Tag Archives: Misadventures

Battle Scars

Do you all remember young love? When you really like someone and you’re pretty sure that person really likes you too and maybe you both have the same day off so you spend most of it in bed, making stupid jokes that will carry you through a few years of a relationship, talking nonsense to each other, holding the palms of your hands together and marvelling at the simple miracle that you both have fingers… and maybe you trace a white line in his eyebrow and say,
“How’d you get that?”
“I was riding my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 in the morning…” he explains, and you listen, rapt. And then he touches a divet on your shin and asks how you got that and you tell him all about this crazy house you used to live in that had the tiniest, twistiest, most unevenly built stairway ever, and how you used to run up those stairs, three flights of them, without turning on the lights… and then you examine his appendectomy scar as though it holds some essential truth about him, and he in turn marvels over the shiney patch on your foot from that scooter accident and so the afternoon wears on,
“Is it really two? Jesus. We should at least get something to eat.”
“In a minute. Come here.”

What happens to those bodies of knowledge and knowledge of bodies when they’re no longer needed?

The lovely part of spring is finally here. The days are warm and  monotonously lovely. I’ve acquired sunburns one, (shoulders, back of neck) and two (nose, decolletage), I’ve had to readjust to life without coat pockets, and I’ve laundered all my summer frocks. And of course my legs are in bloom with a rash of lovely purple bruises.

“What on earth happened to your leg?” C asked the other day. “Has he been beating you?”

“No, nothing that exciting,” I said. “I’m naturally clumsy and in the spring I’m more active so…”

“Oh that’s a bad combination.”

“Indeed. It’s a joke back home that I should be wrapped in bubblewrap and issued a helmet and mouthguard.”

I frowned at my calf, and noticed the tail end of a scar curling around. My God, skin doesn’t heal so well after thirty.

It got me thinking about how the map of my body has changed since I came here. Old scars have faded substantially, (you have to really look to see the one from the scooter now. By the way, kids, patent leather mary-janes with the most adorable buttons ever are not good motor-cycling shoes) new scars have erupted all over the place.

My hand for one: that pinky will never be right again.

And then there’s the scar on the back of my leg:

That’s a good one, eh? When I was at Dilko I complained that I wanted a conference table set-up instead of a ring of school desks

So my boss’s solution was to install tables and cut the desk parts off the chairs with a hacksaw. (His ideas were always just so close to being good.) For about three days I was really careful of the jagged desk-stumps on the sides of the chairs and then one night a student asked me a question, I whirled around real fast to scribble some grammar rule on the board, and the metal edge caught my calf. I was on so many painkillers at that time because of my hand that I didn’t feel it, and it wasn’t until I felt blood trickled into my shoe a moment later that I realized something was wrong. I probably should have gotten stitches, but I figured I was on enough anti-biotics to kill a microbe the size of a horse and I’d spent way too much time in hospitals recently anyway.

My foot was recently mauled by both a ferry gangplank and a cat in the same week.

I fell and skinned my knees to fewer than three times this winter. (I blame the sidewalks, which are all, to a paving stone, trying to kill you.)

They’re all purpley and I don’t think the skin will ever be right. I cut another divet out of my leg below the divet from the house with the twisty staircase. It was a shaving accident aggravated by pantyhose and inability to remember to buy bandaids. Every night when I’d come home and peel off my tights another small chunk of leg would come with them. I might not, when I come to think of it, have the best self-preservation instincts.

So these are the ways Istanbul has marked me. You? You got any good travel scars?


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Filed under Daily Life

How To Not Lose 3 Cats

If your roommate goes to Europe for a week, and leaves you in charge of her three cats, and if you are not, strictly speaking, a cat person, you may have a few misgivings about caring for them. After all, if you’re like me, during your first night in the house you had a massive nightmare that all three escaped through the door you accidentally left open, while you, dream paralyzed, could only watch in horror. But when RM tells you she can have her friend check in on them, that will seem like such a pussy move. I mean, they’re cats. Minimum requirements are: feed, water, scoop poop, and don’t kick. If you spend an hour a day cuddling and petting, you’re a damned hero in their eyes. You can handle that.

It might happen that in the early morning hours the night before RM comes home, you will wake up to hear one of them humping (or something) the trash bag you left by the door. You will groan, roll out of bed, deposit the trash in the corridor, (have I mentioned lately how lovely it is that everyone, not just rich folks, just leaves their trash outside their door, and someone comes and picks it up?) and return for a couple more hours of sleep.

When you wake up it will be almost sunny outside, you’ll feel refreshed and well rested, and the day will seem full of possibility. You’ll stretch and wonder where to start. You’ll get out of bed, pad down the hall, and fill up the food bowls. No one will come running. That is very, very strange. You’ll pad back down the hall and see, to your horror, that the door, which has a persnickety latch, is cracked open.

At this point you will feel like panicking, but don’t quite yet. First gallop up and down the apartment, looking for any signs of cat anywhere, muttering “stupid, stupid, stupid” under your breath. Then pour more cat food into a bowl. When they still don’t appear, put on JUST enough clothing to avoid arrest, wrap up in a shawl and run out  of the apartment with a suitably crazed look on your face. Look everywhere as you make your way down the staircase.

As you approach the first floor you’ll notice the air getting colder and when you hit the floor your worst fears will be confirmed: because of the construction in the first floor apartment, the front door is wide open.

Before panic sets in you’ll want to formulate this scenario- mischievous cats go exploring in the stairwell, get frightened by buzz saws, run outside, too scared to come back in building because of previously mentioned buzz saws and also big scary men running in and out, they go… god knows where.

Ask the nearest construction worker, in your best turkish,

“Three cats are there?”

