Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

It’s true: everyone loves Istanbul. Those that have been can’t wait to go back, again and again. They tell their friends (like I am always telling you!), and more and more people head to Istanbul first, and then explore other areas of this remarkable country. But what would it be like to actually live there? 

Luckily for us, one of my favourite writers, Lisa Morrow, has a new book out about living in Istanbul. Entitled Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, it’s a fantastic read and a deep look into intercultural living, being an expat, and adjusting to a new culture.

Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

We’ve shared Lisa’s work before – her compelling and very interesting site, Inside Out in Istanbul, and her book of the same name (which I also love). Now, while you’re waiting for Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom to come in the mail, head over to Inside Out in Istanbul (the website, not the book, although if you’re anything like me, you’ve ordered both of Lisa’s books just now) to scope out the fascinating bits of life she shares. Yesterday, I learned more about Ataturk: At 9.05am on the 10th day of the 11th month of the year, when cities across the country stop, and car, bus and ferry horns sound, spare a thought for this powerhouse of a man who died in 1938, having dragged Turkey kicking and screaming out of the past into a bright future, however rocky the journey proves to be.

Let me tell you why I love this book so much. If you’ve ever lived abroad, on sabbatical, projects overseas, study abroad, etc., you will see yourself in her shoes – adapting, discovering new things about yourself and your new home every day (hour, minute?), finding joy, Feeling Alive. If you’ve not lived abroad yet, this book is pure inspiration for finding a new place to live – and explore.

From shopping to work to Turkish baths to housing to tulips and oh, the history, the beauty, and the many, many cultures that contribute to Istanbul’s diversity, this treasure of a book covers it all. And while it doesn’t gloss over the challenges, it explores cultural nuances in such a way that makes you want to dive in and move to Istanbul. Meet you for tea?

Author Lisa Morrow at the famous Kadikoy bull statue. From Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

Lisa at the famous Kadikoy bull statue

We were lucky enough to catch up with Lisa, and ask her about the book, inspiration, and, of course, living in Istanbul. Here’s what she had to say...

Please tell us about your new book, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul...

After a decade of travelling back and forth between Australia and Turkey, my husband Kim and I decided to take the plunge and move lock stock and barrel to Turkey. We chose Istanbul, because we’d lived there before and with that experience and friends already to hand, thought the transition would be easy. However, life doesn’t always go to plan and when the dream of living in a foreign country was rudely shattered by gritty reality, we had two choices. Turn tail and run or bravely face what life threw at us. We chose the latter and Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom tells the story of this roller coaster ride which never ends. Turkish culture may seem easy to understand, but when you scratch away the surface, the complexities can be overwhelming.

Our house in Istanbul. From  Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

Our house in Evsan

Celebrating Christmas in Istanbul. Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

Celebrating Christmas in Istanbul

What was the inspiration for this book?

A few years ago, I published a collection of essays called Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City. I sent a copy to a literary agent I’d come to know and she suggested I turn it into a full length travel narrative. She worked with me on subsequent drafts, but we agreed to part ways amicably when it became clear she was expecting me to write a Turkish version of Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love. My husband isn’t Turkish so I couldn’t write about the trials and tribulations of cross-cultural relationships, and I wanted my book to be more about Turkey than about me, so I went on to release Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom myself. There aren’t many books about Istanbul and Turkey by non-Turks showing what everyday life is like here, warts and all. Consequently there are a lot of misconceptions concerning traditions, religion, and life here that I wanted to address.

Kocek dancers – dancers at wedding on my street. From Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

Kocek dancers – dancers at a wedding on my street 

Living in Istanbul has its challenges and joys - can you please share a bit of each?

One of the biggest challenges about living in Istanbul is that sometimes everyday tasks, like paying your bills or going out to do the shopping, can be so difficult you forget what you enjoy about living here. Istanbul is enormous. It’s full of people from different parts of the country and the world, all battling the traffic and each other, just trying to get on with their lives. When you’re struggling to come to grips with the language and the fact that nothing ever seems to make sense, it can be disheartening. Then, just as you think you want to give up, someone helps you find an address you were looking for, or jumps you to the head of the right queue when you’ve been waiting for hours in the wrong one. These simple acts of kindness, combined with living in a fascinating city jam-packed with history, is what makes it worthwhile for me.

What would people be most surprised to learn about living in Istanbul?

The thing that continues to surprise me is that no matter how modern the city and its inhabitants seem, Turkish traditions continue to be actively studied and upheld. I can go out any night of the week or on the weekend and attend tango classes, learn Spanish, do yoga, or learn pilates. However I can also take folk dancing classes, learn ebru (the art of marbling on paper), study Ottoman Turkish, or have my fortune read from my coffee cup. If I want to speak my native tongue, I can go to the European side which caters more to English speaking tourists and residents, but if I want to improve my Turkish, there are weekend festivals held to celebrate cultures from other parts of the country where I can practice the language and learn more about the food and traditions of different regions. The mosques, palaces and monuments that so enthrall tourists are just one small part of what is on offer here. They represent the history of Istanbul, but it is everyday life I find so enticing.

dancers at Gaziantep festival in Goztepe. From Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

dancers at Gaziantep festival in Goztepe 

You say Istanbul is a city of neighbourhoods - how can visitors experience a bit of that?

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I’d suggest visitors check out my blog. As well as writing, I compile regular photo essays on different neighbourhoods. I have an extensive library that I use to decide where to go and what to see. Once I get back home, I research Turkish websites for the history and background of these areas. There’s a lot of information available, but unfortunately, other than English commentaries on attractions in the more famous tourist destinations such as Sultanahmet and Taksim, most of it’s in Turkish. I’m not a tour guide, but my passion for Istanbul, combined with my training as a sociologist, comes through in my writing and gives visitors a unique perspective of the city.

 Armenian church. From  Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

Armenian church

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Turkey is a complex country, and although there’s a façade of mystery, seen in the hidden erotica, cultural traditions, and unusual foods promoted by the tourist industry, that isn’t all there is to the country. Behind the popular images of mosques, belly dancing, moustachioed men, and succulent kebabs is ordinary Turkish life, which is far from mundane. If you see a restaurant full of people eating something you don’t recognize, go in and try it. If you hear music, work your way through the crowd and hum along with the musicians. You’ll be surprised at the welcome you get whenever you try to join in with the locals. Turks are always pleased when foreigners step off the well-worn tourist paths to experience a moment of their lives.

Buryan kebab. From Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

Buryan kebab

What's up next for you?

At the moment my plan is to take a short break from writing. In addition to releasing Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul I've also just finished working on the second edition of Inside Out In Istanbul. It contains almost all new essays and it's available now. As I have some free time I'd like to catch up on some reading and do a bit of travelling. However I know myself well, and suspect that come next month, I'll already be working on something new.