Getting to Konya

I board my Turkish airlines plane to Konya and I am so happy to find large, comfortable seats and cushions and pleasant music on board. The plane is so much more comfortable than the one I came on from Bucharest and I think Turkish people must really love their own people. I have noticed how their self confidence often borders  arrogance, but I guess it is a healthier form of self respect than the Romanian ever adopted ‘snowdrop position’ or self-sabotaging attitude.

I sit down and take out my tablet to work on my Istanbul blog post. Next to me comes a guy who strikingly resembles my father. Actually, he is an interesting combination between my father and a friend of my father’s.He offers a cushion and inquires about my trip. As we leave Istanbul behind, we are speaking French and I can finally practice smugness and royalty in my perfect French accent again. It has been a while and I giggle inside when words and expressions come to me in ‘la francais de l’ocean’, a language invented with some friends, on the free principle that it makes no difference what words you’re using as long as you are faking the accent with enough pathos.

When I see Konya from up in the air, I feel there is something unique about her. In the evening air, hundreds of amber lights carefully arranged in a closely connected spider web are making me feel I am truly descending into a fairy tale land, all magical and special in its smallest details. I feel so much love curling up like a cat inside my chest and purring silently with contentment. I smile like an idiot again. And everyone who sees me cannot stop smiling back.

 The guy next to me explains he has been living in Paris for the past 35 years and is now visiting his sick, old mother. “C’est la vie”, he adds as I express my compassion. He then offers me a ride, but I decline the proposal, telling him I hope someone is waiting for me.

I am so happy as I get my luggage. No passport control this time. I am home. I search for my ride and do not see the guy. I try calling him and he doesn’t answer and I start thinking he stood me up. A shadow of what could become panic makes itself felt, but it is nothing serious, nothing that can wipe the idiot smile on my face, for sure.

I go for a taxi and the driver, a very big man, quickly comes out and grabs all my luggage, carefully placing it in the car boot. I take out my phone to show him a picture of the address and he simply grabs the phone from my hand and keeps it. OK, I think to myself, Turkish people are not so possessive of their phones. It can’t be bad. He then makes a call from his own phone and I realise he has no idea where the address is. I still do not panic. He hands me his phone and a guy’s voice on the other side is speaking English to me: “Hello, how can I help you?” I laugh and find nothing smarter today than “Can you please tell the driver to take me to the address I gave him?” “Call your friend”, he advises. “The driver needs directions.”

 So I ask him for my phone back. He gets the message and his huge hand passes me my phone. The battery is dying. I try calling the girl I am supposed to be staying with, but the call doesn’t go through. He grabs my phone again, checks the number and says “Ioc”. I know that means no. It finally dawns on me I am completely reckless and start wondering how the heck I am still alive, being so utterly irresponsible and naive. It is not a Turkish number. I do not have her last name. Or her apartment number. And I have no idea where she is from or what she does for a living. 

The driver then stops at this apartment building , I pay for the ride, he grabs my luggage and carries it to the entrance, has a long conversation in Turkish with the doorman, both completely ignoring my presence, and we leave again. He carries my luggage back to the car, we get in and takes me to another building. 

I start giving up and thinking of an alternative. I show him I need my phone to try to make a call and he gives me both mine and his and insists I should use his. I try calling my backup and it doesn’t go thorough. For a moment I even consider calling the guy I initially wanted to stay with, but remember we were not very friendly in our latest communication, after I rejected him on account of (too much) creepy sexual content. It can’t be that bad, I try to convince myself, but my pride awakens and finally makes a positive contribution.

 So I manage to call the guy who said would pick me up from the airport and didn’t show up. I convince myself he doesn’t sound sneaky or creepy and I pass the phone to the driver and they have their conversation in Turkish and he takes me to his address. We stop, get out of the car the driver carries my luggage to the gate and refuses to take any more money from me. 

My new host, a middle aged university professor who travels the world, shakes hands with me, a cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth, grabs my luggage and takes me to his apartment. I notice the ‘precious’ Turkish interior design, but the strongest impact is not from the pink armchairs, but by the thick smoke everywhere, making me take short and calculated breaths and my eyes all burn and let out tears.

 Two other people are there, a woman and a man, in front of a laptop, talking and smoking and playing music. We shake hands and introduce each other and I notice how the man a avoids looking at me and looks down as I come close. I am trying my best to be as natural as I possibility can, as if arriving in a stranger’s house, in a foreign country, with a completely different culture, in a strict and religious city, in the middle of the night is the most natural thing in the world.