Be sure to sound like you’re about to cry.

“You speak English?” he’ll say.

“Yes,” say gratefully.

“No cats. What do they look like?”

“Gray. Much hair.” Make gestures to indicate their various sizes.

“No cats,” he’ll say. He’ll follow you outside as you start poking around the garden.

“There’s a cat, signora!” He’ll point to a tabby under the car across the street. “And there- the cats are black?”

“No, gray,” you should say. “One is like that-” gesture to a cat on the hood of a car, “but much, much bigger.”

“Bigger,”he’ll muse. “What about that one?”

Say “hayir,” and try not to get impatient.

Look everywhere in the garden,

You’ll see cats everywhere. On cars, under cars, in windowsills, on top of sheds, walking in the streets, eating from the bowls the neighbor set out, under the stairs. None of them will be the cats you’re looking for.

At this point, you might want to start envisioning RM’s face when you tell her you lost her cats, and how she’ll probably cry. To do this properly you should feel shittier than you have in a whole winter of feeling very shitty. Run upstairs, grab a bowl of kibble, and come back outside. The helpful construction worker will ask you if you found them. Suppress the urge to hit him, and the equally strong urges to cry and run away. Walk down the street, seawards, because that feels luckier, shaking the bowl and crooning the cats’ names. You’ll soon be followed by half a dozen strays, looking at you expectantly. When you get to where the street ends, by the staircase down to the park, look at the dogs lounging in the sunshine, and try not to envision them eating RM’s cats. On the way back, peer into every garden you pass. Walk the other way up the street, to the corner with the tekel shop. Try not to dwell on the moment you screwed up, really screwed up, this morning when you were half asleep and didn’t give the door an extra tap.

Sit on the front steps and shake the bowl of kibble feebly. The construction worker will come out and say,

“In Turkish you call cats like this. Psss psss psss psss. Just do that. They will come. Psss psss psss..” Try not to throttle him for assuming you don’t know universal calling a cat language. Look at the strays circling you and feel hopeless. A cat in the garden at this moment will probably chase another off from a chicken bone with much howling and hissing. You should probably at this point dwell on the helplessness of indoor cats in the complicated hierarchies and kingdoms the strays have set up out here, which you’ve never fully appreciated before. As you watch them you’ll realize they have codes and rules, territories and seniorities you can’t decifer. You will also realize there’s a whole daytime people street culture you were unaware of. Old men wander by and shout to invisible people through apartment windows. Women come out with bowls of food for the animals. The simit man comes by and a woman on an upper floor lowers a bucket with money in it. He takes the money and deposits a number of simit. She hauls it up. Down the street a woman with a broom pauses her work to talk to a next door neighbor who’s come out with a box of old clothes for the gypsies.

But don’t let this distract you from what clearly happened: the cats got out of the apartment because of your carelessness, got scared by the construction noise, ran outside, got beaten up for trespassing on some tabby’s square of garden, and if they didn’t then get eaten by a dog, ran off.. where? Where would you run if you were an apartment cat on the mean streets of Moda?

You will have no fucking clue.

Go back to the apartment. You’re doing no good on the steps, you’re just making the strays angry, teasing them with kibble. Go to the sun porch and look out to see if you can see them, while you formulate a plan. You won’t see the cats, and you won’t think of anything good. Consider googling the French Foreign Legion, but since you won’t be able to remember if they take women or not, decide that they don’t and go stand in the kitchen for no reason whatsoever and stare into the middle distance.

In a moment a sound will catch your ear. Through the construction noise and street noise and the noise of the birds and the distant barking dog you’ll hear a bowl clinking against tile. Your ears will perk, but don’t move. Listen hard. The sound will come again.

Move stealthily down the hall. There won’t, of course be any cats by the cat bowls, but if you turn your head fast enough you’ll see a tail disappearing beneath the dustruffle on RM’s bed.

Bend down.

Lift the dust ruffle.

See six eyes looking at you, all in a row.

Congratulations! You have successfully not lost three cats.


