"Rest of the World 2013-14" story # 21

Erzurum, Turkey           December 25, 2013

Snowball fights in Erzurum were dangerous. Doing anything on the streets of Erzurum in winter was dangerous.
     Reckless drivers threatened pedestrians at every intersection. Huge piles of snow hung from the edges of six-story buildings, waiting to fall on your head. Snow on the sidewalks had been worn down to ice, and sometimes I thought on any given step I stood a 40% chance of falling.
     Dr. Tolga, who worked in a town not far from Erzurum, said many of his patients had suffered injuries slipping on ice. Only a few of his patients had had snow fall on their heads.
     He added that, in his town that loved wrestling, many men had suffered dislocated shoulders due to the sport. And during the past spring and summer, four people had been attacked by bears.
     One sixty-year-old man had seen a bear, gotten his gun, and shot it. The bear got angry and clawed him. The man shot the bear again, but the bear beat him up some more and disappeared into the woods.
     Ha ha. What a stupid, old man!
     But, as we walked the icy streets of Erzurum, there was more on the line than just a trip to the doctor. A popular saying said ...
     If you don't fall in Erzurum, you'll marry a girl from Erzurum.
     My roommate, Walker, fell three times. The third fall left him with a purple eye. Oh, no - my poor friend!
     But, I was careful. I hadn't fallen yet. I could still marry Esra! I could still marry Seyma!
     "In two years, ain't nobody gonna want to marry you." My male student, Ramazan, informed me I didn't have much time to find a wife.
     Luckily, I didn't want to get married. I just wanted to have girlfriends and not have sex. Walker called me a "girl-crazy celibate" - in addition to: "a little kid stuck in a big, goofy, body."
     But, the girls in Erzurum were about to get a new and very real danger. Canada Dave was coming to town!
     My month in Erzurum was almost over. My going-away party, to be held in Walker's and my apartment, was two days away. The Goke needed a new native English speaker. Who was he going to call? (Ghostbusters theme music)
     Canada Dave!
     He came in the middle of the night, arriving at Walker's and my apartment. We'd been expecting a Canadian; Canada Dave, however, was a sixty-year-old Iranian with drunken eyes. At least, his eyes looked sixty. He already hated Erzurum. He let us know that, unless he found a girlfriend, he was going to make up an excuse for the boss and leave town.
     He told Walker and me about a teaching position in China, which he'd made an excuse to leave. He mentioned another teaching job in Turkey, which he'd left suddenly because his "brother was in a coma."
     Puzzled, he asked, "What do you guys do around here?" "Well, mostly I write," I said, "and Walker plays his guitar." We were happy, in our beautiful old apartment with no high technology. "They don't even have a TV for us to watch?" whined Canada Dave. "I told the bosses, 'No wi-fi, no teaching."
     During our meeting, Canada Dave did all the talking. He seemed like a person who sought to take from every relationship, but never gave. Mostly, he talked about finding some women. "Yeah, he's pretty horny," our leader The Goke would say about him, with a laugh. Walker thought he was a serious safety threat to our students. He wanted to hang out with Walker and me the following day, when some female students were supposed to visit us.
     That night, Walker and I both had nightmares.
     I go into my apartment's living room, in my first dream. I notice that, along one wall, all the antique furniture and fancy chairs and couches are gone. The only thing there now is a TV.
     In my second dream, I'm at a work meeting held for Canada Dave's arrival. It finishes after noon, and I rush outside to make sure I don't miss my friends who are supposed to visit. Standing in front of the door is Selime, a tall white-skinned girl with brown hair but a redhead's attitude. She's holding a broom. She doesn't see me. She goes into my building.
     I follow her inside. But, I can't find her. I look for an elevator. It takes me a long time, but I finally find one. I go up towards my floor, but the elevator doesn't stop. It keeps going, and it becomes smaller, and very hot. I can't get out. I'm trapped.
     Walker believed some people had bad spirits following them. Was Canada Dave going to ruin my going-away party?
     "I only care about three things:," he said, "bodybuilding, drinking, and women." He was built like Santa Claus.
     Walker led him to our language institute in the morning. As they were getting out of the building's elevator, Canada Dave stepped in front of Walker to exit while simultaneous saying, "No ... after you."
     On the street, he took long stares at passing women. He passed a girl covered, except for her eyes, in black; she begged every day with her small child. "Wow!" he said. "Did you see that girl in the niqab? She was beeeautiful!"
     Walker asked him, "So, do you like teaching?"
     "Yeah ... no ... well, yeah, I kind of like it, because I can't get any other job."
     "Why'd you come to Erzurum?" Walker was puzzled as to why he'd chosen such a conservative city.
     "'Cause no one else will hire me!"
     In the past, he'd been an accountant in Iran, and then he moved to Canada; now, he bounced around the Middle East as an English teacher. Walker thought he was a horrible soul, a danger to people near him. On the bright side, Walker said, "He's no Stalin. He's no Pol Pot!"
     I thought he was one of the dumbest people I'd ever met, and felt sorry for him. I sympathized with his desire to have a girlfriend. And I felt sorry for anyone in his forties who was still bouncing around, without a home. I hoped I wasn't going to be like that.
     Nevertheless, I "accidentally" tripped over my apartment's internet cable, severing it from the wall and disenabling it. Oops.
     The next morning, Canada Dave was gone. Vanished.
     "He told the bosses his daughter got diagnosed with cancer," Walker informed me. "... one day after I heard him telling the whole office he had no children!" At least, he'd brought The Goke a box of chocolates before leaving.
     Hooray! Walker and I danced in celebration. Now, the only thing we needed to prepare for the party was to find a broom somewhere ...
     The party was saved!

