Lost in Istanbul

“These things happen for a reason,” said the rekhat to Meryt-Re (126).
My host said much the same, when I finally contacted him three hours late: “It is fate.”
many hands.jpg detail of five hands from an oil painting by George Engelhardt Schroder circa 1727-28 title Kozbekci Mustafa and his Retinue
Many hands – most of them Muslim – took care of me along the way, continuing a trend that had already filled my day.


It was a full day; left the house early, hung out in a restaurant under the Ataturk bridge, sipping cappucino until museums opened. Who knew it would end with two dramatic events?
Spent a couple of hours at the Rahmi M. Koc Museum (pictures to follow) then headed to Istiklal. While I was in the Musesi, the batteries in my camera died. Two different folk directed me to the neighborhood shop, and this was my first significant social encounter of the day.
I bought two batteries (they whacked the four-pack in half, cool). As I was walking away I tried the camera and – nothing. 🙁 They saw me fiddling with it…next thing you know the shopkeeper has sent his son (?) off on his bike to the market for replacements. I settled down on the curb to wait. Some ten minutes later I was back in business, mulling the notion of customer service. 🙂
I had to take a cab from the Musesi to Taksim; the driver knew little English but wanted to chat. Always people want to know where I’m from, most pause when they realize I’m American and I’ve used a thumbs down gesture to signal ambivalence. This cabbie was quick to say, “Ben, sen,” pointing back-and-forth between himself and me, “Me and you, no problem! Bush problem.” This sums up the attitude of everyone with whom I’ve had this conversation. Others ask, “Socialist?” Yes, I think we should share more, be more fair. This cabbie was Kurdish, likes it here. I wished I could have asked him about “the Kurdish problem” as the news media paints it, but he seemed quite happy here. He also identified himself as Muslim, as have other cab drivers who engaged me in conversation, as well as women I’ve met in cafes.
Yasemin works at Is-tav-rit, where I found free wireless and great food, with a view overlooking Istiklal. Her family moved here from Germany, where “there were many problems. Here, no problems.” She explained that she doesn’t veil, and her mother does. “No problem.” This seems common, women skipping generations, everyone easy about it. They care more about the beliefs, the attitudes, not about what one wears. “Everyone live together, everyone the same,” said another cabbie. The people want peace. 🙂 And they all want me to know that they’re Muslim, and not like “the terrorists,” who make them pretty angry. :-/
After I completed my afternoon blogging and emailing, I headed to the Bosphorus to ferry to my host’s home. (Well, first I tried to find the dolmush – a form of van transport that collects folks going to roughly the same area, charging way less than a taxi but still offering door-to-door service. I was disoriented where to look, so returned to Plan A, two ferries and a taxi
Really, everything was going just fine. I was a little late, but not too bad, less than one hour. When I got off the ferry, one of the sweetest things in the world happened. I trudged along with the crowd, watching my feet, avoiding hazards of construction and various kinds of goop, when a small girl in front of me turned around meeting my eyes and giving me absolutely the biggest grin in the world. 🙂 Then, she took my hand. I could hardly believe it. “How can I be so lucky?!!” I said out loud. She just walked along, one hand clinging to her mom, and the other grasping two of my fingers. Some ten seconds later she was distracted and let go, but within a minute had repeated the look and grin and taken my hand again. I kept talking out loud, saying I felt very special and lucky. Her mom asked her, surprising me with perfect English, “Should we take her home?” The little girl, very close to three years old, didn’t respond. I said to her mom that the girl is wonderful, so happy. Her mom said she’s always like this. I turned toward the taxi stand and they went their own way, waving bye.
Feeling that little bitty hand gripping my fingers filled my heart to the brim! I reached into my pocket to pull out the map and address for my host’s home . . . gone. Uh oh. I searched my other pockets. Nope. Backpack? Nothing. uhhhhhhhh….gulp
