There are certain experiences you’ll have when spending a good chunk of time in any new country. Some are funny, and some are annoying rites of passage, but you’re gonna have them all!
1. The rookie mistake: buying a phone from the mob.
When I first got to Istanbul, I was appalled at the process here of registering international phones. Basically, if you want to use your own phone here, you have to register it with the government and pay 115 lira (about 65 dollars). I was not about to have that, so I decided to buy a local phone from one of the cheap, sketchy shops that are all over the place here. After an hour of confusion, and communication fails in Turkish, English, and French, I came out with a phone that must have been manufactured in 1995. Whatever, as long as it worked. But here’s the thing– it didn’t work. After 2 days of using it, it stopped working– the phone company said my number had been blocked. I had a Turkish friend help me take it back to the phone company, who said they would “take care of it”. My friend said that meant it was probably all sorts of illegal– stolen, even– but that the shop probably had some police contacts who they could bribe to unblock the number. I got the phone back, and it worked for another 2 days before getting blocked again. I finally surrendered and bought another new phone, bringing my total spending up to 200 lira and scoring me an upgraded phone from 1997.
2. The “near death experience”: aka the falling brick
On my first day here, I was admiring all of the beautiful old buildings. I love how many untouched old buildings there are here in Istanbul. But as I was walking that day, a huge chunk of bricks and cement came plummeting down from one of those ancient buildings and smashed to pieces not even a foot from where I was standing. Let’s just say that this 3-story death machine of a building didn’t seem so glorious to me after that.
3. The hasty romantic interest
You know, when you first get to a new country, the people of that country seem so intriguing and attractive. Couple that with the excitement and mystery of being in a new place and you’re headed towards some exaggerated feelings. Now not shortly after I arrived in this here city, I started seeing this guy. Quite handsome, intelligent, had a lot to say. Not to mention the dream dates he took me on– evening seaside strolls, dreamy candlelit chats, and many other cliché things you can think of (and secretly really hope will happen to you). I got pretty swept up. But it didn’t last long… because I’m not a whore. And he was looking for a whore. Or, a foreign girl, which sometimes seems to be synonymous with whore around here. Well anyhow, that’s just the pattern these travel romances always follow– usually a big letdown, after the initial excitement of it all.
4. The moment of regret
There’s always that moment when you think, “why in the world am I here.” This one happened on my very first exploration of Istanbul by foot. I had just dropped my stuff off at the hostel and I went out looking for food, or internet. On the street I chose, all I found were hardware shops. Tire shops, lighting shops, shops with strange metal gadgets in buckets on the sidewalk. This went on for ages. Literally everyone I met on this street was a man, and I wondered if I had accidentally stepped into some lady-free zone. At least that would explain all of the strange looks I was getting. As I walked, I got more and more intimidated, and kept thinking, “What is this place?!” When, after blocks, there was nothing promising in sight, I was beginning to think all of Istanbul was made up of angry old men and tools shops. I kind of wanted to cry. Finally, the street I was walking down dead-ended onto a highway turnoff, so I was forced to turn around and walk back down the same street, getting weird looks again and proving myself to be an idiot. I don’t know how I managed to pick this street as my first impression of Istanbul, but I’m so thankful that things drastically improved from there.
5. The moment of where you think you’ve made the best decision ever
This is the thing that makes you stay positive, despite #4. And this moment came as I was sitting at my friend’s apartment, listening to the gypsy band outside his window (see last blog post). This was such a great and hopeful moment, and made me excited for the things to come here in Istanbul.
6. The unexpected craving
There’s always something you didn’t know was going to be missing, so you didn’t prepare for its absence, and now you are tortured by it. In Turkey, that thing is: fresh air. There aren’t a lot of fresh places here, because 1. there aren’t a lot of trees, 2. there are so many construction sites kicking up dust, and 3. everyone smokes. If I actively think about how stale the air is, I feel like I’m being suffocated. So, clearly, I try not to think about it.
7. The sketchily kind (but totally harmless and awesome) new native friend
What would you think of someone you just met offering you to stay in their house for a week while you figure out your life? With the advent of couchsurfers, it may not sound that unique anymore, but I still think this is such a big offer. Especially if the person seems really invested in you staying there (like, its not just a casual offer, but involves some persuasion tactics on their part). Would you be suspicious? Generally, when faced with a situation like this, I would run for my life. But I decided to give a little trust for a change, and it turned out very lovely. Go team.
8. The day of being horribly lost and wanting to give up and sit down in the middle of the street.
On my first day of work, I got ridiculously lost in this huge city. I printed off my google map, but it was completely whack. After walking around for 30 mins, I decided to hire a taxi. But that’s a bad move around here– taxi drivers in Istanbul are notorious for driving you around in circles in order to rack up a bigger fare. This driver kept driving in the opposite direction of my office, even though I was asking him to turn around. Then he gave me the number to his taxi service and tried to kiss my hand. Bizarre behavior, since this ride was clearly not going well and was not going to end with me hiring him again or being romantically interested in him. After driving a half hour out of the way with him, all the time with me yelling at him to turn around or let me out, he finally let me get out in some random place. I was furious, and I got out without paying. All he did was get me more lost! Now I had no idea where I was and was an hour late for work. It eventually got sorted out, and I learned to avoid taxis here at all costs.
I hope these anecdotes were amusing enough to make up for the lack of blog posts this past month. Now that I’m settled in, I can begin to catch you up on what’s been happening here. Keep reading!