Visa renewal time – an unfair system?

It’s been a few months since I posted on my blog, now its 2019 and it’s March already, can you believe it?!

Now that we’re already into the 3rd month of the year, it’s time to start thinking about renewing Berkay’s visa. He arrived at the end of 2016, on the ‘spouse visa’ which enables him to live and work in the UK for just over two and a half years. It cost around £2500 at the time, and when we got it, there was that relief of knowing there were no more visas to worry about for two years! Of course, now those two years have flown by and its time to start gathering all the paperwork, and money, to renew it!

I think visas are one of those things that nobody really understands the process of, until they know someone who has gone through it. I think people assume its easy for people to come to the UK, we’ve all read those newspaper reports about ‘foreigners coming here, getting our benefits’ etc. I probably had those misconceptions before too, to be honest.

Even though me and Berkay have been together for nearly nine years, and he has been living here, working for two and a half years, applying for the extension of his visa is still stressful and full of uncertainty. It’s not just a case of filling out an application form and ticking a few boxes – it’s a lot of work.

When he initially applied for the visa two and a half years ago, Berkay had to pass an English exam. To renew it, he has to pass a higher level exam, which he will actually be sitting this week – that’s not cheap either, £150, so fingers crossed he passes or he will have to keep trying and paying out for it.

Then there’s the cost involved – the application fee is £1033 currently, but this will go up again in April as it does every year. There’s also a NHS surcharge, which has just doubled from £500 to £1000…despite the fact that Berkay earns a fair wage (he found a job within three weeks of arriving in the country..) and pays national insurance like everyone else in the country with a job, he has to pay this £1000 towards the NHS as part of the application, so essentially he’s contributing twice! If any of you reading this have heard people say before ‘foreigners come here to use our NHS for free’ please inform them of this! I can understand if he wasn’t earning and needed to contribute something so that he wasn’t just coming here for the sole purpose of abusing the National Health Service, but when he’s already paying taxes and national insurance every week this seems very unfair!

So, total so far is £2033 + £150 for the English test, assuming he only needs one attempt at passing, but the fee’s don’t end there either… If he applies via the standard service, it can take months and months to get a decision, and they keep his passport all that time, so if there was ever a family emergency in Turkey, or he wanted to travel for whatever reason, he wouldn’t be able to, which leaves the option of paying a further £630 for a priority service, with a faster decision within a few days. So, £2033 + £150 + £630 = £2813, before travel costs to the visa application centre in London, sometimes they charge extra for the appointments where you hand over the documents, also! With the fee going up again in April, we will undoubtedly be paying over £3000 for this visa extension.

Perhaps finding the money to apply is the easy part. We also have to prove our relationship is genuine, with letters of support from friends and family, evidence we live together in the form of letters and bills addressed jointly to us at our address, spread across over the two and a half years he’s been in the country, to show that we have consistently lived together. Luckily, I knew that this was a requirement so I have folders of letters filed under my bed in preparation for this! We also have to prove we have the right to live in the property, with land registry documents, mortgage statements etc, and proof that we meet the £18,600 income requirement, with evidence in the form of payslips, work contracts, a letter from my HR department, etc etc!

Once this visa is granted (fingers crossed!) we will have to go through the same thing again in another two years time, only next time Berkay will have to pass a further test, a ‘life in the UK’ multiple choice exam paper, with general knowledge questions such as ‘when was Hadrians wall built?’, ‘how many members of the Scottish Parliament are there?’ and ‘When did the first Christian communities appear in Britain?’ – questions that seem better fitted for contestants on ‘The Chase’, rather than someone wanting to settle in the UK – I don’t know many Brits that would pass this 24 question test, by getting 75% correct.

As you can see, we have a busy couple of months ahead, getting all this paperwork organised, scanned and written, so that when we are able to apply in May/June, we are ready to do so.  I’m not really complaining about the process, I understand that rules have to be in place, but everyone I explain this process to, unless they know someone who has done it themselves, seems to be shocked when I tell them what it entails. With Brexit bringing out the worst in people recently, I have seen more and more people stating that ‘UK has no control of its borders, no immigration rules, no checks on people entering the country’ – I’m writing this post in the hope that if any of my readers believed this before, or have heard people making these assumptions, please, educate them and tell them you know differently!

It is very frustrating, handing over piles of paperwork to a complete stranger, to judge us based on the evidence they have in front of them, like we are some sort of criminals, and pay them £3000 for the privilege or believing we are genuine, or not.

 

A Boncuk update..

 
It’s hard to believe that we’re already in April, a quarter of the way through the year! It’s really bad that this is only my 5th blog post of the year, but I find myself really struggling with things to write, despite having hundreds of photos and things to share, I just struggle to find the motivation or the words! Something people always ask me about, is Boncuk. I haven’t really had an update on her for a while, partly because WW3 seems to have broken out between Berkay’s family, which has left us not even sure if we’ll be visiting them when we go out there in June… but the argument between Berkay’s brothers seems to have worked in my favour as they seem to be in competition with each other to send me photos of Boncuk and outdo each other! Last Sunday, one of them sent me some photos of her, I posted a few on Facebook and the next day the other brother sent me some, for the first time since Christmas… not a coincidence I think, but no complaints from me hehe!
 
Isn’t she still just the cutest thing? She’s always had those gorgeous puppy dog eyes, how can anyone resist that little face? She’s so expressive! She can look happy and sad and knows how to use her cuteness to get what she wants, even Berkay’s dad was persuaded into giving up his last biscuit to her as she sat there staring at him with those eyes, she didn’t even have to beg. Boncuk still lives at Berkay’s family’s house/farm in the village, although we did think we might have to move her depending on what happens within the family, but I hope not as I have no idea where else she could go. One of Berkay’s brothers has recently moved back to the village from Fethiye, and has fallen in love with Boncuk as well, he said she loves cuddles and as soon as he sits down she runs over to climb onto his lap, bless her.  She always enjoys getting a little fuss and chin tickle from them, and as you can see from the photos, she likes to reward them with kisses!

I’m so glad to see she’s still a happy little woofer!