I had carefully sketched the intersection that morning, noting down the street names so there would be no confusion with the taxi driver. I resketched it but couldn’t remember the street names to save my life. What was I going to do? I approached the taxi stand, asking the drivers if anyone had a map. Maybe I would recognize the street names if i saw them, or the configuration of the intersection (which wasn’t standard). No map.
This wasn’t looking good. Couldn’t call – hadn’t gotten the phone fixed yet and didn’t have their phone number anyway. We’d been doing email and talking in person. I had their address; we all thought that would be enough.
What to do? I was tired. Think! I actually stayed relaxed, calm. I worried that my friends would worry but I couldn’t do anything about that until I found internet somewhere. Finally, a brainstorm – the hotel where I’d stayed one night with Catherine and the Dragon couldn’t be far away. What was it called? Yusupasef? When I’d gone there the first time the cabbie had said, “Very nice hotel.” He seemed familiar with it so I assumed all cabbies would be. I asked the guy who had been trying to help me the most; I wrote it down and he gestured to the hill right across from us. Ah, I thought, it’s close!
I walked over the bridge and approached a couple of local guys. They didn’t speak any English and didn’t recognize the name, they gestured to a waiter in the restaurant we were standing near. He also wasn’t sure, and called someone else. Soon, there were five guys huddled around me, trying to figure out my problem. One of them spoke English.
“No,” I explained, “that map is to my friend’s house but I can’t remember the street names. It has nothing to do with the Yusupasef. The cabbie said I could walk to it, it’s right up the hill, I just want to know which street to go up.”
“No, I don’t have their phone number or address. I stayed there one night last week.”
“I can’t call my friends. They’re deaf.” (I didn’t have their number to text them; and my phone wasn’t working anyway.)
“No, I don’t have their address. I lost the map to go there.”
He explained to me, patiently, that yusufpasa is a general term, not just the proper name of a specific hotel. Oh. “You have a difficult problem,” he said. Tell me about it!
The other guys kept interjecting and Orhan would translate: “Do you have the hotel’s business card?” “No, it’s with my belongings at my friend’s house.” They escorted me into the restaurant to sit down (I guess I was looking a bit ragged). Offered me cay. Consulting among themselves some more, drawing in more of the restaurant crowd, eliciting more (of the same) questions and my (unchanged) answers. Now I was trying to figure out how to escape! Not that I had much of a plan . . .
Orhan took control. Back to the taxis. He explained, as we walked back in the direction from which I’d come, that he’d worked for ten years in the medical field in the US, introduced me to his colleague who accompanied us, told me about his US manager, John someone. We approached a cab and the two of them engaged in some complicated negotiation. After a few minutes, off we went. Where? Good question! Finally my brain kicked in, the hotel I was trying to find is near Sultanahment. “Ah, the driver confirmed, Sultanahmet? Yes. From there I walked, with only a few wrong turns and deadends. Thank heaven, the Yusufpasa Konagi had a room available; they were even willing to repeat the discount they had given me last week because I was under the protection of the Dragon.
What a fiasco!
This morning, I dealt with the phone. Isik explained that my phone hadn’t been registered properly with the government when I arrived, so they had turned it off. I had to buy a new phone. I couldn’t believe he was serious. But… there it was. More business, Turkish style. I buy the phone but we have to go to his “other shop” to activate it. Then, it turns out it is not the phone, it’s the simcard. Back to my own phone, but with a new number. As I wait, I’m served cookies (!) and cay. My haircut is admired and I’m asked to give opinions on the four worker’s haircuts. Isik had already assessed that I am here alone. When he asked if I was married I said yes. Easiest way to discourage these guys. 🙂 They still gave me great service and I eventually left with a functional phone but it’s a good thing I wasn’t in a hurry!

2 thoughts on “Lost in Istanbul”

  1. ey kor sbu yer bu gok bu yildizlar bostur bos birak onu bunu gonlumuz hostur hos. OMER HAYYAM

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