Looking back at blogs from my early weeks in Turkey, I notice that one of my early posts was titled Driven Crazy. In it I fretted about having my humble, daily errands becoming the focus of another human being. Now, after two and half years, it’s time to comment on how having a driver has played out.
Even before I moved to Turkey, I was warned, “You can drive in Istanbul, but you can’t park.” Emphasis on the you; a professional driver would be able to find parking spaces. Soon after arriving, however, I met a gregarious expatriate from the Dominican Republic. “Don’t hire a driver,” she advised. “It will make you feel stupid.” She went on to say that such a person would know where we shopped and what we bought, and we wouldn’t have any privacy. For her, navigating Istanbul’s streets was merely something to get used to. “Every day for the first month, I got lost. But after that, it was fine.”
Getting around on my own appealed to me. In both Sana’a and in San Jose, I drove hilly, congested urban terrain, navigating without the benefit of street signs. But my husband had already hired Umit, a dapper Turk in his mid-thirties, to take him to work and back. Umit would have ample free time in the middle of the day, so I decided to accept his services. I could perhaps change my mind later and buy my own vehicle. And perhaps the experience would have some hidden benefits.
|Photo Karen Smith|
I began to think of the whole thing as some kind of strange, expatriate drama. My role? The wife of a well-paid businessman, living in a posh apartment and tooling around town in a new BMW. How to gain the audience’s sympathy? That quickly became clear: by avoiding grumpiness and any expressions of irritation or petulance. And here I will confess: I can be moody, even when I’m not trying to adjust to a different culture.
So each day I tried to act cheerful. I put on an enthusiastic smile even when I felt lonely, homesick, or deep in culture shock. I tried to speak only in positive terms about what I was experiencing (Turks love this because they still don’t think their country measures up in the West.) And I asked Umit questions about himself. After doing this for a few weeks, I realized that during none of those days had I actually remained in a bad mood
Umit began to suggest places to visit, and recommend restaurants he thought we’d like. He went out of his way to help us navigate on weekends, when we explored the city and countryside on our own. Despite our initial language barrier, he offered a great deal of advice and wisdom about the Turkish culture. And on occasion he even asked me for motherly advice.
|Umit suggested taking our first visitor to Pierre Loti, a French-inspired coffee garden high above the Golden Horn.|
|Umit introduced Angela and Greg to durums, spicy kofte wraps.|
I also had language goals, and Umit was the most obvious person to turn to with Turkish questions. I can’t count the number of times we spent looking up various Turkish and English words, me paging through a pocket dictionary and he punching keys on his smart phone.
|Umit took me to a traditional Boza bar to enjoy a fermented Turkish drink along with leblebi, roasted chickpeas.|
While I have met some wonderful people here, both Turkish and expatriate, I count Umit as one of my best friends in Turkey. It will be hard to say goodbye, but I’m sure that gmail and Facebook will help us keep in touch. And fine-tune our language skills.