Monday 10 October 2011

My name is Death...

Yes, it's that time of year again. I've got man-flu. And, as any woman will know, man-flu can seem to be almost life-threatening. When I was a child, my mother gave me a little bell that I would ring any time I needed something. She knew the power of man-flu.

One thing that always trips me up linguistically is that, in the Turkish language, you don't 'have' an illness, you 'become' one. So, currently, I am a cold. Strange, I know.

A: Bad news, I'm afraid. Murat is cancer.
B: Bad news? That's great news! Let's drown the cunt and save millions of lives!

Should I survive, I will write again soon.

Friday 30 September 2011

Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Rapist

I've just eaten 27 olives. I remember my auntie's rhyme of 'tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor' but it only goes up to 8. So I've come up with my own Turkish version:

Rich man
Poor man
Beggar man

Shoe shiner
Taxi driver
Mussel seller
Fez maker
Raki drinker
Tea bringer
Ageing singer

Nut adjuster
Goods duster
Simit baker
Watch maker
Breast enlarger
Ahmet's father

Rubbish trawler
Street bawler
Belly dancer
Tourist stalker
Kerb crawler
Loud talker

...result! What were the chances of landing on the only bird?

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Only in Turkey...

Can you find Tesco Value Doner meat.

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Friday 9 September 2011

Revenge of the Fez

On this day, 89 years ago, a surging Turkish army and mobs of Turkish citizens drove out the occupying Greek nation from Izmir. "The day we taught the Greeks to swim" I've heard uttered jokingly, referring to the way they were, allegedly, pushed into the gloomy waters of Izmir Bay.

Reports say that during the initial invasion by the Greek military, "the [Turkish locals] are forced to tear the fezes from their heads and trample them underfoot". In return, during the war of independence, anyone wearing a hat other than a fez was forced to go for a swim.

All rather confused considering the Fez apparently originates from the Greek islands of the Aegean. Even Ataturk himself referred to it as "the head-covering of Greeks" before outlawing it.

Anyway, tonight there will be fireworks along Kordon (the bar-lined promenade central to Izmir's social scene). A boat with the words "Happy 9th September" will crawl up and down the bay. It's also the time of the great Izmir Fair (think The Ideal Home Exhibition but with more gypos and mosquitoes).

In other news, I moved job, moved house, went on 4 holidays, grew 2 moustaches, 1 massive beard, attended 1 funeral, 0 weddings and haven't written anything on this blog for close to 3 months. For that, I apologise. Thank you to Burak for the kind email that gave me a kick up the arse needed to write something.

Also, a massive thank you to Danny for the iPhone which should help me to take snapshots and post them directly whenever and wherever. Thank you for Peter for jumping on Danny and asking him to give me the iPhone. Thank you to O2 for unlocking it for a mere £15 (gypo cunts).

Thank you to Turkish Telecom, in advance, for shutting my iPhone down in a few weeks until I can have it registered on my passport, which I can't do until the visas come through, which I can't do until the Ministry of Education decides I'm still OK to teach English. Thank you to Turkcell for stealing two of my lunch breaks while I waited to speak to some miserable moron who had no fucking clue about the necessary procedure for registering a foreign mobile yet spoke with unwavering authority.

Until next time...

Thursday 23 June 2011

The Easiest Way to Stop Smoking

Though this post may appear a little off topic, it is loosely related to living in Turkey and absolutely related to my life here ...or anywhere.

It started about a month ago with a regular cough and cold. Something that I've become accustomed too since choosing a career as a school teacher. The cold came and went but I was left with a hacking cough that refused to budge.

I decided, eventually, to get down the local clinic for a check-up. After a short inspection by the chest doctor, I was sent off for x-rays and blood tests. It all seemed a trifle unnecessary as I was only after some cough syrup.

Heading back the next morning, In a brief window between lessons, I waited impatiently for the doctor to become free.

Finally I was in and we small talked about how my Turkish was coming along and where his son should study in England before getting down to the diagnosis.

Picking up a piece of paper, and pausing to read... "there is no virus. Your blood is fine. Antibiotics are no good for you".

Great, I thought. Nothing serious then.

Like something from a movie, he slapped the x-ray into the clamps of the light box and switched it on with that familiar fluorescent flicker. Pausing only to read the Radiologists report, he studied the x-ray.

"One minute" he said, standing and leaving the room.

What the fuck is going on?

"Sorry, I just wanted to ask the Radiologist something".

"What did you ask?" I probed.

"Do you have any contacts at either of the University Hospitals?" OK, I'm not liking the way this conversation is going. I just want some cough syrup.

He continued ... "I don't like what I see here. This area" he said, circling a dark patch in my left lung "this is too big. It could be nothing, but it could be an indication of something else".

"What do you mean?" I asked calmly frantic.