Filed under Daily Life, Kadikoy, Strays

Chapter 5: The Recovery

The Recovery
The anesthesia was supposed to last for 24 hours but it wore off after six. My boss, A, brought me back to work and everyone looked alarmed at the new cast and my lack of coordination over my arm, which hung, hot and rubbery in a jerry-rigged sling I made from a scarf, since it was apparently a BYOSling kind of operation. While I was grinning like an idiot and assuring everyone that I was just fine while banging my alien arm against every solid surface available, A made arrangements for me to spend the night in a nearby hotel so my friends and the staff could keep a better eye on me.
I was out of it, but not too out of it to be uncomfortable with the situation. Who was going to pay for it? Would it come out of my paycheck? What about my clothes? But in the end, all I wanted to do was lay down, so I allowed myself to be led across the alley behind work to the Riva Hotel. A checked me in, told me not to worry about anything, and to call if I needed anything. I wound up staying for a stressful week and a half, during which I worried constantly about the propriety of it all. I knew for a fact that everyone thought that my staying there was a sure sign that I was sleeping with the boss, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that that would be the ultimate price of it. But every time I made motions to go home A instisted that I had to stay there, that he simply would not allow me to go home and be far from help should anything happen to me, like slipping in the shower or getting an infection.
‘It’s better this way,” he said. “Fatma can make sure you take your medicine. You don’t have to cook. How would you cook with that thing?”
It was a good point, and in certain lights I’m a bit of a doormat, especially when people are forcing gifts on me. So I took the advice of my friends and relations and gave in to the luxury of staying in a hotel room whose actual cost I did not yet know.
As soon as I lay down that first night, my hand began to come to life again. First I became aware of the contours of my arm for the first time in hours. Then feeling began to return, starting with my elbow and moving inexorably down my forearm to my fingertips. I dozed for an hour and woke up, sweating, from a dream that my hand had been caught in a sandwich press. The feeling persisted. I turned on the television, (mercifully replete with several English language channels) and moaned. I took a triple dose of advil, which didn’t help at all. I chugged a mini-fridge beer, which at least took the edge off my anxiety, but did nothing to alleviate the pain. I lay awake the rest of the night, lonely and in pain, while my hand screamed “GET. THESE. PINS. OUT.” I had fantasies of ripping off the cast and yanking the pins out myself. It seemed to me that that would be the most right, most satisfying feeling in the world.
The next day A took a cranky, sleepy, in-pain me home to get more clothes. When we returned I sprawled across my new-made bed and hunkered down for a day and night of teevee and moaning. Fatma brought food but I couldn’t eat. Friends came to visit but I was not good company.
At my follow-up appointment the next day the doctor seemed surprised that I was in so much pain, but prescribed a stronger, injectable pain-reliever. A arranged for a pharmacy tech to visit me three times a day- Fatma came and chaperoned every injection, which was administered into my ass, and within a day I was much more comfortable and could enjoy, finally, the pleasure of staying in a hotel. Of never havingto make my bed. Of leaving my towels on the bathroom floor and calling room service for ice and extra blankets.
I really love staying in hotels, even as a kind of prisoner. The hotel staff called A everytime I stirred from my room, which was creepy, and I was faintly worried that he’d hacked into the security camera system to watch the hall outside my room. He’d already hacked into the police camera system to find the tapes of me being attacked. Watching me leave to sneak an expressly forbidden cigarette or even get an orange juice would be cake for a man like him.
Days passed slowly, like summer days when you’re a child. The Riva is in a warren of cobbled, (theoretically) closed to traffic streets that twist around behind Dilko. Istanbul is a big destination for Arab families to vacation because it’s affordable, a nice blend of Western sensibilities and porklessness and regular calls to prayer, and the streets around The Riva are full of moderately priced hotels, so they were full of middle class Arab families from all over the Middle East. I amused myself through the long, drug-hazed days, by looking at Arab papas and mamas trudging by, the mamas in an astounding array of coverings from barely there whisps of scarfs anchored by designer sunglasses to full on, bedazzled chador, trailing children like so many ducklings. Fatma broke up my days by arriving with tosts and the pharmacy technician. I surfed the net and watched BBC. I read a little. I took naps.
I learned a lot about Turk’s treat with illness. On my third day in the hotel, I came down with a cold. A and Fatma immediately blamed the air conditioning system in my room, and after that whenever Fatma came over and found the air conditioning on, (late June in Istanbul, may I remind you, on the fifth floor in a room whose windows don’t fully open) she screamed at me.
“Don’t you think it could be because my defenses are low, and I spent 12 hours in a dirty hospital surrounded by sick people?” I asked A, once, drily. He got defensive. He knows what I think of the Turkish Fear of the Draught, and doesn’t appreciate the condescension.
“The air conditioning systems are really dirty in this country,” he said, stiffly.
Another day he instructed Fatma to take me to get a soup that would make my bones grow together, insisting that without it I would never heal properly. We went to an Iskembe shop. At three blocks of walking it was one of the longer stretches of exercise I’d had in a week or so and I was exhausted and queasy from the heat and the antibiotics when we sat down. The smell was appalling, and reminded me of Hamden on nights when the local scrapple factory was in full swing, or of passing the butcher shop in Oella on still nights. When the soup came I almost wretched looking at it. It was gray and greasy, with lumps of unidentifiable something lurking in it.
I like offal, don’t get me wrong. I love sweet-meats and liver and tongue. I have eaten trotters and hearts and brains. I like tripe soup, and the irony, animal-ey barnyard taste of most spare meats. But Turks, damnit- they just eat that stuff straight up, without herbs and spices to soften the strong flavor. The soup was nothing but lamb knuckles and water, over-boiled, with garlic water on the side as a condiment. Fatma made me eat the whole thing, picking up the spoon and forcing bites into my mouth when I went too slowly. A few times I threw up a little in my mouth.
“Never again,” I said when we got back. “Thank you for everything, but NEVER AGAIN.”
A tsked at me and told me, sadly, that he wouldn’t be responsible for my hand healing badly.
I took the chance.
After a week or so later I went home. I learned to shampoo my hair one-handed. I heated up soup and fastened zippers with my left hand. I went back to work.
Five weeks later the pins came out.
Here’s a link to the video I made A take. At the end the dotor says, “Anatolian women don’t have anything on Americans. Enjoy.

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Filed under Turkish Culture

Chapter 4- The Operation

Okay- so here’s the thing. I had been REALLY good up until that point. I didn’t lose my sense of humor (entirely) when it happened. I didn’t lose my sense of humor even through the week of fear. Didn’t lose it when they rebroke my hand, or through the five hours of Brazil-like paper shuffling in the hospital. AG can attest to that. But on the day of the operation I lost my sense of humor.

Everyone give a warm round of applause to C. and AG for not once rolling their eyes at me or throwing me out of a window.

I’m constantly astounded, but not particularly bothered, by the Turkish way of doing things, which is best described as loosey-goosey. Laws are really just… suggestions. Times are approximate. It’s a very Turkish thing to shrug and say regretfully of a previous arrangement, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m busy.” That morning at the hospital- so early in the morning, my belly so empty from pre-op fasting- I knew no one knew yet whether I would have general or local, whether they would put in a pin or a plate. I had bulwarked myself against this uncertainty, imagined each possible outcome in detail until I was emotionally prepared for any eventuality. I knew they didn’t know what time i was going to be operated on, and i was more or less prepared to sit and wait for that. My appointed time with the anesthesiologist came and went- he was busy- and then someone casually informed us that the operation might not happen that day after all.

