Doors open in, they don’t open out. This is just one of the minor differences that I have noticed. It probably has to do with how compact the roads are and how narrow the sidewalks. You have just as much foot traffic here in this part of Besiktas as you would in downtown Manhattan but there it is spread out over an area eight feet wide instead of cramming it all into two (with the excess spilling into the streets and annoying the drivers one the one land roads trying to go both directions).
Anyways, I pushed in the door to my first bank, HSBC, yesterday morning looked around like a lost puppy dog while a couple others came in, imitated them in pushing a button on a terminal I couldn’t read to get a number. After an inordinately long wait, my number popped up over a teller, we did our best to communicate, and she told me I pushed the wrong button. Back I go. I push the bottom button, wait a bit longer (a bit meaning long enough to read a chapter or two in my nook if I had thought to bring it along), then go to a desk representative. We do our best to communicate, she tells me I cannot open an account with HSBC and suggests I try Garanti. They work a lot with internationals.
So off I go to Garanti. It isn’t much of a walk. I cross the street, go north about three blocks, and there I am. No ticket this time. I tell the security/receptionist what I want. They send me on to a representative. They would like to help me but unfortunately their printer is down. There are two more branches…(he points toward the south) Yes, I know where they are. Thank you (tesekkur ederim). Off to Garanti #2. It is about 6-7 blocks southward. I pass the HSBC on the other side, continue on. Nope they are now out to lunch for a while. No worries I’ll grab one at the same time. (More on that later) After lunch, I head in. Again, there’s no number to take. Unfortunately there is no one who speaks English. In turkish they recommend I try the Garanti across the street. Literally. Right, across, the street. Why you would have two separate branches of the same exact bank right next to each other beats me. But I’ve seen Turkcell (think Turkish Verizon) do the same thing. So I cross the street. I take a number. (This time I know to select the bottom option) I wait. I wait. Then I wait a little more. Finally, I meet someone who takes my passport, takes me tax ID, types a few things on her terminal, and then tells me they cannot open an account. Perhaps if I try Halk Bank.
Round #5 Halk bank #1. I start heading back to the hostel so I can look up the nearest Halk Bank when I notice one. It is about halfway between the original HSBC and the southeast Garanti I had most recently visited. This time the bottom button was the wrong number to take. After my obligatory wait, I am sent back. I pick another one. #640. I wait and wait and wait. No numbers are showing except over the tellers. When I am finally told it is my turn to head over, I notice a slip like mine for number 643 sitting at the desk. Oh the joys. I give the lady my information. She asks me for my address. I give the address for the hostel I am staying at. A few more moments at the terminal. Nothing. She recommends me on to Ziraatbank.
No thank you. I tap out. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing while expecting different results. I am not insane. At least, I don’t think I am. It was about four PM at this point so I headed back to the hostel. I can still use my American bank, it just costs me 3% each time I pull money from an ATM. That is still a much better rate than any currency exchange locations but it would have been much more convenient to have a bank account set up. Looks like that will have to wait as finding my home and getting a phone get bumped up on my to do list. I did spend a few hours sending out emails to some of the apartments I had been checking out while still in America. It would be better to call them but… Anyways, I did notice that there was one easily in my range just a ten minute walk from my hostel. So once I was ready to set out for dinner, I headed over to check it out. It is just a short bit away from the hustle and bustle I am immersed but the environment seems completely different.
After walking by and snapping this photo, I headed back to finally hit up a spot I noticed that served Iskender. This was one of those things I was told I had to try out. Granted, it was really good but I wasn’t incredibly overwhelmed. What I am pretty sure of is that I was eating it wrong. From the smiles and looks I got from the waiter I am guessing he was amused at “the foreigner’s” eating habits. Oh well. I attacked that plate with a relish, eating whatever was put before me in the order it is put before me.
It was lunch that really stuck with me but not just because of the food. Being an American expert on the subject, I decided it was time to find out what Turkish pizza would be like. This spot was very close to the two southern Garanti banks I visited so… why not? I went in and had a seat. A waitress came up and asked what I wanted to drink. “Anlamadim” (I don’t understand) “Amerikali yim” (I’m American) Oh. She says drink in English while motioning drinking something. I say soda. She tries to repeat it as closely as I pronounced it while writing it in her pad. I repeat. What I should have done was say coke. Or cocacola. Coke has infested Istanbul like no other American product I have seen. But I was curious what a “soda” would get me.
The waitress took her pad, walked over to another man by the register and they had a brief discussion, I am assuming, about what “soda” is. This is what I got. No, that isn’t a half glass of vodka, no rocks. As much as some of my former pizza coworkers might have loved to see me try drinking that, I am relieved to say this is sparkling natural mineral water. What surprised me even more than this was the fact that she dropped it off and left. There was no menu, she never asked me what I wanted. Apparently they only serve one thing and that is only served one way. With the water, the waitress did also bring out some ketchup, mustard, and barbecue sauce. What on earth am I supposed to do with these? A couple Turkish ladies were seated nearby and I watched to my horror as one of them poured a quite generous amount of ketchup right on top of her pizza. No, she wasn’t just weird like my baby sister. The other one then did the same thing. They also made a pool of BBQ with which to dip their crust but that didn’t seem nearly as disgusting to me.
I was beginning to wonder how long I would be waiting before my waitress came over to take my pizza order when this arrived. Interesting. It looks really, really good but this is definitely the first time I saw corn on a pizza. Fortunately, it tasted just as good as it looked, corn and all. No, I didn’t put any ketchup on it. A) Why ruin a good pizza? B) I’m not that brave. The only food related thing I have not enjoyed here is Aryan (sour, yogurt flavored milk) and I definitely didn’t want to add pizza, in any form, to that list.
While I was eating, I noticed a boy of about four or five smiling at me from outside my window. When I looked over at him, he would quickly turn away pretending to be looking at something else. I looked away and he was right back at smiling and waving at me. I looked toward him and he’s quickly doing something else. This is adorable… but also sad. I also noticed that as much as he was playing a version of hide and seek with me, this little boy was also watching me eat. If you enlarge the picture of the restaurant above, I was at the table between those two posters. You can just barely see part of the boy’s family crouched on the ground behind the motorcycle. That boy had a younger sister and two parents with him.
I only ate half my pizza. There is no way I could sit there and continue to eat as my heart broke inside. So I got the other half wrapped, paid, and headed out. Once reaching this family I gave them my pizza and tried, in my very limited way to communicate with the father. He didn’t understand even the limited Turkish I have and certainly not any English. While each child dove into one of the two remaining slices, I did get his name and gave him mine but beyond that communication was completely impossible. Arabic? Kurdish? I don’t know. What I do know is that, compared to this family, my transition into Turkey is easy as pie.
A mentor of mine once said, “We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly He loves us, because He has given us a Spirit that fills our hearts with His love.” I know that love. It is bringing me to tears even as I write.
I had six months to prepare once I realized I was going to Turkey. This family probably had minutes. I have a sizable safety net stored away in a foreign bank. This family is on the street asking for money and running from the police. (As I was leaving, I saw police headed their way. Ten minutes later, that family, and two other nearby Syrian families, one pictured, were all gone) I have a network of people I can turn to and communicate with. Their home and society has all been torn apart and uprooted. If I need to, I can always go back. The world they remember is gone.
So as these minor trials teach me endurance and develop character, I can cling to a certain hope. Everything I am experiencing is only building a love that I long to pour out on families like this one. But how?