Bursa: A Profound and Humbling Experience

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 11, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Bursa,
Friday, June 13, 2008

This is about getting natural gas service in Bursa, Turkey. Maybe not to everyone's interest. But for those curious . . . . If you have ever wondered about taking up residence in another country. . . .

I've moved into a rented house in a strange city, in a foreign country. The natural gas service is off. Thus, I have no hot water. I haven't had a shower or washed my clothes in three days, now. And I've worked, and it has been hot. Imagine.

So today my priority was to try and get the gas turned on. I didn't know where to go, or to speak enough Turkish to do this on my own. I needed help.

Through an internet social network for travelers--sort of like Facebook--I had put up a notice in the local group subtab asking for assistance in finding a rental. About three people answered with offers of help. One was a young lady, a Turkish Bursa resident who spoke excellent English, having in part, worked three years for Australian consulate in Cannakkale. The Aussies have a consulate there because of its being the closest city to the Gallipoli battlefields, remembered each year on ANZAC day, and consequently (even more so in recent years) mobbed with Australian tourists. When I commented that her English sounded very Australian she said, "Ah, you've made my dye."

I, in fact, found a rental by the aid of another individual. But before that came to be, this young woman spent of her own generous free time some hours with me walking the streets of Bursa, looking for rental signs in the windows of neighborhoods and buildings that were attractive to me. And, she has subsequently kept checking back with me to see how things are going. Any city in the world could do no better than have this young lady represent them to visitors. And, it hasn't stopped there.

Now, here is the extraordinary experience. I am almost embarrassed to print it. And, you have to have patience because I get pretty detailed. It may be worth it.

I come to this Friday, and really want to take a shower, and wash some clothes . . . . in hot water. So, just after 9am I text-messaged this young lady to ask if she had time to help me locate the gas company office, and get the gas service turned on. Well, not today, actually. She wasn't to be free until after 6, and by then the offices would be closed. "No worries," I said, I've got some other options.

I text messaged another young lady who had performed a similar assistance in the house search. But, before I received a response from her, the first young lady called me to say that her father and husband would both meet me and provide the assistance I needed.

On the way to the meeting spot I stopped to withdraw some cash from one of the ubiquitous ATM machines. There is a limit to my daily withdrawls, and I needed to get my daily ration towards meeting my next day, Saturday, deposit and rental payments. Nothing was forthcoming. I only had a 20 YTL in my wallet. It occurred to me that there would probably be a deposit to be made at the gas company offices. I thought perhaps my bank on the west coast of the U.S. was still recognizing my withdrawl yesterday in Bursa. So, maybe later. But it occurred to me that I could be embarrassed at the gas company.

But first, the young lady's husband arrived. Our interaction was minimal because of mutual limitations in the other's language. But shortly her father arrived, and, no matter the language barrier, he went directly to what I call the second tier of male bonding: straight away he shook my hand and performed the double cheek "kiss." Men, mostly, touch each other's left and right cheeks.

Then the three of us were off to the gas company. By taxi. Oh, no; more indebtedness! The father paid the cab fare.

Into the office. In a corner of the front of the not very large or too busy office was a security man and a fellow at a computer. At our soon turn the security guy xeroxed my passport. Did I have the rental contract. No; I'm signing that tomorrow. What was the address? Fortunately, the day before I had seen a map on a large street board telling of the restoration of the Green Mausoleum near my house, and had taken the street name, and before the house number, all with the intent to mail myself a post card to see if I got it. I guess I did, because the guy at the computer found my house in the records. A bill was produced, with two payment options: a cheaper three month deposit, or a slightly higher initial payment. I didn't have enough for it. But, I handed over my 20YTL, and the father put in the remaining 35, plus, I think, a little tip to the guy at the counter.

Then back to the computer guy, who spoke a couple of words of English, and like almost every Turk I have met, seems to take great pleasure in being polite to an American. And, this is trueness, not a front. Believe me. It's humbling.

Leaving the gas company office both the father and I stopped at ATMs. This time I was successful. I got 500 YTL.

I held the gas deposit fee out to the father. He wouldn't take it! He wouldn't take it. He has just put out something like US$36 and it was like I was doing him the favor of letting him do the favor/service for me. Again, there is absolutely no question that this is genuinely heartfelt on his part (or the Turkish part). More purely, generously and innocently so than my own feelings, I'm embarrassed to say.

That is not to say that I am consciously trying to take advantage of these sorts of things, even knowing that such occurrences can and do happen. I don't seek them nor seek to take advantage of them. And, actually, I'd like to avoid it. In fact, I am well into a stage of wanting to be the generous party--even though I have to overcome my habituated behavior to commit such acts. But what can you do in a situation like this? My dilemma: how to reciprocate.
And, here's the thing: I do present the appearance of something like an old bum. Particularly now. I'm dressed in my traveling/hiking/working clothes, and they and my body are several days without cleaning. I didn't have cash in my pocket. I live a low-level, eccentric life style.

Now, I don't know this man's station in life. But there is some possibility that my total personal assets exceed his. I have always lived under my means. Way under, I suppose; even to the point of absurdity in discomfort. I am just personally, especially at this advanced age, habituated to it. Any "overage" has always gone to savings, and the savings sometimes to investments which brought more gains than losses. So, I am well able--no, also habituated--to meet any fiscal obligations I choose to accept. Like the gas bill.

So, this is one of those cases where the act of someone's generosity has actually made me feel a little bad. Or confused.

Now, keep in mind this above-described act of Turkish kindness. (And it is only but one of many I have experienced by the kindest of the world's people, the Turkish).

Later in the day I was reading the internet New York Times; an article on some massive and surprising flooding in the Midwest. Ok, students, compare and contrast (the following quoted from the New York Times, I've added the italics):

"Demenick Ankum drove to his house on 19th Avenue to save anything he
could. By the time he finished packing, his car was underwater. He had
to pay a neighbor, Louie Brundidge, $10 to rescue him from the house in
Mr. Brundidge's red aluminum boat."

Oh, yes, God bless America.
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