 I quickly start explaining my situation and also the bruises and my host translates that the woman tells me I am cute. I smile a lot and I laugh to make myself comfortable. He then takes me on a tour of his house and quickly realise he must be divorced. There are traces of a former family, but now he lives alone. I soon regret my choice of clothes. I think about how long it is before my period and I encourage myself that anything can be treated. Though, on top of everything else, as I was saying in my previous post, lack of personal space in interactions with Turkish people should not be a reason for concern. 

I eventually get the WiFi password, plug in my phone and reistablish a connection with my (previous?!) life. It is still my birthday, although it seems it’s been ages since this morning, when I left home, so I have literally hundreds of messages. Nari, the girl I was supposed to be staying with, calls on WhatsApp and speaks to my new host. He tells me he can drive me to her place because they are neighbours and she is waiting for me with a surprise birthday party, so we should go.”Only if you want to.”

 I secretly thank God and quickly  grab my backpack, as the guy takes my suitcase and we head for the door. “Don’t forget your purse”, he says. And the woman brings it to me from where I left it, next to the wall. ” Oh, it’s OK, tesekkur”, I tell her. “There is nothing much in it, really. Just my passport, cards, plane ticket and all my money”. 

The guy again translates that she says I am cute. I start thinking ‘cute’ means ‘idiot’ in Turkish culture. But I smile and thank them with a short bow, hands put together before my chest, as if expressing my gratitude to a spiritual master. 

When I get to Nari’s house, I finally start relaxing. I am so tired I realise I cannot think straight anymore. It has been twenty hours since I woke up in the morning and I have been through too much. I leave the single guy who travels the world and get to this beautiful girl’s apartment, where a couple is also waiting for me, with their adorable baby. It is so quiet and peaceful and I finally sit down and enjoy. They seem such good, luminous people. Nari cooked delicious food and we eat and she takes out wine glasses that she bought specially for the occasion and I take out the bottle of special Romanian red wine that I brought with me and we enjoy the evening together. They keep insisting I should tell them if they look Korean or Japanese, but I cannot think straight and don’t want my hesitant answers to seem offensive. The couple are from Kazakhstan. I just know they look so beautiful. 

Before they take their baby and leave, they make me birthday wishes:

“You seem like a warm and good person, so may you always meet people who are like you. Also, be healthy, have a good career, good luck, happinesses, take care of yourself, find a good husband and start a wonderful family.”

Istanbul, mon amour

When the plane starts descending and I see the sea and the ships and the the city, my heart becomes so warm I have to remove my scarf so that my chest doesn’t start burning, for fear I might become the first Turkish airlines passenger in the entire history of the company to suffer from spontaneous inner combustion. 

And I find it so hard to stop taking pictures and I don’t even try to wipe the idiot smile off my face as the overweight middle aged Romanian guy next to me scans me in amusement. I feel like Alice going down the rabbit hole. 

Here I come, my love, canim benim , habibi, Istanbul of my heart! Here I come, take me, leave no part of me outside your hug, eat me, swallow me completely, canim benim. Your lover is here, feed on me.

Landing is truly like finally feeling your lovers feet touching yours after a long absence. Well, it is only the third time this year… I let out a sigh of pleasure and finally close my eyes as my head leans back in contentment. Yes, baby, I am bere now yes, evet, evet, evet. He seems happy about the reunion and greets me with my favorite views and with that special pinkish golden light,like honey dripping on my skin, healing all my wounds.

As I get off, I almost run to passport control, forgetting all about my painful knee. I rush through the exit gate and I must look so convincingly happy as I am quickly scanning the crowd lined up at the arrivals, that some of the faces there actually start smiling back uncontrollably. 

I do not see my friend. And I do not sense him there, either. So I fool myself into thinking he must be outside, smoking. I rush out. Still no sign of him. Maybe he’s running late, I tell myself as cinvincingly as I possibly can. So I wait. The possibility that he might not show up, right on my birthday, after having planned and looked forward to our meeting for about a month, seems very remote. Like a thought that comes to sabbotage your peace of mind when you are at your best. So I banish it gently and wait, all the time smiling when someone looks at me. 