"Maybe this is just how you are made. But it sometimes means there is another problem".

My heart was now racing. I was sweating.

"Mr Doctor (that's how you address a doctor in Turkey), you mean cancer?". This was not the time to fuck about with euphemisms.

"Yes" he said, also not wanting to fuck about with euphemisms.

Q: What's worse than finding a maggot in your apple?
A: Your doctor suspecting you might have lung cancer.

That small word was the start of something big. From the moment that word was released from his lips, I stopped listening to him. In fact, every word he said afterwards seemed a waste of breath and infuriated me.

Tears rolled down my cheeks while my mind flitted from one thought to the next. How could I have been so stupid? I'd always known the risks of smoking but ... how could I have been so stupid? Ignore it! Forget it! Pretend I never came to the doctors. It'll be fine. Cough syrup please!

I left the clinic in a zombie-like trance. I made it to the lesson on time, but it wouldn't have made any difference. I didn't care. I couldn't be bothered to shout at the kids. Yet they sensed something was different about me. They backed off.

I went through a number of decisions in my head. The first thought was that I wanted to have kids. I very quickly came to the realisation that, as much as I wanted them, I wanted them to have a father that was alive. It was too late for kids.

I thought about ways of dying. Perhaps finding a country that supported euthanasia and taking the easy route. Wouldn't that be better for my loved ones? Perhaps I should just take off around the world and die up a mountain somewhere? All these thoughts within an hour of hearing the news.

I decided I needed to at least take the next step towards finding out what was in my chest. I called a friend, an Oncologist at one of the university hospitals. I sent him the x-rays and waiting for the news. "95% sure it's fine but you might want to get a tomography to be 100% sure".

95% is good enough for me. Let's call it a day there.

I knew the right thing to do. It was the thing everyone was telling me to do. Learn the truth!

I called another friend at a local hospital and used his strings to jump the queue for a BT scan (I'm not really sure of the correct terminology but here it's called a 'Kontrastli Tomografi'). Basically, they inject something cool into your veins, run away and pass you through a big hoop thing that scans you.

Denied! I'd eaten too recently, so I had to go home for another night of staring at the ceiling, occasionally weeping and trying to distract myself with stuff that wasn't distracting me.

The next day, went to the chemist and bought the medicine that was to be pumped into my veins ...even the syringe. I love the Turkish health system. Bring a bottle.

Soon I was on my back and watching a man in scrubs artfully pierce my brachial artery with a spike not dissimilar in girth to a javelin.

The next 30 minutes passed slowly while I waited for the results. Not as slow, I might add, as it may have felt waiting the 5 days non-string-pullers would have to wait. The guilt of using connections and pulling strings is something that passes after a while of living in Turkey. This is the way life is here. If you've got a connection, use it. If not, someone else will. Those with no contacts need to find some or ...wait.

I got the all clear from the doctor. My lungs are fine. My heart is fine. The arteries are all fine. I wanted to kiss him. On the mouth.

So what's changed? I realise how shit can happen around every corner. I've got no time for stress, idiots or doing things I don't want to do. And, of course, I stopped smoking. Right there and then. Hearing the word 'cancer' from the mouth of a doctor looking at my lung x-rays was more than enough to put an end to that foolish behaviour.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Putting the 'Man' in 'Manisa'

At the end of March, a small city on the outskirts of Izmir hosts a rather unusual festival. Welcome to Manisa, known for mental hospitals and, possibly related, the craziest drivers in the Aegean region.

The festival is a week-long celebration with appearances by minor celebrities and politicians. But the city is really celebrating another local claim to fame...

On the last day of the festival at approximately 2pm, the Imams climb up onto the roofs of their mosques and spend the next hour or so hurling a natural Viagra down into the seething mass of men below.

What they are throwing is a sticky paste containing a mixture of 41 spices wrapped it shiny paper. This is the nationally famous Manisa Mesir Macunu.

The medicinal claims include: increased energy, stronger heart, heightened brain function, longer attention span, calmed nerves, easier urinating (not that I've ever found it particularly taxing), easing sciatica and rheumatism, increased appetite and an erection that you could swing on.

I had been counting down the days to this event since April last year. I knew this was one part of Turkish culture I could not miss. It was certainly an experience. But probably not one I'll deliberately re-live.

Arriving in Manisa, we followed the hoards in the direction of the minarets in the distance. As we approached, the first warning signs became apparent. Armed police were mounted high on the spires giving the feeling of a concentration camp.

We walked around looking for the best viewpoint down into the crowds. It was clear that we were never going to get near enough without becoming quite brutal. Being the English gentleman, I stood at the periphery, looking around like a meercat.

Before long, the Imams and their entourage clambered onto the roofs, sitting, watching and waiting. The whistles and cheers from the growing crowd became deafening as we approached the time of the 'sacim' or 'distribution'.

