PRINCES ISLANDS: Learning to Overcome A Fear of Strangers

The man with the tea glass, and owner of the beach hut
The man with the tea glass, and owner of the beach hut

A culture of stranger danger dominated your formative years, and it certainly feels like everyone is out to get you. The pickpockets use compassion and distraction techniques to steal from you, and sexual harassment is an inconvenient part of life. Most recently, you were groped on a packed tube (why didn’t any of you help me?) by a man who initiated a cheery conversation about the weather. The swathes of anecdotal evidence from friends and the internet suggests to you that your experiences are not unique.


A culture of stranger danger dominated your formative years, and it certainly feels like everyone is out to get you. The pickpockets use compassion and distraction techniques to steal from you, and sexual harassment is an inconvenient part of life. Most recently, you were groped on a packed tube (why didn’t any of you help me?) by a man who initiated a cheery conversation about the weather. The swathes of anecdotal evidence from friends and the internet suggests to you that your experiences are not unique.

Eventually you lose count of all the bad and uncomfortable things that have happened to you, and an overarching fear of unsolicited friendliness and a deeply rooted suspicion of everyone around you begins to govern your interactions with strangers.

The man with the tea glass, and owner of the beach hut
The man with the tea glass, and owner of the beach hut on Heybeli Ada

Within minutes of arriving in Istanbul, a man wearing trousers an inch too short and a coat that has been worn down to a shine asks you where you’re headed.

“We’re fine.” You say.

“Looking for a hostel?”

“We know where it is.”

“Which one?”

His persistence scares you.

Your friend tells him the name of the hostel, and the panic worsens.

The man thinks for a moment. He folds his arms and frowns at the ground, and then, pointing, says: “You go straight across the square, down that little road, and then turn left. Okay?”

“Okay.” You say.

He gives you a thumbs up, and disappears into the tram station.

But his instructions weren’t quite enough, and you get lost again.

“What are you looking for?” Asks a man standing in the doorway of a cafe.

Encouraged by the first experience, you tell him, and he gets a receptionist at a nearby hotel to find you directions via Google Maps.

The old Tuberculosis Hospital to the left, the open sea to the right
The old Tuberculosis Hospital to the left, the open sea to the right (Heybeli Ada)

A few days later you visit Heybeliada, one of the Princes Islands.

You purchase lunch supplies on the small high street and go looking for the beach with two Swiss-German girls you met at your hostel. The paved street you follow morphs into a dirt track, and the wooden houses give way to pine forest and ferns. You pass a Jandarma college, a disused tuberculosis hospital and a large military resort.

No sight of any public beach, however.

A man is walking towards you with cup of tea held between his fingers. He says something to you in Turkish and points in the direction he came from.

“I think he said something something tea.” You say to the others.

The man points again, nods, and continues on his way, tea glass held aloft.

The Man's Chair, Heybeli Ada Beach
The man’s chair

A short way along the path, you spot a wooden staircase. Upon descending them you come to a narrow strip of dirty sand that is embedded with the detritus of tourists: empty bottles, broken windbreakers, mouldly towels and the non-biodegradable remains of hundreds of picnics. The sweet, briny smell of rotting seaweed and the scattered litter are enough to make you change your mind.

“I think we should go back.” You begin to say.

But the man with the tea glass is back, and he beckons you towards a ramshackle beach hut. He seems very pleased to see you again and the familiar panic begins rising again. You walked about a mile through a deserted forest to get here, and the cliffs are high enough to stifle your calls for help.

Γ‡ay?”

“What did he say?”

“He’s offering us tea.”

You each accept, the others somewhat more readily than you. He brings a couple of chairs and a small table out of the shack, which he lays newspaper over as a tablecloth.

But you don’t really feel comfortable staying. The beach isn’t beautiful, and you are unable to shake your suspicions. He must want something: he gives you a knife to cut your pomegranate with, more tea when you finish your first cup, and his vest jacket when the sun goes in and you start to shiver.

Wearing the Tea Glass Man's vest jacket
Wearing the Tea Glass Man’s vest jacket

When you finish your lunch and decide to head back to the harbour, he casually accepts your thanks, waves goodbye, and sits back down in his red chair on the jetty.

He didn’t want anything after all.

A Street on Heybeli Ada
A Street on Heybeli Ada

You return to London, and return to your old habits.

You go back to work, you put the same stuff in your sandwiches and you drink tea with milk and sugar again.

Then one evening, while walking your dog, someone asks you: “Is that a pug?”

You turn around to locate the voice and see a man sitting on a bench having a cigarette. It’s dark, and it’s late, but the high street is fairly busy and the cafes around you are full.

“It is,” you say, “and it’s her birthday tomorrow.”

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25 comments

  1. Reblogged this on THE INDIE BUTTERFLY and commented:
    I love this post. In terms of style, but also because the message is so relevant – not only for travellers. For everyone. I think we need to spend a little more time believing in people, a little less time judging people, and far more having tea with strangers. Thanks for the beautiful read Lana.