 

Visiting a Tobacco farm in Kale, Denizli

Since meeting Berkay, I’ve had opportunity to experience a lot of different things in Turkey, things a normal tourist probably wouldn’t. Whilst this can sometimes be frustrating, when I just want to sit on a lounger by the pool and relax, these opportunities have allowed me to see more of the ‘real Turkey’.

One such opportunity presented itself back in September. On the way back from the village in Beyagac, Denilzi, we went through a rural area called Kale, near Tavas. Kale is
famous for growing tobacco, and the people we went to visit have their own tobacco farm.

The people who own the farm land are related to Berkay’s step mum. The family spend a few weeks planting the crops in spring and then around 3 months later they begin the mammoth task of harvesting, drying and curing the tobacco leaves. To do this, the whole family leaves their house in the city behind, and moves onto the farm land for ease, they stay living there for around 5 months of the year.
 
On the day we visited, it was absolutely boiling, around 36oc, so getting out of the car air conditioning and sitting in the middle of a hot, dusty field was the last thing I wanted to do, but, that’s exactly what we did!

I was pleasantly surprised just how cool it was inside their little makeshift home, and it was so clever and resourceful. They had old tree branches and pieces of wood as beams, keeping the roof up. The roof had layers of cardboard boxes and plastic sheets and plastic ‘walls’. The floor was covered in different rugs, there were even seats and cushions which were sturdy enough to hold a lot of weight! It had a separate area as a ‘kitchen’ with basic supplies of staple foods and oil etc, and they had made a little ‘oven’ from bricks and coals. They grow some of their own vegetables as well as the tobacco, and there were beautiful flowers growing around the tent area too. It really was impressive and so clever. They also had a small outside cubicle curtained area further along the farm which is used as a ‘toilet’, and another as a ‘shower’ – I wasn’t brave enough to investigate these further!
  
The family consists of two parents and 6 children, but the older two sons have jobs outside the farm, so only the parents, their two teenage daughters and their two youngest children stay here for the full 5 months. I assume they all sleep on the floor together, which isn’t unusual in Turkey anyway. Their youngest daughter is 3 years old and all I could think is how boring it must be for her to be there for months on end with little or no toys, it’s certainly a different life than we’re used to, but when that’s all she’s known I guess she is used to it.

They harvest the tobacco leaves and impale them on metal sticks and then leave them to dry under the sun, of which there is plenty of! They also grow peppers and string these together and dry them too – they double up as good decorations around the ‘house’!
 
Despite being in the middle of nowhere, they were still prepared for guests. As soon as we arrived one of the daughters went to prepare Turkish coffee, and the other brought out a table cloth for the floor, along with a tray and bowls full of nuts and biscuits, followed by some homegrown melon! If there’s one thing you can say about Turkish people, it’s that they are very hospitable!

The family make a lot of money from their tobacco crop, a few hundred thousand lira each year, but it is undeniably a lot of hard work and I certainly couldn’t live like they do, but it’s so interesting to visit and see a bit more of ‘real rural Turkey’ and appreciate just how resourceful they are, a simple life with the bare necessities, but always ready with a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit for visitors!
 

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 14: Kokoreç


Kokoreç is a popular street food in Turkey – one that I’ve not yet been brave enough to try and I don’t think I ever will!

Kokoreç is made from sheep intestines. The intestines are cleaned then packed onto a large skewer and cooked horizontally over a coal fire, giving it a unique taste. The smell of it cooking is very strong and puts me off even more!

After it is cooked, it is carved off and finely chopped up into pieces then squished in between a half or quarter loaf of bread and eaten like a hot sandwich. Ayran is usually the drink which accompanies this feast!

Denizli – The City Centre, the Cable Car & the Cool Cockerel.

Around 1.5-2 hours away from Berkay’s family village Beyagac, is the busy city of Denizli.

Both Beyagac and Denizli City are in the province of Denizli, but Denizli City Centre is the capital of the whole province. The city is very much a working, industrial centre with factories and a lot of textile production. In summer it’s hot, in winter it’s cold, even down to snow, so the climate varies a lot with the seasons!

It has a lot of tourists passing through, but mainly just on their way to Pammukale and Hieropolis, a short distance away from the city centre. The city seems to get more modern every time we visit, with new buildings, shopping centres, and even a cable car being built since our last visit 2.5 year ago.

We were in Denizli  visiting Berkay’s uncle, his wife and their two children. They rent an apartment right in the centre of the city. Berkay doesn’t know his way around, so we met his cousin e-route. While waiting for him, we had some beautiful views across the area, if a little foggy due to weather and pollution! The rest of the family were out, so me, Berkay and his cousin went straight towards the ‘Denizli Telferik’ – the cable car up the side of the mountain with absolutely amazing views. I plan to write about this more in a separate post, because I loved it so much, so I’ll save the further details for then!
  
After coming back down to ground level, we drove to the family home. I really like visiting their home, they’re so welcoming and friendly and after a few days in the village sitting on the floor for every meal, it was nice to see an actual dining room table and chairs again. Berkay’s uncle is a fireman in summer, and goes off to the mountains for days at a time, to wait at look out points and search for first sight of wild fires. In winter, he is a bus driver. His wife is a stay at home mum at the moment, but used to work in local factories making slippers – part of the cities big textile industry. They have a 15 year old son, and a 6 year old daughter, Berkay’s two cousins. It’s funny to me because that’s quite an age gap  and it’s identical to the age gap between my brother and sister, who are the exact same ages. A few years ago, my family came to visit us in Calis, and Berkay’s uncle came from Denizli to spend the day with us – with Berkay’s cousin and my sister the same age, only 1 at the time, we got a cute photo of them sat in a hammock together in Guvens restaurant. 4 years later, in April 2016, they were reunited again at Guven’s restaurant and danced together at our wedding – bless them!

Berkay’s little cousin, Eylul (which means September in Turkish.. guess when her birthday is…), was trying to communicate with me in Turkish, and although I do know some, not enough to hold a conversation. She had a little toy laptop which said the alphabet and words in Turkish and English, so she tried to teach me some using that bless her!
 