Suddenly a tannoyed voice bellowed out from the main mosque and the Imams rose to their feet, grabbing white hessian sacks bulging with shiny treats.

What followed was nothing short of disturbing. As the natural bongo pills showered down, men fought with each other in, what can only be described as, a punk concert mosh pit. Upturned umbrellas reached out through the sea of hands to catch what they could.

I stood, open-mouthed, at this bizarre spectacle. I couldn't think of any other situation where people would behave like this. As though being showered with the riches of the world, the crowd had seemed to lose sight of the fact that a mere 50 metres down the road, they were selling packs of five for 30p (which, by the way, is where I got mine).

OK, so the Imams were throwing Macun that had been 'blessed', but even so, come on humanity! Forget Primark opening on Oxford Street. Forget wartime rationing. Forget images of aid distribution in famine stricken Africa. Those that came to Manisa that day were displaying a whole different level of desperation.

A middle aged woman standing next to me started hurling deeply upsetting insults at the Imam when his aching arm started to lose the required strength to project the macun far enough to reach her. But when the first rock came flying from one side of the crowd to the other, I knew things were turning even uglier and that, perhaps, it was time to head home.

I'm surprised at what I saw in Manisa. This is not a new tradition. In fact, this year was the 471st Mesir Macun Festival held in the city. I am, however, glad that I didn't stick around to see what happened when the thousands of men gathered there that day started to feel the effects of the erection-inducing Macun.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Not going postal

I've never seen a postbox in Turkey. If you ever want to send a letter (which, in Turkey, is as good a communication tool as a Town Crier with Laryngitis), you should head down to your local post office and try to decipher which queue you ought to be standing in.

Speaking of which, this seems to be one of the only places Turks form an orderly queue. I once saw two tourists jump a queue in a Turkish post office. The locals lost their minds. I had only come in to pay my phone bill and inadvertently entered a twilight zone.

Monday 21 March 2011

Hold the front page!

I would have liked to have posted this on the day of publication so you could have had a chance to go and buy the paper, but I got interviewed for the Hurriyet Daily News (previously the Turkish Daily News).

The fabulous Jane Akatay, wrote a super article on blogging in South West Turkey and I, along with Jack from Perking The Pansies, Karen from Being Koy, Julia and Barry from Turkey's For Life and Ayak from Turkish Delight were all interviewed.

We'll be right back... I hope.

You may have noticed a brief interlude in my posts... OK, you might not have; I'm not exactly the most prolific blogger. However, the most recent excuse is that has been banned in Turkey for the past month.

The official reason is due to a Turkish Digital TV provider claiming that some bloggers are streaming live football via their blogs. Despite being impossible, this motive also seems rather improbable. To shut down an entire arm of Google and millions of blogs simply because of a couple of breaches of copyright seems akin to "throwing the baby out with the bath water" or, as they say in Turkey, "pouring water in the donkey's fanny".

I think the more likely reason is someone has said something that someone didn't like. Can I be more vague? Perhaps, but I think you get what I'm saying.

This habit of banning websites willy nilly is starting to get on my tits. I would expect such behaviour from more paranoid nations (North Korea, Iran et al) but I had this strange belief that Turkey was a forward-looking country with sights on becoming a challenger in the digital arena. Is it bollocks.

I was interviewed by the Hurriyet Daily News about my opinions on the ban. You can read my teetering steps into celebrity here.

Oh, and if you're wondering how I'm managing to write this... I'm doing what I did last year when the YouTube ban was in place... I'm using a proxy to fool the internet police into thinking I'm in Belarus. Wish I fucking was.

Friday 18 February 2011

Things I'd never done before moving to Turkey #6

Go for a shave and accidentally become a Muslim.

I was at the barber the other day. As always, the conversation of religion came up which, in term, leads to discussion of the health benefits of circumcision.

During the rather heated debate (well, monologue really. I never get into a debate about religion with a Turk... especially one who's holding a razor to my neck), the barber asked me to try and recite some Arabic. I did as he said and repeated his words.

"Now you're a muslim!", he said with a smile. "When you say those words, you automatically become a muslim".

"OK cool... How much do I owe you?" the way, if you're interested, this is what you have to say:
“Eşhedü el la ilahe illallah ve eşhedü enne Muhammeden abdühü ve Resülühü”
Or more simply...
"لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله"

Thursday 17 February 2011

Ruin Nation

Turks have a strange habit of giving away the endings to movies they've seen to those who don't know. This also applies to Soap Operas (that are huge in Turkey).

What is particularly interesting is that people actually seem to want to know the answers to the mysteries. Whereas in England, you might get a punch in the chops for giving away the plot twist, in Turkey, it seems to be part of the whole gossip culture...

