Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Tally: Turkey Won A Little Bit

A Snowstorm

On Thursday, there was a tremendous snowstorm. It was supposed to come on Friday, and it wasn't supposed to be tremendous. And, in fact, in most parts of the city it wasn't tremendous. But out here, it was.

Since the snowstorm wasn't supposed to come until Friday, everyone, myself included, carried on as usual despite growing evidence to the contrary. I left home at 7.30 to get to work in time to start administering speaking exams at 8.30, with time left over for coffee, last-minute sorting out, some Facebook, and reading my horoscope. I've taken an inexplicable interest in horoscopes again after many years. Something has clicked in my mind that has made me unable to bear the slightest possibility of a completely unpredictable day. Not that my horoscope knew about the snowstorm. That would be asking too much. Maybe if I'd grabbed a passing stranger and asked him or her to look at my coffee dregs...

There was no minibus sitting warmly in its usual spot. The snow was flurrying and the wind was as strong as it had been all night. Some snow was starting to stick. A large-ish clump of people was waiting for the minibus, indicating that one hadn't been by for at least 15 minutes. So when an IETT bus came by, I just went and got on it.

The bus got stuck first because a service bus in had gone off the road and gotten stuck. The driver and some other men got out to help. A crazy woman on the bus continued to rant even though her seat partner left. Some of the guys outside clumped around the bus to share ideas about what to do. One attempted to direct traffic around the snarl, with all the drivers ignoring him and he almost got killed like 5 times but he pressed on doggedly. The service bus was saved and all the men came back, cheerfully rubbing their hands and stomping their feet and puffing their lips to show how cold it was. The crazy lady shut up and some other women, right on cue, began bitching at the driver in spine-wrenching high tones.

Please say something worthwhile.
Seriously, ladies, why do you have to do that? Just shut up, please. All you do is make annoying situations worse for everyone. No one gives a shit what you think about pointless things, and you make the rest of us look bad. By "us" I mean women with sense.

The bus got stuck again, behind another service that had gotten stuck. The same rescue drill was repeated, and the men were less merry when they came back.

The next time the bus got stuck, it got stuck for real. The driver came back from freeing a spun-out sports car and announced he wouldn't be going anywhere until the salt trucks came through. By then, it was 8.20. I had dutifully informed everyone involved with the exams that I would be late during the previous getting-stuck.

Luckily, a minibus came by. So I got off the bus and flagged down the minibus. Fortunately, minibus drivers have fewer rules and less regard for safety and human life than IETT drivers. We arrived at the university at more or less a skid the whole way. There were already students struggling on the roadside on the long walk from West Campus to Main Campus by this point.

Some decisions are worse than mine.
I'm not sure what prompts Rektör Bey to call a snow day. Like many of his exalted decisions, logic, reason, and obvious reality have very little to do with it.

There were a lot of students waiting around for speaking exams, and a lot of teachers who hadn't made it to school. I dealt with the ones on my list first, many of whom were my own students. Word got out through the rest of my class that I was giving speaking exams, plus to some other students, so I ended up giving speaking exams for a full three hours. It was treacherously boring, having the same conversation over and over with one nervous, shaking kid after another. Though in their defense, each kid managed to say at least one interesting thing about themselves or their thoughts on mundane topics that I didn't know.

I see your future, Vain Girl.
Everyone passed except one. Everyone got exceedingly high grades in speaking. Even the one who failed didn't deserve the 60% she got because most of what she said was in Turkish. But it was interesting to learn her parents were from Serbia. 14 weeks of telling her to quit filing her nails and checking her eye makeup in her iPhone and discussing her hair, and I never knew that about her. I also noticed she had giant peasant worker hands, so I guess she's got more on her plate than being pretty and looking for a good husband. She mentioned finding a husband as one of her academic goals.

So. The tally. 50 points to Bad Turkey for fucking my day with poor weather prediction. 50 points to Good Turkey for everyone being so darned helpful on the shitty roads. Another 10 points to Good Turkey for timely transportation opportunities. 30 points to me for the speaking exams, plus 10 points for showing pluck with public transport.

Getting Home: An Adventure!

An email announcement that school closed came a little after noon. I stayed on, trying to get as much work done as I could before the roads became too impassable. I still wasn't sure I could rely on Rektör Bey to close school the next day. We were supposed to be giving exams, and I was in charge of some of the exams being given.