“He says they’re really busy,” AG said, FAAAARRR too calmly. “So maybe your operation will be pushed to Wednesday. ”

It was a little before 10:00 at this point. We’d been at the hospital for two hours already.

“When will they know?” I asked.

“We don’t know. They’ll come back in an hour and tell us something.”

That was the moment when I stopped pretending to be a strong, assured, unflappable woman. I flapped. I flapped my hands around and paced around the “waiting area” (six uncomfortable chairs in a crowded hallway) and let out a strangled, “unacceptable!”

I paced around again.

“They have to do it today,” I said. “They HAVE TO DO IT TODAY.” I had prepared myself for every eventuality but that one. AG and C looked up at me with sympathetic alarm but said nothing. “I have to go for a walk,” I said and abruptly turned heel and went outside, C following me shouting “Wait, I will go with you!”  I paced around outside and listed for C’s benefit all the very obvious reasons they had to do the operation THAT DAY, most of which I’ve forgotten now, but foremost among them that I would completely lose my shit if they didn’t.

An hour and a half later someone came by and said they still didn’t know if i would have the operation that day, they’d know more at 1:00. At 1:20-something, when I was as close to having a stress aneurysm as I have ever been in my life, someone came in and said,

“Okay, it’s time to have the operation now.”


They showed me into a room that had two old women in beds with their daughters sitting by in plastic chairs, eyeing me with curiosity, handed me the world’s most confusing hospital gown, and closed the door on me who was standing there with no idea what to do. Undress in front of the women? Get into one of the empty beds? One of the daughters got up languidly and pulled one of the bed curtains so I had a modicum of privacy and I looked down at the hospital gown and had no idea what to do with it. It was just a big sheet with a lot of ties on it. I poked my head around the corner.

“Effendim,” I said to the helpful daughter, “bu ne?” She chuckled and came over and helped me out of my bra and tied me into the gown. And then I was on a trolley whizzing through crowded corriders. And then I was in the operating room with a bunch of doctors hovering over me, inquiring if I spoke Turkish.

“Nope,” I said. “I’m American.” They murmured among themselves, trying to decide who spoke the best English. Finally a woman said, in the clear, deliberate way of someone who knows exactly one phrase,

“What is your name?”

“Sarah,” I said. This caused a moments confusion because of course on all the paperwork I’m Elizabeth.

But then the head guy came in, and he knew English, so he asked all the questions for the team, (finally, for the first time in this whole process someone asked me if I’m pregnant.) (No, by the way. Decidedly not.)  And then the anesthesiologist came in and started poking needles into my armpit. When my hand or finger twitched He injected whatever nerve he’d just found with anesthetic. When he ws finished the doctor picked up my hand (so naked without its cast) and asked what I felt.

“I can feel you holding my hand,” I said. “I can feel your fingers.”

“Feeling is okay. You will feel something the whole time. But is the pain okay?”

I looked at him like he was crazy. How the fuck was I supposed to know if the pain was okay  when he was just tenderly stroking my hand? Shouldn’t the try sticking a needle into it or something…? and then I realized he was tenderly stroking my broken bone.

“Oh!” I said. “That’s my broken hand! I forgot.”

“So the pain is okay,” he said.

They bundled me up in blankets and I got real dozey as they gave me what felt like a very pleasant hand massage but was in fact a violent shoving in of sharp metal pins.

And then they wrapped up my hand again and wheeled me back to recovery and I swiftly fell asleep.

Now a big difference between Turkey and America is the strength of the family unit. Childcare isn’t an issue cause when you have a baby, you mom just comes and stays with you for a year or so. No big deal. And when you’re in the hospital, someone in your family comes and takes care of you. This changes a nurse’s job description. When I woke up and needed someone to help me cover myself sufficiently to hobble down the hallway to go to the bathroom, I was told that that’s not the nurse’s job. The janitor could help me, but the janitors were all dudes, so…

I waited for C to show back up and she gently helped me wriggle back into my dress. And then I limped down the hall, clutching my un responsive arm, marveling at the lump of inert, strangely warm flesh that had previously been my arm.


Filed under Turkish Culture

Chapter 3: Here’s the Boxer

That’s what the doctor said when I came in to get my cast checked a few days later. It was a pretty simple, in-and-out procedure. We sat in the hallway outside the Orthopedist’s office with a whole lot of people- it seems people like to bring their whole families to the e.r. on Sundays for, I don’t know what. Picnics?- until beautiful B got impatient and barged into the room with me in tow. This is standard operating procedure for every line in Turkey, by the way. To wait is deadly. You must shove your way to the front.

“Here’s the boxer,” the doctor said to his assistant. His assistant looked me up and down and nodded. The doctor examined my cast, scolded me b/c there was a crack in it, slapped some more plaster on it, and sent me home.

That evening was a hard one. That’s when the fear set in. I paced around the apartment like an old dog who’s afraid to lie down lest his heart stop. I picked things up and put them down again. I twirled my hair around my fingers. I stared into space. I couldn’t get interested in teevee or books. I felt unaccountably nervous. I lay down. I stood up. I sat down. I stood up. I looked in the fridge. I sat down again. I got up and went to the store and looked at all the food in it, carefully, thinking I should eat something, but I came home empty handed. I startled easily- a strange noise, a shadow on the wall. That night I couldn’t sleep.

So the week went.

