I've had problems with the Customer Care of many companies. Who hasn't? But Turkish Airlines is a phenomenon by itself. In fact, so much that they should appropriately be called Turkish Airlines Customer UNCARE!
It would have been one thing if they simply denied your request and left it like that. No, to add insult to injury, they parrot the same answer until you give up or until they lead you to curse them. You ask them a simple question, you don't get an answer, you get the same parrot template. They're trying very hard, doing their best to annoy you more; and they succeed at that. What's worse, it certainly looks as if they're doing this on purpose. It's as if their task is to test your patience; their job to drive you mad instead of serving you!
Last December, I was denied boarding due to an unforeseen abrupt visa regime change. My ticket was non-refundable and they refuse to reissue it repeating the same mantra “Visas are the responsibility of the passenger.”
Sure, it is! As someone who has been to more than 140 countries nobody needs to tell me that! Not even once, let alone repeatedly. I have abided by my responsibility; contacted the competent Embassies and Consulates. I got direct official information from both the honorary consul of Djibouti here in Italy and the French Embassy which issues the visa. They both told me I didn't need to get a visa in advance, that I could get it at the airport in Djibouti.
What have I done? Did I try to fly without a visa to a country which normally required a visa? Or did I try to fly with a visa that had expired? Or did I go to the airport without bothering to check the visa practice at all? Or did I apply for the visa and was denied a visa because I did not meet the requirements? I refuse to accept any accusation of irresponsibility on my part.
Djibouti has had VOA (Visa on Arrival) for more than 25 years. What's more, there wasn't anything on the world agenda like the Qatar crisis or the US-Turkey crisis that could have made me suspect that there might be a visa regime change. What's more, making things worse for me to accept, this visa regime change lasted only three (3) days! I know of someone who got into Djibouti with a VOA on November 30th. My flight was December 1st. And Djibouti has gone back to VOA on December 4th. So it was only a matter of a very unfortunate, a very extraordinary situation.
Turkish Airlines affirms that under extraordinary situations, ticket changes are reconsidered even if they are non-refundable. However, they deny, without expressing it explicitly, that this was an extraordinary situation. When I ask them to explain me how this abrupt visa change is not extraordinary, -because it obviously IS!-, they do not (or rather cannot) answer; so they turn on the parrot mode: repeating the same thing about responsibility over and over again ignoring the fact that I have contacted the embassies and got information.
1) There is a reason and logic behind rules. The rule about the visa and paperwork being the responsibility of the passenger is straight-forward. As airlines cannot get the paperwork done on behalf of their passengers, it obviously is the passenger's responsibility; and the rule is put in place to avoid the disruption of air services due to passenger's irresponsibility. On the other hand, that rule is definitely not put there to give the airlines the right or the opportunity to pocket money without giving their customers the service they promise to provide. If it is, it should be written explicitly, not implied. Write it out in your contract of carriage: "In case of a visa regime change, passengers pay the price." Spell it out! So that we passengers know what we are getting into.
2) Any change in a visa regime that has been going on for more than 25 years is obviously extraordinary. Let alone going back to the old visa regime after three days!
3) A company is not run by double standards. At least a respectable one is not. If other customers are reissued, and even reimbursed non-refundable tickets in an extraordinary situation, there should be no difference with another customer flying to another destination who is adversely affected by a last-minute visa regime change. The fact that the Turkey-US crisis was on the spotlight and more passengers were involved should not, cannot be the reason to make an exception to ticket-rules. You don't discriminate against your customers. Even if it's a single passenger being affected in Djibouti, the same reasoning and line of action should be used.
I did not even ask for a refund. I asked them just to reissue the same Rome-Djibouti flight for a later date. So basically, Turkish Airlines wants to pocket the money without providing the service they have promised to give their customer, using this visa regime change as an excuse. They want to make me pay for this capricious visa regime change that lasted only for three days. This goes beyond responsibility, it means fining us for things not within our control and not our fault. Let alone being awful customer care, this is against the universally accepted fundamental principle of justice.
In our days when even a small online company just replaces an item no questions asked, the uncare and the pettiness of such a big company like Turkish Airlines is deplorable. Something which could and should have been solved easily has dragged on for four and a half months and has turned into such a big mess and a headache now because of the unprofessional attitude and resistance against reason of the THY Customer Service. Making them a Customer Disservice.
Anyone who has flown with Turkish Airlines without any problems might not understand what I'm talking about because when things go smoothly, everything is just fine and they are a premium airline. Given the destinations they fly and their very competitive prices, their services are optimum. However, as Seneca has said
You can judge of a pilot in a storm, of a soldier in a battle.”
Likewise, you judge the value of a company when things go wrong; with their ability to solve problems efficiently and proficiently, professionally. Unfortunately, Turkish Airlines has failed miserably at that.
This letter is not about my ticket, this is about your beyond awful customer care. If somebody repeated the same thing over and over again regardless of what you are saying, without answering your questions you'd walk away saying “He's crazy.” This is Turkish Airlines! Who is supposed to have a prestige. As a flag-carrier, such responses by your “Un-Help desk” or “Customer Un-Care service” smears the name it is supposed to carry proudly. So, I ask you to act in accordance with your reputation and stand tall instead of abusing and exploiting your customers.
This is a call to all the THY customer service agents to stop being pawns in such an imbecilic system, there are much better and meaningful ways to earn your bread than copy-pasting template answers. It's a waste and an insult to your intelligence. More importantly, this is a call to the CEO Bilal Ekşi: Unfortunately, this is not a stand-alone incident, I've heard and read similar responses to other customers. Such uncaring behavior towards the customer tarnishes your reputation. I humbly ask you to fire the head of department for the customer service, whoever that is behind all this uncaring, annoying, and most of all, imbecilic parrot answering system.
Gülin De Vincentiis
I'll try to avoid flying Turkish Airlines on my #Mission2EveryCountry as much as I can.
I don't talk from people's behind; I talk in front of them. Unfortunately, that gets me into a lot of trouble most of the time. People don't like hearing about their faults, even if they know it is true. It's fair. And understandable. But I like to interact with people who are mature enough to take valid criticism and being straight-forward provides me the chance to separate those who can from the ones who can't (or the chaff from the wheat) in a simple, easy way.
Jessica Nabongo is aiming to be the first black woman to travel to every country. Someone commented “I have little respect for this.” He put it very lightly. I have no respect at all for this. I'll be telling you why:
First of all, I see it as depreciating women and travel.
Second, it's a pissing match with no content.
Third and most importantly, it's a game, and they are playing a game without being aware of it being a game.
And all the meanwhile being a nasty player.
I'll give some more examples and reasons of my criticism. In the Conde Nast Traveler podcast, Jessica says “I really want to do something crazy. But something I can say I'm the only person who has done this. So a little bit of ego here...”
A little bit? Sorry but it seems to be “a big ego here” to me.
Look here at Jessica's post titled “In Seminyak? Dash to Dash Hotel”
Advertisement, I understand. But it really makes me want to puke. “Bunny and I had a lot of fun” ?? Really?? It's so cheesy. Sooo cheesy. Are people who look at those photos supposed to think “Woow, how wonderful! Let's go to Dash Hotel in Seminyak so that we get to play with that red bunny and have a lot of fun like Jessica”? Do people really think like that? Of course this is the idea of the hotel's management, but come on... Seriously? Is this the kind of world we want to promote? Is this the kind of behavior we want to incentivize people to? What kind of a world, what kind of a humanity are we trying to create?
Okay, I've been a part of that world. When I first came out to do a round-the-world tour in 2001 in Turkey, journalists made me pose and I obeyed. I was a naive duckling just of out uni; I did not know the outside world back then. I lived in my cocoon. Enveloped by family, health and personal troubles and the protected world of the university. I was carried away with the pace my life got, puzzled and unable to adjust after the relaxed uni life. I have to confess I reveled in the attention even though I was uneasy with my photos being taken. And so many at that. I had had quite enough. But they called saying the photo editor was not satisfied and wanted some more shoots. I was at a radio interview, they wanted to do it right away, so I headed out to the park they suggested to meet. I didn't get to choose what to wear. I had a mini-skirt on that day. So this is my memory of those cheesy photos.
