It was in the autumn of 2003, the weather was still very pleasantly hot in Istanbul. I needed to go somewhere new in the city and I had never been there before. To complicate matters, I was not really sure of the directions on how to get there. Istanbul is a huge city – it has great communications, bus, mini-bus, underground, ferries – large and small, cable car – it is really well serviced… but, there is always a ‘but’, the population has expanded beyond the capacity of even this broad, rich and varied public transportation system.
On this day I headed out to the banks of the Bosphorus Straight – that international water-way that divides the European side and the Asian side of the city of Istanbul, that salt-water passage that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara sea – near the harbour in Kadıköy (formerly known in ancient times as Chalcedon). I entered the man-made maze created by the multifarious lanes and a myriad of bus stands, all filled with a teeming swarm of buses that make up this, one of the multitude of city bus stations in this mega-city.
This open air station is a continuously surging shoal of city and private buses, disgorging their human cargo and reloading for the next foray as they power forth into the maelstrom of Istanbul traffic. Each bus, council or private, is prominently proclaiming the name of their destination and their route designation on the front, sides and rear of the bus.
The problem for me is I did not know nor recognise any of these destinations nor did I have any idea of where they are located in the city nor what the numbers of the routes mean. All this very valuable information, which is full of meaning for the many and yet, sadly, devoid of any practical meaning to the uninitiated such as I.
I had been instructed and was diligently searching for the ‘14Y’ designation. My problem was, I was finding a significant number of buses with destinations beginning with 14 – but, alas, none ending in all-important ‘Y’.
Finally, I caught sight of ‘my’ bus, standing at its appointed spot, across the many lanes from where I was. On seeing it, I carefully, and yet as quickly as I could, made my way, doing my best to avoid the buses powering away from their stands and heading out into traffic and other buses prowling through the narrow lanes to arrive at their appointed resting places.
On attaining the correct stand, I entered ‘my bus’ and pressed my ‘Akbil’ (a Turkish name representing ‘White Ticket’) to be rewarded with the satisfying ‘bee-boop ’ which indicated that my ticket had been accepted. This ‘Akbil’ is kind of like a key fob, but the electronic head had been charged with some money and on every use the cost of the ticket is deducted from the total. Every time you press the key fob, you hear the comforting ‘Bee-boop’ and you know you have paid the cost of the ticket – no hassling with correct change and such, it has simply been deducted from my device – what a wonderful system!
As I sit waiting for the bus to depart, I ponder the fact that I had been rushing to find the bus as I absolutely abhor being in the position where I would arrive at the appointed spot in time to forlornly watch the tail-lights of the bus powering out of the station – I dread missing my bus by a minute. My motto – ‘better a half hour early than a half minute late’.
This day I was happily early. However, in my haste not to miss my bus, I had successfully missed my lunch. In fact, I hadn’t even brought a bottle of water to quench my thirst and there was no way that I was about to leave the bus to find water.
Then I observed man boarding the bus – he didn’t purchase a ticket – in his hand he was carrying a blue pail and in the pail, proper, sealed, bottled water which he was offering for sale. Once he has visited our bus, looking for custom, he would exit and board the next bus. This water seller isn’t sitting somewhere waiting for custom to seek him out or to go to him, he is proactively out, he is diligently searching for buyers, wherever they may be hiding. He is bringing his service to wherever custom may be found.
Now, on another day, at our flat in Idealtepe in Istanbul, I heard a strange noise emanating from the street outside our home – some kind of power machine making an unfamiliar and rather unusual sound. I looked out my window and there was a flat-bed lorry standing in the street. On the back was a large table and on one side was a machine. A man and a boy were manhandling a large runner type carpet onto the back of the lorry. They twisted and turned their awkward burden, to line it up and put it into the machine and then carefully they guided the edge through the machine. Two balls of cotton or twine or some other material magically spun and twirled as the thread was pulled off and into the machine. Powering all this was a small petrol powered electrical generator. The machine itself was stitching a proper, finely finished edge to the carpet.
Not leaving any opportunity ignored, this industrious individual has taken his lorry and offers not only repair work, but people can purchase a hall runner from him and get it cut to their own, unique specifications, and then have it machine finished, right there on the lorry, outside their home.
The carpet finisher isn’t in a shop, somewhere, waiting for you to come to him, rather, he has chosen to go out onto the streets and is actively seeking for custom.
Have you ever found yourself out and about when you remember that you need something photocopied?
That is not a problem here in Turkey. Of course you could go to a copy-shop and have it done there, or you could simply pause on the street corner where a man has a photocopier and a small electrical generator, both mounted on a small cart – he stands ever ready to do your photocopying right there on the street while you wait.
And if, by chance, you want it laminated, well, there is another chap standing nearby with a cart, generator and laminator – waiting to serve you.
They are out, pro-actively seeking custom.
Sitting in your home you become accustomed to various calls resonating through the streets. The dulcet tones of a lady singing “SeeepPPPpet VaaaarrrRRRR” and you know the lady peddling plastic kitchenware is making her way down your street.
Once or twice a day you will hear the sing-song call “EeeSSssskkkiiiiJJJJJiiiiiIII—ahhhHHHhh” – the rag and bones man is making his presence known.
Sometimes the caller has a distinctive call which I have been unable to distil down into recognisable words – but everyone recognises his call and everyone knows what he sells.
The call rings forth, sounding like “SoooOOOOOooootTttt” – ah, you say to yourself, the melon seller is going by.
In fact, the sound distils down to resemble the Turkish word for milk and bears no likeness that I can discern with the Turkish word for melon, but everyone understands his unique call and instinctively knows what he is peddling.
Another variant is to change the word order. For example normally you declare the equivalent of ‘Fresh Bread Rolls’ but what a local seller declares as he walks the streets is ‘Bread Rolls Fresh’. He has made it different to catch your attention and becomes his own unique, differentiating catch phrase.
This is true for virtually everything you will need. Everything may be a bit more expensive, or there may be less selection or it may not be as fresh as you would like, but, you could practically source everything you need from your own door step.
Bottled water, plastics, cleaning supplies, clothes, cloth, blankets, shoes, sheets, vegetables, cleaning supplies – and more than I can currently recall.
All brought to your door. Full service, and with a smile.
The Turkish attitude to employment is very pro-active. If someone hasn’t or cannot find a ‘normal’ job, they may be able to create a job, to meet a need, to fill a gap; to earn a crust. As it says in Proverbs: “The appetite of labourers works for them; their hunger drives them on.” Proverbs 16:26 NIVUK
For the rest of the population, yes, they can go to shops, malls, markets and other places to buy various things – but at the same time, there is a whole army of people bringing their goods and services to whomsoever, wherever they may be.