BLOG: The smallest room can be the biggest challenge
Thijs de Bekker
An "a la Turca" toiletReading this website you might expect a deep analysis of politics, or perhaps a serious look at the interest rates. Well not today....
Today we are taking a look at a simple challenge but one that almost every foreigner in the country has to deal with. One that involves that smallest room in the house and creates one of the biggest challenges to overcome for foreigners.
2010. It was perhaps the very first time I ventured from the Turkish coast to Anatolia. Destination Ankara, to celebrate Xmas with my future father and mother in law. Me and my girlfriend at the time took a bus from Antalya, one of those luxury coaches. A great opportunity to see some of the country plus the buses weren't that bad either. Yes, now I could very well start boring you with a comparison of coach travel in Europe and Turkey, but I simple won't start yapping on about how great Turkish buses are.
OK, well the buses are fantastic and indeed very luxurious. However at the first stop, I encountered a challenge of a magnitude I had yet seen before. During a visit to the restroom, I found the shock of many foreigners... Yes, a hole in the ground and a smell that will haunt me for years to come, and I silently cursed myself for having three cups of coffee on the bus.
I will spare everyone the details, but let's just say keeping balance wasn't my strong suit nor was I good at calmly calling my girlfriend on her mobile to convince the driver to grab my suitcase from the bottom of the bus for a spare pair of jeans.
After about six hours of being mocked by my girlfriend and having to see the big smirk on the bus drivers face in the rear view mirror, we finally arrived in the capital. It rained, so as a Dutch guy I felt right at home.
We reached the apartment my girlfriend's aunt had lent to us, after having to explain the taxi driver a mere three times that I couldn't get him a visa for Holland and that yes, Koeman was one of the best players the Dutch national football team had ever had.
What delighted me the most about the home weren't the antique rugs, cabinets of silverware or the flat-screen TV’s, but there was a normal “French” toilet. I almost got a rug out for a quick thank you to the man upstairs, not knowing what would happen later.
My girlfriend left to teach a course at her school and I settled in after finding an NBA game on the TV. Her aunt was even nice enough to leave me a six pack in the fridge and some dinner to heat up. Snuggled up on the sofa, I certainly was feeling a little more content with the world than a few hours before.
After watching the action on the court and a few beers later, I decided to visit the magic throne. Illuminated in spot lights from the ceiling, I sat down and felt like a man of the world, having conquered the most dreadful of places or at least survived them, but the biggest challenge had yet to come.
Now here I need to explain that these ordinary movements, like eating, walking and visiting the smallest room, have been programmed in our minds since we were born and they prove hard to change. Even though most people in Europe have a little garbage bin next to the seat, it is mostly used to find out why your better half is cranky. This means most foreigners when they come to live in Turkey experience a period of what can best be described as “bowl fishing with a brush”.
After returning to the soft couch to watch the game thrilling finale, the scene was set for a few more beers which evidently lead to a second try at the throne. However when I approached the bathroom, there was a trickle of water coming out from under the door. When I opened the door and heard neighbours flushing, little fountains emerged from behind the toilet and I found the entire room flooded.
Another less than calm phone call to my girlfriend ensued, who was in the middle of her class and let me know that her aunt was on the way. An aunt who didn't speak any English. While waiting I removed the antique carpets so they wouldn't become part of ground zero and a look in a nearby closet revealed ample towels.
My Dutch genes sprung alive and before I even realised it I was fighting the water as my ancestors had done before me. I created dikes from towels and improvised ordinary household equipment to scoop up the water into the bathtub.
It felt like hours had passed when the aunt finally arrived. She took a quick glance at the lake I had created, walked over to the fridge, handed me a beer and pointed at the sofa. Now I'd like to say that this is a fine Turkish tradition and normally I'd gladly follow her instructions but not when you feel responsible for the mess. Without talking we worked as a team, passing buckets and emptying them in the nearest point of access to the sewage system, not knowing that the water just came back.
After an hour of intense labour with little effect while the neighbours kept flushing, the plumber arrived and again a smirk.... “Ah, yabanci problem” Yes, the “foreigner problem” that kept the plumber financially afloat while my mood was gradually sinking.
After retiring to the living room for a beer and a well earned smoke, the plumber had the problem fixed in no time. When I met the aunt the next day at an Xmas dinner that was specially arranged for me, including belly dancer, I found out she had learned a few words of English.
She gave me a high five and greeted me with “my sh--ty friend.”