Thursday 7 September 2006

Where've you been len?

I know, I know, you've been wondering where I've been. Well let me tell you a boring little Arlo Guthrie-esque story about Turkish bureaucracy. It all started a few weeks ago when my mobile phone refused to get reception...

I went to the Turkcell (one of the major Turkish mobile providers) shop to see whether they knew what might be going on with my reception. "Your phones been blocked, you'll have to buy a new one. Take a look at the Nokia 1100..." I thought this was strange and so I decided to explore a little further. Sure enough, my nan's Turkmenistani carer told me that after 3 months of being in the country, her phone had also been blocked too.

As I explored further it became clear that the problem was due to the Turkish Telecommunication Department, wanting to control the import of handsets, is blocking foreign mobiles using Turkish SIM cards. There is an official route to getting the phones unlocked and I decided to pursue this.

In the meantime, I went back the UK for a short break and brought back the receipts for both phones as this was important (apparently). On arriving in Izmir airport I asked if we could go to the customs office to register the phones. It was closed. So we headed back to Kusadasi.

The next day I went to the customs office here in Kusadasi. Arriving at the customs office I was met with a man waving me out again telling me that this was old news and that they weren't doing this anymore. I was then told by someone else that I needed to go to the Telecommunications head office in Izmir. So off I trotted.

I got the ferry across the bay of Izmir and made a beeline for the Telecom HQ. "I'm sorry, they have all gone for lunch". I decided to use the time to go to the post office to pay a bill that had come from Superonline (my ISP here in Turkey). The bill had arrived at my uncles hotel instead of my home, which was odd, but seeing as I'd never received mail to my home I didn't think much about it. The bill was overdue as the mail had arrived about a month late but I decided to get it paid ASAP.

Anyway, back to the Telecom HQ. I spoke to the security guard, a young woman, who was helping me go through the form and make sure I had everything I needed. My Turkish is pretty bad and there were a lot of "I'm sorry, I don't understand"'s on my part. In the end the security guard must have gotten sick of me and stepped in to tell me to sod off until the others come back from lunch. I went for lunch myself.

I sat in the cafe, eating my stuffed pepper, reading the form from the Telecom HQ. Picking out the word 'Fotokopi' a few times I decided to go and photocopy everything I was carrying. After lunch I headed back to the HQ. The kind female security guard went through all my paperwork and said that everything was in order to proceed upstairs. "Wait...." she said, looking again at the phone receipts. "You need to get these stamped by customs". My heart sank.

Somewhat disheartened and frankly fucked off by the whole deal, I headed to the airport to pick up my father who was flying that day. Whilst there I went back to the customs office ...and they were open. I saw the man in charge of stamping phone receipts. He looked at the receipt, raised his stamp and with it hovering above the paper he turned to me and asked "wait, did you arrive today?".

"No, two days ago" I replied.

"Sorry, you have to stamp this the day you arrive". Suppressing every urge in my being to vault the counter and stamp the fucker to death, I did the British thing and walked away fuming. In fact I was so angry I had to stop and offload my story to the security guard on the way out. He looked bemused.

Back to the airport to pick up my arriving father. "Hey dad, great to see you, how are you? Good trip? By the way, can you go back into the arrivals lounge and get this piece of paper stamped? Thanks dad." With that, my poor exhausted, slightly drunk (he hates flying) father had to prise the doors of the arrivals hall open while the police weren't looking and get back in to the arriving passenger's customs office. After 5 minutes he returned with a fully stamped receipt.

We didn't celebrate too long as I explained what was still left to do; going back to Izmir to the Telecom HQ, then to Turkcell to register the phone, then at least a 3 month wait while the form goes to Ankara etc etc. The Nokia 1100 was looking more and more attractive by the day.

We stayed in Izmir that night and I explain the story of the phone and the customs and the multiple suicide attempts along the way and my dad seemed unsurprised. "This is Turkey Billy. no one knows what you really have to do, they just want you out of their hair as soon as possible".

The next day we decided to go to Izmir centre to do some shopping. Passing a small phone shop (not really a shop as a hole in the wall with a young girl up to her elbows in Nokias). Dad turned to me "give me your phone" and disappeared into the shop. "We'll come back in an hour".

An hour later we returned, handed the girl 20YTL (about £8) and I was presented with my phone, unblocked and fully operational. "This is the Turkish way" my father told me. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

So what has this got to do with my absence from this blog? Well let me tell you about my run in with Superonline...

The day I arrived back in Kusadasi I discovered that my internet connection had been cut. I phoned Superonline to try to get to the bottom of the problem. Apparently I hadn't been paying my bills and they eventually cut my connection. "But I've not received any bills except the one which I paid immediately" I explained. It turns out that they had sent me a number of bills but none had arrived to my house. I started the long process of re-subscription with the ISP to get back online.

In the meantime I tried to get to the bottom of my mail problems. A couple of months before I had got a call from my nan to say that the postman was downstairs with a parcel for me. I hurried down to my nan to find her sitting drinking tea with said postman. "Good to meet you Billy, my name is Ali. I don't know where your house is so I'll just bring you mail to your nan". Not having the appropriate Turkish to argue, I agreed.

As the weeks and months have passed my mail was not arriving to my nan either and occasionally turning up to my uncle's hotel. I asked my dad to help me find out what was happening so we headed to the post office We met with the head of the post office and welcomed her on her first day on the job. Bugger.

We were told to come back at 4pm when Ali would be here and we could explain to him where we lived. In the meantime, my uncle called through to the post office and threw his weight around but nothing changed. To try and cut this long long story short, these were the problems:
  1. My street name I had been given, Susam Sokak - meaning Sesame Street, doesn't actually exist. So any mail coming through to my address was being thrown around until someone decided to send it to an address where the recipient has the same surname. Thank god my surname is fairly well known in Kusadasi.
  2. The postman can't be bothered to walk up the stairs to my house despite knowing where I live. "He's right, you know. Would you want to walk up those stairs?" My dad asked me. "I would if it was my fucking job" I felt obliged to respond.
  3. The postman wont come to my house because "there's a dog there". There isn't.
So my home officially has no address as my street has no name. I have been forced to now give my nan's address in the future and to change everything at the bank etc etc. One slight problem... no one knows my nan's address either. Specifically, no one knows the number of the house as it changes every time they build a in the street (which happens often in this fast growing town). It was 60, then it was 62. The water company thinks it's 63. My dad thinks it's 65 and so on.

So there you go. My internet returned today after approximately 50 phone calls. I still have no address. I've just sent the plumber down the road to get me a post box to fix to my nan's house. Don't ask why I've sent the plumber unless you want another story.

Now, this story has been cut down so I wont crash the internet but believe me when I say that this process has been un-fucking-believable. Really really amazing. So desperately ridiculous that I even questioned my staying in the country. I guess I have to relax a little and play by the rules. I'm learning still.

I maintain that the person who takes control of Turkish bureaucracy and official rubbishness will be seen as the next Ataturk.

As they say here, "offf bey, offf!"