Short Story Saturday: Tire Travel Journal

May 1, 2004

It’s May, I think, (days always manage to escape me when I’m traveling…) and we’re sitting in Tire, resting in a little park with roses surrounding a fountain built in the shape of four tulips. It sounds more glamorous than it is—the place is worn and drab—but I’m enjoying this quiet moment, sitting on a bench in the shade, listening to the flowing water, and watching the little town move around us.

We’re nearing the end of our travels. The other destinations were more impressive and glamorous: Tree house hostels; remnants of an ancient acropolis overlooking the blue Mediterranean waves; pretty pottery formed before our very eyes; pebbly beaches; ancient churches carved from natural rock formations and decorated with stunning murals, somehow still surviving; the Chimera, breathing fire from the rocks as it has for ages upon ages; charming cooks and business owners… Every stop thus far has been an incredible location. Beautiful? No question. Memorable? Absolutely. Tourist destinations? Let’s just say there were no shortage of postcards and trinkets for sale.

But Tire, one of our final stops, is different. Unlike Cappadocia, Avanos, Olympos, and especially Istanbul, where we’re studying for a semester, in Tire, I didn’t hear a word of English fall from a shopkeeper’s mouth as we browsed in and out of tiny shops around the ancient market place. We’ve finally found a place which really does seem to be mostly English-free. Nothing against English! I’ve certainly benefited from it’s widespread usage; in fact, I’m sure plenty of people here can speak some, but they don’t find it necessary to pressure us into buying things by yelling at us in English (or French, Spanish, German, or Russian, for that matter!). It’s so refreshing to escape the clutches of tourism and catch a tiny glimpse of life in a genuinely Turkish town.

The market here is wonderful. A large portion of it seems to surround an original market place, built around the time of Sultan Süleyman, in the 1500s. The walls and arches have clearly see better days, but some are still sturdy and even operational—amazing! Many shops are indoors, but the market streets are mostly open air with a thick covering of leafy vines creating a green roof of sorts. Spots of sunlight peek through at every given chance, dancing and dappling speckled patches across the cobblestone streets, decorating unfazed passerby as we ooh and aah. “It looks magical!” breathed Jenny in awe when we first laid eyes on the sight, and I had to agree. In Tire, enchantment is in the air. The streets are charming. I’d love to replicate the feeling in my own home someday; the vines would make a perfect back porch haven, the ideal blending of sun and shade, glitter and calm.

This is such a peaceful town. Peaceful, but still a bit intimidating for two young women to walk around alone. There are older men at every turn, sitting around doing nothing. It was hard to find a place to eat lunch this afternoon because most of the restaurants were full of males. Completely and exclusively men. What a bizarre sight. It must just be a cultural thing, men sitting around all afternoon, drinking tea, playing tavla (Turkish backgammon) and talking. I saw the same thing in Avanos, but not to the same extent. Maybe I just noticed it more this time. We were still jumpy after our last overnight bus ride and in no mood for any more inappropriate advances, so we carefully steered clear of any potentially problematic situations. We didn’t have any issues here, though. The people we talked to were kind and friendly.

Tire is a darling little town. We’ve only been around for a few hours, but I’ll be sad to leave it behind. We will take a dolmuş back to Selçuk before the day is done, but for now we are sitting, reflecting, writing, and trying to retrace our steps and properly record the memories for years to come!

Speaking of the dolmuş, we’re making great strides towards acquainting ourselves with various aspects of Turkey’s dependable, affordable transportation system. This morning, we boarded a dolmuş in Selçuk, where we are staying at a hostel, and we easily rode into the city of Tire. A dolmuş seems to be somewhere between a taxi and a bus in both size and function. Although it is a van, it functions as a bus first and foremost. In taxi fashion, however, it seems to own a certain degree of flexibility of route and activity.

Compared to the crowded streets of Istanbul, this area of the country is quite empty. The dolmuşes run a consistent circuit between cities and passengers are able to hop on and get where they need to go. Our experience suggests they are quite reliable and that they depend rather heavily on the friendly use of a horn! When the driver approaches a dolmuş stop, or sees a person standing expectantly by the side of a road, he honks. Potential passengers either flag the driver down or motion for him to keep moving; they are waiting on a different dolmuş. As he passes through a little town or village he honks his horn vigorously and people rush out of homes and businesses and jump on board. Other times the “beep-beep” is a simple greeting to another driver on the road.

