Travels in Turkey - Part 16


I awoke to sun streaming through the curtains and a racket going on down below in the street. Staggering onto the balcony in my nightdress, I was amazed to see mass bands marching up the hill, schoolchildren waving flags and at the rear a squad of soldiers.
I had forgotten that it was local elections. Unlike here where we get party political broadcasts, parties members knocking at your door asking you to put a ‘Wanted Poster' up and a voting slip delivered by the postman, Turkiye likes to put on something special. What was happening down below was just a taster of what was in store.

Shaking Mehmet roughly, how does anyone sleep through a massed band marching? I told him it was 12 noon and that he should get dressed. He sighed, rolled over and went back to sleep. Fine. I left him a note to say that I was going out and flung- open the door. Standing just outside, with his arm raised to knock was the hotel owner with a tray of çay. He staggered back, hoisted the tray a little higher and beamed at me. Poor man. I never exit a door gracefully and I think I had frightened the life out of him. Grinning back and thanking him in Turkish, I stepped backwards into the room.

I placed the tray on the table, poked at Mehmet and put a full glass of çay down on the bedside table. The smell infiltrated his senses and he opened one eye. Telling him that I was back, I went and sat out on the balcony watching the parade going up and down the hill. The sun climbed higher and still Mehmet slept on. I drank his çay, took the tray and glasses back down stairs and returned to the room.
I was seething now. Grabbing the blankets I pulled them off the bed, leaving Mehmet exposed to the cool air. He stirred, reached unseeingly for the blankets and scrabbled around trying to find them. With a look like thunder, I marched past the bed and dumped them on the balcony.

He groaned, swore at me and staggered into the bathroom, where I heard the shower being turned on. Ever the dutiful girlfriend, I picked up his clothes, found him clean underwear and a nice dry towel. Inside I could hear him cursing and muttering away to himself. Eventually he emerged wet and still moaning. I told him it was his own fault and told him I would go and get him another cup of çay, but only on condition that he dressed.

Returning some ten minutes later with the tea I found him dressed, smiling and sat on the balcony looking down the street. We discussed what we were going to do that day, smoked yet more cigarettes and half and hour later, we were ready to make a move. Luckily I travel light and apart from stuffing my pockets with lira, picking up tissues for Mehmet who had a cold and placing my sunnies firmly on my head I was ready to go.

Out in the street the band was still playing, people walked everywhere and the whole place had a carnival feel. First stop was to eat and we walked down the hill towards the sea. Half way down we passed an alleyway with a huge sign saying Billardo.

Now, I like playing pool but playing it in a Turkish tea room meant for men only has drawbacks. Not because I am stared at, I got use to that years ago, but because I have to watch how I sit, stand talk and I am meant to keep my eyes firmly cast downwards. Eye contact is considered flirting and flighty. Me, being me I am the biggest flirt going. I followed Mehmet down a small flight of stairs and entered the hallowed establishment. I have often considered opening a tea room just for ladies. A place where we can sit and chat, munch chocolate, do our nails and a 1000 and one other things. If the men can do it, so can we. I don't know how many of you have been inside a Çay ev but if you haven't basically it is a home from home for men. They are usually grubby, full of little tables where you can sit and play Eskey Okey, Tavla (Backgammon) and cards. The good ones have a pool table or two, a television for the futbol and stacks of newspapers. They serve food and drink but not normally alcohol, apart from beer.

Their clienteles are all the same, men. All ages from children of four or five, teenagers sprouting bum fluff and old men, shrunken, nut brown and bent double by a hard life. On the odd occasion, you see stray English women but never a Turkish one.

The room was huge and almost empty. A middle aged man looked up from his paper, stared and put his head back down. From behind the counter a boy asked what we wanted and Mehmet replied was it ok for me to come in. Tabii, of course- why not? Why not indeed. I walked over to a table by the window and pulled out the plastic chair. In a blink of an eyelid the boy appeared with a grey wet cloth to wipe the table. Smiling at me, he asked what I would like to drink.

Smiling back, I asked for iki çay lütfen. Two teas please. Mehmet asked him what food there was to eat and we settled on two cheese and tomato toasties with salami. The food arrived and we ate and drank in silence. Whilst we were eating, more men had arrived and were sitting at nearby tables. All eyes were on me as I happily munched and slurped away.

Wiping my serviette across my mouth, I patted my stomach and declared that I was feeling much better and more human now I had eaten. More tea arrived and I indicated to Mehmet that we could play pool. The table being free, with no-one waiting. I stood up, walked over to the cue rack and chose my weapon. Hands rushed to locate the triangular thingy that the balls go in and a cube of chalk was placed in my hand. Smiling and muttering Tesekkür Ederim (thank you) I strolled to the far end of the table and bent over.