On Thursday I went back to the hospital, this time with my boss AG. I was anticipating an easy visit- I knew my hand wasn’t set properly. It’s been years since I broke a bone, but I just knew it wasn’t a healing kind of pain I was in, but i figured since I knew where the Orthopedist Office was, and how to barge in, I didn’t really need anyone, and that the visit would be painful but short. Boy was I wrong. Thank you, AG. I would still be in the hospital looking blankly at a sheet of printed-out barcodes, feebly enquiring “Bu ne?” to any passing person if you hadn’t been there.

It took us visits to three desks to get me into the x-ray room. Then a visit to the doctor, where AG barged into the room ahead of me and tattled, “She’s been using her hand too much, even though I told her not to.” The doctor looked at my x-ray and agreed, and calmly patted the examining table. I hopped up like a good little lamb to slaughter. They cut my cast off and- WITHOUT GIVING ME ANY PAIN MEDS (not that I’m still angry)- broke whatever healing had been done and played around with my bones until they figured they were set right. This is, btw, the kind of behavior that would constitute a war crime if we were in war time.

“You were bad and used your hand,” he said pleasantly while his assistant wrapped fresh plaster around my paw. “This is your punishment.”  He looked down at me thoughtfully, and asked (through AG) when I’d last had anything to eat or drink.

“Four,” I said. “Cake at four.” He nodded, and then went back to answering the questions AG was peppering him with. A moment later I said, “Um, why did he ask that?”

“You may need operasyon,” the doctor said.


So back to the three desks, back for x-rays. I should mention here that while every x-ray I’ve had in the states they’ve taken safety precautions- draped me with lead aprons, confirmed that I’m not pregnant- in Turkey they just show you where to stand and zap you. I had three x-rays that night total. I’m surprised, frankly, that I haven’t acquired superpowers. He took the fresh x-rays up to his professor, and they both came down a half hour later.

‘So it’s not an operation,” AG whispered as we watched them approach. “They wouldn’t be so smiley if it was an operation.” He stood up and the three of them talked for a few minutes while I looked around and wiggled my foot and examined a chip in my nail polish. (I cannot tell you how disorienting it is to be in the hospital and have no idea what’s going on.)

“Okay,” AG said finally, “You need an operation.”



Dear Marc, 

Is no problem. Quick note though before double dose pain meds kick in and render me wudhfn jduwjj666o9jw3… what? sorry. Quick note before third double dose of pain meds totes destroys what’s left of brain:

At the hospital Yesterday, at one point we had to pay a visit to the florr where I’ll be recovering from surgery. And they had an intake form like they do at any doctor’s office- about ten pages long. The nurse didn’t speak English, but I’d brought a Turk to translate. Through him, she sasked me the first, like four questions. Do you have any allergies. Do you have a history of heart conditions. Have ypou had surgery lately. (God. my typing SUCKs)  Then she got impatient and said, “Okay. I’ll do the rest.” 
So she filled out my medical history with minimal input from me. 
This has been typical of my pre-surgery experience. 
I go in on Monday, and I’d like to talk to you one last time before I do.

I wish I were a better writer so I could truly make you feel the utter bewilderment I felt that night, and how utterly helpless I felt. No one spoke English, and AG was being really good about translating, but the whole sequence of events didn’t make sense to me. “Where are we going now? Why?” I said again and again. “What did she say? What are we doing now? Why?” The endless circling of desks to pick up more barcodes and stamps, sign papers, get prescriptions, take blood, get a shot of morphine (3 hours too late not that I’m still mad) in the butt, go upstairs, go downstairs, sign some more papers, deliver a vial of my own blood to a different building, take a break for tea and börek, get more papers, get more barcodes, get more stamps, get my medical history (sort of) taken down… and the whole time AG being such a trooper, and asking all the questions and making sure everything was done as correctly as possible in a Turkish hospital, and me with no input, no agency, no clue what was going on. We were there for five and a half hours but in the end I was so tired and disoriented that if you’d told me I’d been in there for a day and a half I would have believed you. Even indefatigable AG was showing signs of wear shortly after midnight when we finally left, and had to find an emergency, all-night pharmacy. Because why would a hospital have a pharmacy?

Anyway, on Monday I go in.

Wish me luck.

I think I need it.


Filed under Turkish Culture

Chapter 2- The Hospital

So my roommate, the beautiful B, bundled me into a cab and told the driver where to go. We didn’t go to the first hospital b/c it was private, and they wanted 190 lira upfront and beautiful B snorted and said we could do better and told the driver to take us somewhere else.

So we went somewhere else where they would take me, (I’m not technically covered by social security yet) and sat in a variety of waiting rooms where I sat bewildered, and alternately cried inappropriately and giggled inappropriately. The night was a bit of a blur, but my takeaway was this- getting a hand x-rayed and set and put in a cast requires talking to one technician, one doctor, and about thirty people sitting behind desks who all needed different pieces of paper stamped and affixed with a barcode sticker before anything can advance. Also, for the traveller, it’s interesting to note that they deferred payment until such a time as I have social security, but for all their fanatical attention to paperwork, I’m listed as Elizabeth Perrich on every document and they have my address wrong, so how they’ll find me for remittance is beyond me. But just as I’m afraid of ghosts with no logical reason to be, I believe they can do it.

They set the broken bone in my hand without meds, (thank god I was kinda drunk!) and sent me home well after dawn in a plaster cast. Beau Brooks knows the rest of that morning. I’m a little unclear.


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Chapter 1 – The Police

On Friday I got all dressed up in that red dress with the white piping- the one I like so much from Double Dutch– to go out with my lady friends, and somehow, between when I hopped on the bus and when I skipped off it 40 minutes later, all the plans had fallen apart. I was wearing my favorite summer dress. I had carefully layered powder eyeliner over pencil, and pulled off the trick where I wear my hair curly but don’t look like a poodle. I had painted my nails to go with my dress. The weather was perfect. I was NOT about to let the night die.  So I wandered off to see what kind of trouble I could get into by myself.

