Though the history, culture, architecture, and art of Turkey are fantastic and well worth exploring, our time in Antayla and Istanbul was not without its adventures and in some cases, misadventures. As I soon discovered, exploring the city streets as a group of young, single American females is not always the best option. With features such as blonde hair, blue eyes, or in my case, just a fair complexion, you are bound to draw a lot of public attention. In fact, I don’t think that I have felt any more noticed in my life. Regretfully, much of this attention came from the younger, and shall we say “overly-friendly,” male population. Rather than worry too much about this unwanted attention, we decided to make a game out of keeping a list of the most creative pick-up lines. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. “Hello angels…I will be your Charlie.”
2. “You dropped something.” (I look behind me to see what I may have dropped.) The Turkish man places his hand across his chest and says with exaggerated conviction: “My heart.”
3. The four of us were walking in a group shopping at the Spice Bazaar. As we walk by one of the booths we hear, “Hello Spice Girls!”
4. While shopping at the Grand Bazaar: “Hello ladies! Come to shop here. It’s almost free!”
5. “Why are you ignoring me? Do you not speak English? Don’t worry, I can give you English lessons!”
Though it was annoying, I have to admit that a few of these guys do get a few points for creativity. :)
Even amidst the unwanted friendliness of some of the men, I did notice many redeeming aspects of the Turkish culture. In general, people are extremely helpful and kind-hearted. During one of our crowded rides on the bus, I noticed a mother board the bus with her young son. Although this woman searched everywhere for her bus pass, she wasn’t able to find it. A worried expression crossed her face as she wondered what she and her son were going to do next. Almost instantly, a kind Turkish woman sitting in the front row took out her own pass and handed it to the mother in need. Though the mother tried to repay the woman, holding out a small handful of Turkish lira, the woman shook her head and insisted that she needed no payment. It was wonderful to see the generous heart of this woman. Not long after this incident, a little old Turkish grandmother boarded the bus. Before I continue with this story, I need to point out the fact that the seats on the bus are prime real estate. With the crazy traffic, bustling crowds, and long commutes, everyone is hoping to secure a seat for themselves. Well, this little grandmother enters the bus and believe it or not, the same woman who paid the bus fare for the mother and the son, gets up from her seat so that the grandmother can sit down. Again, I was so encouraged to see such a genuine display of thoughtfulness and generosity.
Besides generous people on the bus, there were also many helpful people on the streets. Whenever we stopped to ask for directions people would not only help us, but would often go above and beyond the expected response. When people realized that we weren’t understanding their Turkish directions, they would often go out of their way to lead us to our desired destination. We even had a family offer to drive us to where we wanted to go. (At least that’s what we think they were offering…our entire conversation was composed of Johanna and I speaking English, the Turkish family speaking Turkish, and both of us doing a lot of pantomime.)
On one of our more disconcerting adventures, Johanna and I were coming home to the Asian side after a lovely day of exploring the European half of the city. We were tired, it was getting late, and the bus monitor that tells the passengers which stop is coming up next was broken. As you have probably predicted by this point, we missed our stop. The trouble was that we didn’t miss it by one or two minutes…we missed it by about 20 minutes. When we finally realized our error and exited the bus, we were in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere in a completely unfamiliar part of the city. And it was dark.
Trying not to panic, we began to come up with a strategy of how we were going to make it safely home. Our first plan was to ask some workers in a nearby ice cream shop. As we soon discovered, the number of English speakers begins to dwindle the further you travel into the Asian side of the city. Completely unable to understand our English, we showed the shop owner the only thing we had to help us at this point, a small slip of paper with the abbreviation for our desired bus stop. He looked at it with a somewhat puzzled and confused expression and then motioned for us to follow him outside. Pointing with his hand he indicated that we should continue straight down the road and then, at some point which was thoroughly described in Turkish, turn left. We thanked him and continued down the road another two blocks. Since it was dark and none of the landscape was looking even remotely familiar, we soon decided that walking was not the best option. We needed to somehow get back onto the bus in the opposite direction and find our stop in reverse. The trouble is that the bus numbers often change when traveling in the opposite direction meaning that we had no clue which bus to get on. The last thing that we wanted to do was ride a random bus into an even more random and remote part of the city.
Since I had my German “pay-as-you-go” phone, I decided that this constituted a good enough reason to pay the ridiculous rate of 3 Euros a minute and call my friend who we were staying with to get directions back to her apartment. She answered the phone and I explained the situation as quickly as possible. We had just reached the point in the conversation when I was telling her what bus stop we were near when my phone went dead. I was out of minutes!
With that plan no longer being an option, Johanna and I decided to go with Plan C. We would simply hail every bus, show the bus driver the abbreviated name of our desired stop, and hope that he could tell us the bus number that we needed to take. The downside of this plan is that the bus drivers really hate to stop or talk even a second longer than is necessary. The other downside is that all the drivers we met that night didn’t speak any English. After a few failed attempts, we finally found a bus that apparently was going in the right direction. A young man at the front of the bus smiled nicely and said that he knew which stop was nearby and that he could lead us there when we arrived. Seeing no better options, Johanna and I boarded the bus to await our stop.
I was sitting in the middle section of the bus beside a young woman and Johanna was standing to my left by the window. As we rode along, I couldn’t help but notice that the man who was planning to lead us to our stop kept looking back and smiling. It may have been totally innocent, but it was starting to creep me out a little bit. I began to fiddle with the paper that had the abbreviated name of the bus stop written on it. Finally, the woman beside me turned towards me and said quietly in English, “Where are you trying to go?” I showed her the paper and she took it and puzzled over it for a while. At last, she handed it back and told me that we needed to get off at bus stop 44. (The monitor was working in this bus, so I was able to see the numbers listed beside the very confusing Turkish names.) I thanked her, beginning to feel a little better that I didn’t have to put all of my trust in the young man sitting up front. At least now I had a second opinion as to which stop was going to be the closest to our destination. After another minute of driving, the women turned to me again. “Do not go with him,” she said in a hushed voice, “he is a silly boy.” I thanked her, realizing now for the first time the seriousness of the situation. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to be following any “silly boys” through the streets of Istanbul. The woman exited the bus and I motioned for Johanna to come and sit beside me. I explained the situation and we decided that as soon as our stop came, we would exit the bus, not even look for the boy, and head straight towards a heavily populated area.
I began to get more and more nervous as we drew closer to the intended stop. Most of the streets had been rather dark and I wasn’t particularly keen on exiting into any dark alleys with our new “friend” from the front of the bus. I kept praying that God would protect us and give us wisdom as to what to do next. The bus rounded the corner and much to my and Johanna’s delight we saw the bright lights of a mall that we recognized. In fact, this mall was only about two blocks from the apartment where we were staying! We quickly got off the bus and immediately started power-walking towards the mall. We heard the voice of the boy calling after us, but I kept walking and responded over my shoulder, “Thank you, but we don’t need any help. We know where we are.”
Although the extra precaution probably wasn’t necessary, Johanna and I took a very round-about, well-lighted way to get home. We just wanted to be absolutely certain that the bus boy wasn’t following us. At the bus stop outside our apartment, we saw our hostess and her roommate getting ready to board a bus to go look for us. We flagged them down and greeted them with much joy and enthusiasm. After our adventure, it was so wonderful to see familiar faces and greet each other in English. We walked home together, happy and relived to be safe with our friends.