I can never do that now.
In “My Life is Not a Vacation, It Just Looks Like It” (May 25, 2017) Jessica writes:
“Life for me is experiencing new foods and new cultures. Life for me is learning new languages and arguing in foreign languages. Life for me is experiencing the world with my closest friends. Life for me is taking calls in Bali with clients in New York. Life for me is setting goals of reaching Diamond Medallion on Delta Airlines. Life for me is about dreaming and achieving the impossible, off-the-beaten path.”
Reaching Diamond Medallion? Thanks, not interested at all. I mean I don't even know what it is; I suppose it is something related to the miles you earn, and I'm not interested the least bit. What for? So that I'd have done scurrying here and there, spent time in the air? Experiencing new foods and new cultures? I do not care about food, I eat to live. As for cultures, I travel and read to learn about the world. Learning new languages is fine but I have no interest in arguing in foreign languages. Life for me is raising a child with awareness, spending time with my family, reading-reflecting-writing. Life for me is trying to change the system. Life for me is making the world free for movement. Simple. I have no glorious goals. I am so off-the-beaten path that no mainstream media is ready to publish anything about me.
On her post “7 Reasons Adulting is the Worst!” (May 19th, 2017) Jessica writes:
“... can we please just go back to the days of not working 40+ hours a week and having to be responsible for the lives of little tiny human beings?”
So Jessica wants her friends not to have children or not to be responsible for them! And what for? So that they can go out, hang out. Woow, good for her. I mean I would have understood it if she had a child and expressed a feeling of not wanting to be responsible for that little tiny human being. I understand that. We all sometimes wish to shed our responsibilities because we are so burdened by them. But asking that of others is just so ego-centric. In my humble opinion of course. Or if she had said she wished she could go back to those days. That would have been understandable. We all have nostalgia. But this is so immature. Again imho of course.
But I feel like asking Jessica... Can we please not share half-naked photos in hotel rooms, pools, beaches and claim we are travelling the world? Can we please stop such advertising? It diminishes women. It takes away the value of travel.
Every time I read such news of women travelling to every country with such photos, I despair. Despair for the state of the world. Despair that such things are valued and there are so many people out there following this.
Anybody out there to claim I am jealous? Yes, I am jealous; I confess. I am jealous that these women get tens and hundreds of thousands of followers while I have merely a hundred. But I want to make something clear: I do not despair personally; I have everything I can ask for in this world. I despair for the state of the world. I despair that messages like mine do not catch on.
My husband tells me people do not look at the message. He recently put up a photo of both of us on FB because I use his account and it is sometimes awkward to write as a woman with the name Carlo. My posts about borders, visas don't generally get any likes, one or two if they do. We got 40 likes on our photo.
Carlo says “Jesus had only twelve followers.”
“Yeah, he has billions now,” I commented sarcastically.
“It took thousands of years. You give your message some time to take hold.”
“I don't have thousands of years,” I laughed.
So shall I stick out my nipples too and post such photos? I actually considered it. I imagined what reactions it would get. It definitely would get a reaction. And that's the important thing in our age. Just as long as you are talked about. But neeaah, I won't be doing that. It's not me. Still, I might consider it as a last resort. If I do not get anywhere in a couple of years. Just to give it a try and see. Out of curiosity; as a test.
Or shall I advertise myself as the first Muslim Turkish woman? Sal Lavallo is a Muslim I suppose, there may also be some Turkish men who claim to have been to every country even though I know they count, let alone stop-overs, transits without even getting off the airplane. Anyway, definitely no woman out there who is Muslim (at least on paper) or Turkish.
Well... I'm not after such firsts. Not interested. I claim to be the first to go out with a meaningful purpose. To abolish visas and for freedom of movement. What is travel about? What are borders? What are countries? How are borders drawn but by bloody war or bloody politics? Why do we honor them? Why do those “travellers” who go to every country profit from it? Use and abuse it to their advantage? Is that what travelling is about? Is that what we should get out of travel? What is travelling for if not an understanding of the world and humans living on this planet of ours?
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
This is not a criticism of travel or travellers. I'm a traveller myself and have respect for anyone travelling for its sake. Even for breaking a record. I have nothing against Gunnar Garfors who is the first and youngest hobby traveller to go to every country. On the contrary, I believe he is doing a very good job on his website. I have nothing against Oysterboy. He is actually Jakob from Denmark. Calls himself Oysterboy. Like Garfors, I believe he is doing a very good job on his website too.
“My ambition once was to be the youngest Danish person to visit every country in the world. I failed. Presently 3 (viking) Danes have already visited them all.
My next ambition was to be the youngest hobby traveler to go everywhere. I failed again (Norwegian Gunnar Garfors beat me to it finishing at 37 years and 344 days).
My present ambition is to be the youngest hobby and family traveler to visit every country in the world. Hobby meaning I have a normal job and pay for everything myself. Family meaning that I have a beautiful girlfriend and two fantastic kids that I try to bring as often as possible.
Maybe someone will beat me to that as well. Flight tickets are getting cheaper and entry visas easier to obtain. Record or no record – I could not have dreamt of a better life than this.”
See? This is just reasonable and human. Portrays a nice human being. By the way, Jakob has some wonderful photos. If interested in photos, I suggest you check them out. (Take it from someone who has almost zero interest in visuals.) He has, even if not so special, stories too. He tells it as they are, not pretentious.
Let's come to Garfors. “Hurrah! World Record Beaten” (February 4, 2018)
What's the world record this time? They “circumnavigated the globe via the six inhabited continents faster than anyone else.”
Gunnar writes: “But why the hell did we do it? I’ll let Ronald answer,” and continues:
“We did this to have fun, to inspire people to explore the world and to show that even big dreams can come true. Travelling 43,000 kilometers at an average speed of 750 km/h, with loads of good stories thrown in, has made this the ultimate boys’ trip.
But it wasn’t all fun and play. We also raised money for The Simple Drinking Water Foundation in the UK. It provides clean water technology to developing countries.
And yes, we have compensated for our CO2 emissions.”
I don't find their goals so meaningful but they are not claiming it is, they are not trying to portray themselves as something else than what they are. They are just boys having fun. And doing something good meanwhile. This is just fine.
But look at the fundraising campaign of Graham. He says:
“I visited every nation in the world without flying for WaterAid because Access to clean water should be a human right.”
Sorry, he didn't visit every nation for that. He did it for his ego. Nothing wrong with that. But there's everything wrong with using a charity or an organization to your ends. Well, or maybe there is nothing wrong with that either. After all, it was a mutual agreement and at least some people got a message and money has been raised for WaterAid even if not a lot. Perhaps it's a symbiotic relationship. Better than none. Publicity is important and one plus one makes a bit more than the parts alone. Still... Hypocrisy is wrong and bad. Just say you are also trying to raise money for Water Aid, trying to help a good cause while you are travelling. Like some marathons where you run and people donate to charities of your choice to support you. Then it's fair game.
Thor is at least honest in this sense saying that he wasn't into it much at the beginning but now he cares very much about the Red Cross.
Look at Cassie De Pecol... Yeah, she is licensing herself as a brand alright. Wearing cool dresses, showing off as if in a podium, showing off a camera. Then promoting hotels... Give me a free room and I'll advertise you on my site. Oh it's “Luxury Lodging” of course, who else pays, or rather can pay for such advertisement?
“A series of personal reviews of luxury accommodations that Cassie has been sponsored by throughout her travels.” A photo of her sitting in a bathrobe, with a flower in her hair, reaching out for the exotic fruit basket.
“I choose to live my life in a unique way. To live in iconic, low key lifestyle where I do what I want, when I want, and inspire those along the way.” – Cassie De Pecol
Yeah yeah, she chooses that! She does what she wants when she wants. Oh my God, what a respectable choice! What a perfect thing to inspire people to do. Just brushing aside the fact that many people do not have that luxury of doing what they want let alone when they want.