I'll get home, no problem.
By 2.30, there were no more minibuses. I confirmed with the tea lady, the only person still in the office, that a staff service would be leaving an hour later. Still, I wanted to get going so I went outside to try my luck. I figured I could a) walk a ways until b) a suitable candidate for hitchhiking passed by and c) either got home or halfway there to a friend who lives up in the hills. I made sure my friend was cool with having me crash at his place. The adventure of it all sounded cool.

I found a service bus that was just leaving that I assumed was going to West Campus. I figured I could hook something up from there. There was a woman in a wheelchair on the bus, and I climbed over her folded-up chair to the empty seat in front, next to the driver. As we tooled along slowly and safely (the service bus drivers are ever so safe), I found out the service was going all the way to Sarıyer, so I messaged my friend that the adventure was over. I was a bit disappointed.

Not so bad...
We made it the place where the road splits two ways, with both roads going to Sarıyer. Cars and buses were scattered around the road, with a lot of guys walking around. Our guy got out to confer with another service driver who'd gotten stuck going up the hill. After awhile, he came back and announced, "Well, you all are walking." The wheelchair lady said, "What shall I do?"

Fucking great decision!
I begin weighing my options, which were considerably sweeter than the wheelchair lady's. My friend's house was a short-ish uphill hike back the way we'd come. My house was a long downhill hike crowded with drivers who still apparently didn't understand it was snowing a shitload. At my friend's house, there was good conversation and good food and central heat and a bunch of booze. At my house, there was just me and my stingy heating habits, meh food, and a bottle of gin. LE was at his grandmother's.

So I jumped off the service and started walking. It was pretty much a blizzard, mind you, with wind hard enough to make you lose your balance and falling snow that was more like biting ice crystals. I had to take off my glasses in order to see and the wind was against me as I trudged uphill.

After about 20 minutes, I started thinking about Little House On The Prairie. I judged it not cold enough to just die like kids managed to do every winter on that show. I had some gum and some Atomic Fireballs in my bag. My coat (bless my parents for that long-ago Christmas present!) is like a bed and I was sweating under it. I had leggings under my jeans, another blessing, but no gloves, hat, or scarf because I couldn't find my winter accessories that morning. We moved to this house in summer and I put all that stuff somewhere but I don't know where. I took some small comfort in the fact that I probably looked like a man from a distance, which made me less nervous about being alone at the side of a dead empty road in a snowstorm. I figured not many dudes would be feeling rape-y in that kind of weather anyway. My biggest danger would be a skidding car.

The walk started to seem a bit long. I found some sheltered spots a few times and tried to call my friend to tell him I was coming after all, but the phones had quit working. The electrical tower I was using as a landmark to the entrance of his apartment complex was well behind me. Later on, we figured out the road I should have taken, the one that would have made it a 20 minute hike, was so steep that no one had used it for hours, so it had been snowed over. I had seen the road I suspected might be it, but decided bow wasn't a good time to test out roads I wasn't sure of, so I ended up taking the scenic route.

I still knew where I was, even though I was surprised I had walked that far. I went into another apartment complex and saw what I thought was the little farm road that cut through to my friend's complex. There was a car there, so I asked the driver if it was the right road. He told me he was going to that same complex and to hop in, so I did. There were two other women in the car there, so it wasn't a scary thing to do, Mom and Dad.

Except he managed to get stuck, too. I hung out in the car for awhile and managed to get through to my friend. I asked him directions for the farm road. The driver had decided it was a good time to put on chains and he was mad as hell and cursing at the jack and the chains while the two women stood by advising him, which just made him madder. I decided not to bother him with thank-yous and just headed off to the farm road. There was a bakkal at the entrance and I confirmed the directions with some guys in there. First right first left. Easy.

Except those those roads were snowed over and also had no tracks. They were also riddled with 4-inch deep slush puddles. I discovered my boots were no longer waterproof. I got really lucky in that the first right had a spindly street sign on the corner, otherwise there was no other evidence of a road there. Someone had gotten stuck at the first left, leaving deep, slushy mud grooves at the turn. I found my friend's complex. On the way to his house, there was an open bakery so I bought some eclaires and had a cigarette.

The tally: 1,000 points to me for hiking over an hour through the storm and getting directions. 300 points to Good Turkey for a driver who tried to be helpful and for the bakkal and the bakery. 500 points to Bad Turkey for a total failure at accepting and dealing with a snowstorm.

I was still winning. But not for long.

Bureaucratic Bullshit

When I got to my friend's house and shucked my wet clothes had a pee and waited for the feeling in my face to come back, the message came from school that it would be closed the following day.

For the first time in my life, upon hearing of a Snow Day, I was all, "Ah, fuck."

