Week 10 – Two Steps Sideways

When the best way forward starts with two steps sideways….

 This was an unusual week for us: busy, frustrating, tiring, but ultimately we think we made some downstream progress. We started the week a bit off-kilter – our idyllic week in the Math Village had left us behind in preparation for our Monday class at Boğaziçi. Or perhaps it was our topic for the week, “How a good oil goes bad: rancidity and other degradation processes in olive oil.” As the class progressed, we wondered if we had gone a little rancid.  It was not our best. As often happens, our students didn’t seem to mind and the two guests in our class – new friends from Math Village – said they got a lot out of the class. Hmmmm…

Tuesday we played catch-up with laundry and shopping and prepped for our Wednesday presentation at Sabancı University on the completely opposite end of Istanbul. In the best of circumstances, this might take 1.5 hours by public transportation from our house. In the worst – traffic- it could take half a day. We made a loose arrangement with Zeynep to meet at Taksim (equivalent of New York City’s Times Square) Wed. morning and then to find the shuttle bus to Sabancı. We would work out the details in the AM. Come the morning, and we find out, without any warning, that our phone service was shut down. Hoping that email would work, we named a Simit Sarayı restaurant chain (like Dunkin’ Donuts) on the square as our meeting spot and headed for the bus. Arriving in Taksim at 11:00, we spied our meeting spot – but no Zeynep. Our hearts sank as we realized that across the huge square there was another restaurant of the same name, and another, and another. Four Simit Sarayi in view. Miraculously, before the panic could set in, we spied Zeynep in her red coat and together, we were able to cross the square and catch the private shuttle bus to Sabancı (11 TL thank-you). We made to Sabancı in 45 minutes, feeling lucky to be leaving town–on the other side, traffic into Istanbul was backed up for miles.

zeytinOur visit to Sabancı U. was quick and efficient – first lunch, then a visit with their international studies office (they want US students for study abroad), the presentation (six people came), another short visit with Zeynep’s friend and our host, and then a ride back (thank you, Kutsi) bypassing traffic to be dropped off at a place near our home where we could grab a taxi. I know you are wondering – was it really worth all that effort for three of us to give a talk to six people (actually 2 by the time I spoke as the wrap up speaker).   I tell myself that often results come in ways you never expect them to. This seemed a bit of cosmic paying forward.

On Thursday, we got to delve into the phone story.  Turns out, we had royally missed the boat by not having registered them as foreign phones with the government within 60 days of our arrival and paying an excise tax. It was the government, not the TurkCell service provider, who had our service terminated. So it was off to the government tax office to pay our tax and then to TurkCell to have our service restored. Simple, yes? Finding the Tax Office would have been impossible without Zeynep’s help and that of about 4 or 5 pedestrians and street vendors who pointed us in the right direction.  We wove through wall to wall traffic to get to the Tax Office, resembling a cross between a Motor Vehicles office and the county jail.  Intimidating, yes, but the people inside were pleasant and most efficient in taking our 260 TL and handing us a certificate of registration. Almost there! Off to the TurkCell office for the last step – restoring the service. After a few false starts at the wrong TurkCell office, we finally found our way to customer service at the main sales office in Istiklal Street (like Broadway in NYC). Three service officers, six groups of Turks waiting, we would just wait our turn, yes? As we soon learned, taking turns is not the way service goes here. Whoever is quickest at occupying the vacant seat of a previous client gets the service. After several false starts, we proudly sat across from a capable agent. She spoke English, great! We explained our situation, she asked for our passports and after locating our stamped entry date – she just shook her head. “You can do nothing now – it is past two months – you must leave the country, come back in with a new stamp, and then come back here and ask to have your phone service turned back on.”  We stared in disbelief thinking we had misheard. Zeynep tried again in Turkish. After quite a few “Tamams” traded back and forth, we learned that there was indeed nothing to be done. Could we buy a cheap phone and just switch our SIMS cards? We were shown to a lovely smartphone costing 500 TL. Worried that we would be without phones until we re-enter the country after our trip to Greece in two weeks, we started hearing about friends with extra phones.  By Saturday, we had one phone, with another possibility in sight. Given that this was really our fault for letting the deadline go by, we started feeling lucky to have friends here.

We tried to salvage Thursday with a trip to the Pera museum.  Without asking, they charged us senior citizen rates (good news or bad?) and let us enter the wonderful current exhibit “Oryantalizm.” This was mostly paintings of Constantinople, and of Turkish military actions from the 17th and 18th century, but done by several Polish artists. We felt a bit of whiplash as Americans in the 21st century in Turkey, looking at the work of Europeans of the past, looking at Turks of the past. The paintings were beautiful–full of detail and optimistic color but featured murder, war, and military costumes. We much preferred the subjects of the resident exhibit of Osman Hamdi Bey’s work and a study of coffee culture.

Back home through the gloaming, threading our way through the rush hour pedestrian crowds, we came across a gathering of riot police – complete with tear gas canisters and riot shields prepping for some kind of action. A half a block away, we saw a thick clot of protesters chanting and moving in our direction (check this out – not our protest but will give you a feel). Rich and I were a bit alarmed and quickly detoured off the boulevard.  As we darted to the left, we saw some locals with babies in strollers push nonchalantly through the police and protestors.

On our detour we saw some extraordinary food shops we’d never seen before (we hope to be back) and finally winding our way back on the main roads, we stopped at a Starbucks and picked up some coffee for home AND received our complimentary coffee in a RED CUP!


Happy Holidays Already from Starbucks in Taksim Square

So, a week of ups and downs, sweet and bitter, and a realization that sometimes it isn’t about moving forward, it’s about being in the water.

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3 Responses to Week 10 – Two Steps Sideways

  1. cab552014 says:

    Finally. It wasn’t going to let me reply. Persistence is the only answer I guess. Sounded pretty challenging to me. Don’t know if I would have triumphed like you did. I might have returned home and turned into a lump


  2. Jim Harvey says:

    Reminds me so much of some of the frustrations we felt in Pakistan – though we lived in a much smaller city which helped a lot.


    • pbohara says:

      Jim – 10 years ago, Istanbul was a large city – today it is a megalopolis of unimaginable complexity. I am amazed daily that it works at all and that it maintains the beauty and character that allows its inhabitants to go about their daily lives. I am grateful for my friends here, new and old, without whom Rich and I would be totally helpless. They are all experts at sidestepping and take it as part of the price of living here. Making the most of the journey – that is what we hope to embrace.


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