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Exclusive Interview with Author Lisa Morrow

9th January 2019

YellAli had the pleasure of an Exclusive Interview with the Author of Inside Out Istanbul - Lisa Morrow.

Lisa Morrow is a Sydney born sociologist, author and travel writer (and one time English teacher) who runs the successful blog Inside Out In Istanbul (www.insideoutinistanbul.com).

Where are you originally from, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up in a nice but boring middle class suburb. Like most of my classmates, I went straight to university after I finished high school but it wasn’t a good fit at the time. I dropped out before the end of the first year and started working. Over the next few years I had a lot of different jobs, as a public service clerk, barmaid, retail assistant and cleaner, to name a few. When I’d saved up enough money I started to travel. Eventually I went back to university and earned a Masters Degree in Sociology.

Why did you first come to Turkey and when?

I first came to Turkey by chance. I was based in London at the time, working as a waitress for an agency, and living in a mad 3 bedroom share house with about 20 other people. I became friends with a woman from Melbourne and we hitchhiked through Ireland together. When she flew out to the Greek Islands I followed and then ended up in Istanbul. It was the summer of 1990. The Gulf War was on and I still remember the water shortages and warships moored on the Bosphorus.  

How long have you lived here, where have you lived in Turkey?

In total I’ve lived in Turkey for about 11 years over a period of nearly 20 years. I lived in Göreme in 1990, in Istanbul in 2000, Kayseri from 2002 to 2004 and then back to Istanbul again. When my parents were alive I went back and lived in Australia for a number of years several times, but Turkey always called to me.

What made you decide to stay in Turkey? 

In 2010 my husband and I realised we had more friends in Istanbul than Sydney, always felt homesick when we were away from Turkey and wanted to move over lock, stock and barrel, rather than living in rented homes with other people’s furniture.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your first published book and the inspiration behind it? 

It was born out of my frustration at the misconceptions people have about Turks and Turkish culture. Even now, whenever I go back to Australia someone still either asks if I have to wear a headscarf or assumes I must speak Arabic. Turkey isn’t a Middle Eastern country, and it’s geographically large, enormously varied and incredibly diverse. What fascinates me most is the way tradition and modernity play out side-by-side in everyday life. My first collection of essays, Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City (https://amzn.to/2C81KjH) introduces the reader to the mayhem of zenne dancers in my street, the intricacies of sünnet, swimming pool etiquette and much more.

What are your favourite parts of Turkish culture? Any tips to readers thinking of moving here?

There’s so much I like about Turkish culture, in particular the Turkish passion for sohbet. The word translates literally as banter or chitchat but the reality is endless hours talking, eating, walking, having fun, being together and just enjoying the moment with your friends and family. Once you have Turkish friends you’ll never be alone long enough to feel lonely. However this can be challenging if you come from a culture that’s more reserved, both physically and emotionally. Another problem some people face is basing their expectations of a permanent move to Turkey solely on short, summer holidays. It’s easy to make holiday friends but they don’t always go the distance. Just like back home, it can take time to build up real and abiding friendships. Settling in can be hard but it is rewarding, as I share in my memoir Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom (https://amzn.to/2REObCd)

What are your favourite places in Turkey, where do you choose to holiday?

My favourite holiday place is Kaş. I’ve been there 17 or 18 times and it feels like nothing ever changes. Of course a lot of new restaurants and bars have opened up since I first went there in 1990, although some from that time are still going strong, but the relaxed vibe, great places to swim and rewards of just doing nothing remain constant. I always come back refreshed and rejuvenated, having already planning my next holiday there.

Photo - Kaş, Turkey

Do you speak Turkish? How did you learn?

I do speak Turkish. On my first visit to Turkey back in 1990 I realised the best way to understand people and their culture is if you can speak their language. It lets you interact with a lot more people and a greater variety than if you only speak English. I learned by starting off with beginner books and as I became more proficient I studied more advanced Turkish at home with a friend. However the best way to learn is to go out and speak it, even at the risk of making mistakes. I’ve written about this in my blog (http://www.insideoutinistanbul.com/learning-turkish/) and talked about it, in Turkish, in an interview on CNN Turk (https://www.cnnturk.com/tv-cnn-turk/programlar/yabanci/lisa-morrow).

Photo - Kaş, Turkey

Are there any hidden gems or your favorite places in Istanbul you can tell us about?

I’m a creature of habit and love old-fashioned places over new. I’ve been dropping into Hacı Bekir in Kadıköy for a Turkish coffee and piece or two (OK, three) of lokum for years now. I’m a bit sad they’re renovating their original shop front, but the lokum is still divine. It’s a great place to sit and daydream away from the crowded streets before heading out back again.

Do you have any other projects do you have underway?

For the last few years I’ve been working hard to get pieces about Istanbul and Turkey published outside my blog. Time and time again I see articles suggesting the same ten or so things to see, obviously written by people who’ve only visited Istanbul for a few days, often on a press trip or guided tour. There is so much to see and explore, and in 2019 I’d love the people who usually only ever stay in Marmaris, Fethiye and Bodrum to spend a few days in Istanbul. I know once they check out my blog they’ll find lots of things they want to do!

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