Sunday, July 5, 2015

Chip and his claim to authority: Istanbul Diaries, Chapter 1

There is a saying that I hear a lot. Not sure if its just because Mormons use it a lot or what."Find joy in the journey", it goes. Another similar one is "Bloom where you're planted". "Carpe diem!", "Live in the now", "Just do it". All of these sayings stress the importance of the present time being the moment to attempt something. Finding joy in the journey came to my mind often these past few days and weeks as our family has uprooted once again to find ourselves as strangers in a strange land. I pondered my attitude as obstacles presented themselves at almost every moment and realized that the advice to find joy in the journey popped up in my mind repeatedly and served as the main source of strength each time things went bad. I argue that the desire to have a 'woe is me' attitude when things go wrong feels so natural but in actuality is deceptively fulfilling and the least effective attitude to have whether your seven member family can't sit together on a flight or your passports get taken by strange men claiming they're official the moment you disembark from your final airplane. Whatever the bump in the road may be, moving forward with a smile is always the better route.

By far our most frightening experience on our trip was having our passports taken by Turks in jeans and t-shirts right as we walked out of the airplane. Perhaps the actual experience contrasted too greatly from how I envisioned our arrival in Istanbul to be and I was just disappointed. We were all filing out of the airplane, in fact we were almost the last people to disembark, when I could hear and see a group of seven or eight Turkish men, not in uniform, standing in a semi-circle around the exit from the accordion style tunnel we were in. When we tried to walk through they asked us for our passports. I had seen everyone else in the flight, who were mostly Turks and a few Africans, just walk on through the loose blockade they were making with their bodies. It was obvious we were a target and it made us nervous. Jonathan had all of our passports with him and he refused to give them to let alone show them to these possible impostors claiming their authority only by saying "We are police!" and showing us a plastic ID card hanging on their belt. One man in particular made us his target and he held on like a bulldog to Jonathan's shoulder trying to explain in very bad English what would happen to us if we didn't comply. Jonathan asked where passport control was. He asked where their uniforms were. He asked why procedure had changed and explained that he was concerned because they could be random guys from the street that wanted to run off with American passports. None of his questions were answered satisfactorily either because of lack of English comprehension or because this guy, I'll call him Chip, didn't feel we deserved answers and should merely obey. We could not proceed down the main thoroughfare until we handed over the passports, which we eventually did. Chip reiterated about four times during our stroll to his questioning office how if Jonathan were alone, consequences would be much more drastic, emphasizing the severity by making a finger movement across the neck. Even the most hardened Turk has a weakness for children I guess.
 To make a long story short, this experience was scary because we were at someone else's mercy and our kids were with us during the whole event.This is where a positive attitude comes in handy. While we were waiting, the kids and I had a grand old time eating snacks I had leftover and looking through old pictures on my laptop. We were laughing, bits of granola bar were falling out of Atticus' mouth onto my keyboard, Hector and Helen were fighting for the closest position to see the screen. I could have sat there crying and freaking out but I couldn't do that in front of my kids. I probably wouldn't do that even if they weren't there. I just thought, "We are stuck, we can't move, so let's do something fun, right here and now". My children were very patient and I think they learned a lot about the value of a passport. They could hear Jonathan and Chip yelling at each other each time someone went in and out of the room he was taken into. The whole time I wondered why Jonathan refrained from using his Turkish but in the end I think he played his cards right. Playing the dumb American is sometimes the best route to take especially when you have children. We were forced to wait an extra two hours at the airport just because Chip wanted to "make us pay" for not respecting his authority. Many Americans would assume the worst and take this as a preliminary act of terrorism. I don't see it that way. What I see is Jonathan offending Chip by not respecting his authority, and Jonathan refusing to comply because of his cultural programming. Americans are used to procedure, established norms and steps, uniforms, posted signs proving something is official, shiny badges, suits and ties, etc. Anything out of the ordinary in an airport puts us on guard. Chip obviously wasn't aware of our expectations and was immediately offended that we didn't bow to his authority when we didn't recognize his claim to FBI status as legit. His colleagues were on our side and thought Chip was overreacting (Jonathan understood everything they were saying). Once Chip was elsewhere, one of his colleagues took us to the 'real' passport control so we could be on our way. It was 4 in the morning.
 When we finally got our luggage and took it out to the taxis, the Turkey we knew was right there waiting. The cool breeze and the clear sky, even in the midst of the huge city, was breathtaking. The taxi drivers are like old friends, always interested in why we are here. They gather around in groups to hear the details. They surprise our kids with affection they never got in America. I love Istanbul.

  Our taxi driver sped us to our hotel, we fell on our beds and slept. I was up four hours later beautifying myself for my job interview. Our new life has begun. 


Kevin said...

That was a great story! I almost forgive you for missing the picnic now. ;)

Kevin said...

So glad you are there safe. I look forward to hearing more of your adventures.