A few beers, and one shot of tequilla later, I bade farewell to my new friends, who were headed off to go clubbing. It was almost 12, then. “Come clubbing!” One of them whined. “Gotta teach tomorrow,” I said. “Eight hours.”  That thought suddenly depressed me. But not for long- My belly was nicely warm with booze, I had spent the night chit-chatting (which is my favorite thing to do), the air was perfect, and I still looked cute.  I was in a pretty good mood when I headed home.

In Mecediyeköy I remembered that the only thing I’d had for dinner was potates, so I stopped at one of the awesome food trucks that pop up at night and grabbed a kofte sandvich, which was SO perfectly greasy and delicious.

“Where are you from?” a fella asked. “England?” I looked up at him, a bit of pickle hanging fro my mouth, and said, “America.” “Oh,” he looked impressed, as Turks always do for some reason, like American citizenship comes with a freebie Nobel Prize or something, and said, “I’ve always wanted to go to America.”

This is a conversation I’ve had so many times in transit stations I can say my lines in my sleep. I was talking to this man, but I was thinking of something else.

:Oh yeah? Where in America?” (He said New York or possibly Los Angeles.) “Oh, that’s a great place. I hope you get to go.” He asked me what I was doing in Istanbul. “I teach.”  Where. “Taksim.” And where did I live. “Şişli.” I finished every last shred of meat and pickle flavored bread and said goodnight and wandered down to the metrobus platform. Between the sandwich and the tequilla I was really starting to feel very, very sleepy. I was staring at nothing in particular in the middle distance when he came up quietly and stood next to me. He asked me what was in my bag. “Diet Coke.” All Americans like diet coke. “So true.” The bus came, and he held my elbow as I boarded, which I did not particularly like, but lots of Turkish men do this 1940’s style chivalry thing, like lighting ladies’ cigarettes and putting them into taxis, and my mind was on my bed- the softness of my pillow, the smoothness of the sheets, what I’d watch on my laptop as I fell asleep- and my alarm bells simply failed to go off.  They didn’t go off when he asked me which station was mine. They didn’t go off when  he followed me off the bus at said station. I started to think something was weird when I stumbled while walking up the stairs and he grabbed my elbow (again) and said, “I will help you.”

“I’m good,” I said.

“No no. I will help you.”

“No, I’m good.”

“I will help you.”

“You will not help me. You need to stand over there, got it? There. Bu. Git. Now.”

We were just out of sight of the platform at that moment, on a quiet stretch of road. There was no one around. I felt genuinely frightened for the first time.

He grabbed my arm hard enough to leave bruises, and lent down, (he was very tall) and kissed me all sloppy and fiddled with the snaps and straps of my top. I wriggled away a step and slapped him. He reeled, is face twisted up and he punched me in the jaw. I stopped being frightened and got really, really, really mad, then.  I punched him as hard as I could in the face and started screaming at him. He ran away, back the way we’d come, and I stood there for a moment, still full of fight, and then ran after him. I don’t know where the shit that was coming out of my mouth was coming from- maybe all the Breaking Bad I’ve been watching recently- but as he ran away I screamed the most ridiculous things at him-

“I know you can understand me- I know you speak English! I will find you! I will find your family! I will find your mother! I will find your sisters! And I WILL KILL THEM ALL!!!!!”


Anyway, one thing you should know about Istanbul Polis, ladies, is they aren’t very helpful. The security guard looked perplexed and didn’t move when he saw a man running as fast as he could away from an angry, howling woman. “I thought he was your boyfriend.” Ahh. Of course.  Half a dozen or so cops were there withina few minutes and they found one who spoke English to talk to me. I  told him what had happened. He didn’t write any of it down. I handed him my passport. He looked at it politely and handed it back to me, and offered me a ride home. I kept rubbing my punching hand in the car- it was starting to swell and it hurt like a bitch, and before I got out he said, “If you have a friend at home, she should take you to the hospital.”

Oh. Thank you.

Inside, I fell apart. I paced around. I had an unnecessary glass of wine. I called America. I cried some. Or a lot.

“Sarah, you need to  wake up your roommate and have her take you to the hospital,” Lou said.

“I can’t wake her up,” I said. “It’s three in the morning!”

“Wake her up. Go to the hospital.”

There was a lump on my hand the size of a large egg, now, and I could feel the bones grinding.

“Maybe I should go to the hospital,” I said, dreamily, in the manner of someone who has just had a completely original thought rather than been arguing against it for twenty solid minutes. Lou, bless im, never shows his irritation when I do this.

“Thata girl. Call me when you get back, okay?”

Next… the hospital!

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The Prostitute Bar

(transcribed from my lesson planning  notebook.)I had great luck last time I went somewhere by myself after work, Monday evening, when I sat for a solitary hour over a cup of tea and wound up meeting and having the loveliest conversation with a rather famous director of films and his rather less lovely Turkish guide. I thought I’d repeat the exercise, but Istiklal was rather overwhelming, so I came here to a bar behind work whose neon sign I can see from the teacher’s lounge. I walked through the dining room, (table cloths and clumps of men watching football on big screen teevees) and let myself into the bar and knew I’d made a misstep.

There’s one old blowsy woman with bleached blonde hair, chainsmoking on a stool behind the bar. The madame? The bartender is dressed as I haven’t seen women dress since I left the states- in a sparkly tube top and a tiny denim skirt. One girl in a lowcut micro-mini sits at the end of the bar. On the other side of the room there’s another bar with one lone girl standing behind it. She looks all of fifteen and also isn’t wearing enough clothes. A d.j. is playing late ’90’s club music, loudly. I am the only paying customer here.