Going back to Graham... He wrote:
“This isn’t just about sending plumbers to the slums of India or engineers to rural Africa to dig wells, it is about persuading the United Nations and the governments of the world to prioritise the delivery of safe water and proper sanitation and to make it a basic human right.”
Really? Is it? Is Graham still promoting that message? Is he trying to do anything about the topic? Anything to persuade the UN? No, of course not. The Oddysey is finished, he has reached his goal, he no longer needs the anchor.
I'll still be banging about freedom of movement, ending injustice at birth, ending birthplace racism, ending global apartheid even after I finish my #Mission2EveryCountry. You think I'll ever stop? NO. I'll be going on about it -free movement on the world we are born to be an inalienable human right- as long as I have breath in me. Of course unless a brick falls on my head and makes me a completely different person. This is something I care about deeply, so deeply from the bottom of my heart, so deeply as to wish to devote my whole life to it. (Only second to my daughter and husband; naturally.)
Defining people by the imaginary line they are born in, what's more, defining their radius of movement again by that line is nothing but madness." Gülin De Vincentiis
Having an Issue
I feel bad, in a way, implying my cause is better; but I cannot help myself. Perhaps I am also the pot calling the kettle black. I feel bad about criticizing these people so harshly. But I cannot help myself with that either.
My husband asked how many travellers were heading for every country.
“A couple of thousand,” I answered.
“How many of those do you have an issue with?” he asked.
Well, just a couple. Basically those who are exploiting travel to their ends and promoting completely “wrong” values and messages. (Of course that's my wrong; and I'm totally aware that my wrong can be the right of others.) So as my husband pointed out... I have an issue with only a small percentage of travellers out there. It's just a couple of people among thousands. Unfortunately, most of them turn out to be females. I wish it was not so. I wish I didn't feel obliged to write neither this piece nor the other one.
Oh sorry, I actually have something against almost all travellers. What's that? None of them seem to question borders and nationalities. But I do not blame them. Coming mostly from Western countries, they have not been exposed to such racism to feel it on their skin. I did because I was travelling on a Turkish passport and because I was faced with ridiculous visa requirements one after the other. And even I came to that conclusion only after travelling to a hundred countries. Questioning the status-quo is not easy; it's not something we do regularly and out of the blue. But once you start seeing the world through that lens of birthplace racism, there is no going back. The birthplace racism, the injustice of it is just so crystal clear before your eyes.
But now, where does that take me?
Where Do I Belong?
On his FB profile Ryan Gazder says “A transcendental wanderer who can hold telepathic discussions with animals. Not so good with humans.” I burst out laughing when I read that. I am the same. I mean I'm not good with humans. But I cannot hold telepathic discussions with animals either, so he is much better off.
“I'm not good with humans but they give me headaches acting the way they do; what can I do?”
I smiled when I heard my other self, the one deeper than myself. I was just making myself a different species, different from humans. Or the homo-imbecilus as I call them. As for me... “I'm an alien. I'm a legal alien... I'm a Turkish woman in Rome...”
It doesn't rhyme with the Englishman in New York :(
But I'm truly an alien...
Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto... I'm not from this solar system. Not even from the farthest planet. I'm not even from this galaxy. I don't know where I've come here from, I don't know what mistake, what technical failure of a mother-ship dropped me here on this Earth, but I am here and I exist too. #IWantToBelong
Can I fit in? Can I fit into the traveller community? Unfortunately, the way things are, that's quite doubtful. They won't take me in as one of them. They won't interview me, publish me, back me up. They'll go after Jessica and the like. That's what sells. Who cares about a Turkish woman going to every country to burn passports to protest Birthplace Racism?
Yet... Yet I'm sure there are those among them, even if few, who might care. And this message is for them: Would you join me so we can be a community of travellers upholding freedom of movement as an inalienable right?
... there is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles, he has not lived long – he has existed long. For what if you should think that man had had a long voyage who had been caught by a fierce storm as soon as he left harbour, and, swept hither and thither by a succession of winds that raged from different quarters, had been driven in a circle around the same course? Not much voyaging did he have, but much tossing about.” Seneca
There is this pissing match among travellers as to who travels best and most. There are those racers, who aim to be the first, youngest, fastest, and then there are those who are after culture. I have difficulty in understanding this pissing travel game. (Well, I have difficulty in understanding most of the things in this mad world but what can you do!) The first category is meaningless for me; the second, while of course being much preferable, is not much different if you ask me. Culture is something very deep and cannot be “experienced” in the real sense even by living in a place for years, let alone a month or two be it intense travel. Culture is something you accumulate in a lifetime. It's open to change over time and no place is really homogeneous, so many subcultures are present anywhere you go. But that's a long topic, please refer to Digging into Culture if interested; here I'll be just giving you an example, telling you the story of the pot and the kettle.
Cassie has been to only the airport in some countries. (About a dozen I suppose but don't take my word on this.) She cleared immigration, that is went through passport control, went out of the airport, then turned around and went back in to catch the same flight she disembarked from or another flight. Guinness is fine with that.
Jessica says “I still can't understand why one would “visit” a country and not leave the airport. What is the point?!?”
In Turkish we would say “Dinime küfreden Müslüman olsa bari.” It translates as “If only the one who curses my religion would be a Muslim himself.” It's used in cases where the one criticizing is guilty of the same thing he is criticizing. You might say “The pot calling the kettle black.”
Jessica has 13 months for her 35th birthday and she is aiming to travel to 90+ countries in that period. What's the point of that if I may ask? What's the point of rushing to so many countries? Ah, so she celebrates her 35th birthday in Mauritius. Good for her!
I have 48 more countries to go to and I have 18 months to go for my 50th birthday. I confess, I thought of heading for that. When I asked the question what would be a most wonderful thing to do on my 50th birthday, the answer was to burn my passports. That would have been a very nice celebration. But I decided against it. It would be too much of a hassle and I wouldn't be enjoying the journey. And for what? Perhaps some more time would be beneficial to get some publicity for my mission. What's the point of me burning my passports in the fireplace over a bottle of wine with Carlo? The whole point is to get the message out: Ending birthplace racism!
Trivia: Jessica started travelling at 7. I started travelling at 24. Flights were not so commercial in my day and I lived in Turkey, not the US. Of course, my rushing to those last 48 countries is much different than Jessica running to 90. I have a child and a family I'm responsible for. Anyway... Jessica asserts she's “going to countries not only to count them and work in hotel rooms but to interact with people and experience the culture.” Please... Please... Give me a break! How can anyone who has so little time in each country, plus spends time in hotel rooms or pools with photo-shoots have any time at all to interact with people and experience “the culture”?? How? It's simply not possible.
So going back to answer Jessica's question. What's the point? Cassie's point was to break the Guinness World Record. She broke it. Was it meaningful? Not very much if you ask me. But is Jessica's point of having been to every country on her 35th birthday any more meaningful? Is that a point worth pursuing? I don't believe so. Besides, from what it looks, Jessica seems to be going to countries to have photo-shoots. Staying in luxury hotels and advertising brands. Sorry but what's the point of such travel? You don't get to see the “real” world out there. You ignore the real people slaving in those spas and you aim to fill your pockets while enjoying life. If that's the point of travel, I say “No, thank you.” I won't get it, I don't want it. Not for me.
Sure, if it is for others, they can buy into all this travel world. But even as a liberal, I wish people wouldn't. I wish there wasn't such an industry. I wish people were more after meaning. More after a juster world.
Instead of a pissing match...
In the Forbes interview “How Jessica Nabongo Will Become The First Black Woman To Visit Every Country” by Alexandra Talty (April 10, 2018), it says:
“I travel in a very different way versus someone who goes to see every country in 18 months,” says Nabongo. A globetrotter at heart, she is comfortable with the digital nomad life. “I have a deep and intense knowledge of the world."
