Week 2 – Challenges of Little Things

Riding on public transportation, using the phone to order drinking water, visiting a market, getting our housekeeper started, doing the laundry: a list of seemingly mundane chores that are just tasks at home but take enormous effort and create anxiety when living abroad especially in a place where you can’t speak the language.

Our first task for week 2 was to figure out the bus system that we will use to get back and forth from the University.

 Our ignorance is so vast. Where is the closest stop? What bus do we take? What is the schedule? Where do we get off?   How does one pay? How do you enter? How do you leave? Is it OK for a man to sit in an empty seat right next to a veiled woman? What is Turkish for “these seats reserved for persons with disabilities, the elderly or pregnant women?”  Does one make eye contact with a person of a different gender?

busWithout Turkish language skills, you must rely mostly on what you can read from people’s expressions and reactions, so thank goodness we are in Turkey where people are so very hospitable. We started by learning all we could from online resources and talking with English speaking friends. We were so confused about the options for paying because cash is not accepted and in our little neighborhood, there is no place we could figure out that sold tokens. Fortunately for us, our friend gave each of us what he said were extra key chain devices called AKBIL that could be used on the bus by pressing a metal button on the key chain against a matching socket on the bus. He thought each device had enough “charge” on it for one or two trips. So, armed with our little AKBILs we headed down the hill to the bus stop we had determined was serviced by a bus that could take us to the university. After a short wait, a bus pulls up, the door opens, and we step in. I searched frantically for a spot on the dashboard that matched my little AKBIL, located something that looked roughly hole-like, and pressed my button into the hole. A little sound is made. Is this good?? I glanced quizzically at the bus driver, and was relieved when he smiled. SUCCESS!! First hurdle overcome. Now, we scuttle to the middle section of the bus and try to count the stops (should be four) to our exit. But unlike subways or metros, the bus does not stop at a stop if there is no one there, so we quickly get disoriented when we have passed by one landmark before the right number of stops and then we have to wing it. We had a scary moment when we realized we should get out, but couldn’t open the door. We learned that you are supposed to signal your exit prior to the stop by pushing a call button – and that then the bus driver will open the back doors for you.

 Can you believe you just read almost 500 words to explain how to get on and off a bus? While I am sure by next month, this will be almost second nature, I use it as an example of how each new task consumes so much thought and energy.

Just call us, the advertisement says.

Just call us, the advertisement says.

OK, so being ignorant in public is terrifying, now imagine using a phone to order something when you can’t speak the language. On the phone, you have no visual cues, no one whose behavior you can copy, and while you might have worked out what you want to say, what if the person asks you a question? By day 7, we had exhausted our initially provided drinking water and needed to order more (no one in Istanbul drinks the tap water). We knew who to call, and what to say, but would we be successful in communicating? I practiced and practiced, and made the call. After exchanging Merhabas (hellos), I launched into my two sentence script (asking for what I wanted and giving our address).   I paused, and the man on the other end of the phone asked a question. O no! But it sounded like he was asking if we wanted one or two jugs, so I repeated TWO (iki). OK (Taman), he says, and hangs up. Fifteen minutes later, the buzzer on the gate rings, and it is the water guy!  Rich and I high fived we were so excited. Five minutes later, we had our water and we’d paid and tipped the delivery man who was very confused about why we were so happy to get two jugs of water.

Not our photo but to give you an idea...

Old Woman with Shopping Trolley

Shopping. In our neighborhood, fresh food is purchased from teeny tiny stores where it doesn’t look very fresh, from vendors who push carts up and down the narrow steep streets all day, or from the weekly farmers market. We knew the market was our best option. Tuesday, just like this little piggy, we would go to market. We grabbed our string bags and headed up the hill. We did not do three important things: learn the Turkish words for the food we wanted, learn to count past 12 in Turkish, or get change. We also did not know the exact location, but we found a scarfed woman pushing an empty shopping trolly, so we followed her. BINGO! The market!!