    • Thank you ever so much.

      While it pays to be aware that bad people do exist, you lose so many experiences and opportunities by treating everyone like potential attackers. I was introduced to my new favourite cafe by a total stranger, and had an hour long conversation about community and politics with the man I mentioned at the very end of my post.

      It’s also interesting talking to other female travellers about staying safe in ‘dangerous countries’ (namely India and South America). The consensus I got was that being sensible and also knowing how local women behave cut out a lot of the risk.

  2. This post was wonderful to read, both for the experiences shared and the way it made me sit back and think on all the really great experiences i’ve had with “strangers” i’ve encountered on my travels, and the way that almost all of them wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t willing to take a chance on the idea of more, kindness in unknown people. When i’m out and traveling I feel that i’m more open and generous with my attention, as opposed to when i’m home and burrowed into myself… it’s something i’m working on though. Thank you for a lovely post πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for the comment- the photographs on your blog are beautiful!

      One thing I’ve learned is that “May I take your photograph?” is a really easy way to make a connection with someone. I have only ever had one person say no (‘my acne has flared up! I look awful!’ was the reason they gave me) and I think most people find it quite flattering… I know I would anyway!

  3. Your like on my post prompted me to pop over here:) I love this post. Stylistically, the ending- the way it cuts off with such a lovely, understated message- made me smile. < 3

  4. I love this post, both the way it was written and the photos. While I am a male traveler, I have heard many horror stories from female relatives and friends.

    While different, I had a similar experience when I traveled to Ghana, West Africa. All of my prep work discussed the tribal wars a decade prior, regional warlords, and many other concerns and dangers, from basic food safety to thieves and muggers. However, what I found were a remarkably hospitable people that enjoyed interacting with strangers and joking with them (the people I stayed with were even invited to a neighbor’s wedding and so were we). It changed my attitude when I returned to the States. In part, I was now more open to new experiences and people, but also, for a time, I was partially angry that the people of Southern California, generally, were so selfish and materialistic. They have so much and do so little with it, whereas Ghanaians have a little and do a lot with it. Thankfully, the anger soon dissipated, and now all that is left is the desire to experience new things.

    • They did a study and found that the poorest people in society donate the most to charity. Meanwhile, the millionaires buy Β£500 haircuts and complain about how the poor are leaching off the government.

      You can also look at the number of asylum seekers that each country accepts: the richest countries accept the least refugees, despite having plentiful resources and money.

      The world’s a funny place sometimes.

      • Thanks for sharing that info. I knew these things intuitively, from my travels and experiences, but had no idea that people have studied these things. That is fascinating.

        And it certainly is funny.

  5. Lana, what a beautifully written story. I love how you approached it and made me feel like I was walking along side with you.
    There are many times that I have had great experiences meeting strangers but I agree that you have to be careful too.
    Having one negative experience after another can build walls and it is sad when this happens because those walls shut out the good ones too. Keep having an open heart, it is inspiring to us all!
    Leah

  6. I’ve read a couple of your posts now and I really enjoy the pictures and the writing. I like it best when someone shares experiences and allows us to learn the lesson for ourselves. It seems almost as if you are writing a “parable” allowing us to learn what’s being said between the lines. Great job!!

  7. What a thoughtful post. I have also felt that hesitation with strangers abroad but it’s amazing who you meet and how wonderful it can be to open up.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. I love this… I only travel rarely but I feel this stranger danger even in my own city. It’s so easy to feel threatened by strangers’ attempts at communication, and hard to determine if intentions are good or bad, but you are so right, openness is a healthy response to the unknown!

  9. Really interesting and thought provoking. I have lived in New York and Washington, DC, so I am used to the idea of stranger danger. I have people call after me on the street, and they are not looking to help or be kind. It is good to exercise reasonable caution. But it’s also important to remember that many people, most people even, are kind.

  10. Awesome post! As a solo female traveller, I’m already getting hoards of ‘advice’ from well-intentioned friends and family warning me of ‘the stranger’.

  11. Great post and narrative of what seemed an awesome trip and experience, thank you very much for sharing your insights.
    I really hope to visit Istanbul myself in a near future πŸ™‚

  12. Really relates to my experience. Whenever and wherever I go traveling, the creep of talking to stranger would not let me go either. Yours is beautiful experience. In Indonesia, locals often want money in return of information they gave you.

  13. This blog post had a beautiful message. The hardest part about traveling and staying in hostels is trusting other people and the culture. I love the style of your blog and the pictures are gorgeous.

  14. I am enjoying your posts very much – its funny how wary we can be when confronted with what is simply generosity of spirit, which one seems to find in abundance in Turkey.

  15. Really enjoyed this post-style and topic wise. It reminded me of a trip to Zanzibar and also not being quite comfrtable with strangers helpfullnes and friendliness. AM hoping to go to Turkey this year, too! πŸ™‚

    • Thanks! I adored Turkey, and really wished I could have stayed for longer. The people are some of the best I have ever encountered. Good luck with your travels!

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