It meant final exams would have to be re-scheduled. It meant all the work I had to do couldn't be done. There's an exam I haven't finished writing, plus a lot of grades that need dealing with, plus all this other crap I feel the weight of. When the fuck did I become the sort of person who regards a Snow Day as an inconvenience? Mother fucker. I hate myself a little bit. But we made the best of things. We had soup and prosciutto and Emmenthaler cheese and gin tonics. We played with the Internet and watched Merlin and a stupid Turkish game show on TV. I dealt with the flurry of emails about the exams.

And then I remembered a message I had received earlier in the day, a legal warning that my phone was kayıt dışı and would be cut off on Christmas Day. So, still sore and exhilarated from my snowy adventure, I decided to deal with that shit.

I called the number in the message. It wasn't working anymore. So I called Turkcell. After all, I've made them my bitch once before, so I was more than prepared to do it again.

Except they've changed to voice automation instead of pushing buttons. Naturally, the system couldn't understand me so after I few tried I resorted to assuring Turkcell it was about to become my bitch. Then it announced it was going to save me time by switching to a voice recognition system so I wouldn't have to tell them my father's name anymore for security. It wanted me to repeat an incomprehensible sentence. The only thing I understood from the sentence was "Turkcell." So I explained to it how it needed to go fuck itself until it gave me an operator. The first guy I got couldn't hear me. I explained my problem and he said a bunch of stuff. I explained that I'm foreign and couldn't understand him, so he said a bunch more stuff, even faster. He gave me number to message. We Googled it and discovered it was just to give me my phone's special number I had already found in my phone settings because he thought I was trying to unlock my phone.
I make the telephone machine work good.

So I called them back. I did the whole voice thing again with different bad words. The new operator was much nicer as he explained the whole thing the first guy explained. I realized I was misunderstanding "IMEI" (my phone's special number) as "email."

So I called back again and told the voice system a whole bunch of other shameful things and got a woman this time. She started telling me the same thing the first guys had, and I stopped her and told her it was something different and what did I need to do? She gave me a number to call in Ankara, and another number in case the first number didn't work.

The first number didn't work. The second number yielded a call center where they looked up my IMEI and found my phone was kayıt dışı. You know why? When I registered it at the tax office in the first place, back in September, the tax guy didn't notice my residence permit was expired. I was relieved at the time, knowing it would be awhile before it got renewed. But whatever pointless government office in charge of these things noticed three months ofter the fact that my residence permit was expired, and then gave me 5 days (2 of them non-working weekend days) in a snowstorm to get a bunch of photocopies to ship them via cargo to show my residence permit had been renewed. The photocopies aren't hard. But they also wanted a dilekçi.

Hello, this is 1432. We want our bureaucratic processes back.
Fucking dilekçi. What is it with these things? Can we please just join the 21st century already? And for that matter, isn't my residence permit renewal recorded digitally somewhere? Is it so fucking hard to look that up? Or just go all 20th century and make a fucking phone call to the foreign police?

Apparently, yes. Yes, it is so fucking hard. I explained to the woman that this whole process was a complete bitch to finish in 5 days because I was snowed in and the weekend was nigh and couldn't they have let me know sooner? She said some stuff that gave me to understand she was just a call center lackey so I thanked her and moved on.

... Safety Pumpkin: An Aside

Today, I got up early to go across town and fetch LE. Apparently the snow problem isn't a problem once you're out of Sarıyer. BE gave us a ride all the way to Beşiktaş, saving us metrobus unpleasantness. On the way, we had to pick up some of his clients he was taking to the hospital, a couple on their way to get an embryo implanted in the wife-- the last step of their test-tube baby fertility adventure. The woman was covered and dressed like a doll in a fuzzy red coat with porcelain makeup laid on so thick you couldn't tell if she was 23 or 53. The husband was just a guy. BE called them in advance to check if they minded if he was bringing his son and his...

"Eş," I said. "Just say eş. They don't want to know everything."
"... and his mother," he finished. Good one!

I keep you safe.
It was an okay BE day, actually. I told him about my snowy adventure and the exams bullshit and we were getting along fine with LE sleeping in the back. When we pulled off into Bayrampaşa to pick up the couple for the surgery, there was a pumpkin at the side of the road. It was a nice-colored, hilariously-shaped pumpkin. BE had to swerve to miss the stalled truck in front of the pumpkin.

An aside about Turkish road safety. If your car stalls at the side of the road, you put a large rock several meters behind your car to warn drivers your car is stalled at the side of the road. But this driver, for whatever reason, had used a pumpkin instead of a rock. It was an unfortunate choice because the pumpkin was so adorable. Also, an adorable pumpkin or watermelon or cabbage at the side of the road behind a truck usually means there's someone selling pumpkins or watermelons or cabbages from the truck.

