Summer romances, lifetime promises: What happens when a holiday fling never ends? British women who have settled in Turkey tell Naomi Caine

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Indy Lifestyle Online
NANCEY was 24 when she went on holiday to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. She met Bayram on the very first night. 'He couldn't speak a word of English and I couldn't speak a word of Turkish, so we had to take a dictionary wherever we went. He told me he loved me the first time we met, but I didn't believe him. To be honest, I thought it was just a holiday romance and that I'd forget all about him when I came back to England. But I had only been home half an hour when Bayram was on the phone.'

After another two-week holiday later in the year, Nancey decided to pack in her hairdressing business and move to Turkey. 'I wanted to be with Bayram; it's as simple as that. Yes, it was an upheaval because I had never lived away from home before. But you are only young once aren't you?' Nancey's uncomplicated approach to life has undoubtedly served her well in a country that is in economic disarray and treats its women as second-class citizens. If she hadn't been so much in love, she says, she might have caught the next plane home.

'I thought I would go crackers the first winter I spent with Bayram's family. They live in a little village in the middle of nowhere and everyone is related to everyone else. It was very lonely at times as I had nobody I could talk to in English. Learning Turkish was a long struggle, but I knew I had to speak the language if I was going to make a go of things.'

No one can say that Nancey has not made a go of things. She and Bayram run a successful restaurant, have a happy marriage and a beautiful baby girl. Nancey also speaks fluent Turkish. But even her determined optimism has been put to the test. Doctors in England have told her that her daughter has cystic fibrosis and has a life expectancy of just 30 years.

Talk of the baby unsettles Nancey; she lights another cigarette and calls one of to the kitchen staff to bring coffee. Within seconds coffee appears, along with several of the younger waiters, all eager to get a closer look at Nancey Yenge's visitor. Yenge - it literally means wife of a friend or an uncle - is a term of respect and is not often heard outside traditional, rural communities.

'Baby Nansi had been ill, but the disease is not recognised in this country. She is being treated in England and we may eventually have to live there. If it is a choice between my baby and my lifestyle, there is no choice.' But Nancey's marriage is also at stake. 'Bayram would not be happy in England and I would not expect him to come with me and the baby. Can you imagine him washing up or waiting tables?'

Waiting tables would have been just fine for Diana when she arrived in Olu Deniz, near where Nancey lives. She was not drawn to Turkey by romance, but because she was looking for a fresh start in life. Four years on, and married to Zafer, her business head still rules her heart. 'Of course, at the beginning I was frightened and I was lonely, but I was also 44, divorced and disillusioned with life in England,' she says.

During her first summer in Olu Deniz, she worked in a restaurant run by an Austrian woman, making pizzas and gateaux. 'The oven was as old as I felt, and one day it blew up. I lost my eyebrows, but I thought I had gone blind. I ran around the kitchen screaming like a madwoman. Of course, no one could understand me because no one could speak English.'

She met Zafer the following summer. He was on the rebound; she was on the look-out. It was her dream to own a restaurant and she had seen the business potential of Turkey right from the start. 'Zafer had work and personal problems. He was bad news and I knew it, but he also offered me a partnership and that was too hard to resist.

'We took over a restaurant in the summer of 1991, but by the end of the first season we were in trouble. Zafer had debts to pay off and the creditors came in and took everything. We lived on pounds 300 that winter and fought like cat and dog, but neither of us had the guts to leave the other.

'I am still adjusting to the Turkish way of life and the Turkish way of doing business. Work is not at the top of their list of priorities. Family and friends always come first. And I have long since stopped waiting for the recognition I deserve. I work a 16-hour day and have handed over my life savings but, as a woman, I am rarely consulted about business or private matters.'

Marriage brought Diana some of the recognition she craved. She admits that she married Zafer for legal reasons and says they never discussed a future together, nor did she believe they had one. But the financial ties have engendered emotional ones, and their personal relationship now reflects their business one. 'At the moment, the restaurant is successful, so our private life is calmer', says Diana, who has borne Zafer's alcoholism and violence with a fortitude that is a hair's breadth away from foolishness.

Zafer has been watching his wife from a distance during our conversation. He is proud of the attention, but he is also wary and eventually he comes over. His English is stilted but coherent (Diana jokes that she will learn to speak Turkish when the Turks have something interesting to say) and he is happy to answer questions. 'Sometimes I want Diana to be Turkish. I want her to stay at home and look after the house, like a Turkish wife. But a Turkish wife is a responsibility and Diana is not my responsibility. She has her own character.' Zafer also acknowledges that Diana is good for the business, the closest he gets to a display of affection.

'He never tells me that he loves me, but I know he does,' Diana says. 'He needs me, because without me the restaurant would go under.'

Catherine acknowledges that she was looking for a lover when she went last year to the same coastal region as Nancey and Diana. She was a regular visitor to Turkey and already thought of it as her second home. 'I had not had much luck in my relationships with British men. I am strong and independent, perhaps a little overpowering. Ali wasn't put off by my strength because he could match it. Men's superior social position in Turkey gives them confidence. But, at 29, I still wanted to believe in romantic love and Ali made that very easy for me.'

Catherine and Ali spent two months together before she went off travelling and they kept in touch throughout her world tour. 'It was the perfect romantic adventure - tearful phone calls, long love letters and the promise that he would wait for me.' She cut her trip short and returned to Turkey to live with Ali last winter. She came back to England in the spring to tie up some loose ends and collect her summer clothes, but she never went back.

'The winter was hard. For the first time in my life I felt like an exile. Ali did everything he could to make things easy for me, but he couldn't give me my family and friends, he couldn't give me a rewarding job and he couldn't give me a sense of belonging. I was heartbroken. I felt betrayed.'

The memories are painful ones, but Catherine chooses her words carefully, anxious not to offend the sensibilities of a people she still obviously holds dear. 'You have to compromise in any relationship, but a relationship with someone from a different culture demands more compromises than most. But I had fought hard for my identity, and in the end I was not prepared to give it up.

'Ali never wanted me to wear leggings when we went out because he didn't want me to attract the attention of other men.

I succumbed to his wishes because it seemed such a small thing. But those small things add up to an erosion of your personality.' Catherine does not bear a grudge, nor does she apportion blame.

'I cannot put down my cultural baggage, so why should I expect a Turk to put down his? No, you have to accept the cultural differences; it is arrogant, and probably futile, to do otherwise.'

(Photographs omitted)

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