I have become more assertive, simply because I needed to
How does the outside world view you?
A young couple recently came to eat in our restaurant and at the end they asked whether we came from Turkey. They were the first to ask us this so directly and to be right. Usually, I let our guests guess. It turned out that that woman also had Turkish friends. People often think that we come from the Balkans or from Iran, Iraq or, on the very odd occasion, Spain.
No, never. My father probably has Syrian blood but he is not entirely certain of that. If I look at my father or my grandmother in the past, it is quite possible. They have also sometimes said this of me. Syrians do not really look like genuine Arabs, somewhat whiter. I do not really know.
Were you born here?
No. I was one and a half years old when I came to the Netherlands. My father came here in 1964. It was only seven years later that he brought his family here. Guest workers actually came here with the idea of staying for two years, saving some money and then going back again. However, it did not work out that way. They had to care for their family as well as themselves, with the result that no money was left and it took longer and longer. I was conceived during one of the holidays. He was not there when I was born. At a certain point he collected us along with the entire family after seven years. I grew up here. I speak Dutch fluently but also Turkish.
Didn’t your parents want to return at a certain point in time?
Yes, and they also did that. That has always been the idea, especially on the part of my father. Much later I was also joined by two younger brothers. And they took those brothers with them to Turkey when they were toddlers. The idea was that I would also go with them. At the time I quickly did a secretarial course and I remained behind with my elder brothers. After that I did indeed follow them when I was seventeen but those with whom I grew up, my elder brothers and my sister, remained behind. My return to Turkey only lasted a year. I wanted to return to the Netherlands. This inevitably led to difficulties, because my father is quite traditional and I was naturally a young, unmarried girl. My father had not yet sold the house in the Netherlands, so we were able to live there. I very quickly got a job and attended some courses as well. I worked for the police in the juvenile and sexual offences departments, and did some administrative work. It was demanding yet rather pleasant and exciting. During that period I helped my brother, who was in the catering business, during the weekends and this was how I met Mustafa, when he came to work in the restaurant. Looking back, I was very young – 23 – when I married. By Turkish standards this is not the case. It is so culture-bound. You may not cohabit or go out with anyone for too long. Everything needed to be formalised. Yet we waited five years before we had children, because we wanted to get to know each other better. In addition, Mustafa, who was a year younger, had always dreamt of starting his own restaurant. Save, save. Mustafa usually worked seven days a week until the opportunity arose in 1999 to start a restaurant together with a friend, who was a chef, in Utrecht.
Dis you also start to work in the restaurant immediately?
Not immediately. I had an office job. Meric, our eldest son, had just been born. There was not much I could do for Mustafa at that point in time and it was precisely when he started his restaurant that I fell pregnant again. It turned out to be Tuna and Deniz, our twin daughters.
How did that go?
It was very much a case of doubling up. Although it was quite enjoyable, I would have preferred to have them one after the other. Meric was still quite young and Mustafa was very full on. It was only when Tuna and Deniz went to nursery school that I was able to do more for the business. I did some administrative work but then I said that I would be able to help out now and then but it could not become a habit. This happened with growing frequency the older they got. I enjoyed it more and more.
After that you went on a sabbatical for one and a half years. How did that go?
That was quite enjoyable but a time such as that without obligations or goals, it comes to an end at a certain point. You need to have a goal in your life. It became Karaf, a new restaurant which we started together completely from scratch. This also really had an effect on my personality. I had spent so many years at home with the children and, although I do not regret it at all, it did occur somewhat at the expense of my own development. I noticed this when I was amongst people. After our sabbatical I spoke to Mustafa explicitly about this. Although we are very different, we complement each other well. Thanks to the restaurant I have become more assertive, simply because I needed to. I had to contend with staff and then you really need to call a spade a spade. In the past I had difficulties with that but now no more.
Yet you have just sold De Karaf. What now?
We have another restaurant, Loof, and above it we already have a hotel room. They are doing well and we would like to expand them. Perhaps we will go and start our own hotel in Turkey after that.
So you may return to Turkey anyway?
It will never be forever. This is because we still have too many business ties here. We will not sell Loof soon, because my brother is also involved in it. It is also such a beautiful location that we do not want to leave it for the time being.
Yet if you were to start a hotel in Turkey, you would have to be there, surely?
In view of the current situation in Turkey we have put those plans on the back burner for a while. Not that you notice so much of it yourself but it is really blown up in the media, with the result that the tourists are currently staying away. Perhaps we will first start another small hotel here in a new building first.
Do you actually feel more Turkish than Dutch?
My goal is to draw as many positive things from the two cultures as possible: the free and sociable nature of the Netherlands without exaggerating it, and the hospitable side of the Turks. We deal with our children in a completely different way from how our parents did things. It is not so much a double life but perhaps a double role. For example, my father is not aware of a specific aspect of me. He would have liked to see my sister and I wear headscarves but he never made it obligatory for us to do so. Neither did he think much of greeting your friends here in the Netherlands with three kisses on the cheek. So I don’t do this in his presence. They are minor things but I need to bear them in mind. As far as that is concerned, my choice of Mustafa is very important. I also have him to thank for what I have managed to achieve and the way I can be myself. Many Turkish women have to adjust to their husband, even though they are not themselves all that traditional. They fall in love and then such a guy seems to be quite modern still but later that changes. Mustafa came to the Netherlands much later than I did. He grew up in Turkey but I have really been lucky with him, because he is so progressive. Very often my Dutch friends or acquaintances tell me that I am no longer a Turk. That is not an insult but I don’t think that you can say that. First and foremost, I am a global citizen, although I still enjoy being in Turkey. It feels like home. And I also always enjoy being able to return home and that is in the Netherlands.