Naturally, I had to comment on the deeply wonderful humor of the pumpkin. BE laughed. So I made fun of the pumpkin some more. BE laughed some more. I told LE about the pumpkin to wake him up. It didn't work, but BE thought it was funny. It occurred to me I haven't made BE laugh about a non-LE related thing in years. Including the years before we got divorced. Even after we picked up the doll-lady and the nervous husband and LE went back to sleep, I kept bringing up the pumpkin. It was a no-fail gag. It felt good, acting like normal parents even though I was thinking it will probably make BE think everything is okay between us and we can get back together.

That's only because he has no idea of the source of my good mood in the first place. Hah!

I'm waiting for the drunken SMS, be sure. But it was still nice to laugh with him. Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and Murray Head and Dire Straits came on the radio.

Dealing With Shit

So I got the boy home and gave him some food and I had some coffee and collected the things that needed photocopying and we set off, slipping and sliding through piles of snow and avoiding cars with drivers who were clearly too much of bastards to realize how hard it is to quickly move a boy through the ice to a place where we won't get run over.

"'Dickweed' is a bad word," said LE.
"Yup," I agreed. "So is 'dipshit.' So are 'fuckwit' and 'fucktard.'"
"And 'motherfucker.'"
"Super bad."
"How do you say 'fuck' in Turkish?" he asked. I told him I'm sure he's heard his father say it. "Yes, but what is it?" I whispered it in his ear and told him it's way worse to say bad words in Turkish than in English. "Blah blah blah," he said, because that's what he says when he asks for an explanation of something and it take me more than five words to explain it and none of those words are "Captain America."

Photocopying was easy. But there was still the issue of the dilekçi, which needs to be written in a sort of formal language I can't do. Actually, I don't know what happens if you write a dilekçi in everyday language. To me, it's enough to write, "Please don't cut off my phone. My residence permit has been renewed as of blah blah date." But somehow I know enough to know you can't just write that in a dilekçi, and the call center lady in Ankara clearly wasn't into dictating a dilekçi for me, so I needed help.

They also sell glitter and spraypaint and glitter spraypaint.

Thank goodness for Ünaldı Kırtasiye. They're the ones who have pirate copies of our textbooks printed up and ready to go even before word has gotten to all the teachers that the publishers have failed us once again and there won't be enough copies of the books for the students to buy legally. I don't know how many times I've written "Ünaldı" on the board and told my students to have their books the following day, then erased "Ünaldı" with the back of my hand. The owner is a lovely guy with surprisingly great though oddly formal English that he loves to use. So I got the photocopies made and then asked him for help with the dilekçi.

He totally slept with the antlers.
I explained the problem well enough, except we didn't know who to address the dilekçi to because the woman who answered the phone at the call center had said it really fast. We assumed Telekom and he wrote this beautiful dilekçi for me that I understood but never would have come up with on my own. LE wanted some felt reindeer antlers, so I hooked him up with those.

Antlers. Dilekçi. I was sorting the fuck out of shit. There was no need to make Turkcell my bitch. Oh no. I was aiming high and making the government my bitch this time. At least, this one pointless government office whose name I didn't even know was going to be my bitch. I hoped they had their bending over muscles all warmed up.

After that, we went down to Turkcell to find out who actually wanted the dilekçi and photocopies. I had an address, but no addressee. Luck was on our side once again, as all the bitchy women there were busy and there were just the nice guys. Ok, one bitchy guy and one nice guy. So we got the addressee sorted out and I re-copied the dilekçi, including every number from my documents I could ever think of. The only thing left was to pop it all into cargo and be done with it and hope for the best.

The cargo office was open. There were people in there doing stuff. But for the actual sending of cargo, they had closed at 3.

I lost count, actually. I wasn't really keeping score.
Well played, Turkey. Well played.

The tally. To Good Turkey, I award 500 million points for the guy at Ünaldı, and another 2 million points to the guy who fixed my glasses for free. To Bad Turkey, 10 billion points for still asking for dilekçi, and for failing to notify of me about the need for these things sooner. Also for failing to use a computer or get on the fucking telephone. Bad Turkey also gets a bonus 5 million points for closing cargo at a stupid time. I give myself a million points for figuring out a way to do stuff, and for not killing anyone or yelling at them or hitting them.

And yay! It's snowing again!


Nomad said...

