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.

 

(written September 2016)

I must say, it is almost a night and day experience.  Nowhere else where we have lived has it occurred in this fashion.

Let me explain what I mean.

The city of Antakya is situated in the southern most part of Turkey, in a ‘pan handle’ that extends down below the bulk of the country.  This pan-handle encompasses a mountain range and a broad valley.  It is bordered with Syria on the long, eastern and short southern sides, the Mediterranean sea on the long western side and our connection to the rest of Turkey on the northern side.

What this means is, this is the part of Turkey that is closest to the equator.  In the summer, the sun is frightfully potent.  Routinely our UV index is extremely high and the advice given is to avoid being out in the noon-day sun, that is between 12:00 and 15:00.

In addition to the heat, summer in Antakya is noted for the total absence of rain, and, er, well… clouds, for that matter.  

September is marked by the first rains since spring.  This September has been no different and we have had three or four days in succession where it rained.  

The rain was not the beneficial, long, slow, soaking, permeating kind of rain, the kind that gently waters and replenishes the earth, but the short-lived, sudden, excessive, disproportionate, raging inundation type.  

True, it emphatically washes the summer accumulation of dust away.  It also results in a sudden over abundance of water pouring down the streets and entering the storm drain system.

Normally, the drains can handle this inundation, however, for the prolonged extent of summer, the drains have lain idle, unneeded, unused, forgotten and neglected.  There has been no visible indicator that some of these drains have been, if not clogged, at least choked with dirt, debris, paper, stove-ash and other impediments.  

With the sudden, prodigious amounts of water cascading down in these first autumnal rains, the result is many storm sewers are simply overwhelmed.  

I noted on the morning after and continuing for days afterwards, the sight of prodigious amounts of ‘water’ geysering up out of manhole covers and then flowing down the street in search of a working drain.  

So this year, September has been proceeding normally.

However, before the advent of September and for the duration of the summer, commencing in June and carrying on, uninterrupted, the skies have been clear and rain unheard and unfelt.  The very notion of ‘rain’ has, slowly, been morphing from a fading memory to a growing longing.

For some unfathomable reason, in spite of the daily, relentless, onslaught of the sun, hats are not in ‘style’ and people do not routinely wear them.  

Now, as for me, for whatever psychological reasons, I am a hat person.  I enjoy hats and enjoy wearing hats.  I am used to them and appreciate them.

Having said that, for various reasons, this year I am not wearing hats in Turkey.

Consequently, from June until the rains, I wander about the city, hatless, my path being determined by where the shade and shadows are found.

Additionally, this means that outdoor walking, where possible, is limited to mornings and late afternoons/evenings.  The noontime hours are avoided whenever practicable.

When I embark on a stroll, I do not have to think about avoiding the sun.  For when I step out of our door, and that blast of solar energy strikes me, my eyes squint and I reel and stagger, automatically retreating to the nearest shade.

Therefore, the path of my daily constitutional is dictated by where the shadows lay.

Until, that is, this past Monday.

I struck out, as I normally do, and I immediately became aware of a general coolness in the air – it was readily apparent that the air felt chilly – not truly chilly you understand, just ‘comparatively’ chilly when compared to the summer norm.  

Additionally, I was not automatically drawn to the shadows as was my wont.  

Conversely, I felt myself being drawn to the sunshine – allowing it to gently warm me.

The first rains had come and gone days earlier, but it was that Monday, when the time had come; when ‘the change’ had occurred.  

Summer is past and autumn has commenced.  

It occurs almost like the flicking of a switch.  One day is summer, the next is autumn; it is immediate, no preamble, no transition, no messing about, no indecision. 

At the same time, it is important to be warned, temperature wise, this is a very deceptive time. Nights are cool, and the days start cool. But come midday, the temperatures can comfortably climb to 30 – 32º C. That is at least a 13º C – 16º C shift between night and day temperatures.

This is the season when you commence your morning walk and you rue not wearing a long-sleeved shirt as the chill bites and you are drawn to the warming, sunny places. But come the return leg, you are emphatically thankful for the short sleeved shirt as you once again search out the shade and shadows with perspiration flowing freely.

This is the time of year when the weather presents a simple recipe for catching a cold.

It is, let me emphasis, a beautiful time of year and a delight to go forth – properly dressed and prepared.

And so, the march of the seasons continues…

There is so much in life that is unpredictable and, well… fickle. It is quietly reassuring when you note the normal changes in the season. You know what has passed, and you know what is coming. It is comforting and heartening.

Additionally, this really is a delightful time of year; it is not oppressively hot, and it is not yet miserably cold and damp.

True, there is a threatening shadow, for as day follows day, it slowly grows cooler, quietly indicating that we are heading, inexorably, towards winter.

Winter in Antakya consists of rain – lots of rain. It is marked by gloomy, dark, short days, with low skies and what the locals call ‘cold’ weather. Others would undoubtedly declare that the weather is merely cool, temperate, and compared to some other locales, even pleasant.

This ‘cool’ weather, whilst nothing compared to other parts of Turkey, Europe or North America, still, due to the high humidity, results in a penetrating, piecing cold which is both inexorable and deeply felt. There is no fear of frost bite, but the cold still makes its presence inescapably and severely felt. The danger of hypothermia persists. In Antakya, houses are poorly insulated and coal stoves are the most common form of heating.

Autumn has come to Antakya. The harsh edge of summer has been removed and it unobtrusively fades from our memory. For the next month, we have the delights and pleasantness of this milder weather to enjoy.

Life, time, seasons, all roll invariably onwards…

It remains important to appreciate ‘now’. It is of no value, no profit, no benefit, to succumb to dismay, lamenting the soon onset of the hardships that winter naturally brings. There is no value in looking back to some time or place, longing after something that ‘was’ but ‘is no more’.

I am, after all, physically, in the present, and it is essential that I, consciously, live in the present – enjoying that which is before me today… the good and the bad…

It may be ‘easy’ in this particular season, to say “how pleasant” and to enjoy the “now”.  But this season is short and all too soon it will succumb to inescapable realities of winter with its short, dark days, overcast vistas and being liberally visited by rain with the accompanying damp and cold. I can enjoy today, or by anticipating, I can embrace the unpleasantness of tomorrow, doing that today and suffering, in advance, vicariously as it were.

To be honest, winter is a season with its own beauties, delights and positive points, if one is open to looking for them.

The rains, true, bring dampness and a gloomy sense, but they also cleanse the air. It is astonishing how bright and light and clear and wondrous it is after a good rain and the air is crystal clear.

The rains cleanses the city, washing away all the detritus and muck that people seem to relish in tossing and leaving lying about.

The rains water and nourish the countryside, causing life to burst forth and turn the valley around us to a rich, verdant, luxurious green, brimming with life and hope and promise.

It is the will of Almighty God that we enjoy today, in all its pleasantness, and all its difficulties, for there are always difficulties.

It is His will that we enjoy tomorrow, with all its pleasantness and with all its differences – but in its’ own time, when it completes the transition from that which ‘will be’ to that which ‘is’.

Scripture says, “Now is the day of salvation” – it is essential to be cognisant, to be mindful, to wilfully be aware, to abide, to live, to relish, to acknowledge and to ‘be’ in the present…