Week 11 – Best of Intentions

We’ve seen it repeated again and again. Turks, caught in the middle of their chaotic busy lives, look out for each other and for us.  Here’s one example for each day of the week.

  1. Monday


    Monday we are on the 22RE, a crowded bus in the morning commute. An elderly woman and her middle aged daughter climb onboard, and as the bus accelerates away from the curb, the elderly woman has not yet been settled and stumbles. She’s trying to pull herself up into a seat distant from her daughter, but is not able to make it. A young man gets up, grabs her elbow, says a few words to another passenger, who pops out of his seat next to the daughter.  The young Turk guides the woman to this new seat and settles her securely next to her daughter. A silent YES reverberates through the crowd.

  2. Tuesday


    Tuesday was our long awaited appointment for our residency permits at the Emirgan Polis Office.  We arrive a few minutes early and find our way to Room 220, permits.  It’s as grim as you imagine; hard plastic seats, cold fluorescent overhead lighting. Since all the seats outside Room 220 are filled, we move a bit down the hall and wait outside Room 230, “Office of Weapons and Firearms Registry.” An hour after our assigned time (which we spend reading through all of the categories a weapon purchaser might fall into:  jeweler, currency exchanger, store owner, animal trainer and …dentist?), our number is called. We hop up with our two 3-ring binders, each with 4 color passport photos, our original passports, color copies of ID and entry stamp page of passport, our lease – translated into Turkish and notarized, health forms and bank forms from the US, and our application form printed out “in color” filled out and signed. Each item is neatly organized in its own plastic sleeve. The two officers, one clearly in charge, smirk as we hand over our “dossiers” and joke about how extra organized we are, but they quickly got down to the business of checking our paperwork.  We knew our health forms would be problematic. A pause over those documents. We explain that our Blue Cross Coverage would reimburse us for emergency health care cost abroad. The response “This is English, must translate to Turkish.” We nod. A flurry of other conditions: pay tax at the tax office, pay another 50 TL tax at a Ziraat bank (even the Ziraat employee didn’t know why), bring receipts and translation back, we have 30 days. So we spend another day accumulating stamps, translations, signatures and notary stamps and signatures, receipts and along the way part with more of our money. When we return to the Polis Office the next day, we see our Officer – could he be over 30? – he waves us in seriously and takes the streamlined package we offer. He handles the receipts.  He staples the 20 pages for each application with a giant stapler. He reaches behind him and tosses our applications into a cardboard box and turns back to us.  For the first time, he smiles. “Forty days, if you don’t get permits at home, you come back here.” We realize how lucky we are. He could have made it way more difficult for us.

  3. Tuesday /Wednesday


    Wednesday morning, not too early, we hear a tap on the window that faces the street.  Peering in is a young man waving a meter at us and pointing at our glass porch.  We let him in the gate, and he proceeds to measure our water meter, in a minute, he’s gone.  About an hour later, our gate buzzer goes off, it’s the gas repair man, whom we have met before, here to fix our upstairs neighbor’s furnace.  Our neighbor is not home and can’t be reached.  Since we have a key, we hand it over with the warning that there may be an alarm.  He goes ahead, wanting to finish the job.  Not surprisingly, the security alarm shrieks.  He finishes quickly, gives me the bill and the key, and waves good-bye. In five minutes or so,  the alarm stops.  About 10 minutes later, we hear another tap on the window and see two young policemen at the gate.  Unlike the gas man, who spoke quite good English, the policemen are testing our extremely limited Turkish.  We manage to convey that it’s not our alarm, and with help from our landlord on the phone, that there is no break in.  Satisfied, the police leave, and we go inside wondering why the phrase, “There was no burglary, it was the gas repair man” is not in all the phrase books.  The best part:  while dropping our residency paperwork off later in the day, we encounter the same policeman who was at our house that morning.  We all smile, nod pleasantly, and move on.

  4. Saturday


    Thursday we decide to attend to some chores at home.  Having broken off a piece of our upstairs sink drain, Rich is on a quest to fix said drain. We bear the broken remains with us as we head up to Reşit Paşa and peer though the drizzle into a store whose name we can’t translate but which looks as though it MIGHT have plumbing supplies. A man motions us inside, Rich holds up the part, and he is quickly ushered into the “back room.” The men consult. A few minutes later, Rich emerges with a new part in a blue bag and a smile on his face. The new drain/trap cost him 4 TL (less than $2.00). He is a very happy man.

  5. Friday


    Friday night, we are exploring a new route down the hill from North Campus to the Waterfront Road (Sahil Caddesi). It is dark, misty with long and mysterious shadows. We are walking through some very ritzy neighborhoods, isolated but beautiful. We are a bit lost. We hesitate at a set of stairs heading down, unsure if they might not be a public way, but instead, lead to a private residence. A woman holding a cat comes out of her house and contemplates us. (Two foreigners, a briefcase and a backpack, lost looks). Immediately she smiles and waves her hands in the direction of the stairs we were about to bypass and nods assent and assures us as best she can that this route WILL take us down to the Sahil Caddesi.

  6. Saturday


    Saturday, we arrive at the Rumelihisarı Iskele Restaurant,** a fancy restaurant along the waterfront, for a dinner we desperately need after a trying week. We want fish and rakı. Or, maybe we want rakı and fish.  We want to be taken care of. We want to be entertained by the never-ending spectacle of the traffic on the Bosphorus. “Reservations?” asks a man at the door. Well, we had made one online (30 minutes ago) and tried to tell that to the waiter at the door. Hmmm….. he said, his finger moving up and down the page, searching for our name, though we knew it wouldn’t be there. The manager comes over. Another explanation.   He stares at his list for a moment or two and says, Ahhh, the computer! With great dignity, he leads us to a lovely table for two. We eat incredible fish, drink a 35 dl bottle of Raki, and are taken care of like royalty.  Ahhh………………..

  7. Sunday


    Sunday morning there is a pot of chrysanthemums on our back porch.

I ask you how each of these scenes might have played out in your neighborhood. We certainly know how quickly police would have been called with strangers lurking in a dark alleyway in NYC, how a busy popular restaurant would have handled two strangers who came in without reservations, how our immigration office would have/could have chosen to NOT process our applications, how the big box hardware store might have sent us on our way with a kit for replumbing the entire sink for $59.99, and how an elderly neighbor on the bus might have been isolated in her embarrassing “oldness.”  As I write this, I am sitting in our 2nd floor window seat with a view of the Bosphorus early Saturday morning. It is raining.  A man walking on the cobblestone street below is singing to himself. I hope he has a good day and I hope you do too!

*These Ottoman style calligraphy samples have nothing to do with the days of the week, as far as we know.  However, they seemed to fit the mood of the days.  These are examples similar to those we saw at Sabancı Museum.  The style of arranging text into the shape of a recognizable object is one aspect of the great art exhibited by this work.

**Note:  We have gotten steeped in the neighborhoods enough that we didn’t explain the location of this restaurant in the first draft.  Doesn’t everyone have a wonderfully appointed restaurant with talented chefs next to the local ferry station (iskele) and just downhill from a castle (Rumeli Hisarı) built in 1451 by Sultan Mehmed II during the siege of Constantinople?  Really, it’s just getting too ordinary.

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One Response to Week 11 – Best of Intentions

  1. Janet says:

    Pat & Rich –
    I just love reading of your adventures in Turkey. The humor you bring to each story and the wonderful descriptions of your daily life in this exotic place are so wonderful. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us!


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