are currently traveling in Europe, with Africa, the Mediterranean and South Korea on the agenda next.