It is very difficult to play when you know that there are at least a dozen pairs of eyes on your every move. I made a break, which in those days was crap and spread the balls in all directions. These days, I play a lot better but it is more luck than skill. I just have to mention that in 16 years, I have only ever potted the black three times! The last being in February of this year.

Mehmet and I played. I was helped by Turkish men, chalking my cue telling me where to place the end and groaning sympathetically when I missed, which was often. Eventually, the game was played, Mehmet winning easily. I turned to a man standing next to me, waved the cue at him and indicated that he should take my place.

Leaving Mehmet to play for at least another hour, I went and sat down at the table. A cup of tea was produced and I was given the daily newspaper. I scanned the bits I found of interest, which was the weather, the exchange rate which had climbed up to 35 lira from 29 the week before and the football pages. This took all of ten minutes and I was bored.

I counted the dead flies on the ceiling, studied the pictures on the walls, stared at the television which wasn't switched on and managed to pass away a whole thirty minutes doing absolutely zilch.
Now comes the tricky part. I needed to go to the toilet. Mehmet was busy playing, the one there was strictly men only and there is no way on earth, you would have got me into the place.

Standing up, I pushed my chair under the table and walked out. I could either go back to the hotel, just up the road or stroll down to the front where there was a public toilet. I decided I would go down to the front, use the toilet and have a walk around before heading back to Mehmet and the Çay ev.

The main street was deserted. Everyone had gone to the local school sports hall to hear the political speeches, back patting and to watch the dancing displays. Stepping down a huge foot high kerb I sauntered down the hill. Just past the mosque at the bottom are the toilets and I walked desperately towards them. Ahhhh for all you ladies out there will know the feeling of relief. All the tension just leaves your body and you are not frightened to cough. Feeling happier, I left the toilets.

I walked round the harbour, watched the fishing fleet unload and even spotted the Turkish navy washing their off shore patrol boat down. A week earlier there had been a gunfight, between them and a group of Greek fishermen over towards Kekova. No-one had been killed or actually shot, but they were constantly on the alert. Whenever they were right or wrong, if we had used similar tactics back in the late seventies, early eighties with the Spanish, we might have bigger stocks in our own waters.

Passing the navy again, I retraced my steps. On reaching the start of the front I turned right and followed a winding road overhung with flowering bougainvillea. Stray cats darted from my path and into hidden alleyways. It was peaceful, quiet and a hundred years away from the 1990's. Lost in my thoughts, I ambled upwards. The houses on my left, stopped suddenly and there was a huge stretch of open waste ground. Beyond this I could see the hill of the main road which the hotel was situated on and somewhere a little further down, Mehmet still happily shooting balls. To my right, the houses continued along the road and behind. Stacked one on top of the other, they reached towards the sky.

A cold wind sprang up and looking at my watch, I realized that I had been gone for two hours. Mehmet would be getting panicky and no doubt already out combing the streets for me. I cut across the waste ground, circled the dolmus station and stood opposite the Çay ev.
On the pavement outside, there were a small group of men and boys and pacing up and down was Mehmet. I called across, waved and crossed over. Mehmet swore at me in Turkish, then English and then shrugged. I smiled at him sweetly, told him I was perfectly safe out on my own and asked why he panicked?

Believe me; it is not only our mothers who think Turkiye is a dangerous place, full of white slave traders. Mehmet would constantly warn me about going off on my own, how easy it was to be kidnapped and all about' Mickey Finns'. I think partially because of his age and the fact that I speak to anyone made him over protective. He did eventually realize that I wasn't going to run off into the sunset without him and gave me a lot of freedom, something that I always took for granted.

By now we were hungry again and I was cold. I wouldn't ask Mehmet outright for his leather jacket, which was hardly ever off his body, but shivered and stamped my feet to say I was cold. Glancing at me, he raised his eyes heavenwards and put his jacket round my shoulders.
We walked back to the hotel to have a shower and get changed for the evening. During the course of our shower, Mehmet announced that tomorrow we were going fishing. Thinking how boring, I just smiled in agreement. He then said whatever we caught we would have cooked in a restaurant for dinner the next night. Telling him we would more than likely to be going hungry, I laughed. Never, ever doubt a Turkish man.
The next day, I was woken up bright and early by Mehmet, urging me to get dressed because we had to go and buy fishing tackle and a loaf of bread. I groaned and rolled over, but I was too slow. With a quick movement, the blankets were off and I was sitting on the floor. No time for a shower and as I dressed very slowly, without my morning tea to kick start my system, Mehmet constantly paced the room saying Hiza, hiza (faster, faster).