Jessica is again criticizing Cassie without giving the name and just referring to her anonymously which is something I find very demeaning; more importantly though, she is criticizing Cassie without having a look at herself. Ah how she travels in a very different way than Cassie who is a “tu-kaka” as we say in Turkish, especially to children when teaching them bad things to stay away from. “Poop-bad”. Cassie-bad. Whereas of course Jessica is way above Cassie. We don't need to bother with having our own judgement, Jessica tells us who is the better traveller. After all, this is a pissing match!
And what does Jessica have as to show us her “deep and intense” knowledge of the world? Just have a look at her website and her Instagram. Ah so full of knowledge! Dripping with wisdom, overflowing.
But I shouldn't be unfair; perhaps she is saving that for herself.
And just sharing her body with us.
I know... I'm bad. This is bad. But I cannot help myself. How can I not say these things? This nonsense pissing match upsets me. If there is to be a pissing match it's supposed to be over who can contribute more to the world. No no, you don't be an inspiration like this. Seriously! Be an inspiration in other ways.
There has been much fuss over Cassie De Pecol after she has been to every country and claimed to be the first woman to have done so. She picked up two Guinness World Records, other people picked up axes against her. She then “changed” or “corrected” her statement to be “the first woman on record.”
I have taken up the defense on that on behalf of Cassie. I'll continue some more:
If the problem is Cassie's claiming she was the first woman... First of all, we may all make mistakes, we all express things wrong sometimes. It happens. Even I -who claim to be a writer and who take pride in expressing things correctly, spending hours on a word if necessary- make mistakes. Or I shouldn't say make mistakes, but rather put things in a way that do not reflect reality completely. So I don't think Cassie deserves such a beating for that.
Do I think what Cassie did was meaningful? Not really. Still, what she has done is no small feat. We of all people, travellers that is, should know how exasperating it is to run after visas, how tiring it is to go to one country after another trying to catch planes so that the careful plans we have made don't fall apart. I think people are criticizing her a bit too unfairly. If it was a man, they wouldn't have been so cruel. I'll even give you an example.
Thor boasts on his main page:
“BONUS! Nobody in history has ever reached every country in the World completely without flying ;)”
He repeats the same claim in other posts too. But I suppose we all know about Graham Hughes here. How come nobody ever mentions anything about Thor's claim? I mean Thor mentions Graham in the FAQ but it is way at the bottom of the page. And why should anybody need to scroll through so many pages in order to read that? Given that most people are not so well-versed in world-travellers and may not know about Graham, wouldn't you agree that Thor needs to put a link to Graham every time he boasts “how cool it is nobody has ever done that!”?
“Once I learned that Graham had interrupted his project to fly home, fly on vacation and fly to get visas I saw the game as open again!” That's his argument. As Thor himself writes: “By Graham’s definition he has been to every country in the world without flying. I disagree and have my own definition which includes no flights. Sounds logical but it’s a debate with two camps.”
So Thor agrees and is aware that there would be a debate about his claim. So no, mentioning Graham on one post or two is not enough. Thor should give a link to Graham EVERY SINGLE TIME. And especially on the main page!
Thor can still claim whatever he wants, BUT people should know the whole story and be able to decide for themselves. I wouldn't want to travel like him and put myself through such long torture but I'm totally aware how Thor's is a gargantuan project, how much stamina it takes. So this is not to take anything off of what he is doing. I don't like it and believe it is very wrong when someone states his side only, making ignorant others swallow a disputable claim. That's it.
Even apart from the fact that Thor's is a more taxing project than Graham's, if I have to choose one, I'd choose Thor. I don't like Graham's style. “I am, and always will be, the first person to visit every country in the world without flying.” That's the way he opens up his webpage. There is a photo of him showing his muscles up in the air. He is the conqueror.
He has done some serious travelling and accomplished a big feat, nothing to say about that but hats off. But I have much to say about his ego. Plus, in his post on North Korea, he says:
“Anyone who has a problem with this can meet me behind the bikesheds after school for a damn good kicking. Be the first person to visit every capital city without flying why dontcha? At the moment I’m a year over schedule and stupidly over budget: I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
I understand why he comes off as defensive... because so many people criticize him for putting a foot in North Korea at the DMZ and checking it off his list... I understand his reasons very well. Still, there is a way to say things. (And it is interesting that I get to say this because I am bold and blunt and hear that said to me quite often. So if I'm saying this, it must be real bad!)
Anyway, I cannot bear reading Graham; but even though I don't follow on social media I follow and read Thor. (I'm not a social media animal, if I'm interested in something I go and check it from the source. And if I'm interested, I don't leave it with just a follow, I read and learn.) He is a much nicer human being in my eyes and I have to confess I feel so many similarities with his complaints about his project not taking off etc. I've been and am in his situation, that is trying to get recognition and sponsors. It's interesting that he has the same issues even though his news has been published in a hundred countries and he has support from big groups and has many friends. Which is unlike me and my project.
But when it comes to being disappointed in “no support, no interest” in such projects, even Erden Eruç -who did the first solo circumnavigation by human power (or if you want to put it in more grandiose terms you may say he is “the first person in history to complete an entirely solo and entirely human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth.”) He did this in a bit over five years and you have to accept that needs some special special extremely special stamina, strength, courage, endurance etc. etc. He has 15 registered Guinness World Records.- even he doesn't get enough attention or support. But of course he doesn't have boobs or a face that the media and advertisement world can exploit. Tough luck. That's the way it is. People who deserve attention and being listened to are ignored while so many people who spew out crap are held in the spotlight (By the way, interestingly and coincidentally, we have graduated from the same university and same department, Boğaziçi Mechanical Engineering. He is a Turkish-American.)
Going back to Cassie and her claim of being the first woman... Even in the Conde Nast podcast, they are saying Cassie is the first American woman. “It was actually on the heels of the American woman who became the first I think American woman to do, she claimed to be the first woman, which was not true at all.” (Let alone not mentioning the “first woman on record” debate and asserting she said something not true at all, I felt it unfair to Cassie that her name was not mentioned but only referred to anonymously. It would have been much nicer of Jessica if she just said “It was on the heels of Cassie De Pecol who became the first documented woman to travel to every country.” Then I'd have had more respect for her.)
Ms. Lintz who has criticized Cassie severely, felt the need to correct Jessica that there are other American women. In fact, most of the other women are American ;) And to be honest, I would have expected Jessica to know that at this point.
I didn't know about all the other women until I read Stefan Krasowski's post even though I had researched extensively. That was back in December 2015 when I started considering going to every country seriously. I had read about Walsworth on the Columbia Tribune piece “Audrey Walsworth, led by curiosity, only woman to visit every country” by Karyn Spory (June 16, 2013) It's quite ironical that that article puts Mrs. Walsworth as the only woman! And that was 2013. It's even more ironical that Walsworth in turn claims it's hard any other woman will be doing it. “With the world situation, there isn’t going to be another woman who’s going to be able to do this.” Those are her exact words if we are to take the reporting to be correct. It's an unending ego game, trying to one-up yourself out of the crowd. To get attention. That's what you need to do. To try to always stay ahead of the game. Cassie, who has been criticized for going to places without really seeing anything, in turn says of other women trying to break her record “with the possibility of seeing less and less each time.” It's funny. It's darkly funny.)
Then I found out about the other women almost there. “Ah, so there are many other women! Good,” I thought to myself. I was wondering where all the women were. I don't care about being the first or fastest etc. The only reason I care about such labels to be somebody is to get sponsors to promote my ideas, that's it. Otherwise, I'm just fine being a happy and content nobody.
Shall I advertise myself as the first Muslim Turkish woman? Sal Lavallo is a Muslim I suppose, there may also be some Turkish men who claim to have been to every country even though I know they count stop-overs and transits without even getting off the airplane. Anyway, definitely no woman out there who is Muslim (at least on paper) or Turkish.
