Real Alanya?

Alanya in the summer is a noisy place. From the villa’s balcony, tourboat captains’ voices feel amplified – their screams in Russian, German, English, Turkish, and a mix of Scandinavian languages can at times make it difficult to work, or even just admire the view. My initial reaction to hearing “My Heart Will Go On” for the fifth time in a day, as much as I loved the song as a child, is annoyance. Who are the people on those boats? How can the 9am booze cruise industry in Alanya persist?

This is not real Turkey, I think to myself.

I’ve run through this thought process before. Last summer, on my first return visit to Alanya, my friend and I wore tiny dresses and bathing suit tops around town because “this is not real Turkey.”

Who’s to decide what is real or unreal, authentic or fake in this town?

Beneath the layers of neon beach towels and all-inclusive mega resorts lies a city with a very traditional, small-town history. As I walk every day from my apartment to the villa, I pass by covered women hanging their laundry on the balcony and men drinking tea while perched on tiny stools. These people and their families have probably lived in these cliffside homes for generations – the “real” Alanya. But this “real” Alanya also interacts daily with “unreal” Alanya. A herd of 14 American students loudly speaking English walk down the road as small children play in the street. Nearly-naked tourists sunbathe as a Turkish family looks for a place to sit, the mother shaking her head and saying “Kalabalık, crowded.” As recent as 1980, only about 20,000 people lived in Alanya. Today, over 134,000 people call Alanya home. Much of the influx comes from the economic pull of tourism, though tourism is not Alanya’s only industry. Not everyone here is a hotel mogul – average people have normal jobs: teachers, construction workers, doctors.

When I was a student at the McGhee Center, most of the host families owned hotels or worked in hospitality. This year, the program director made a conscious choice not to invite families from the tourism industry, and instead to pair students with “normal” families. I’m curious and excited to meet these people, to see what Turks running the program see as normal. In one family, the teenage daughters requested to be paired with a male Georgetown student – a request the father decisively denied. The mother in another family is kapalı, covered. Where, though, do these people work? How do they spend their weekend, as tourists soar over the city in parasails or scream-sing pop song lyrics on boozy boat trips?

Living in Alanya again, I want to challenge myself continually to conceive of this city as more than just a resort town. I’m working to build a map of the city that plots where “normal,” “real” things take place in the city. In addition to posting that map, I’ll probably be posting a lot about this idea of “real” space in the city.

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