October 3, 2014

The Freedom Only a Rental Car Can Provide

Welcome to Turkey.

That thought has been on my mind a lot the past three months, especially in the face of weird or frustrating occurances. Welcome to Turkey.

Well, now that I'm three months in and I've finally acquired a residence permit, bank account, and first salary installment, I'm feeling more settled.

Alan and I are trying to take advantage of a five day weekend with a rental car and desire to get away from the 15-story apartment buildings that give Talas its distinctive vibe. Getting the rental car was a struggle, but thanks to some very generous co-workers, I think we got the best deal in the city. We rented an automatic (hard to find) Nissan Micra for the holiday at a very reasonable price. Luckily the car was reasonable, because benzine definitely isn't. Filling up our tank cost around $75.

Our first trip with the car was to Be─čendik (grocery store), the big one. We loaded up our cart with necessities and treats for the holiday weekend, as most shops will be closed in observance of the holiday. Standing in long lines at the cash register reminded me of doing grocery shopping on Christmas eve. Lots of frazzled people with full carts. Then, some random teenage boys nearly knocked my cart over with their crazy rollerblade tricks on the front steps of the store. Welcome to Turkey.

Today, we drove around the big dormant volcano, Erciyes. The trek took us past ski resorts, up a gondola, through open plains, shanty towns, and also one of the most touristy places in Turkey--Cappadocia. More on that topic later.

Alan and I did pretty well, considering the amount of stress that driving (or in my case, passengering) in Turkey put on us. My iPad had screen shot maps of our directions, but they didn't account for getting lost pretty much straight away, and it took a few minutes before Alan and I could communicate calmly again. We made it everywhere we wanted to go, despite a serious lack of street signage and a ridiculous traffic situation near the bus station on our way back into town. Alan did a great job of pulling off some Turkish driving to get through that.

In Turkey, driving is all about flow. Traffic rules, lane lines, slow vehicles, turn signals, basically anything that gets in the way of one's flow while driving, is to be avoided. Just try to get to your destination as fast as  possible. Don't worry about other things. Needless to say, I've personally witnessed three accidents in the past month. None today, thank God.

One of the weirdest moments today, a real Welcome to the Middle East moment, was seeing the sheep lined up downtown. The Muslim Eid holiday starts tomorrow, and the traditions include sacrificing a sheep. Christians know this story too, as Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, who was then replaced by a lamb. In the Islamic version, his name is Ibrahim. So, the customary thing to do in Turkey is to buy a lamb and perform the sacrifice. Welcome to Turkey.

Even with the many surprises and tribulations, Turkey is really growing on me. With a few modifications to our current situation, including maybe a car of our own, and a place with a pet and a balcony, I could see myself living in Turkey for a few years. There are some things that are hard to get used to, but overall, it is a great place.