Well... I claim to be the first to go out with a meaningful purpose. To abolish visas and for freedom of movement. What is travel about? What are borders? What are countries? How are borders drawn but by bloody war or bloody politics? Why do we honor them? Why do those “travellers” who go to every country profit from it? Use and abuse it to their advantage? Is that what travelling is about? Is that what we should get out of travel? What is travelling for if not an understanding of the world and humans living on this planet of ours?
* The Pissing Match in Travel
In her article “Is The Media Spreading Fake News?” on Huffington Post, Janice S. Lintz chastises Cassie De Pecol for having said “I'm the first woman to travel to every country in the world.” Cassie then changed it to “First woman on record...” or “First documented woman...” Which is true if you ask me but obviously this does not satify Ms Lintz.
She writes, “Dorothy Pines appears to have been the first woman to have visited 192 countries,” giving a link to Pine's obituary. (By the way, it's Pine and not Pines.) Ms. Lintz criticizes the media and finds it "shocking" that they did not do any research. But research is more than giving links to obituaries as proof of someone having been to every country; research is finding a reliable source to back up the claims written there. In fact Ms. Lintz says, correctly, that Mrs. Pine "appears to have been." So that's the gist, that's where the source of the argument lies. Ms. Lintz again all correctly writes “Audrey Walsworth claims to have visited...” “Marian Speno claims to have visited...” “Nina Sedano, says she also completed the 196 countries by 2011, was ‘verified’ by TBT.” Emphasis are mine. And please note the word “verified” in quotation marks.
Honor system is fine. But it always carries a question mark. I believe everything people say unless there is good evidence or proof against the contrary or any reason for me to doubt it. So I take it all those women Ms. Lintz lists to have been to every country. On the other hand, I have to give it to Cassie that her claim of being the first woman on record is correct; it's a totally valid claim.
Ms. Lintz says “Cassie claims she is the only documented (or “on record”) woman, yet Guinness did not document her for first but for fastest.” Of course! Guinness does not record “firsts” as their criteria is for a record to be able to be broken. And you obviously cannot break a “first”! Still... As there is no other woman who can come up with a verification, Cassie's claim is still valid.
Ms. Lintz says “Audrey and Nina both contacted Cassie on this matter and have not received response.” But if they wanted to have the privilege of being the “first woman on record” Cassie was not the one they should have contacted. I don't know about Mrs. Walsworth but Miss Sedano could and should have contacted TBT to “verify” her claim publicly. If and then, that would make her the first woman on record. But until then, unless there is any other verified record, Cassie's claim to be the first on record still holds as I suppose everybody accepts Guinness's verification. Their “rules” and criteria are open too. You can argue about Cassie not having travelled everywhere because she did airport-rounds but you cannot argue about her being "the first documented."
Ms. Lintz again correctly states “Women traveling decades ago did not have the luxury of geo-tagged selfies of their travels but that doesn’t mean they didn’t travel to those countries and can’t use traditional documentation methods including but not limited to passport stamps, photographs, airline tickets and affidavits from people who traveled with them.” The only thing is... She seems to overlook the fact that none of these other women went through the length to document their travels, not even in traditional ways. If they had done so, I suppose we would have known and Ms. Lintz would have let us know with an “in-your-face” document instead of just arguing about how Cassie is a fake and a liar feeding off of false claims.
As Ms. Lintz again very correctly states “There may be other women who have traveled everywhere but haven’t advertised or made it widely known.” Sure, there may be other women who travelled to every country that we don't know of. Those people, apart from not having the opportunity to get GPS photos, were perhaps not interested in proof to the world for their ego-boost. That's probably why they did not bother to get it. They did not live in our times, they did not care about being the first. They were not bitten by the ego-bug we seem to be suffering from these days, trying to prove ourselves with number of followers and media attention we get. The people of decades ago did things just for themselves, for the sake of it, for knowledge-and-soul enrichment, not for the image-and-wallet enrichment. I have much more respect for those people.
Ms. Lintz says “Unlike Cassie, the women who preceded her didn’t race around the world viewing travel as ‘Pokémon Go.’”
But interestingly, she is fine with Jessica aiming to do the ‘Pokémon Go’ to 90+ countries in 13 months. Now... that is so very unjust.
I criticize Cassie too on many things, especially the flashy media campaign, but Ms. Lintz seems to criticize Cassie just for the sake of criticizing. She says “The countries Cassie counted as part of her Expedition 196 also appear to have changed midstream. She expanded the 193 UN Member State list to 196 by adding 3 territories/countries.”
So what?... So what really? It's a game we're playing and I believe anybody has a right to update their criteria as they wish, both 193 and 196 being valid numbers that travellers use. Mine is 195 and I'm sticking to it even though I could boost that number easily if I wanted to.
All the other things she does is unrelated to the feat she accomplished, give Cassie a break please... For all the above mentioned reasons, we have to accept Cassie's claim to be valid and she is definitely the first woman "on record".
*The Fight Over the First
“Let me break that down clearly,” says Jessica. “For anyone who is not black nor female to make the assertion that those are “POSSIBLY” not the biggest challenges during this journey surely is not black nor female.” Then she goes on a rant of how she's been discriminated against and questioned even when entering the US all the while holding a US passport, and how she was denied VOA even though Ugandans had the right.
Jessica is an American-Ugandan aiming to be the first black woman to every country. Let me first start by stating that I'm glad there is a black person doing this too. That is, travelling to every country. And I'm sure blacks are discriminated against just simply because their skin color is out there before our eyes. As a woman, I'm quite aware of the hardships and risks of travel. However, contrary to Jessica's claims that being black and being a woman are the hardest parts of travel and anybody who argues otherwise is neither black nor a woman and doesn't know a thing, I believe the passport you hold and the amount of money in your pocket ARE the main obstacles to people who wish to travel. Actually, I do not simply believe this, I assert it. I mean how can you object? Have a look the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index- Global Travel Freedom at a Glance or have a look at the info-graphic “How powerful is your passport?” by Ricky Linn. How do you expect an Afghani to play the game of “travel to every country”?? How do you? I mean how can you expect any Afghani to overcome all the hurdles to obtain a visa for the 160-170 countries that are required of him? As most people featured in “Chasing 193” books, visas are one of the, if not the, main problems to travel. Or the most pain in the ass part of travel. Mind you, the people who are saying this have obtained only about 20-30 visas. The rest was visa free or VOA (Visa on Arrival).
And don't let me get started on the “being rich versus poor” issue. You know what is the most important thing embassies ask to grant visas to people from countries they deem not deserving setting foot on their territory? Airplane and hotel bookings are not important. Anybody can do that, can either buy or fake it. Embassies ask for your bank account! They want you to prove your financial means to make sure that you can support yourself and not be a burden on them. You may think it is logical; after all, they have a right not to want a burden, BUT then you have to accept that in the end, it all comes down to having MONEY. No, you do not need to be necessarily or especially rich in order to travel, I know that very well. But “rich” is a relative term, rich according to whose standards? The answer is obviously “Western” standards. As for people from other countries, they necessarily need to be especially rich in order to travel; not only because of the costs of travel, but to have the potential to secure the visas needed by them to travel.
If the reporting in the Forbes interview is correct, Jessica will be using her Ugandan passport rather than her American. (“In order to promote the idea of African tourists, she will frequently use her Ugandan passport rather than her American.”) Well, given the time and money constraints she has, I seriously doubt such a thing. So I dare her to post and tell us where she used the Ugandan one when she could get in easily with the American. Want to try Equatorial Guinea on the Ugandan passport Jessica?
I've used my Turkish passport to travel to more than a 110 countries. And I felt the birthplace racism on my skin. That's why I decided to go to every country in the world so that I can burn my passports to protest this injustice at birth. To end global apartheid. Would you join me and burn your passports?
Lexie is on a journey to become the youngest person in history to travel to every sovereign nation. She'll be traveling to all 196 countries before her 21st birthday in 2019. Have a look at her Instagram.
Jessica is aiming to be the first black woman to every country on her 35th birthday in 2019. Have a look at her Instagram.
