my bolt in the night

I’m home! It’s wonderful to be back. Although I’ve spent the morning listening to my new Turkish folk music CD, putting Turkey pictures up on Flickr, and drinking Nescafe, so it’s almost like I never left. Except that I wasn’t awakened at 5:30 by the call to prayer, am not sharing a bathroom with 6 other women, and was not confronted by olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, and other non-breakfast foods at breakfast. It’s good to be home!
Some superstitious feeling kept me from blogging about my journey through the night from Fevzipasha to Istanbul until I was safely in the U.S. again. But now I feel it’s safe to record the events of that night for posterity. Here it is, the story of my bolt in the night:

Two other women and I got up at 2:00 A.M. on Wednesday morning to begin our journey to Istanbul. One of them was heading back home that day, the other, like me, was spending a couple of days in Istanbul. The night before, the assistant excavation director had called our travel agent and had them change our flights to Istanbul to be the same as that of the woman who was heading home that day–it left at around 5:20 in the morning, and it was about a 2-hour drive to the airport, hence our early rising.
The drive to Adana was relatively uneventful, except that the three of us were rather squished in the back seat, since our luggage took up the front seat passenger side as well as the trunk. But having driven around in the minivan for a month, we were pretty hardened to uncomfortable riding conditions.
At Adana, after a multilingual discussion between our Turkish driver, a random airport employee, and the three of us, we were dropped off at the international terminal. We eventually made it to the check-in counter despite the several successful attempts by people to push in front of us, which is what happens in the Middle East. Unfortunately, here we ran into our first snag: the other Istanbul-only-bound woman and I had to go over to the ticket counter to confer with the guy there.
And there was a problem (the word “problem” means the same thing in Turkish and English, so whenever there was one we all comprehended the fact loud and clear, though the substance of the problem was more difficult to communicate). Eventually, we figured out that we couldn’t take that flight because only international passengers were on it. We could take another flight which left at 5:00 a.m., “but…time, problem,” said the largely non-English speaking ticket agent. The largely non-Turkish speaking two of us could easiily see that: it was now 4:30 a.m.
I loaded my heavy old luggage onto a cart and we began the trek to the domestic terminal. The cart did not want to cooperate with my desire for haste: it kept swerving off to the side and derailing off the sidewalk; and random Turkish early travelers kept looming up in my path. Eventually we made it, and once again got into the line for the check-in counter. The other woman decided to go check with the ticket counter while I waited in line, which was a good idea: when I eventually made it to the front of the line the woman informed that I did indeed need to go check with the ticket agent.
Meanwhile, I could tell there was another “problem” at the ticket counter. Melissa had asked for my phone in order to call and wake up the assistant excavation director for help straightening things out. Surrounded by my and her luggage, I looked from my current location to the ticket counter, about 5 meters away: so near and yet so far. I’d abanded my cart and could barely carry my own luggage any distance by myself, but somehow, fueled by adrenaline, I picked up both mine and hers and began struggling toward the ticket counter, unheeding of the attempts to help by various Turkish gentlemen who were obviously and rightfully concerned about the mental state of the haggard American woman with all the luggage.
Eventually I made it to the ticket counter to hear the end of the discussion. Supposedly, we could change any domestic flight at no charge, but it would cost $150 dollars to change our international flight, which was one reason why I hadn’t changed it. The ticket agent seemed to be under the impression we needed to pay the $150, but eventually Melissa convinced him we’d only changed our flight to Istanbul, not home, and finally “problem yok”: we didn’t have to pay anything and could take the 5:00 a.m. flight to Istanbul, which would wait for us.
We checked our luggage and began looking for our gate. But we were stymied by the utter lack of signage anywhere in view. We decided to ask a security guard, but unsettlingly she didn’t seem to know either: she began gazing helplessly at the ceiling and upper half of the walls as if willing helpful information to appear, just as we had just been doing. Finally, she conferred with a nearby janitor who seemed to know all about it. He indicated that we needed to go through a the barrier that the guard had been guarding, and eventually we were allowed through and went through security for the third time in less than 45 minutes.