We had lunch which Berkay’s aunt had prepared, and just sat relaxing in their home for a few hours. It was nice to eat around a proper dining table whilst sitting on a chair – no pins and needles from sitting cross legged on the floor , although its not without sacrifice – they don’t have a ‘normal’ toilet, only a hole in the floor style, so I tried to limit my wee breaks. I still haven’t entirely mastered the art of the Turkish toilet and have to strip naked on the bottom half of my body to avoid splashes… awkward!

A while after, we walked to their local weekly market, which was really busy, full of people buying their weekly fruit, veg and other goods. It was even bigger than Fethiye market and actually covered two levels, one underground! It had all the usual stuff, food, clothes, shoes, nuts, baggy pants! It was so noisy and a bit overwhelming – the photos I took make it look quiet, but they were taken in a more quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle of the fruit and veg section which was just chaos.  On the way back we saw a weird rainbow, a kind of upside down very faint small arc – I’d never seen one like that before! 
 

In the evening, Berkays uncle, aunt and youngest cousin, went to a friends ‘going to the army’ party – they asked if we wanted to go but I said no.. I still don’t really understand the mentality behind gatecrashing strangers parties! It’s a bit odd. Instead, Berkay’s older cousin showed us around a part of the the city centre called Çınar, just a short walk from their house.

This is a very modern part of the city, very popular with young people and families, even late at night. We were out around 9pm but it was busy and bustling! There are lot of bright lights, bars, cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, street food stalls, big name brand shops and some quirkier ones. “Googil cafe” and “Woops” just made me giggle. There are also several McDonalds, Burger King’s and even a Starbucks in the city. Whenever I read about such places coming to Fethiye or other areas, it seems to cause arguments as people assume these places are only popping up to appease tourists or expats – it’s just not true. Whilst a lot would prefer their little tea houses, the more modern, younger Turkish people appreciate a big Mac or a Frappucino as much as the rest of us, and you can find these places in most of the big cities in the country, even the least touristy ones possible.

 
Another thing that seems to be increasingly present all over the country is the multi-coloured umbrella. We all know and love photographing the famous ‘umbrella street’ in Fethiye, but I’m not sure which was actually the first in the country, there is now one in a lot of different places, some more impressive than others!

Wherever you go in Denizli, you will see the famous Denizli Rooster everywhere – statues, posters, humorous references etc. It has been the symbol for Denizli City and province for over 900 years. This special breed of chicken is unique to Denizli and is only bred in the area, it has very specific characteristics and is valued highly. I’m no chicken expert, but research has told me that they are unique in their long crowing abilty, colour and weight, and a great lot of effort goes into the conservation of the population of these special chickens.

 
After wandering around for an hour or two, and a quick trip to LC Waikiki, we went back to the families house. I do love how hospitable they are, without a second thought they gave up the children’s beds for us and made sure we had plenty of clean bedding and pillows. It does amaze me though, where exactly they keep their clothes as there’s never any wardrobes etc!  Although I’ve spent some time with Berkay’s other family members, it’s usually us who are the youngest in the room, so the one thing that I really noticed from being around Berkay’s younger cousin, is the respect he showed to me. He’s 15 years old, and has clearly been raised to respect his elders, which sounds weird as I’m only 25 myself! Around Berkay, he acts ‘normal’ as they are cousins and more like brothers, but as soon as I walked into the room he stopped slouching or laying and immediately sat up straight and ‘proper’. He also has a lot of respect for his own parents, there was one point where his mum smashed a tea glass in the kitchen and he jumped up off the sofa, asked her if she was okay and grabbed the hoover to help her clean up – he’s not a stereotypical moody teenager that’s for sure!

The morning after, we had planned to go back to Fethiye after breakfast, but as I’ve already tried to make clear, these particular family members are just so nice it’s hard to say no, so when they suggested we stay for lunch and go with them to a local picnic place, we couldn’t resist. We decided we didn’t have time for a BBQ, so instead took bags full of coke, nuts, sunflower seeds and of course blankets to sit on. The place we went to was called ‘Servergazi Piknik Alani’ and was really nice with big tall trees all over, BBQ facilities, benches and play areas for the kids. It was really pretty, and Berkay’s youngest cousin picked out a whole bucket full of daisies for me, bless her. Despite a lot of begging, we declined their offer of dinner and managed to ‘escape’ back to the car and get on the main road out of Denizli to make the 3.5 hour journey back to Fethiye.
 
 
I really like spending time in the city of Denizli and there’s so much to see that we haven’t even explored. It’s very ‘normal’, not touristy, not villagey, just ‘normal’ life, and I think it would be a nice place to live. Hopefully we’ll go back to visit and can go and see some different places, there’s always something interesting to photograph! 
 
 

Village life – Beyagac, Denizli.

Village life in Turkey is totally different to city life or tourist resort life – there’s nothing quite like it and it’s like marmite, you either love it or you hate it!

Berkay’s family live in Beyağaç, a town in Denizli province, 2 hours away from Denizli city centre. It takes around 3.5 hours by car from Fethiye, and is a fairly straightforward drive.  It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere – surrounded by fields, mountains and forest. Most of the people who live in the village own their own fields and grow their own crops, tobacco plants, or keep farm animals. The views from the family home across the hillside are stunning.
  
Berkay’s family live in a small bungalow house up on a hill, a few minutes drive from the town centre. Their house has a lounge, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, wet room/toilet and outdoor toilet. Three people live in the house at the moment, Berkay’s Dad, Stepmum and half brother.
I’m going to be honest, I really struggle to cope when visiting, the lifestyle just isn’t for me. They just do things so differently. One example I can’t get my head around, is the sleeping situation. They do have one bed, but they mostly sleep on cushions on the floor, in one room together, and there’s no real night-time routine, they just go to bed in the clothes they’ve been in all day, wake up in the morning, put the cushion away and carry on the next day in the same clothes, just like taking a giant nap. I also have no idea where they keep their clothes as nobody seems to own wardrobes, or have any real personal space. The village is very traditional too, with the men going out to work, and spending the evenings playing okey or tavla while the women stay at home, cook and look after the children – I guess like the UK 60 years ago. Women and men seem to be separated a alot, too, with definite ‘no go’ areas for women, which isn’t easy when I try to follow Berkay everywhere, as I can’t understand ‘ village turkish’ to talk to anyone else – the dialect is so different.
  