I dressed, stomped after Mehmet down the stairs and out into the sunlit street. We stopped at the cake shop for breakfast which I was urged to eat quickly and only allowed two cups of çay. Leaving half a cup un- touched, I followed Mehmet down the street to a Bait shop. Well I think it was general stores for fishermen because there were wet suits, harpoons, fishing nets and even outboard motors cluttering up the small space. Mehmet asked for something in Turkish and two blocks of wood wrapped round with fishing line were produced. Hooks were brought and a small plastic box of something nasty. They were not maggots but a funny red colour and really tiny. I now know they were meal worms. I took one look and refused to put the wriggling things on my hook. Sighing Mehmet said I would have to use bread then but it would be a miracle if I actually caught something.

Leaving the shop with our carrier bag of fishing goodies, we went next door and purchased a two loaves of bread, a bottle of coke, tomatoes and some nasty smelling cheese. Grabbing the carrier bag, I walked towards the harbour where I assumed we would be fishing. Mehmet called me back and patiently explained that yes; we were going fishing but not there. He said it was a little walk.

Twenty minutes later, the walk had turned into a hike and we were heading away from Kalkan following a track which ran through a series of lagoons. On our left the sea lapped the beach and to our right were ten or so different lagoons glittering in the sunlight. Standing on the edge looking down, you could see bright orange star fish by the hundreds stuck to everything. Amongst the different sizes of the stars, sea horses bounced gaily along and lobsters emerged from the hidden rocks. It was like looking into an upside down aquarium. I was enthralled and refused to let Mehmet drop his line in case he hooked one of the beautiful horses or stars. We sat for a while on the rocks, just watching the busy sea life entertainment, ate our lunch and relaxed.

Eventually Mehmet decided that if we were going to eat fish for dinner we had better get a move on and headed off towards the beach.
It wasn't a sandy beach, but covered in huge rocks and boulders which you had to climb on, across and down to get to the water. A man was fishing with a huge rod further down and Mehmet headed towards him. Huffing and puffing I struggled after. Stopping at a curve in the beach Mehmet decided that this was where we would catch something, unravelled his line baited it and cast out. It should be quite a simple operation. After an hour with nothing to show, Mehmet told me to have a go. He gave me a line with a small weight and hook on, made bread balls and placed one on the hook. Showing me how to cast off or out, he left me to it.

I dangled my line for a while, got bored and walked out to some flat rocks. I replaced my bread ball and as I had been told, cast out away from the rocks. Nothing happened except something ate the bread. Mehmet caught a little fish and was leaping around in excitement somewhere over my right shoulder.

I stood up and felt a pull on the line. Screaming to Mehmet to help, the line went taut. Whatever it was it wasn't going to let go. Telling me not to drop the piece of wood securing the line, he told me to give it a good tug. As I tugged on the line, something silver loamed up out of the water in front of my eyes and headed straight towards me. Screeching uncontrollably now, I dropped everything and ran.

I sat on the beach watching Mehmet try to retrieve the line which had wrapped around the rocks, land whatever it was I had caught and all without getting wet. When he returned, minus the line which he had to abandon he was carrying the ugliest silver fish I had ever seen. Not only had I caught my first fish, which was bigger than Mehmet's………….It was a bloody flying fish!

I felt really bad about catching it and wanted Mehmet to throw it back in. He refused and I told him point blank that nothing on earth would make me eat the damm thing. Collecting up the one line, the rubbish and wriggly things, we started the long walk back. Eventually we saw the lights of the harbour winking at us and I breathed a sigh of relief. We stopped at the restaurant on the way back to the hotel and left our catch to be cooked for an hour later.

When we returned to the restaurant to eat, we were led to a table and the fish was produced. Everyone congratulated me on my catch and I felt like a murder. I ordered Lamb stew whilst Mehmet happily tucked into two fish, one baby one he caught and the grounded flying fish I had hooked.

After dinner we strolled down to the Alti Deniz bar which played decent music. Some four hours later, we weaved our way home, escorting a blind Turkish man who was convinced that Mehmet was his son. I left Mehmet outside the hotel, to escort the gentleman home (wherever he lived) and taking the key from reception I staggered up the stairs.

By the time Mehmet returned, I was fast asleep, snoring and dreaming of flying fish fingers.


March 1995