As we traveled via dolmuş this morning, we watched the driver pass a couple of newspapers to people as he drove though one little town— dolmuş driver and delivery man. So often it’s those little details of life played out around me that bring life to a foreign location. The Selçuk paper doesn’t technically distribute to the village 20 km away? Not a problem! You just need to know the right people, be privy to the inter-workings of the underlying system. It’s like we (the exasperated foreign exchange students) have taken to saying about our lovely Istanbul home: “Everything is there and functional, you just have to figure out how to find it!” You cannot live well by yourself here; or at least that’s my impression. A strong sense of community, dependence, and inter-reliance still exist. I’ve heard some people criticize the life here as more simple and backward, but maybe, in many ways, it is we who have got it wrong. We spend our whole lives embracing independence and individuality, clinging to the mentality that we are capable of doing anything and everything on our own. We have our own computers, cars, agendas, apartment, meals… We live like we don’t need anyone else, but we’re missing out on something, losing the sense of unity, community, interdependence that I see here. I can’t entirely put my finger on it, but there’s something special about being an essential part of a functional, functioning whole. After so many years as a student with a single track mind—papers! homework! grades!—the change of views is revitalizing. My eyes are opening.

We are back in Selçuk now, and the return trip was rather amusing.

Although Tire was small, we still found ourselves scratching our heads, unable to decide the right route to take us to the return dolmuş stop. An approaching girl eyed us curiously. Putting our best elementary Turkish to work we asked her how to get back to the dolmuş stop. Thankfully, this kind young lady managed both to decipher our question AND recognize our complete inability to process any return instructions she might offer (beyond literal pointing us in the right direction) and took pity on us.

“Come. I show.”

Çok teşekkür ederim! Thank you so much!”

After a full day of walking and long week of cross-country travel, we hurried along beside her in relieved silence, grateful for the unexpected tour guide. She soon volunteered a few more words in English, solidifying our suspicion that she knew more of our native tongue than we knew of hers.

“Hurry, the dolmuş leave at 3:00.”

Hurry we did, making it to the unmarked stop with scarcely a minute to spare. She exchanged a few words with the driver—Selçuka gidiyor musun?—to ensure that we would get to our intended destination, then ushered us onto a dolmuş crowded full of school children of various ages, chattering excitedly amongst themselves. A man and his silent wife were the only other adult passengers. With our new Turkish friend doing all the talking, we managed to get onto the vehicle without much fuss.

We sat silently, listening to the voices around us and looking out the windows. (By the way, on this spring break trip, I’ve been lucky enough to see a turtle crossing sign, several cow—or goat?—crossing signs, and signs for facets. The Turkish traffic-ways certainly have a flavor of their own, one which is growing on me as quickly as the kilometers slip away on the tires beneath us.) For a while we sat in silent contemplation of the day’s city tour. About halfway through the trip, a small hand tapped my arm. I looked down. A child behind me held a handful of Turkish lira. She held it out to me casually and said something, gesturing towards the front of the vehicle. I stared at the offered pile of bills and coins in confusion. Jenny and I looked around. Everyone in the dolmuş was digging in pockets, purses and bags, extracting money and pooling it casually. The passengers looked at Jenny and I oddly when we were reluctant to hand over cash.

“What are they doing?”

“Are they collecting the bus fare?”

“How much is it?”

“I thought we paid when we got off.”

“How do we know it will make it to the driver?”

We spoke quietly to each other, but the children overheard. A hush silence fell, followed by a buzz of curious voices. A spokesman emerged, likely the best student in their English class. The students talked excitedly to him and he spoke to us haltingly. Where were we from? Where in Turkey were we staying? How long had we been there? We explained in a mixture of Turkish and English that we were students, studying in Istanbul for the past couple of months and traveling around the country for 10 days on spring break. What was our favorite place to visit? Tire, of course! He explained that they were collecting dolmuş fare, and the children told us the cost of the ride and helped us sort our coins and come up with the correct amount.

I looked up and met the amused eyes of the driver reflected in the rearview mirror. He chuckled at the bombardment of questions. A lovely Turkish couple sat in the seat in front of us. The English spokesman was their son, and apparently his father had taught him quite a bit because he sat, mostly letting his son speak, but interjecting missing words without a moment’s hesitation whenever they were needed.

The oldest student on the bus was an attractive teen. He clearly didn’t have much of a grasp of the English language, but he had every intention of at least trying to hit on the college girls seated behind him. After a few minutes of practice, under the coaching and tutelage of his friends, he managed to suavely state: “You are very beautiful.” We thanked him for the complement and he seemed quite pleased at the relative success of his cross-cultural flirting venture. We all had a good laugh!

The students gradually got off the dolmuş as the vehicle made various stops. The Turkish couple and their son eventually got off as well. “Good luck in your travels,” the boy told us under his father’s quiet instruction as the three alighted from the dolmuş.

Left alone as we approached Selçuk, I pondered the day’s events. The quietly uneventful hours, the kind people and the whole magical atmosphere in Tire made the day we spent there a cherished Turkish memory.

© Angela M. Adams

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