 
Behind the house, they have sheds built for the animals. They have a lot of sheep, goats, cows, chickens, a guard dog, and of course our dog Boncuk!  They use the animals for their eggs and milk. Berkay’s dad wakes up very early everyday to milk the cows – they even make their own yogurt, butter and cheese from it. They do use their own animals for meat, but only on special occasions, as they get more money for selling the livestock.
 
 
 
The family house is very simple, but it has everything they need, including a soba (wood burner) for heating in winter, cooker, washing machine and the slightly more suprising dishwasher and very nice Samsung fridge. From looking at the house, you would think they don’t have much money, a very simple lifestyle, bare minimum things. But this isn’t the case, they do have money, they just invest it in a lot of land, animals and business. Berkay’s father owns a animal feed business, supplying and delivering hundreds of bags of food and hay to houses every week, which as you can imagine in a farming community is a good business to own. I asked Berkay why they don’t improve their house rather than buy more land, as with the money they have they could really have a totally different lifestyle, but he said that things like that aren’t really important to the people in this village, they have what they need. Although I will never understand their lifestyle, I guess it’s something to admire – how they don’t place importance on such material things! Berkay has inherited that attitude to material things, too. I have to force him to buy clothes, as he’d be happy with 2 tshirts and a pair of jeans to last him years!

One thing you can definitely say, is that the Turkish people are very hospitable! The number of blankets Berkay’s stepmum has in the cupboard really made me smile – she has two cupboards piled up with spare cushions and duvets, so that guests can sleep – very prepared, she must’ve had about 30 different ones! They also will keep feeding you until you’re full enough to burst, and don’t take no for an answer. If you turn down a cup of Turkish tea, you can guarantee that you’ll get one anyway.
 
Dinner time is a little different in the village, instead of being seated around a dining room table on chairs, they eat every meal on the floor around a special ‘table’cloth. People joining them for dinner don’t have their own plates, but instead share from various sized metal dishes, each with a different food inside.  Everyone has their own fork and spoon, but they don’t use knives, which sometimes proves troublesome when it comes to larger pieces! Everyone also drinks from the same water glass. The good thing about eating this way is you can eat as much or as little food as you want, without the pressure of wanting to empty your plate so as not to offend. I do like sitting on the floor to eat, but it does give you terrible pins and needles after a while! I suspect if someone has a cold the sharing thing isn’t so pleasant.

I love the different colours and patterns of the rugs they put on the floor, although it does baffle me why they don’t just buy the same kind. Underneath all these rugs and mats they have wooden floor, but it’s kept covered all winter and summer. I love the different patterns but it would drive someone with OCD crazy for sure.
  
The first day we were in the village, Berkay’s brother asked him to help deliver some hay, as part of the family business. I decided to go with him. Off we went in a big, rickety, dusty truck, to the huge barn where they keep the hay. Berkay and his brother filled up the truck with bales while I sat around the corner wondering what on earth I was doing. 24 hours before this moment, I had been sat in a 5* all inclusive hotel, and now I was sat in a pile of hay, covered in dust and surrounded by the smell of animal poo. What a difference a day  makes! Certainly a tale of two halves, two totally different lifestyles and two totally different sets of people.


Later that evening , having recovered from the inital shock of village life which always hits me like a ton of bricks (or hay bales?), I wandered around the family farm and took a moment to appreciate the scenery. It is beautiful. I love this photo I took of the sun going down, greenhouse to the left, sheep shed to the right, pile of fire wood in the foreground, and bird soaring in the background. 

Dinner time provided entertainment in the form of Boncuk. We all sat outside on the patio to enjoy chicken cooked on the fire, with a special guest peeping her head over the wall behind Berkay’s dad, hoping for some leftovers! Can you spot her? She looked so funny, every now and then her little head would just pop up, until someone threw her a piece. Adorable.
 
The next morning, me and Berkay decided to go for a mini-adventure to a view point across Beyağaç. As we were getting in the car, Boncuk jumped in and joined us, so we took her too.  Everytime we visit the village we come up to this point as it provides lovely panoramic views.  This time there was a new addition to the view – 3 old, falling apart arm chairs. Interesting. I guess fly tipping is a universal problem! It did make a good photo though.
  
Berkay drove along to the next village, Yeniçeşme , to show me the  house he was born in, I took a photo of the building, which is now falling apart but still inhabited, I love the fact you can see Boncuk in the wing mirror! Berkay kept pointing out places he used to go with his friends as a child, fields he used to work in, and things his Grandad built like the village water source. Berkay always speaks highly of his grandparents, they raised him as a baby as his mother and dad abandoned him when he was only 28 days old, he’s still not seen his mother since and knows nothing about her, and although he is on speaking terms with his dad, he definitely had a stronger bond with his grandparents, who have both now passed away, he showed me the cemetery they’re both in too.
 
Back at the family home,  I had a walk around finding interesting things to photograph – you’re never far away from something with a story behind it! These red peppers are picked when they’re in season, and hung out to dry out in the summer, then they’re used in stews and other dishes when not normally readily available. Aside from their main purpose, I think they make great decorations!
 
After dinner, despite being stuffed, plates of walnuts, biscuits, popcorn and tea were bought out.  The funniest thing was Berkay’s stepmum breaking the biscuit in half and dipping it into her glass of cay, its the equivalent of dipping a rich tea in a mug of PG tips, I’d never seen a Turkish person do that before so I giggled to myself – seems like us Brits have a rival for our tea and biscuits!

That night, we visited Berkay’s brother’s girlfriend and her family about an hour away. Upon telling her of my love of baggy village pants, they went to their stash, ironed a pair and gave them to me in a bag as a gift, along with a pair of crocheted slippers they had made – it took so many attempts to find a pair that would fit me, I felt like Cinderella! Another fine example of their hospitality.