Glorious arrays of fruits and vegetables set up more as still life paintings than as food stocks. While we will do a photo gallery for you a little later, let me give you a bit of a taste for what we saw: a spice vendor’s display of sumac, saffron, dried peppers, dried herbs, nuts, teas, all in barrels with each barrel wrapped in a small Turkish rug, an ancient and tiny man who sold only garlic on a tiny table, a washtub filled with artichoke hearts in salt water. Pictures will come later, I promise.   We settled on a single vendor who had many items we wanted and purchased a kilo each of eggplant, a beautiful light green summer squash, onions, and apples. Still, this only added up to un-iki TL (12 TL or about $6)– and the vendor blanched when we handed him our 100 TL bill. Fortunately, he was able to make change and we tried to be gracious in our thank-yous. We also picked up some cheese and a bagful of olives and were given some super mozzarella to taste (next time!). We bought some garlic from the tiny man and then our last stop was to buy a green-yellow melon that we were given to try (it was heavenly) and peaches that looked too good to be true (they were awful). Home again, satisfied, we unpacked our bags and felt proud of ourselves.

Just like our drying rack.

Just like our drying rack.

Laundry: We are fortunate to have a washing machine, but we do not (nor does anyone else) have a dryer. So we did like the locals do and hung our clothes on this complicated contraption that sat with our clothes on it for a day until they dried somewhat wrinkled and hard.

Housecleaning: On Friday, our cleaning woman Nazil, arrived for the first time. Nazil kind of comes with the house, has cleaned this place for years, and we were lucky that she agreed to continue to work for us. We had been primed about her arrival and her fee ($100 TL for about 6 hours of work) but we did not know how to talk with her. Rich found a perfect website with English and Turkish housecleaning tasks, and I went through it with her before leaving for a day at the University. Nazil seemed disappointed that we had already done most of the laundry, and we discovered this is part of what she expects to do INCLUDING IRONING. Next time we’ll know, but the few clothes she washed (unlike the laundry we had done) had no wrinkles and were beautifully arranged on the little collapsible dryer when we came home. Voila, we felt we had just enjoyed an indulgent day at the spa. She also does windows.

If there is something that you are curious about how it is done in Turkey, don’t be shy,  post a comment and we’ll be sure to answer it!  If I gave you 500 words on riding a bus, imagine how much I could say about getting vitamins or having my hair cut!  Seriously, I’m obsessing about each of those simple task that I have yet to face.  

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7 Responses to Week 2 – Challenges of Little Things

  1. Jacqui wallace says:

    I relished every word. For those of us, who may (or may not) get to turkey, it’s a sampling of a different cultural experience. Thanks.


    • pbohara says:

      It is so nice to get your comments, Jacqui! I continue to marvel how living abroad teaches one so much about home — about how we forget each and every day how fortunate we are to have power (lost it for 12 hours yesterday), a car (our lives depend upon public transportation) and a common language.


  2. Jim Harvey says:

    Thanks Pat for your wonderful descriptions. You will treasure them down the line when these issues fade into the past. They remind me of our adventures when first arriving in Pakistan – though we had other English speaking folks to help us.


    • pbohara says:

      Hi Jim! The graciousness of the Turks makes our mistakes and bumbling around less awful than it could be. At the University many people speak English, but in our community, about 5 miles from the University, we must speak Turkish or resort to pantomime (more frequent).


  3. Sarah Schear says:

    Love your vivid descriptions, Prof. O’Hara! Reminds me of experiencing the vastness of my ignorance while getting settled in India. Thanks for sharing the journey.


    • pbohara says:

      Thanks Sarah, I just wish my blog could include the sounds the passing ships, the softness of the breezes off the Bosphorus, and the tastes of the fresh fish. Nice to have you along for the journey!


  4. Pingback: Our Local Market | Our Year with Olives – July 2014 to June 2015

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