I decide I am going to wait no more than thirty minutes. I try without any success to connect to a wifi, so I try calling him instead. Only a woman’s voice informs me in Turkish and then in English that this number cannot be reached. Reality forces herself on me eventually and I take the escalator to the underground and come up with a plan to spend my four hours in Istanbul on my birthday today.

I do not worry and, despite the sudden sharp pain in my heart, I do not even fall into despair. I am not even feeling sad. I am thinking rather it must be karma’s way of telling me to let go once and for all. Let go and move on. So I do. 

If before I had absolutely no plan whatsoever about my day in Istanbul except meeting my friend, I now decide I am taking myself out to lunch in Sultanahmet, right across the street from the Blue Mosque. 

I catch the metro and ask for directions and get them in Turkish and then someone offers me their seat. I start talking to the young girl sitting in front of me and she offers to help.

“Come with me, she says, and we both get off and I submit and follow her. Although, I told her I want to walk, she takes me to the train station, pays for my ticket before I can do anything about it, and we both get on the same train and get off together again, this time at the university. 

Nihan (stress falls on i) is a beautiful long haired brunette Turkish girl from Adana, in her twenties, studying political science and dreaming about going to Europe. Loves the UK. ” Are you a student, too?” she asks me. And though I feel flattered, I disappoint her and say I am a teacher. And then I get the same reaction: “Konya?! Why?!”

After we say goodbye, I walk past the university and the Grand Bazaar. Such dear memories tie me to this place. Perhaps it is time to get untied, to cut myself loose from this spiderweb. But now I am here and enjoy the colorful, loud crowd of Istanbul.

As I start recognising places, I remember the bookshop where I bought “The Dervish Gate” by Ahmet Umit, the book that first introduced Konya to me. So I suddenly decide to make a visit and say thank you. I can see the  Blue Mosque in front of me on the right, so I start searching for the bookshop on the left. I remember it is a famous one and only remember the name when I see it: Galeri Kaisery.

I go in and take a look around and when Rhana comes, the bookshop lady, I am so happy I can thank her for the recommendation she made in April. 

“You know, today, because of that book you recommended, I am travelling to Konya!”

“Really?! Today?! You read the book and are going?”

“Yes. And so I felt I should come in and thank you for it.”

“Well, I am happy for you. You know, I feel you need a new book now. This one: “Potrait of a Turkish Family”. Then you will really understand the Turkish people and our history. It is really everything you need to know about Turkish people. After you read this, you’ll be back again.”

She then pulls out this thick file full of feedback from customers about this book, but she really doesn’t need to. I know it makes sense to get it and, even more than that, I know that somehow it is going to change my life. So I get it.

“You know, I am looking for a place with wifi where I can have lunch. Can you recommend one?”

“Oh, go here, on the right, after the kebab.”

We shake hands and I go. And as I get into the restaurant and up the stairs and down at a beautiful wooden table, I am greeted by friendly faces and I remember I was here before and had something sweet.

The waiter, a tall, stout guy in his late twenties, comes and hands me the menu. When I ask the password for the wifi, he simply takes my phone from my hand and keys in the password himself. I feel it is a bit too much, but then I remember I am in Turkey and I relax. Personal space is an overrated form of distance used by smug people in cold, western European countries.

Yalcin, as he later introduces himself, leans over the table, resting on his elbows, takes the pen from my hand and marks our location on my map to show me how to get back to the airport. He is flirting with me shamelessly, totally ignoring my attempts to intimidate him by giving him my most penetrating look. And, even more outrageously, completeley ignoring the bruises on my face. Up to this moment, everyone began any conversation with me by addressing a few words to my right cheekbone, stripped naked of skin now. So, when this guy looks me directly in the eye, as if he were talking to a real person, I finally start feeling whole again.

A Scandinavian would probably have to get himself drunk before even considering doing anything remotely similar. Or would kill himself instead of ever trying.

An hour and a half later, having resisted the Turk’s attempts to convince me to stay till tomorrow morning, I make my way to the tram station. A guy on the tram quickly explains in Turkish what I need to do. Hands free. Smile free. Flirt free. I can’t understand a word, but, miraculously, I know what he tells me, I get the message.

I get to the airport when the sun is setting and rush to the domestic departures terminal. It is so much cosier than the international departures. I feel like I am in a big Turkish home, where everyone loves me.

Next episode: my first night in Konya- missing my airport pickup, taxi driver who speaks absolutely no English, not finding the address of my host and not being able to contact  her. The great adventure begins.