I begin to walk to the footbridge, and there is a metrobüs sign in the middle, which leads down to the two middle lanes of the highway, which, I notice for the first time, are segregated by concrete barriers. Busses are flying by in both directions. And these are nice ones, too. Not like Seattle, San Francisco, or Oslo buses, but commandeered coaches outfitted with accordion ribs. I come down and look for a map, but the platform is roughly twice as wide as I am and people are streaming by in both directions as well.
The metro in Istanbul works by either buying a token or using an Istanbulkart which you can recharge with bills lower than 50 (guess the one bill I had), or you can buy a one-time token for 3TL (~$1.50). You either sacrifice a token or beep in with your card and you are permitted onto that part of the public transportation network – the charge is the same no matter how far you go. I had bought both a card and a couple tokens at the airport when I first got on the metro. I look for a slot to insert one of my two tokens, and there is none. I show it to the attendant who is right nearby, and he points to the card reader. I try to beep my card, but it doesn’t have enough on it (which is contrary to what I’ve read the public transport costs). He shrugs, but after a moment of seeing the hopelessness on my face, lets me through. I ask him how to get to Söğütlüçeşme.
“Bas…tirtyfour.” I look over and Bus 34 is pulling into the station. For some reason I take this to mean he’s mistaken, and ask again, “Bus 34? This one?” and I point.
“Tirtyfour,” he says again, very self-assured. It being here now seems to invalidate his answer again.
And all of a sudden a nice, suave, trendy youth swings in from the rafters and is immediately right next to me, “Where are you going?” he says with no hesitation. As it turns out, he knows exactly the bus, where to switch, and what bus to switch to, as well as roughly how long it will take. He is my golden god. We take bus 34 together, and I am certain we will be friends into our old age.
Here’s the really weird thing. I was on that other bus for an hour. Within three minutes, we are at a stop with the same name as the metro station I got off on. I search desperately for the metro station out the windows as we stop, but no luck. I consider this station cursed and am comfortable when we move on.
After the switch, my bus arrives at Söğütlüçeşme at about 9:40pm, the final stop on the line. I find my hastily drawn map with what I could understand on google maps the night before, and begin looking for street signs as I exit the station. Istanbul has a power which invades you like a gas where you don’t know which direction you’re facing, and the map in your head from before you arrived to wherever you are is almost antithetical to the map in your head once you’ve been walking around. Maybe a third of the streets connect at right angles, and only in clusters.
However, there was a street I wrote on my map in which a change in name occurs at a specific point, and though there are few street signs anywhere, I find this one, and attempt to orient myself. The road I’m looking for is to the south, and it’s a tiny street which is parallel to a highway, clearly under it. When the road I think I am on begins to rise, however, I ask a local to help. He speaks no English, but studies my map and the address, and points me in the opposite direction. I walk to that corner of this square of streets surrounding the station, and a guy points me to go right, but he isn’t sure. I ask three more people, and they all point me in different directions. There is an overpass I can see, but there’s no side road which runs parallel. One of the guys had pointed at a set of stairs while he was miming it to me, so I walk up the first set of stairs I can find until there’s a road running perpendicular to the street I was on. Again, no street signs.
I ask two old men who consult each other for a while, and one leads me away, with sparks hope, until he deposits me in a shop and motions for me to ask the shop attendant, a young man sitting next to his father, and his little brother in the side of the shop, staring at me. It’s so small, the counter divides the entire place in two – that sort of shop. I offer my map, which the man and his father study for some time, and talk at length. I’m arranging the words in my mouth to say, “It’s ok, I’ll find a hotel.” The man holds out his hand, palm down, for me to sit still. His father, gray haired and swinging his arms in an apparent move to maintain his walk, leads me outside. We walk across the street, and as I wonder where we’ll go, he motions to an SUV parked half on the road, half on the sidewalk. He opens the back, and points to my suitcase. I realize I do not even know “thank you” in Turkish.
I do acknowledge this was a violation of one of those early rules moms teach, like “look both ways before you cross the street” or “don’t stick a fork in the electrical outlet”. I was about to get in a stranger’s car. I was going to let my things be in his trunk. I was going to set myself up to get robbed pretty hard. He retrieved his keys, and we drove off.
With what I know of the area now, I can only say of his route, it was extremely convoluted, in such a way as befits the streets of Istanbul. We went down side streets. We got on the freeway. We got off the freeway. We drove back through the station. We drove up the hill I had first walked up. He turned right after it onto a side street I didn’t notice until we were on it. Finding the right building number, he took me to the door and motioned for me to buzz whichever apartment I was looking for.
Here’s the problem.
I only know the name Onur cause I exchanged messages with him on a site. I don’t know his last name. Hell, I still don’t know his last name – gmail can’t display it. I have a fifteen digit phone number, but my phone is dead. It’s also 10:15pm, and I’m about three hours late. I ask to use his phone, but I can’t get across the question “How many digits in a Turkish number?” I try all fifteen digits anyway, which predictably fails. He calls his son who speaks English well; it goes as well as you might think.
As we stand on the stoop of this apartment building, a woman walks down the street with her iphone in her hand and her headphones in. We’re both standing in the shadows and she doesn’t see us. She walks beyond us, and then stops. Arms flat at her side, she crosses one ankle behind the other, side steps and then moves a step diagonally backwards, and continues on regularly. A few steps later, she does the same thing, but with her arms getting involved. Normally if I caught someone doing this, I would leave them be, but instead I dropped my things there and bolted after her.
Here’s how nice Turkish people are. She stopped for me, lent me her phone, told me which part was his number, and while I was on the phone with Onur, explaining to him where I was (it turns out on the wrong street by one block anyway), she’s explaining to the man who drove me here and didn’t want to leave until I found where I was going what’s going on, and they’re developing a rapport. She offers to stay with me until he arrives even, so that I could use her phone again. I say I don’t want to keep her, but this older man stays with me and even asks if I’m not too cold. When Onur arrives, having never met before, they get on like old friends, and Onur thanks him too. I try desperately to show my gratitude, but am not sure how much is getting across, and when we make a motion to leave, he stops us and begins to grab my luggage from his trunk. Seriously, they may even beat out the Japanese for generosity to strangers.
So now, minutes to 11pm, I make it to the place I will be staying. I have my room, all my things intact, a wireless internet connection, and several glasses of water. I settle in and meet my new German roommate who is studying here, and lives here with….her four year old daughter. And her friend is visiting. With her four year old son.
Summation of the Action: I feel like I’m being pushed in the direction of working with kids. I’m not sure how I feel about this.