Everyone looked at me when I walked in. Watched me as I appraised the place. If there can be a pregnant pause in a very loud room, there was one. An elderly gentleman materialized at my side when I took off my coat. The girls exchanged looks when I sat down, eyebrows raised.

The bartender has spent the last five minutes applying make-up in the mirror behind the bar. She would look far prettier without it. All the girls here are thin but unhealthy looking.

The elderly gentleman took my order and disappeared permanently.

The girls keep looking at me and smiling warily. I suppose if I stay here too long I’ll interfere.

Of course, I might be reading this situation wrong. It’s so hard to tell, here. I don’t know all the social cues. If I were in America I would be certain that this is a prostitute bar, but I suppose this could just be a Turkish take on a really low-rent Eastern European discoteque.

Whatever it is, it’s depressing me.

A man just walked in and was shuffled off to the 15 year old’s bar. She switched her face from sullen and bored to flirty in less than a second. She’s gotten him a drink and is having one of the same. They are deeply engrossed in conversation and she keeps touching her hair and thrusting her chest over the bar.

Madame just came over and checked on the level of my drink. She smiled with, if not outright hostility, strained friendliness.

It might be time to go home.

Posted by Sarah Perrich at 9:23 

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Don’t Panic II

The next day the fun will really start. You’ll get up early and take a cab to the correct police station and the cab driver won’t even have to ask anyone on the street directions, so that’s a good sign, right?
You will sit for several hours, because you will be there on the wrong day and therefore will be seen last. Good time to plow through another quarter of that book. The folks will finally take your papers and start a mysterious half-hour process in which nothing much seems to happen except the papers get stapled together. They will gesture you over and have you sign something, and then cheerfully explain something to you at length. In Turkish. Which you will not understand. And there will be no one nearby to translate. They will shove a piece of paper with an address in your hand, and your packet of stapled papers, and shoo you away from the desk.

Don’t panic.

Just go to the security guard at the front and show him the piece of paper and ask in a quavering voice, “nerede?” He will look at the paper and scratch his head like he’s never seen this address before. He will ask his superior, who will shrug. He will disappear back into the building and ask someone at the counter, and then come back and gesture to you to follow him outside. He will bundle you into a cab and give the driver directions and off you will go. I will not blame you at this point if you think some huge mistake has been made. It will seem to you that you should be in an upstairs office of the police station, paying a series of expensive taxes, but instead you’re hurtling god knows where.

Don’t panic.

The cab will pull over on a busy street in the shopping district in Kadiköy. The driver will explain in broken English that,
“Traffic, bad- go that way. Is on right.” He will look at you compassionately and you’ll be able to tell that he wants so badly to explain to you why you’re here and what, exactly, is over there and on the right, and what you should do when you get there, but you can’t understand each other. And you are in Kadiköy, looking at the display in the window of a linen shop, and you will have no idea why.

If you panic, at this point, I won’t judge. If you start crying from confusion and frustration as you count out the lira for the cab, you won’t be the first.

But then it’ll be time to wipe your eyes and bravely walk from the cab in the direction he told you, with the piece of paper clenched in your determined little hand. You will stop people on the street and show them the paper, and they will gesture you further down the street, until you get to a point where they will gesture you back the way you came. In this way you will find, sandwiched in between an L.C. Waikiki clothing store and a Star Bufe, a tiny government building. It will be 12:35. The sign on the door will announce that they are closed for lunch from 12:30 to 1.

Don’t panic.

Go to the Simit Saraya next door and choke a börek past the lump in your throat.

At one get in line. Don’t let the headscarf lady behind you muscle her way in front of you. You will get to the counter eventually, and you will hand the man your packet of now stapled papers and he will look at them with a look of total bafflement on his face and say,
“Bu ne?”
“Um, residence permit?” you will say. He will not understand you. He will show the papers to his supervisor who will be just as baffled and will look up at you accusingly and say,
“What do you want?”

Don’t panic.

The girl behind you in line will speak English. You will explain that you were sent here from the Kadiköy police station. They will talk back and forth for a few minutes and then she will turn to you and say,
“You need to go to the other building. Leave here and turn right.”
You will leave and turn right and sure enough on the other side of the Bufe will be another government building. You will enter and stand in the vestibule and people will swarm around you. You will have four floors of offices to choose from, and because you don’t know what you’re doing there, you won’t know where to go. It will be tempting to cry, but don’t just yet. Just wander onto the second floor, approach a random counter, and give the nice man your papers. He will look at them and nod and you will feel encouraged. He will smile at you and gesture you behind the counter and take you over to a desk and show your papers and your passport to another man who will look up at you and say,
“Why are you here?”

Don’t panic.

Just calmly explain that you don’t know why you’re here. They sent you from the Kadiköy police station. Maybe you have to pay a fee here?
He will shrug and say,
“But what do you want us to do?”
This might be a good time to start crying again. You probably won’t be able to help it. Tears will just start rolling down your face and you lip will quiver and you’ll barely manage to whisper,
“I don’t know!”
The nice man will take charge then and say,
“Don’t worry! Don’t worry!” and bustle you out of that office, and into a series of other people’s offices, showing one official and then another your documents until finally you will be dragged in his wake up to the third floor, where he will calmly march past a line of waiting people and deposit you at the proper desk, where a nice woman will take your papers, look through them without interest, and ask you for money. A moment later you will have a receipt and will be shooed away from the desk again without further instruction.

Don’t panic.

Just go back to the Kadiköy police station (another cab ride) and give them your papers and your receipt. They will take them cheerfully and give you an appointment to come back for your completed permit.

