By John Mitchell
“Teşekkür ederim teşekkür ederim” (pronounced Tes-shae-koo-lah) I repeated many times to random Turkish folks who helped me navigate the metropolitan area known as Istanbul, Turkey. Teşekkür ederim, the equivalent of the English “Thank you,” was the only phrase I knew to aid me in my carpe diem (YOLO for you young’ins) moment. I had a nine-hour layover in the city where east meets west and I was going to take advantage! Without proper pre-planning, I left the airport and began to explore (whoo spontaneity!). The main destination I wished to see was the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) , which is one of Turkey’s most popular destinations. The Grand Bazaar is like a huge outside mall, spanning thousands of acres. With stands selling Persian rugs, spices, jewelry, shoes , leather jackets and tea sets — it has it all. But…. I’m getting too far ahead of myself; let me discuss my journey to the Grand Bazaar.
There are a few factors you must know about me: 1) I’m directionally challenged, 2) I’m directionally challenged, 3) I can’t read or speak Turkish PLUS I’m directionally challenged… Put these components together and it equates to a pretty “adventurous” experience. Before you can leave the airport in a foreign land, you must purchase a visa which gives you access… And it took me forever to find it. After you purchase your visa, you must stand in line and wait for the people to stamp your visa — it was a lonnnnnggggg line. Once you get your visa approved, you probably want to put your bags in a locker, so you won’t have to carry them around in the city and attract attention, right? Well, herein lies what took the longest time to communicate to the airport people. I kept saying, “Does the airport have a locker, so I may put my bags (lifts bags to express a point) there as I travel Istanbul?” Sounds like a simple inquiry, but each answer would take me around the entire airport on a wild goose chase! I finally found the lockers but, of course, I had to find a money converter first. This was the point where I was beginning to become quite agitated with the airport people and just everything in general! Luckily, I repeated to myself “You are a foreigner in a new place, you don’t speak or read Turkish, so don’t fret, all will be fine — be optimistic, this is a learning experience.” The words worked, I converted some money (the U.S. dollar is stronger than the Turkish liras!) and I walked out of the airport ready for the Grand Bazaar!
Istanbul is just like New York City; there are many metros (subways) to take you to your destination, people are always in a rush or busy, and the city never sleeps. I found my way to the Metro and read the directions on how to purchase a coin to ride the metro. The English directions weren’t helpful to me, so I just watched someone else put their Turkish coins in a machine and followed suit. Around this time, I’m feeling pretty good about myself and my steady conquest of this foreign land. Unfortunately, my Cloud Nine mentality would soon evaporate by what seemed to be a million subways! I walked to a random Turk and said “Grand Bazaar” in a forced accent and he pointed to the subway on the right. I jumped on this subway and waited to get off on a transit station, so I could switch subways and get to my destination. Getting off, I saw a fence impeding my way to the next train, which meant I needed to buy another coin. I proceeded to walk toward the machine. As I got closer, along comes a little child, who walks up to me, points to the machine and says, “I help.” I didn’t need help, so I did the universal head-shake for “No,” but he ignored and dragged me to the machine. He placed my coins in the machine, pressed the button and out came my coin. I should have known there was a catch because he then asks for money. I began speaking in French, pretending not to know what he meant, but he stuck out his hand and again said “Money.” My irritation rose and I declined and walk away (you have to be firm and tough in these situations, I realized). When I past the fence, there were two subways. I found a police officer and asked for the Grand Bazaar. He pointed me to one metro and I jumped on. I must have been on that subway for a good 15 minutes when it finally hit me that I had missed my stop. I got off that metro and jumped on another going the opposite way. This continued for another 15 minutes and I finally arrived at the Grand Bazaar!
The Grand Bazaar was packed with people of many different walks of life bargaining and scavenging for the best deals. I didn’t stop, stare or get close to any item more than 15 seconds because the merchants are like flames and I am a moth, being lured in for the kill! Also, because I couldn’t speak the language, I chose to window shop instead of buy, thinking I’d be cheated out of a deal. This went on for a good 30 minutes and when I looked up from the many items, I realized I had not been watching where I was going. I was lost yet again. My window-shopping turned into a hunt for the exit because it is a labyrinth and it was about to close! I honestly felt like Theseus, racing for the exit before the Minotaur (aka “time”) caught me. I did what I knew best from the previous experiences — follow others, which led me to the exit! As I was walking toward the exit, I decided I would wait until I returned in May when I would be mentally prepared to shop like a mom racing for the last Christmas ham. The trip back to the airport was easy, since I had learned (through trial and error) to find my way.
I learned a few things about this spontaneous adventure: 1) Sometimes you shouldn’t live life in serendipity — you should prepare for things, 2) This was the first time I’ve ever felt like a foreigner — confused and gullible in a new place, 3) you have to keep a positive attitude and joke about your mistakes or you’ll surely fall victim to frustration and depression, 4) I should learn more Turkish words, 5) The Grand Bazaar is a cool place, just don’t get lost! Onward, I hopped on my last plane to my final destination: Amman, Jordan. I cannot wait to tell you my adventures there!
Teşekkür ederim for reading my posts!