The following morning, we said goodbye to the family, and Boncuk, and got ready for the drive to Denizli city centre. The photo below is of us with Berkay’s brother just before we said bye – my eyes were red and blotchy after bawling my eyes out saying bye to Boncuk 10 minutes before hand. I’ve deliberately left her out of this post and will do a whole new post about her, she’s so cute she deserves her own one!
 
Village life in Beyağaç is so different than anything I’m used to. It’s way beyond my comprehension, but it is interesting and always provides me with plenty of funny stories! I could never live there myself, but after the initial shock, it’s not too hard to settle in to the way of life, become a bit more comfortable and embrace it – however, it is always a bit of a relief to leave again at the end of the visit, even with blurry eyes from teary goodbyes.

Visiting Turkey, buying a flat & Boncuk…

Berkay has been here in England almost 4 months now and he is slowly settling in. He has spent most of his time working, and working really hard. Last week he done 54 hours, more than any other member of staff in the whole restaurant, and he gets so much praise from staff and customers! All the other members of staff want him on their shift because they can stand around and relax because they know he runs around like a headless chicken making sure everything is done, even when I tell him to relax a bit and not work so hard he says he can’t and that’s just what he’s like! So much for ‘bloody foreigners’ coming over here and not working and expecting everything for free, eh?

Part of the reason he’s working so hard is that we’re in the process of buying a property! It’s only a one bedroom flat but it’s perfect for us…We went to view it back at the start of January and we are close to exchange and completion so it’s very exciting. It’s a part rent-part buy scheme which was really the only way for us to ever be able to afford to move out and get a place of our own, London house prices are ridiculous! We’re really looking forward to having our own space again and living properly as husband and wife – it doesn’t feel like we’re married most of the time! Who knew shopping for washing machines, fridges, irons, kettles, toasters and dustpans could be so much fun?! Berkay certainly enjoyed his first ever trip to Ikea a couple of weeks ago!

Something else we are saving for is a visit to Turkey at the end of April. Berkay really misses Turkey and wanted to go back to visit and I wanted to go too, partly for a holiday, partly to make sure he gets back on the plane back to England afterwards!!   Although I’d love a proper summer holiday as I haven’t really had one in 6 years, flights and accommodation are just too expensive in the height of the season, so we’ve booked 10 days in April/May instead. We got a good deal on flights, in fact the return part of the journey only cost us £18 each! The best thing about it is we arrive in Fethiye the day before our one year wedding anniversary – can you believe that it’s been almost a year already?! I think it will be really nice to be back there to celebrate and I hope we get as lucky with the unreliable early season weather as we did last year! I am looking forward to going to visit but part of me also isn’t really jumping up and down with excitement. Turkey hasn’t really held the same place in my heart as it used to for a while now, since Berkay had to do his army service I guess. I don’t know if I just told myself so often ‘It’s ok, I don’t miss Turkey’ that I started to believe it and now I can’t change my mind, or whether I just really need a break from Turkey and a visit somewhere else instead. Of course I still enjoy Turkey and it’s a beautiful country, but when we are there it’s not like a holiday at all. There’s just too much pressure to visit everyone, friends, family, our favourite places… every time we go we end up with a huge list of things to do, people to see and places to go, and end up having no actual time to just relax. I love Fethiye and Calis but I just want to go somewhere different, where we don’t know anyone or anything and can just explore or lay by a pool without putting so much pressure on ourselves to fit everything in. A part of me resents the fact that we can’t just book a cheap ryan-air flight and a week away in Spain like everyone else, because Berkay’s visa only allows him access to the UK, and although visas to Europe for him aren’t too difficult or expensive, I just can’t be bothered to go through even more visa stress and paperwork, it already takes over our lives so much! I don’t think he’d want to visit anywhere else other than Turkey anyway.

Of course, while in Turkey we will visit Berkay’s family in their village, and also Boncuk! Everyone always asks me about Boncuk and how she’s doing. She’s still living happily in the village, looked after by Berkay’s brother. He really loves her. A few days ago he was working in the village centre when his friend from the council rang him and gave him warning that the council dog catchers were going around to his side of the village and rounding up stray dogs. Obviously she’s not a stray, but they did used to always let her roam free around the farm and she’d often take herself off on walks down the road and follow Berkay’s brother to work etc. When he got the call, Berkay’s brother panicked and called his mum to get Boncuk and tie her back up…which she couldn’t manage to do, so off he ran all the way home to get her secured safely and in her kennel. Bless him, he knows how much I love her and does a good job looking after her.

2017 is looking to be another good year for us.. and everything seems to be coming together, slowly but surely!

Our Traditional Turkish Village wedding – the evening.

“Just take a deep breath” – those words were running through my head as I stepped out of the car. A few days prior to the big Turkish wedding party I had been discussing how worried I was and my stepmum’s very useful words of wisdom were ‘take deep breaths’ – I must have thought about that conversation and replayed those few words in my head 100 times that day!