We went to our gate, and as I walked across the tarmac to the plane, my phone rang. It was the assistant excavation director, wanting to know if everything had worked out. I began telling him that it appeared to have done so, but a smiling airline employee approached me flapping his arms to indicate I shouldn’t use my phone next to the plane, so I wrapped up the conversation and essentially hung up on the sleep-deprived guy. I proceeded up the stairs and into the plane, and settled into my seat, which was between two Turkish guys (all the guidebooks say that women should never sit next to men to whom they are not related on public transportation, but I had yet to see any evidence of this myself). I began cramming my carry-on under the seat in front of me, relieved that my ordeal now seemed to be over.
But no, a further mystifying “problem” was still in store. As I sat there, a male flight attendant walked up, looked right at me, and said “Sir, will you please show your baggage.”
A quick visual scan indicated that I was still female, and for a second I wondered if he was actually talking to me. But I knew that the Turkish term of polite address is “efendim” and is the same for men or women, so figured he was just using a literal translation, much as I do when I attempt to speak Turkish. But I was in one of those situations that I frequently found myself in in Turkey, where I understood all the words but still had no idea what was being asked of me. Did he want to me to get my carry-on out for him to look at for some reason? Did he want it to go in the overhead bin, or perhaps be checked? I didn’t know, but I obediently began pulling it out for whichever of the above processes needed to happen.
But as I was doing this, the flight attendant abruptly turned and walked off toward the front of the plane. Perhaps that’s all he needed? I shoved my carry-on back under the seat and settled back uneasily.
A few seconds later, he was back. “Are you coming with me?” he asked. “I don’t know!” I felt like wailing, but didn’t. I began pulling out the carry-on again, but he waved dismissively at me. “OK, OK,” he said, and headed up to the front of the plane again.
Utterly perplexed, I sat there for a few seconds. Finally I decided I’d better go up there. I hauled out my carry-on and walked up to the front of the plane, where the door was still open.
A few flight attendants hovered about in the area, ignoring me. Finally I got the attention of one. “Is there a problem?” he asked in English, making me wonder why they didn’t send him to talk to me in the first place. Well, that’s what I wanted to know.
“Did you want me to come up here for some reason?” I asked. He looked concerned, and I noticed that other flight attendants were beginning to circle around me in a little clump. Please don’t let me get thrown off this flight, I thought to myself.
Finally, the guy motioned to another male flight attendant–the one who had summoned me–and there was a brief conversation in Turkish. “Will you please show your luggage?” asked this attendant again, pointing out the door of the plane.
I proceeded to the head of the stairs just outside the door, and looked down. There on the still-dark tarmac were a few airport employees, surrounded by pieces of luggage. Finally I understood: he wanted me to identify the luggage as mine so it could be loaded onto the plane.
I proceeded down the stairs to examine them. I thought that probably Melissa ought to identify her own luggage, but really did not want to open that can of worms. So I looked over the luggage, saying “Tamam, tamam, hepsi, tamam,” (Okay, okay, everything okay) and the airport employees nodded and hauled the luggage away. I returned to my seat, hoping that “hepsi” was in fact “tamam” (as it turned out to be).
A few minutes later the captain came on the loudspeaker for the captain’s announcement. It was all in Turkish except for one sentence in English, I presume for Melissa’s and my benefit. That sentence was: “The reason we are leaving 15 minutes late is because of a lost passenger in the terminal.” Oh, sure, blame everything on us because the travel agent put us on the wrong flight! I felt like standing up and crying out “Not the case!” but I forbore. Nobody would have understood what I was saying anyway, and if I started moving around the plane again I doubt I would have actually gone to Istanbul that day.
Everything from that point on went pretty smoothly, and as I recorded earlier I had a fantastic time in Istanbul. I’ll post again soon to wrap up my record of my Turkey adventure. Thanks for reading!

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