Ayse: Bruce Willis is actually dead.
Murat: Noooo, I can't believe it.
Ayse: Yeah, I was so suprised.
Murat: Allah Allah.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Fezaurus #10

Eceli gelen köpek cami duvarına işermiş - The dying dog pisses on the wall of the mosque.

This takes me back to my New Year's Eve. We went to a lovely little village near Çeşme called Alaçatı. Every year, the town puts on a street party to welcome in the new year. This was my first visit and I'll give it a miss next year. It was absolutely heaving.

Unfortunately, in Turkey, when there's a congregation of people at an event that asks no entrance fee, it attracts an inordinate number of pikeys. Pikeys + crowd + alcohol = trouble.

As the masses counted down the final seconds of 2010, the pikeys had another plan:

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-FIGHT!!! PUSH!!! BUNDLE!!!!!!!!!

As a seething mass roared towards me, I suddenly found immense courage. Confident in my obese frame, I dug my heels into the ground and waited. Thank god, I managed to hang in there long enough for the crowds to squeeze past. It was somewhere between a bull run, cheese rolling and the opening of Primark on Oxford Street ...but everyone's pissed.

So what's the connection with the above expression? Well later we found some space to breathe near the mosque. We exchanged anecdotes of how lucky we were to survive and watched in horror as a drunk youth staggered over to one of the pillars of the mosque, opening his fly as he went.

Before the first drip had hit the floor, there was a shout from a local. "Heyyyyyyyy!!!! What the fuck are you doing? A mosque isn't a place to piss!!". As all my courage had been used up, we edged away from the scene and, from a safe distance, watched the furious local pointing aggressively backwards and forwards between the minaret and the drunk's penis.

So, when you've got nothing to lose, piss up a mosque. If a severe kick in seems like a walk in the park, piss up a mosque.

Friday 7 January 2011

Turkish Sports - Football

Globally massive of course, Football is probably the most popular sport in Turkey. They're not half bad at it either. Reaching the semi-finals of the 2008 UEFA Cup, Turkey treated us to some spectacularly nail-biting matches. But, for some reason, they've not qualified for the World Cup since 2002, when they kicked ass all the way to 3rd place.

National football is really a three horse race. Though football supporters may have a local team, they will, almost always, also support one of three Istanbul teams:

1. Beşiktaş (BJK) - The cool colours of black and white and the eagle mascot. Not much to say about them really. They're good and they're reasonably quietly confident about it.

2. Galatasaray (GS) - My team by default (which is weird because I never watch football). A pretty rowdy bunch with a habit of throwing their seats onto the pitch when things are looking down.

Britons may remember Galatasaray after a 2000 UEFA Cup match in Istanbul when two Leeds fans were stabbed to death. The reason for the violence has been debated. Though official reports claim the British fans had insulted a van driver, my barber reckons they wiped their arses on some Turkish money.

Tip to visiting supporters: Turks frown on many of the fun things we take for granted. The great British passtime of mooning is seen as a rather serious insult. Should you wish to bare your backside, be prepared for rather severe shoeing. With that in mind, it'd also be best to rethink any plans to streak. Wiping your arse on any icons of Turkish national identity will envoke your travel insurance's post mortem repatriation clause.

3. Fenerbahçe (FB) - These guys are extremely vocal about their support. Though perhaps not as overtly aggressive as Galatasaray, they do chant a lot.

There's something I've observed over the years. If I were to create a list of people I would consider idiots, the vast majority are Fenerbahçe supporters. That's not to say all Fenerbahçe fans are cocks, but most cocks are Fenerbahçe fans.

The marketing behind these three teams is simply awesome. Perhaps things in the UK have changed since my departure but, here in Turkey, the 'Fenerium', 'GS Store' and 'Kartal Yuvası' shops litter high streets and shopping centres, selling everything from team kits to cuff links.

I'll leave this section with the inspiring speech by the National Team's Fatih Terim.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Fezaurus #9

Ben diyorum hadımım sen diyorsun çoluk çocuk nasıl - I tell you I'm a Eunuch, you ask me how the wife and kids are.

A lovely little expression to use when asked a stupid question.

Michael: I'm flat broke.
Janet: Oh, sorry to hear that ...can you lend me a fiver?

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Turkish Sports - Backgammon

Known in Turkey as tavla, the rules of this board game are extremely simple yet take years to master. The aims are three-fold:
  1. Get your pieces round the board and 'home' before your opponent does.
  2. Moving a piece should be done with lightning speed and as loudly as possible ...and preferably while the other player is still finishing their move.
  3. The winner is the one who can most comprehensively insult his opponent's ancestors.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Fezaurus #8

Ayranı yok içmeye, tahtırevanla gider sıçmaya - There's no yoghurt to drink but I'm carried to the shitter on a sedan chair.

I guess the English would simply say "living beyond your means".