There was already music playing, which they stopped when Berkay’s brother gave us the signal to start walking towards the empty space in the middle of the floor. There was a make shift aisle between rows of chairs, and when the DJ introduced us, hundreds of heads turned to face me. My instinct was to burst into tears and it took all my effort not to do so! The photographer captured this moment perfectly – lips tightly together, dread in my eyes…  
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As soon as we entered the middle of the make-shift dancefloor and started our slow dance (after Berkay’s cousin taught us how to during the day….) Berkay’s brothers laid out some giant sparkler fireworks around us in a circle and fired some confetti at us, which looked great for the photos but made me jump at the time! Slowly, other couples and family members joined in the slow dancing – including Berkays dad, much to the amusement of his family who had never seen him dance before despite attending hundreds of weddings!
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Berkay’s dad wasnt the only family member joining in the fun – Berkay’s uncle grabbed one of the traditional giant drums that always take pride of place at a village wedding, and started bashing it – apparently he had never played one before but one glass of raki later and he was playing it so confidently you’d think he was an expert! To accompany the very, very loud drum, the DJ was playing a keyboard and singing. I can’t even explain how loud it was!
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After the slow dance, it was time for the real madness to begin – the traditional, loud, Turkish music that reminds me of a swarm of angry bees buzzing – if you’ve heard this kind of music you’ll know exactly what I mean. I don’t do dancing, so I was dreading this, especially because as the bride, all eyes were on me. I’d only ever done Turkish dancing once before and that was on our actual wedding day back in April, and only for a couple of minutes – I should definitely have practiced more! Basically, it involves standing around in a circle, wriggling your shoulders, clicking your fingers and shuffling to the beat of the massive drum – at least that’s what I tried to do. It was really entertaining watching everyone else dance, a lot of them really got into it and were obviously having great fun. I tried to stay with Berkay as much as possible but he disappeared off a few times and I was left in a circle of women. Bless Berkay’s cousins really tried to look after me and made sure I was dancing in their ‘circle’, but I’ve only met them a few times so I was still nervous. After a while some of our friends from Fethiye joined in the dancing. They are much older than us and are almost like second parents to Berkay when he’s in Fethiye. They said they made the journey all the way to Denizli just so that I had someone I knew there which was so sweet. My face definitely did light up when I saw them dancing amongst the sea of people I’d never met before – I navigated towards them and just standing next to them made me feel so much better, although of course I was still searching for Berkay in the crowd!
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There were so many people from far and wide – everyone really makes an effort to turn up. September-November is wedding season in Turkey and this fairly small village can have up to 10 weddings per week, but apparently everyone was commenting how many people had turned up to our one and how they’d never seen one like that before! Berkay was especially pleased that two of his best friends from his army days made the journey, he keeps in regular contact to them via whatsapp and Facebook and they spent almost 10 months together day and night in the army so it was nice for him that they wanted to come.

After a few dances and a very quick sit down it was time to pin the money. I spoke about this in my blog post about our actual wedding in April, as it was a tradition that I wanted to make sure we did then too. It’s tradition in Turkey to pin money on to the bride and groom, rather than give gifts. In English weddings you end up with toasters, slowcookers and kettles, whereas in Turkey you end up with lots of paper notes, much more useful, and looks great in the wedding photos too. At first, people formed a fairly orderly queue, got a pin from Berkays cousin and then pinned the money to us before shaking our hands and double kissing our cheeks, but the neat queue quickly turned into chaos and I had people grabbing me, kissing my face and rushing at me with money in their hands from all angles – very overwhelming. We had anything between 1 dollar and 100 lira notes pinned to us, along with some small gold coins, another Turkish tradition. These small, gold coins are worth different amounts depending on their weight and are often given at special occasions like weddings, births of babies etc. We got around 12 gold coins pinned to us, but we only got to keep the 7 given to us by family – the others were kept by Berkays family.

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After the money had all been pinned to us, the photographer asked people to come up for photographs with us – notice the outfits, it’s normal for guests to not dress up at all, although a lot of the closer family members did. There is certainly no upstaging the bride so that’s one less thing to worry about, everyone just goes along to join the celebrations and have a boogie which is lovely.

After the photos, the DJ dropped the bombshell that he would be bringing a chair out for us to do a solo dance around. Berkay had the unfortunate job of breaking this news to me and translating and I believe my reaction was ‘I hate you’ – I’m disappointed the photographer didn’t get a photo of my face when he told me because I bet it would have been absolutely hilarious. Berkay apparently didn’t know about this before, it’s a good job I didn’t know because I’d have been worrying all day! It was literally my worst nightmare, actually even worse than I could have imagined, but with hundreds of pairs of eyes watching I had no choice. First of all, I took my seat in the chair, the DJ played music, the drummer played, Berkay’s shoulders started shuffling and he danced around me in a circle. After a couple of minutes, the music stopped, the DJ shouted ‘did you like it?’ I answered ‘yes’ but I couldn’t possibly type what I was actually thinking as it involves many, many swearwords. Now it was my turn, Berkay sat down on the chair and I danced around him in a circle. I have no idea what was going through my head but I know that it felt like the longest few minutes of my life! We caught the whole thing on video and watching it back does really make me laugh, even though I hated it it is definitely something to look back on and smile about. So many people who know me commented how they couldn’t believe I had done it as they’ve known me for a long time and know how shy I am.
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The night carried on and we carried on dancing, my feet were aching, my fingers hurting, and I was very tired after being up since 4am and travelling, but we weren’t allowed to sit down and just had to keep on going. Everyone was enjoying themselves and eventually as the dance floor started to empty a bit, I managed to sneak off and sit down, leaving Berkay, his brothers and their friends dancing around like loons but having lots of fun.
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By the end of the night, I had blisters all over my fingers from all the clicking whilst dancing, I suppose that’s a sign of a good party – injuries from dancing!

Overall, it was a very interesting experience but one I definitely will never, ever be repeating! Clearly, it meant a lot to Berkay and his family and they did go to a lot of effort to organise the whole thing – it’s important to take part in the traditions and embrace the culture on both sides and I’m glad I was brave enough to do it, it’s definitely a story to tell everyone!
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Our Traditional Turkish Village Wedding – the Day

Traditional Turkish village weddings can go on for 2-3 days. Time restrictions meant our’s only lasted one day, and I skipped the traditional henna night. Since we had a long way to travel, we woke up at 4.30am on the Sunday morning and drove the 3 hours from Fethiye to Berkay’s family’s village in Beyağaç, Denizli.We arrived there just before 8am, bright and early, and preparations for the day’s events were already well underway. When we got to the house, everyone was out at the local marketplace (where the wedding was being held) taking the delivery of the tables and chairs and getting the food started. After a brief reunion with our dog Boncuk, we jumped back in the car and went down to join the others in the town centre.