See any similarity?
When I saw the above photo on Conde Nast Traveler, I started talking in my mind: “Sorry but is the pool photo in a bikini really necessary? Or is it mandatory? As it sure seems to be so, given it is a part of every woman's profile who comes out with the news of going to every country.”
The photos of Lexie, Jessica, Cassie and many other women travellers all seem to have come out of fashion magazines. This is not travelling the world, it is going to countries to have photo-shoots to promote hotels, airlines, the travel industry. When I travel, I travel in rags. So as not to get attention. I cannot travel with my best clothes. Not even when going on a cruise. Accepted, I don't dress up much even in my daily life but this advertisement of travel really strikes me. Can't we really get anything done, get any attention without showing our boobs? Or legs? It really insults me as a woman. Is it only me, am I the only woman who feels indignant about such photos? Am I the only traveller?
“What's wrong with me?” I ask myself... as no other woman says anything about it. I wonder how many women there are in this group, what's the percentage or ratio? I question myself if I am too old-fashioned or too close-minded. But to be honest, I do not think so at all. True, I have been raised in a Muslim country and with very conservative values, but I went to an American school at 11, I grew up in İstanbul, studied as the only girl in Mechanical Engineering, I have travelled the world and consider myself a liberal. Still... That doesn't mean some values are not to be upheld. I feel women who become such pawns debase women in general. Sorry if this is a bit harsh criticism but I wanted to share it if only to know what other women/women travellers think. So that perhaps somebody answers me and I can see a point of view I am missing.
Lost-Lexie, Lost Women, and the Lost Media
No, no woman "deserves" to be raped no matter what she was wearing or not wearing, but comments, hell yeah, anybody has a right to make. If a woman is showing off her body parts in almost every single photo while claiming to be aiming for the youngest to be to every country and a man makes a demeaning joke, “You get the comments you provoke” is a very fitting term.
I, as a woman, feel such exposure to depreciate women. If that's the image you give of yourself, how can you blame the men seeing you as a sexual object? I am trying to be impartial, so as not to be labeled jealous; full disclosure, I do not have such a body, but I am not 19 either. I ask myself, would I have ever done that if I was? Sure, you may want to have nice photos of yourself taken in the places you go, it's one thing if you keep it as a memo for yourself, it's another if you share it "with the world" through social media. On the other hand, I understand her as well. That's what sells, that's what gets attention in our world. So she is only using what she has. But it is also about what you are willing to sacrifice, how far you are willing to go for being a celebrity, getting sponsorship/money.
I still have boobs and legs to show. I’d never share a photo with my nipples sticking out. I could use my husband or my daughter, try to impress people with nice happy family photos. I choose not to do it. I prefer to keep myself, my family in the background and let my ideas speak out. I have a brain that produces thoughts and I’d like to share that. Of course, it doesn’t get much attention. It’s something everybody has to weigh for themselves. It's a fine balance: What do you need to swallow to get on the media and to reach out to people?
Is it only me, am I the only woman who is indignant about such photos? Am I the only traveller? I feel women debased. I am angry at the women who become such pawns.
“How cute is this workout outfit from @stronger?!? I LOVE the material.l, it’s very comfy. What’s your favorite brand of workout clothes?” writes Jessica on her Instagram post.
Is this what travel is about?
Epictetus has said:
Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please, for God’s sake, don’t sell it cheap.” Discourses I, 2.33
Well... I'm not selling mine. At any price...
The Lost World...
I don't wish to seem to be only criticizing, I had come across a Polish girl hitchhiking in Africa and she had very nice photos on Instagram. So I wanted to find it to reference her here. I couldn't find her. What I did find was more miserable examples of what our world is... More sexy naked women with hundreds of thousands of followers. No, I'm not linking them, if you wish, you can easily check for yourself.
More important than the women who post these photos is the hundred thousands or millions who follow them. That's the trouble with our society. And the media is just feeding this. I despair. I despair at the state of the world.
One last word about Lexie... Her website opening is: “How can you change the world if you have never been there?”
First of all, we have all been to the world, we are all here, people don’t have to be everywhere in the world to make a change, they can change the place they live in a small way and it could have a big impact. And the important question to ask Lexie would be, how she plans to change the world by being there like this?
As if in a pissing match, travellers criticize other travellers who travel for a short period of time, call them airport collectors and they like boasting about themselves and their way of travel saying “I like to embrace the culture.” “Did they experience the culture though?” “Yes but did you dig into the culture?” “I immerse myself in the culture with the locals.” Every time I read such a sentence, I cringe. What is this “culture” people are talking about? What is this obviously prestigious thing called “culture”?
I am Turkish. When I think about my culture I think of all the proverbs I grew up with. I’ll be making a list and writing an article about it but it takes a lot of time as they are mostly impossible to translate and need a lot of explanation. But even with the best explanation or even if you had a deep knowledge of Turkish, those things cannot make the same impression on you as someone who grew up hearing them repeated in case after case. It’s just impossible.
Just three examples here:
1) We say “İğneyi kendine, çuvaldızı başkasına batır.” It translates as “Stick the small needle in yourself before sticking the bigger needle into the other.” It means criticize yourself first even if in a small way before criticizing the other in a big way.
2) We say “Mala gelsin, cana gelmesin.” It translates as “May harm come to property, not life.” It is used in situations when a big property loss has occurred in an accident or a natural disaster. It's used a as a consolation. Material things can be replaced but life cannot.
3) “Hayırlısı ise olsun.” It translates as “May it be only if it is for the good.” It is used in situations when we want something so much but it doesn't turn out the way we want however much we try. It's to say that it might not be the best not only for us but as a whole. I remember our religion teacher (Ah, see? We had religion at school. I don't know if religion is taught in other countries as part of the curriculum.) telling us “For example, a girl fails class. But it might be that the father said he'd buy her a bicycle if she passed. Naturally, we all want to pass our exams, we all want to have bikes. But it may be that if that happened, the girl would be falling off the bike and hurting herself badly. It's sort of like the Chinese who lost his horse story. But you express this and more, -wanting the best overall as in a utilitarian philosophy,- in three concise words.
Then of course we counter-argue this with a saying “Ahmak avuntusu” meaning it's the consolation for the dumb.
Oh yes, we have contradicting sayings as well. To be used in appropriate situations. “İti an, çomağı hazırla,” means “Talk of the bad dog and prepare your stick.” It's like “Talk of the devil,” and is used when a person we don't like appears. But if a person we like turns up right after we have talked about him, then we say “İyi insan sözünün üstüne gelir,” which translates as “The good person turns up when he's talked about.”
Another thing that pops into my mind when I ask myself “What’s my culture?” is strangely the song “Biz Heybeli’de her gece…” If you haven’t sat at a meze full table with friends singing that song, don’t tell me you have “experienced” Turkish culture ;)
Then again, ask me when is the last time I sang that myself, it's been decades! Still... That doesn't change anything. That song is a part of my culture.
if you never listened to the gramophone version of Münir Nurettin Selçuk.
Or if you don’t know Yıldızların Altında or Nesrin Sipahi.
If you haven’t listened to TRT Chorus and Yar Saçların Lüle Lüle.
If you haven’t listened to Zeki Müren songs? If you do not know Sezen Aksu, Barış Manço and their songs… Ajda Pekkan, Nilüfer... Cem Karaca... Tanju Okan... If you cannot accompany at least the refrains of most of these people’s songs, how can you say you have the slightest idea of my culture? They are the giants in our lives.
If you do not know the kings of Arabesque music: Müslüm Gürses, Ferdi Tayfur, Orhan Gencebay, Bülent Ersoy... If you do not know Ahmet Kaya... The Kurdish protest singer who didn't know Kurdish.
Or if you've never watched a Kemal Sunal movie, Metin Akpınar-Zeki Alasya movie, Şener Şen? If you do not know Adile Naşit, Hulusi Kentmen, Münir Özkul... Or Ayşen Gruda... If you do not know Yeşilçam, the Hollywood of Turkey...