After reading your adventure with the phone company, I was reminded of my recent encounter with my bank after my credit card was eaten by an ATM. It should have been a simple matter of establishing my identity (I can do that!) and explaining the problem to get a new card, but nothing is ever that easy. Not in Turkey.

The first person I spoke to on the phone took all my information and then told me she couldn't actually help me. And to my shock, she said it was because I was foreigner that I would have to call her back in a week.
After a week, I was told (by another person) that I couldn't just have my new card sent to my branch, it HAD to be sent to my home. Little did I know the file had my old address. More waiting. Finally, with my blood pressure at Everest levels, I called again (to speak to another person) and learned the address problem. So they sent it again but to the same wrong address apparently!

After nearly four weeks, I finally got a helpful person. (Ayse, wherever you are, optum sana) She brightly tells me, "Why not have the card sent to your branch?"

There's more to this story - how much trouble I had actually picking up the card in person- but I will spare you. Mainly because you could probably write most it yourself.

Rule 1: Don't lose anything official ever. If you do, you'll regret it but you'll get to exercise the part of your brain that holds expletives.

Rule 2. Do NOT let anything official expire. If you do, you are bound to pay for it in every possible way.

Rule 3. Do NOT under any circumstances get involved with the legal system in Turkey. The incompetency of most of the lawyers is unbelievable and as soon as you utter your first sentence in English, the price will double or triple. (I feel that way anyway..)

We should sit down someday and write a complete guide book on Do's and Don't's in living/surviving in Turkey. We'd need a half bottle of gin to get into the spirit of the thing, I guess.

Stranger said...

Half a bottle, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

I feel your pain. These things are so fucking stupid and pointless, and half the time you're talking to someone who has no idea about anything. Once I hear the word "dilekçi," my brain just shuts down, even though a little bit I feel good they're treating me like they would a Turk. It's a good thing the call center lady mentioned the dilekçi last.

The only thing you can do is keep trying until someone gives you the answer you want. It's easy to be nice, most the time, because everyone is nice, most the time. As for the special yabancı rules, I want to punch whoever came up with these and makes these poor minions enforce them. I think I get a little less of that BS because of my surname. It's one of the reasons I had that put in the divorce agreement. People give less crap. Plus it's easier to spell.

Not the bank, though. Fuck the bank. Remember what all you used to have to do if you entered your password wrong 3 times on Internet banking? I haven't had any snafus really with Yapı Kredi (yet). I'm hoping my pseudo friendship with the on-campus teller there will work in my favor. God forbid she ever sends me to that awful pörtföy woman in the corner office. She's useless. And the word "pörtföy" makes me mad, like the word "slacks."

Marisa said...

Sarah - I really enjoy reading your blog...and your dad's. Have a very Merry Christmas!

-Marisa Fulkerson

Stranger said...

Thanks Marisa. I loved your Barcelona photos, thanks for posting them. I have a friend there now, and it's one of those places I've always wanted to go.

Merry Christmas to you too! Hugs and kisses to everyone!


Alison UK said...

Hi there, been reading & enjoying your blog for over a year now. You are definately a very brave and intelligent woman and admire your survival and take on life in Turkey. I too have my my own turkish story/tragedy. Yet despite all the emotional trauma I went thru with my ex turkish husband I still have this special feeling for Turkey. I still love my ex he was never bad towards me but became disturbingly mentally ill. It still shocks me now how he changed from being the sweetest guy to very disturbed. In Turkey they dont seem so shocked by people losing it (maybe cos life is harder?) I was interested to read your comments on mental health treatment. Its been a contentious subject in the UK for years but progress is slow. I still visit Turkey regularly but dont think I am strong enough to make the move permanently despite not being happy here in England. But maybe its just me? Did have special dreams for life in Turkey feel have lost my confidence now. You obviously have a deep love for the country still despite all the shit! Keep up you amazing insightful very wry blog. Take Care of yourself and your little boy, Best Wishes for 2013 Alison x

Stranger said...

Thanks for your comments, Alison. That's really sad about your ex. Mental health treatment in the US is appallingly slow too. People without a safety net, or network, just fall through the cracks or end up in jail. I forget what percentage of US prisoners is mentally ill, but it's really, really high, suggesting that prison is somehow the substitute for treatment there. Since the school shooting last week, I've read a few stories from mothers of children with autism and violent tendencies, and prison instead of care seems to be one of the only routes. As for mental health here, I wouldn't even know how to begin navigating the system. I don't know what people do. But there are a lot of things I don't know how people do, such as live on minimum wage or figure out how to do anything at all without the Internet.

I wish you all the best too, for 2013 and beyond, whatever you decide to do. Be well.