At this point, things were calm, everything was fairly relaxed. I greeted Berkay’s mum, dad and brothers and then our attention was drawn to a small gathering of 4 women by the side of the road. They were cooking some of the food for the wedding. When you have 5000 guests invited, you have to do everything on a larger scale… and they certainly did. They had 4 huge pots (rather like cauldrons..) full of various things, one of which was keşkek. Keşkek is a very traditional part of Turkish weddings and they take great pride in cooking it. It’s a weird food, served at special occasions, weddings, funerals, religious celebrations etc. A lot of people are involved in the preparing and cooking. It’s made from wheat, locally produced from the villages in most cases, and ground meat, and is lovingly and slowly cooked in these huge cauldrons. It’s a hard job to mix it with the huge wooden spoon as it is so thick, it’s definitely a good arm workout! It’s reminds me of porridge… but porridge mixed with ground meat, butter, and lots of oil… once it’s ready it’s often slopped in a bowl and covered in spicy pepper sauce. It certainly doesn’t look, or sound very appealing but it doesn’t taste as bad as you think and it’s a good, hearty food that definitely feels like it’s been lovingly homemade by your grandma.
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Aside from keşkek, there were various other dishes being cooked up by paid chefs in the market place – rice, beans, cacik, a meat stew, brain soup (yes… BRAIN soup) and hundreds of loaves of bread. We were the first ones to try the food at around 9.30 am, just before the official 10am start time of the day part of the wedding.

After sitting down with some members of his family to eat the food, Berkay left me to go and help the men of the family carry on laying out the tables and chairs. 100 tables, 500 chairs, huge rolls of tissue tablecloths, hundreds of packets of napkins, jugs of water… it was certainly a mammoth task to get everything ready.

At 10am the steady flow of people started arriving. Most of them I’d never seen before, only a handful would even recognise me in a lineup, and thankfully I didn’t need to wear my wedding dress until the evening, so I could blend in a little. We didn’t greet everyone who attended, as there literally were not enough hours in the day, but we did get called over every now and then to greet important guests, the older generation, old family friends or those who have a higher standing in the village. I must say, in the most polite way possible, that it was very much more of a thing for show. Berkay’s dad has his own business and is very well known in the village and nearby areas – he sells animal feed, and since everyone owns a farm there, he clearly has a good client base! As a result, he spent most of the time standing greeting people and talking to his friends, gesturing for us to go over and say hello every now and then. It was much less of a celebration of our marriage, and more of a ‘look, I’m such a wonderful dad doing this huge wedding for my son’ kinda thing, and if you’ve read my previous posts about Berkay’s childhood you’ll know why that leaves a bit of a bitter taste.
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Anyway, as the day went on and lunchtime approached, the marketplace became very busy, with hundreds of people coming to join in and eat. Berkay’s brothers, younger cousins and family friends were running around like headless chickens trying to make sure everyone who arrived got their tray full of small silver dishes, filled with the different foods from the kitchen. It’s normal in Turkey for 5-6 people to share from one bowl, although everyone has their own spoon, so that helped minimise the washing up! As you can imagine, it took a lot of work to make sure the bread was restocked, fresh tablecloths were placed on the tables after each group of people left, the water jugs were refilled, the empty plates and trays were taken away, washing up was done in a little washing up station behind the kitchen area, chairs were rearranged, tables cleared, tea glasses filled and delivered, making sure the elders and the important people were greeted as a sign of respect… It was a lot of work for them, and really very overwhelming for me. At this point I was sitting alone with Berkay’s aunts and female cousins who were really trying to do a good job of looking after me, they could definitely sense the panic in my eyes! Berkay was rushing around helping but I was told to sit down and drink tea..

I’m not entirely sure just how many people turned up during the day for the food giving, but I can say with some certainty that it was over 2500 people. Just to put it into perspective, Berkay’s family slaughtered one of their cows, which provided 60kg of meat, they also had another 30kg of beef gifted to them so that makes a total of 90kg. Half way through the day, all 90kgs of beef had been eaten in the meat stew and they had to rush out and buy another 12 chickens to cook!! 90kgs of red meat, all gone, and we’re not talking about whole steaks for each person that came, we’re talking a few small cubes of meat in a bowl of stew shared between 5-6 people at a time over a period of about 7 hours, so that should give you an idea of just how many people came to enjoy the food!

Each family that came gave Berkay’s parents a small envelope with money in, to help cover the costs. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this, and some say that it’s normal, other’s say that it’s not normal at all and that any money given should be for the bride and groom, and not for the family. It seems that each village has it’s own customs and traditions, and this is one of theirs. Over 13,000tl was given to Berkay’s family throughout the day, again emphasising just how many guests actually attended!

Thankfully, Berkay’s family’s house was only a 5-10 minute drive away from the marketplace and we were able to go back to the house a couple of times for around half an hour just to sit with no eyes watching, use the wifi, speak to my family, play with Boncuk and most importantly, breathe.

Initially, we were sent back to the house to retrieve ‘my’ gold.  I say ‘my’, but effectively we just rented it. As I have already mentioned, the whole day really felt more about ‘keeping up with apperances’ rather than really being a celebration, and this tradition of the bride wearing gold is another which really made this clear. It’s normal for the groom and his family to give the bride gold, and lots of it. Unfortunately gold is very expensive at the moment, and we are not rich! The day before the wedding we stopped at Ortaca, near Dalaman, and went to the nearest gold shop, where Berkay purchased five 22 karat gold bangles which cost the best part of £1000 – even then, I had to convince Berkay that that was enough, and he would have happily got into a lot of debt and bought more just so my arm looked a little more decorated! Clearly after the wedding we would have no use for £1000 worth of gold bangles, so we planned to sell them straight back the day after, and we were prepared to lose a little money in the process. (As it happened, when we did sell them back we would have only lost around 90tl but I decided to keep 2 of the bangles as I liked them so much!) I’m not a person for expensive jewellery or designer items, so I had never worn anything worth so much as all this gold. Berkay’s mum let me borrow her gold necklace, and her sash, which was covered in cloves and gold coins, but we forgot to wear this! It’s apparently tradition in this village to wear it across the body which I had never heard of before. We did genuinely forget about it until it was too late, but I’m quite glad because the clove smell reminded me of the dentist, and I am terrified of the dentist so it didn’t help to calm my nerves!
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After going back to the marketplace in the afternoon and greeting more guests, it was time to head off to the hairdresser to get ready. Berkay dropped me off at the ‘salon’ (a concrete basement with a sink in the corner, a mirror and a chair) with his cousins and aunt while he went off to get changed, go to the barber and get the car covered in ribbons.