Tarık Akan, Cüneyt Arkın, Ediz Hun, Kartal Tibet... Filiz Akın, Hülya Koçyiğit... Fatma Girik... Or more importantly, Türkan Şoray. I grew up with Türkan Şoray movies, if you don't know her rules of no-kissing. How it affected me because I thought I'd get married and just kiss, I had no idea of sex. Even when I did, it was just so taboo. I still believed in a “friendly” house-sharing life with my husband.
There was the song and the movie “Son Mektup”, “The Last letter”... How that last letter was to break apart the lovers. Lovers not being able to get together due to circumstances or misunderstandings was the theme of my life. You writing to wish the love of your life happiness, the one who belongs to another now.
But then there was hope. “Elbet bir gün buluşacağız. Bu böyle yarııım kalmayacak.” “Surely, we will meet again one day. This will not be left like this.”
“İkimizin de saçları ak, öyle duruup bakışacağız. Belki bir deniz kenarında, el ele maziyi konuşacağız.” “Both of our hairs white, we will hold hands and talk about the past.”
If listening to that song doesn't make you cry your heart out like mine -thinking of the future with your husband, both old and looking back- you understand nothing of my culture.
Or someone just passing fleetingly in front of the window of your heart...
“Gönül penceresinden ansızın bakıp geçtin..."
“Aşkım bahardı, ümitler vardı, sen gittin diye gönlüm karardı.” “My love was spring, there was hope. Because you went away, my heart got dark.”
Türkan Şoray singing it in a movie or by Yıldırım Gürses, the owner of the song.
Let alone know the movie, if you cannot sing and dance listening to “Mavi Boncuk” by Emel Sayın. Or “Feride”
If you do not know of the defiance of love: “Geçse de gençlik çağım, boş kalsa da kucağım, sözümü tutacağım, adını anmayacağım..."
“Even if my youth passes by, even if I am all alone, I'll keep my word, I'll never utter your name...”
These are the epitomes of my forming years.
If you do not know the rich boy-poor girl themes, or vice versa. These have a deep impact on your life. Without your being conscious. “Davul bile dengi dengine...” we say. “Even the drum beats with the same size.” It's similar to birds of the same feather flocking together.
Or if you haven’t read Yaşar Kemal?
I wonder how many of you who have been to Turkey can recount one Nasreddin Hodja story let alone know them all. It's such a big part of our culture. We make references to them so very often daily.
One definition of culture is “the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.”
So my examples are to the point.
Cambridge defines culture as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.”
See? That’s important too. “A particular time…” My culture is not the same as those growing up in Turkey now. The “new generation” has no idea of most of the things that make me me. Or okay let’s not make it specifically about myself, what made my generation “us”.
What’s more, Turkey is not homogeneous at all. In fact, I think Turkey is one of the rare countries with so many different regions from the Black Sea to the East to the SouthEast area that it is really impossible to get to know all those different cultures within Turkey by just travelling through it.
That takes us to the discussion about “visiting” time. Let’s make it even “living” instead of visiting. I’ve been living in Italy, married to an Italian for about nine years now. What is my knowledge of Italian culture? Sure, I have an idea of the perks of the Italian language. Sure, I have an idea of how Italians live, where they go, what they talk about etc. I have visited almost all around Italy and have friends from Napoli and Sicilia etc. Sure, I know Toto... but I'll never know all the famous scenes that my husband can recount word by word and find it on youtube to show me. I'll never be able to sing anything of “Nessuno mi può giudicare nemmeno tuuu” past from the refrain.
I have been to the Vatican, I have dined in their cafeteria, and even if I did not crash on the couch of the pope, I’ve been to his private studio, I’ve spent hours sitting and chatting with one of the high priests in his house. So I've definitely “mingled” with at least one local in the Vatican.
Does any of these grant me the right to say I immersed myself in Italian culture? I don’t believe so. I will never be able to sing along the arias like my husband does on the weekends. I will never be able to learn all the art history and philosophy that my husband has (knowledge of) intrinsically. I will never have a total grasp of their Christian fables.
Even though I now have an Italian citizenship and passport, even though I sometimes say “Italian” when they ask me where I am from when travelling, even though I say “So we lost/won!” when Italy plays, I will never be an Italian myself. I will
never get to know “Italian culture” fully.
On the other hand, A Turkish who has learnt Italian at an early age, who has studied Italian art, who has read many Italian books, who has so many Italian friends and spends most of his life about things Italian can be way more knowledgeable in Italian culture than me living here for so long. So I just wish this could be the end of any discussion on getting to know a culture and superiority.
Culture is not something to be embraced/immersed in/experienced or something easy to dig into, it is something deep and profound, it is an identity that takes a lifetime to form, so naturally it takes a lot of study and effort to understand. Besides, even though generalizations can be made, it is also very specific to the individual. Travel sure is a good way to witness other ways of life, get exposed to other ways of thought/beliefs, but if you consider yourself to know the "culture of a people" by travelling for a certain period of time, or even by living for a time, then I'd say you are just fooling yourself. You, at most, only get a glimpse of it. Which is not a small feat in itself. And it should suffice if you have the humility to acknowledge the vast amount of human experience out there.
PS: Ah, what came to my mind? Does one really need to go to America, travel or live there to know about its gun culture? It’s enough to read the news and follow up a bit on the social media. I wish nobody learns that culture by being a witness to it.
Or the movies? They're invading our lives, more dominant than our original culture.
Or about the hamburger culture? McDonalds and KFC are everywhere, everywhere around the world. Just like Chinese shops.
Do you need to go to China to know their rice culture, do you need to come to Italy to know their pasta and pizza culture? Sure, you may taste them in its place. But now, there are so many good Italian chefs around the world, who beat most others in Italy itself.
What I wish to say is... Travel, read, listen, learn, think, analyze, improve yourself. I see all as an investment in myself. But then don't boast of the amount of time travelled; it's of no value by itself. Share what you have distilled out of your travels and adventures. That's what counts.
Seneca has written it thousands of years ago:
... there is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles, he has not lived long – he has existed long. For what if you should think that man had had a long voyage who had been caught by a fierce storm as soon as he left harbour, and, swept hither and thither by a succession of winds that raged from different quarters, had been driven in a circle around the same course? Not much voyaging did he have, but much tossing about.”
And in Turkish we say "Akıl yaşta değil, baştadır." Wisdom is not in the age, but in the mind.
Wisdom is not in travelling extensively either. Travelling is not the ultimate criteria to show anyone's worth. There may be travellers who have been to so many countries without acquiring much knowledge of the world; there may be people who, sitting at home, have accumulated more knowledge and understanding of life, the world, and the people living on it.
There is a World-Travel game that more people are starting to play these days. Everybody to his own game... However, I'd like to make an important point about travelling the world.
I am amazed to see so many people there are travelling and saying how enriching it has been for them, how they have changed, how lost_lexie is “FEELING EMPOWERED” in capital letters. Which is all good and fine of course. And Lexie is very young, so it would be too much to expect more from her but I wish I could see more concern about the state of the world from the more “senior” or seasoned travellers. Teoman has a song where it says “I saw the world through the window of a train, I felt sorry for its state.” Well… I saw the world through more than the window of a train and I feel sorry for its state. What I see is that the rules of the world game, no, not the World-Travel game but the World-Politics game is so totally crooked. That it’s so outrageous that billions live through totally unacceptable situations. I’m sure even the people who live in what others call “shitholes” to what would happen if scrapped immigration) make something out of their own lives. Yet, I also believe that we have a responsibility to make this world a better place. And that, for me, can only be achieved by changing the rules of this World-Politics Game.
The rules of the World-Travel game are not important, everybody can write their own rule and play their own game. But the rules of World-Politics and World-Economics game definitely need to be rewritten.
