(written February 2004)
The light blue mist caused by the smoking drifted lazily in the air as I focused on the man opposite. He was expounding forcefully on some point that my Turkish had failed me to even begin to comprehend, so I was in the dark. He was speaking quickly, with purpose, hands flying into the air or shooting out at right angles to emphasis or punctuate his harangue.
There, opposite me, these two brothers sat, the men who had strengthen the apartment building to make it resistant to earthquakes and had received as payment for the materials and labour, two flats that they had added to the top of the building. It is from the sale of these two flats they would pay for the materials used and make a profit. The first price they had put on the flat, an airy-fairy price of near on $250,000 USD – but there were no ready buyers at that price, and they needed to sell one of the flats….soon.
Üsküdâr is a conservative area of town, not the most, but it is listed near the top of the rather religious or devoted areas of the city. These men were religious. They were not ‘nominal’ but practicing; and the one brother, fully practicing. This is the brother who would not shake my wife’s hand – for him, that would be sin to touch a woman, even to shake her hand. He is a ‘hafiz’ – a person who has memorised the whole text of the Qur’an – in Arabic. His mother tongue is Turkish, nevertheless, he has fully memorised the Qur’an in Arabic.
Although I was a key player in this meeting, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t important for me to know the details or nuance of the situation as we had an intermediary, a representative, someone whose Turkish was impeccable – uh, he is a Turk, and whose knowledge in this area was unequivocal – he was a building contractor, and he is acting on our behalf.
The conversation was primarily between our emissary and the man opposite me – the other people in the room were following the proceedings with care and interest. A question was raised and a man at the desk opposite me, the Estate agent, immediately picked up the phone and rang the appropriate official for a definitive answer.
T. was sitting opposite and to the right of me, against the wall, thinking that things had gone badly pear-shaped and it was only a matter of time before the debate and verbal sparing would end in abject failure. Whether you understand the fine points of the language or not, the gesturing, the emphatic declarations, the strident expressions all lead to one, rather inescapable and negative conclusion.
Finally, and to our eyes, rather abruptly, our negotiator sprang to his feet, crossed the room to the man he had been waging single-handed verbal combat with, grasped his right hand and with mighty strokes shook his hand as one might pump water from a well.
He then crossed the room to the man’s brother – the hafiz, the other major player in the room and repeated the gesture.
Then he crossed to me, grabbed my right hand, put it in the hand of the man he was just shaking hands with and again in the same exaggerated style had us shake hands.
It was done. They had just sold and we had just bought a flat in Istanbul or at least we had agreed to – the process was rather more drawn out and Byzantine in practice with the sale to be referred to the military as I am a foreigner, and then the payment of the funds via bank account – a new legal requirement and a bit of a stumbling block to the hafiz who believes it is sin to have a bank account and finally the essential paperwork at the Land Registry Office which is the final step and still over a month, nearly two before we can actually call the deal ‘done’.
Without our intercessor we would not have been able to agree the purchase of the flat. He had worked them down from their asking price to their “final” price and then below that – requiring them to be responsible for any fines that may have been incurred in the construction of the flats (and there were fines) and to installing radiators. Our legate had brought us to the place where we, with some essential help from our friends were able to agree the purchase of it.
Our friends would be buying a 13% share of the flat thus making the deal possible. Our surrogate negotiated, cajoled, encouraged and understanding the culture and the process, brought the deal to completion. We couldn’t have done it without the Lord’s provision of these two parties.
This is a story of God – God providing the funds from the sale of the house in England, God providing a local commissary who, without charge, has helped us find a place, counselled on the suitability, durability, safety and engineering qualities of the flats we looked at and negotiated the deal and God providing friends who were ready and keen even, to become part-owners with us in this venture.
It is never the story of one person. It is the story of the “many” that God brings together to accomplish His purposes. In the above account, my job was to sit and say nothing – and to shake hands when the time came. Our friends’ job is to come in as part owners. Our factor’s job was to advise, counsel and close the deal.
We each had a part to play….