Despite not being able to communicate much, the 4 hours I was sat in that salon room were quite enjoyable. It appears that this is the only hair salon in the whole village and she was very busy.She started with Berkay’s cousins hair, then the children, then his aunt, and eventually it was my turn. The whole time I was in there people were wandering in and out, and lots of little girls coming in and out waiting their turn too. I could sense people’s excitement. A young girl sat next to me completely fascinated, she kept staring at me and edging closer and closer, almost sitting on my lap and kept nudging my arm. Another little girl came in and spotted my dress hanging up on the back of the door and her eyes lit up – I guess every little girl loves the thought of being a bride and Turkish little girls are no different. After what seemed like a lifetime of curling and pinning my hair, the hairdresser then started on my makeup. “Sade”, Berkay had told her when he dropped me off, which means plain. I knew from friends who have had their own village weddings that I wasn’t getting out of that salon without bright blue eyeshadow, thick black eyeliner and bright red lipstick, I’m not sure what the significance is between blue eyeshadow and brides, but apparently the two go hand in hand! As predicted, I ended up wearing more makeup than I’ve ever worn in my life, which was the furthest thing from ‘plain’, but I actually liked it as it made me feel different, I guess almost like a mask, which I definitely needed to help with my confidence to get me through the evening – I even asked for extra glitter which was then sprinkled all over my hair and chest.

Next was the part which I had been dreading the most – putting on my dress. Thankfully, it was a corset dress so it allowed for a few extra lbs that I’d gained since the last time I wore it in April, but it was very difficult to do up. Berkay’s cousin and aunt were in charge of lacing me in, although I knew it didn’t feel quite right, so the hairdresser done some final tweaks to make sure it was done properly. I was so concious of my wedding dress as most of the villagers are very, very traditional and even having shoulders on display is a no-no. I had come prepared with shrugs and shalls to cover up but everyone reassured me that it looked fine – a lot of the guests had never even met an English girl before so I didn’t want to give off the wrong impression, it was definitely a lot of pressure!
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Finally, after 4 hours of being beautified, I was reunited with Berkay, who was now dressed in his suit, freshly shaved and covered in hair glitter which looked a lot like sparkly dandruff…interesting. With a lot of help, he got me and my dress up the stairs and into the car which had been decorated with ribbons, flowers and fancy number plates, letting everyone know that we were the bride and groom, just in case the outfits didn’t give it away! We went back to his house, I mustered up the courage to have a last minute pee, which was very difficult in my dress and definitely a two-person job, thank God they have a ‘normal’ sitting toilet and not just a hole in the floor, otherwise that could have gone very, very wrong.

Eventually, about 7.45pm it was time to get back into the car and make our grand entrance.. We pulled up outside the marketplace and Berkay jumped out to speak to his brother’s about the plan of action.. I was sat in the car hyperventilating and lots of little girls came running over to the car door. ‘Gelin! Gelin! Bak, gelin!’ – ‘Bride, Bride, look, Bride!’ they shouted out to each other and to their mums. They were so excited to see me and my dress and it was weird having so much attention and excitement directed at little old me!

Once Berkay had had his instructions, it was time to get out, take a deep breath and make our entrance together, with all eyes on me, the ‘yabancı gelin’ – foreign bride…

Next visit to Turkey & Visa Paperwork…

I haven’t posted on here for a month now, this is because every waking moment outside of work I have been preparing visa paperwork!

It’s been over 4 months since I last saw Berkay, after leaving just 3 days after getting married, but I am going back to Turkey in 26 days time on 1st October. While I am there we are planning on doing a little road trip to Antalya to submit his visa application. It has taken me months of planning to get all the paperwork together and we’re still only half way there!

In order to apply for the visa we need to supply evidence of every single detail of our lives and the people in it. The main things are proving that we are in a genuine relationship, proving that I earn above the income requirement, proving that Berkay has a safe place to live in the UK, and proving that he can speak English. We do this via piles and piles of paperwork as evidence. Letters, 18+ page application forms, declarations, passport copies, birth certificates, bank statements, wage slips, a letter from my employer, contract, a house inspection report, land registry documents, mortgage statements, letter from the house owner and other letters of support from my family, proof of address, utility bills, passport details of everyone else in the house, university certificate, army papers, English exam certificate, criminal record check, insurance papers, blog information, marriage photos, wedding cards, engagement cards, photos of us over the whole 6 years of our relationship, visa stamps, evidence of every flight I ever took to Turkey, extracts of Facebook, MSN and Skype conversations and call logs over the 6 years, etc, etc etc. These are just the things I’ve thought of off the top of my head, there are many more that I’ve forgotten.

Gathering all this information is painstakingly time consuming, especially scrolling through the 180,000+ Facebook messages we have had together and picking a few conversations from each year of our relationship to print out and show them – a nearly impossible task! It’s also frustrating trying to gather paperwork we need from other people, like getting blood from a stone! It seems people don’t realise the importance of this application and all the information that goes into it.

With all the documents, application fee, house inspection report fee, NHS surcharge, translation fees, travel to/from Antalya to the application centre and the £450 fee to prioritise the application and get a slightly quicker decision, the total of the application is well over £3000 – a huge amount of money.

It seems so surreal that in October, when Berkay goes and hands in the paperwork at the application centre, it will be out of our hands, we will be totally out of control of our future. The decision of where we spend the rest of our lives will be in the hands of someone we’ve never met, sat at their desk reading through our pile of paperwork, all we can do is put our blood sweat and tears into that pile of paperwork to make sure it leaves no doubt in their mind that we are a genuine, loving husband and wife just trying to live together and settle down. It’s nerve wracking, and we’ve been working towards it for so long that when the application is submitted I won’t know what to do with myself or my free time – I expect I’ll spend every waking moment tracking the application status online and praying that we get a quick decision!

I’m trying to keep my blog updated in the meantime, but all my effort at the moment is going into work and the visa… In October I’ll hopefully have lots of photos and thoughts to share from my trip. Other than the road trip to Antalya, we’re also planning on going to the village to visit Boncuk too, with a stop-over at Pamukkkale, and the usual BBQ’s, sunsets and breathtaking views of Fethiye of course!

26 days to get everything ready to go!