“The necessary and decisive battle against terrorism does not in any way justify putting groups of certain people under general suspicion, in this case people of Muslim belief or of a certain origin." Angela Merkel
Now we need a leader who can say:
“The necessary and decisive battle against terrorism does not in any way justify putting groups of certain people under general suspicion and requiring visas from people of certain origins when they want to move around the world they were born on.”
There's a popular game these days. It's called going to every country. And it seems to be getting popular every day if you have a look at the increase in number of the members of Every Passport Stamp group on Facebook or the news about someone being the first, youngest, fastest etc. to be to every country.
I'm playing that game too. However, my reasons for starting the game is quite different than all the others. Most of these people are doing it out of a sense of curiosity, to get to know and learn about the world or for pleasure; others are doing it for a sense of boosting their ego, or just out of competition. Most fund themselves, have no interest in self-promotion; others, wanting sponsors, attach a meaning, a cause, a concept to it. (eg. Graham Hughes for Water Aid, or Cassie de Pecol who wants to save the planet, promote peace through tourism. Thor for the Red Cross etc.) Yet others, turn it into a travel business, they call themselves travel influencers. (eg. Jessica Nabongo.) Some like Cassie fall into both of these categories.
As for me, I did it the other way around. I had the cause: I wanted everybody to be able to move freely on the world they were born. We are all born on this world; and we all have an inalienable natural right to go wherever we wish without the need for papers. I hold this truth to be self-evident. Unfortunately, most people do not. Because that's not what we were brought up with. As in Colin Blakemore and G.F. Cooper kitten experiment they are blind to vertical lines whereas they see imaginary lines perfectly well! Questioning the status-quo is not easy; it's not something we do regularly and out of the blue. I did because I did two round-the-world tours on a Turkish passport and especially in the second one (2008-2009) I was faced with ridiculous visa requirements one after the other. And even I came to that conclusion only after travelling to more than a 110 countries. But once you start seeing the world through that lens of birthplace racism, there is no going back. The injustice of it is just so crystal clear before your eyes. So I decided to embark on this mission to every country in order to burn all my passports in the end. As a protest against this birthplace racism.
Why do I do this? Because I know what it is to be discriminated against. Because I suffered a lot because of that birthplace racism. I felt like a rat being made to go round in a maze when they ordered me around for such and such papers in order to issue visas so that I could go someplace. So I can understand any migrant wanting to go someplace. Mind you, I did not suffer anywhere near where most migrants are suffering these days. I had the finances and the qualifications that embassies look for to grant you the right of access to “their” territory. These grants are called visas and you pay dearly for them. And what are the visa requirements based on? The place you are born. The enclosed area that is defined by borders drawn by bloody war or bloody politics. Hence, it is birthplace racism. What's the difference between visas and segregating people according to their skin color? I wish to put an end to this global apartheid.
“The entire immigration apparatus is based on the presumption that we know where people belong and we need to legislate their mobility.“ Aviva Chomsky
I want a sponsor too. But I have no glossy photos which seems to be a must to attract sponsors. In fact, I generally do not take photos. I do not carry a camera and go around flashing it like a tourist. At most, I sneak some photos with my cell phone.
Most of all, what I preach does not align with the interests of the travel industry. As for the media... I've tried contacting them, reaching out through emails and social media, either I was quite unlucky that I couldn't reach anyone, or they are not really interested. So no, I don't have, let alone a million, even a thousand followers either. I'm still looking for a sponsor. I'm looking for someone, some company to support me not because I can provide them with anything in return, but only because I have a just and important cause.
Graham Hughes has been to every country without flight. Thor has not liked or approved of the rules of the game Graham played so he came up with a different definition, putting restrictions of not flying at all until the end of the trip, and a 24 hour rule in each country. Well, Guinness is no authority on travel, but if they recognized Graham to have been to every country without flight, it's good enough for me. As far as I'm concerned Graham is the first person to be to every country by land. Still, I have no problem with Thor's claim to be the first to every country without flying. It's something petty, totally unimportant. What difference does it make to me if the name to be the first to every country by land is Graham or Thor?
Sure, Thor's task is more gargantuan and taxing, it takes more stamina. Thor criticizes Graham for staying so little in some countries. But then again, I call that “the magic 24 hours.” What's the merit of 24 hours? I find the claim -that putting a 24 hours criteria in a country makes one superior to others- to be ridiculous. You may get something profound in a place even in 2 hours or even half an hour for that matter, which some people might not get staying for months in the same place. Or even passing through 7 countries a day... There's nothing wrong with it; if you personally got something out of it. Of course better if you can share a piece of wisdom, some insight after it. It's the experience that counts, what you lived, what you felt, what you learnt.
Then there are others who criticize people flying to places, staying a day and moving on. As I made it clear, I don't have anything against travelling for 24 hours to a country. I have done that in some places after I started this #Mission2EveryCountry. I'm not travelling everywhere because I wish to, it's a mission to be completed so as to burn passports in the end. Anyway... Everybody to his/her own game.
Thor was asking himself if he was a fraud. But concluded he wasn't because 5000 people have climbed Everest whereas there are about 300 people who have been to every country. And he was saying he is to be the first "in history." !!
I don't want to burst their bubble, if thinking that way makes them happy, gives them a sense of meaning to their life, it's no business of mine to contradict. But I don't understand this need of such big words. Someone else was saying he felt privileged to belong to a club of a hundred people in the history of humankind! What's our history, how long have we been around? It's just so short. Besides, a century ago there weren't countries like we know today. So who was to go to every country? Even if there were countries, people simply didn't have the opportunities we have today. It's just recently that we have these commercial flights, even the buses and cars to make it all possible. So now more people will be joining the "club", with the numbers multiplying exponentially.
I was the first person in Turkey to do a round-the-world tour backpacking. The year was 2001. Now there are handfuls and the number is growing rapidly. Being first is nice but it just means you were born early enough and had the opportunity, that's it.
Now I have raised the bar, they'll have to do one round the world by land one by sea one with family in order to -take your pick- “reach” me, “compare” “compete” with me.
While I'm proud of my three round-the-world tours, there are old grannies who have circumnavigated the world 18-20 times. On cruises!
So what should be the real measure?
Now Thor becomes the first to go to every country without flying and staying minimum 24 hours, soon somebody else will come and will do it in a shorter time, somebody else will be younger, etc etc. Someday somebody might even come up saying he's going to every country and will be sleeping with a woman from every country. Then they'll be arguing if the woman has to be born in the country to "count" or if it's fine if she has citizenship or holds a residence. (Actually, after writing this, I found out that there is such a person going for this feat.: Though he doesn't make it public. He confessed that the nationality criteria to “count” in fact did come up in his conversations. He is not so strict as putting a rule to sleep with the woman “in country.” That is, if he sleeps with a Greek woman in Tanzania, it “counts”. Counts as Greece. So he can complete all the countries and all the women separately. But does a woman who has Greek parents, who was born in Greece, who knows Greek, but who has lived almost all her life in the US count? Well, he counts it, but he feels guilty ;)
It's a game. Some people have more money, they play the game of going to every “territory" spending tens of thousands of dollars in order to get to some rocks in the middle of nowhere.
It's a game we're playing. And even though I started it as only a gimmick with the idea of making a statement about the insanity of statehood and its defining our circle of movement in the world, I have to confess it really has its charm and once you start you wish to go on to complete it. Just for the sake of it. I understand all that. And mind you, it's not going to be easy to burn my passports. They're very precious, being a testament to my life. If visas and stamps were not the symbols of birthplace racism they are today I'd have loved the collection.
We're playing a game. Sure, it's fun. But one should never lose sight of the fact that it's a game after all. Yet, for the hundreds of thousands of people who are faced with barriers to go from one place to another, for those who are faced with deportation, who are put in detention centers, who die in unimaginable horrible circumstances... it's not a game. For them, travel and crossing borders is a matter of life or death.
Let's choose life instead of death.
Let's choose life, even if that life is not ours.
Let's choose life and freedom of movement for those others who do not have the privilege.
Support my cause.
* Changing the Rules of the World-Politics Game