See? Bureaucracy isn’t scary. It’s not a big deal to go get your license renewed.

Which is a good thing, because if you are like me you will spend the dolmuş ride back puzzling over the amount you paid. It wasn’t nearly enough. And then you will realize with mounting horror that instead of renewing your permit for a year, you managed to renew it for one month. Which means that in three or four weeks you get to do it all over again.



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Don’t Panic I

There’s lots of information on the web about how foreigners can get or renew their residence permits, and most of it is incomplete at best and just wrong at worst. It’s also the kind of non-info that isn’t terribly helpful for people like me, naturally anxious people for whom official documents carry all the symbolic weight of a loaded gun in the first scene, people for whom the thought of spending a day in a government building carrying forms from one desk to another brings on heart palpitations and sleepless nights and visions of themselves being led off for unclear reasons in handcuffs.
So this is for you, my unreasonably nervous brethren: for all of you who chronically mistake, out of the corner of your eye, your own bathrobe thrown by yourself over your own chair for a murderer and then don’t turn your head to see for sure because you don’t want the murderer to know you see him; for all of you whose hearts race with unreasonable fear when the phone rings or when you have to make a phone call; for all of you who realize with shame that you’re acting so ridiculously innocent around the cops that you probably actually look very guilty; oh my fellows with probably undiagnosed generalized anxiety disorder, this step by step guide to how to renew your residence permit in Turkey is for you.

The first thing to do when you realized you have the date wrong for your official appointment, and that the next available appointment isn’t for a full month after your current permit expires is not to panic. It’s just like that time when you opened the envelope on a snowy Sunday night to review what supplies you needed to to bring to your practical exam after beauty school and realized you had the date of the test wrong and that the test was first thing the next morning. Remember that? How you drove through snow and ice to get to Sally’s Beauty Supply, and got there five minutes after they closed, but the ladies inside took pity on you and even gave you the professional discount even though you didn’t have your license yet? Remember how you found your live model at a party two counties over and brought her back to the house to practice, how she fell asleep on the couch while you tried to cram everything you’d forgotten since school back into your head? Remember getting up at six the next morning to drive to Dundalk, making it just in time? You passed with flying colors, lady. Things work out. Your wonderful boss will help you gather all the documents you need and you will be ready for your appointment that is sixteen hours from now.

Now, when you realize that you’ve lost the VERY IMPORTANT reference number which you need to print out your VERY IMPORTANT appointment papers, you may panic a little. You can spend an hour (or two) trying to search for your appointment on the website using every other reference you can think of- passport number, current residence permit number- but they’ve changed the computer system since the last time you did this, bud, and this might be a problem.

Nevertheless, get up in the morning with hope in your heart. Go to work to get one last important document, and then get your four mandatory passport photos taken. Check that you have: A copy of your passport
Four passport photos
A copy of your resident’s permit, pages 1-8
Your actual passport
Your actual residence permit
The address of the Kadiköy police station
and a note, written in Turkish by your wonderful boss who hasn’t once rolled his eyes at you, explaining that you’re an idiot who lost her reference number, please help.

Cross the Bosporus for the second time that day, back to Kadiköy. Make sure you bring a good book, because you will read half of it before you get back to work.

From the ferry dock, get a cab. In this case the expense is justified. Don’t be alarmed when the cab driver pulls over to ask a construction worker directions to the police station, which will turn out to be next to the pier, which will seem odd to you. It looked way further on Google maps. But roll with it. Maybe this will be easier than you think.

You should smile ingratiatingly when you hand the perplexed officials the note. They will disappear with it and your passport for a few minutes. This is not a cause for alarm. Three of them will come back and hover around you while their spokesman speaks to you in French. Since you haven’t taken a French lesson since 1996, this will tax all your mental powers, but you will understand the words “Istanbul Enmiyet” and “aujourd’hui.” Don’t think about how long it takes to get to the Istanbul Enmiyet, it’s too depressing. Just get back on the ferry and cross the Bosporus for the third time. Then take a tram, then a metro. Aren’t you glad you brought the book? It helps you pretend you aren’t crammed into a stranger’s armpit on an overcrowded train.

After two hours of travel, you will spend ten minutes in the Istanbul Enmiyet. The men in the office you will be directed to will not trouble to hide that they’re laughing at you, and after a few quick key strokes they’ll hand you a post-it with the reference number on it. You’ll ask if your papers can be processed there, but they’ll point to your appointment paper, to where it says “Kadiköy.” You’ll look longingly at the printers that dot the office, and wonder why they can’t just print out your appointment papers right then and there, and then you’ll retrace your (very fresh) tracks out of the building. Before you go through the turnstiles into the metro you’ll dart into an internet cafe across the street and print out the goddammned VERY IMPORTANT appointment numbers. Then metro, tram, ferry and two hours later you’ll be back where you started. The man with the big gun by the guard post will wave you through with a friendly “I know you!” smile. The man who spoke French will recognize you in the lobby and wave you to an office on the second floor. You’ll arrive somewhat breathless and hand the handsome man behind the first desk your bundle of papers and he’ll look through them, then look at you, then look through them again. He’ll ask you something in Turkish and you’ll look up at him helplessly, smiling, willing him to like you. He’ll get on the phone and have a low, murmured conversation with someone, and then hand you the phone.
“Hello,” a woman’s voice will say. “You are in the wrong police station. Do you understand me? You are in the wrong police station. You need to go to the big police station. Do you understand me? It is closed now, it closes at 5. You need to go there tomorrow morning. They will write the address for you. Do you understand me?”
It is five o’clock. You missed the chance to get this done today by four minutes and one building.
And now might actually be a good time to panic because you are going to be late for work.

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