Already, I’ve mentioned a few instances that illustrate how giving Turks have been of their time to help me while in Turkey. Well, I couldn’t believe what happened during my first day in Ankara while looking for a map. I walked into a small Turkish bookstore down a narrow side street in the busy downtown of Kizilay. I walked in and took a quick moment to check my guidebook for the phrase, “I’m looking for a map of Ankara.” I walked up to the shop owner, Ercan (pronounced Air-jan) Bey, and asked about maps. He clearly recognized me as a foreigner, smiled, and instructed another man using very fast Turkish to find a map.
While this was playing out, Ercan Bey asked me where I was from, why I had come, and how long I’d be in the city. His eyes lit up with pride when I mentioned I’d be staying in Turkey for a year. After introducing me to his 16-year-old daughter Zeynep, he asked me to have some tea, like any good Turk would do. An offer I decided to turn down mostly because I really intended to just make a quick stop. I should have realized there are very few “quick stops” in Turkey.
After about 10 minutes went by, the “map scout” came back with no results. At this point, I expected to thank Erjan Bey, Zeynep, and the trusty map scout for their efforts and then be on my way, but Erjan Bey would not see my needs go unmet. Instead, he turned to his daughter and again, in lighting quick Turkish, he instructed her to take me to another store further in Kizilay that might have a map.
So under the hot afternoon sun, I followed Zeynep down into the heart of Ankara’s downtown. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Zeynep pushed through the crowds, and helped me cross the busy streets while looking for a map. We walked around for about 10 minutes before I got the feeling Zeynep may have been a little lost also. She must have noticed what I was thinking because she looked at me quickly and said, “One minute,” and asked a store owner in Turkish about the location of our much sought after map. We did this three or four times as Zeynep continued to get her bearings. At one point, I tried to explain, “It’s okay, I don’t really need the map. Let’s forget it.” Zeynep was determined not to disappoint me. She again said, “One minute,” and asked another vendor. This time, she seemed to get some good information because she smiled and her pace quickened down the street.
On the way, I noticed a man selling maps! “Perfect”, I thought, “now I can do something.” I stopped Zeynep and motioned to the merchant in front of the Post Office. We looked at the maps. I asked her in Turkish, “Do these look good?” She said, “Yes, but come first.” Zeynep would not be deterred from bringing me to our final destination. A few stores later we came to a photo and electronics store where Zeynep asked about maps. Unfortunately he was also out of maps, but luckily we just went back to the P.O. for our prized possession.
After the journey, Zeynep smiled and asked, “You’ll be all set now?” After I answered in the affirmative, we said goodbye and wished each other well. I hoped she would take a little something from me for being so helpful.
As I expected, not a chance.
Last Monday was my first venture into Kizilay, Ankara’s downtown. As you enter the area, the first thing you’ll notice is the rapid pace of traffic whirring by you and other pedestrians with sometimes only a dime’s distance apart. Any American used to streets laden with traffic signals and cars giving pedestrians the right of way will have some major adjusting to do. Thankfully that day, my friend and generous host, Mehmet, guided me to the
building where my class was located.
We made our way swiftly through downtown, dodging cabs, buses, and fast moving mini buses known as dolmus. We passed vendors that peddled everything from a donut-like pastry known as Simit to hand crafted wares made of bronze. After 10 minutes of walking from where we got off, we found a large gray building with a small “American themed” cafe below called Happy Days. The cafe looked like a Turkish interpretation of 1960s American Americana. Retro tile floors, a jukebox, and classic Pepsi and Coca-Cola logos adorned the walls. Still, the menu was distinctly Turkish as I stopped in on my second day for a small pastry.
After tripping up a crowded and difficult to navigate spiral staircase, we entered a reception area teeming with people of all sorts of nationalities waiting to hear their number called. The room felt more like an immigration office than a school. “You’re all set, right??,” asked Mehmet amidst all the languages being spoken, the frantic fluttering of papers, and dinging of bells.
I nodded to Mehmet, thanking him for all the help. I won’t bore you with the details of registering, but needless to say I had to come back the next day to “finish my registration.” However, while waiting to be called, I was connected with three siblings, TJ and her two brothers, Erol and Kevin, from Seattle. They live in the US with their Turkish father and American mother. They described how they have spent each summer in Turkey, but still do not have a complete understanding of Turkish. This time, their father registered them for classes, but unfortunately they were put into such a high level course, no one spoke any English, period. Erol explained how the teacher knew very little English herself and that, “Even the people that knew English, wouldn’t speak it because they were so dedicated to speaking Turkish.” That dedication was too much for the three of them, and they were hoping to switch to a lower level.
In a room echoing with voices speaking several different languages and people rushing back and fourth, we were four Americans, lost in translations, just trying to figure out where to go next. By Wednesday, thanks to the extreme patience of our Turkish counterparts, we all found our way to the same beginner class.