Two dozen students and teachers braved temperatures of -27 Celsius (-17 Fahrenheit) to come to our party. When Esra - a small, adorable girl with soft black hair - arrived, her pale cheeks were so cold they were hot pink. I felt bad for this sweet girl, whose hands were as cold as snowballs.
     Walker entertained us with magic tricks. Before he could finish his trick, though, the student who called himself "Turkish Einstein" grabbed Walker's cards, threw them on the table, and yelled, "Physics!" This rough, bearded fellow saw physics everywhere. He was probably thinking in physics while he wrestled me and Walker.
     He also told us we should punch the girls who lived below us.
     We'd rung their doorbell earlier, in an attempt to invite them to our party. But, when they opened the door and saw Walker and me, they screamed and closed it again. I recognized they hadn't been wearing their head-scarves and probably felt embarrassed. They, with their head-scarves on, opened the door again. But, we were so bad at communicating that they thought we'd come by to complain about them laughing and singing the Koran every night.
     They must've been surprised, then, to hear loud music and the steps of "halay" dancers over their heads that evening. Our smily gentleman of a student, Furkan, led some people around a circle in a very fast "halay". Furkan, a professional, crossed his feet as he stepped, and leapt into the air. Dancing with him was tiring!
     "Turkish Einstein" suddenly picked up one of the Eastern carpets. It wasn't supposed to be stepped on, he communicated, as he carried it to safety. I understood it wasn't a carpet, but a prayer mat.
     He danced a dance in which he held his arms out, at shoulder level. He shook his chest and shoulders.
     Walker stood across from him, stomping around to the music. As they came close to one another, Walker kept trying to take Einstein's hands and make this a couples dance. Turkish Einstein kept having to shake him off, while continuing his serious dance. Everyone laughed at this.
     And that was my going-away party.

I taught one more week for The Goke, to make my stay in Erzurum total a month and a half.
     The Super-Babes teamed up with Gulistan and her class ("The Gulies") to throw me a surprise party at our school. They gave me a great gift: a "Duman" t-shirt, showing Turkey's famous rock band. Gulistan, with her hair and shoulders covered in sky-blue fabric, wrote a message in the cold moisture clouding our window: JUSTIN GOOD-BY, GULE GULE. "Gule gule" (pronounced: "goo-leh goo-leh") was the Turkish good-bye said when someone was leaving you.
     And I received other great gifts.
     Seyma - a tall girl with great taste in movies, and books by Turkey's Orhan Pamouk - gave me a scorpion bracelet because we were both Scorpios. A religious girl gave me a copy of Islam's second-most important book, the Hadith.
     I received a "Fenerbahce" (a Turkish soccer team) pendant from Australian Chris; a leather coat and winter clothes, which the other teachers had found in their apartment; a scarf from the language institute for "Teacher's Day"; and an Islamic rosary, from my third boss Erdem.
     A few good-byes were emotional.
     I had been teaching one class of children, and we got along well. I'd made them draw and write about countries from my travels. They were so cute when they read their booklets aloud: "This is a kangaroo. This is a koala. Australia is very hot. I want to go to the beach." Before leaving, I wrote personal messages and signed their notebooks. Six-year-old Ece was absent this day, and she cried inconsolably.
     The Goke gave me many nice complements before I left. Maybe he gave the same complements to everyone? He was a pretty smooth talker. I was going to miss him!
     And it made me sad to say "bye" to the student, Pinar. She was gentle like a bird, and it seemed everything she said came straight from her soul. She was strong and growing stronger every day. I hoped she'd achieve all of her dreams. I was pretty sure she would.

     On one of my last nights in town, I joined Walker, and David from San Francisco, in going to "Erzurum Evleri" (Erzurum Houses). The old, small homes of Erzurum and the cobblestone street they lied on had all been connected under one roof to make a restaurant. The restaurant was decorated with interesting artefacts, like keys and old coins and Baris Mancho records and fox skins and stuffed ducks and carpets and mannequins in old Turkish clothes and old lanterns for lights.
     Inside a stone fireplace, we sat and ate.
     I told David about a class of mine that was like heaven to teach, whom I'd nicknamed "Dream Class". I also loved the students in a class of David's, whom I called, "Dream Class 2".
     David surprised me by saying "Dream Class 2" was also his Dream Class 2. His "Dream Class 1" included three forty-year-old women who were art teachers. They made fun of David's drawings on the board. And, while having a snowball fight during a class break, one of the art teachers had hit him in the head from sixty feet away.
     Just then, the restaurant's short old doorman walked by. He wore an Ottoman outfit consisting of navy suspenders, and an upside-down bucket on his head. When I'd asked him, "Nasil sen?" (How are you?), he pounded his heart with his fist to say he was well, and he and I engaged in a funny competition to see who could pound his chest hardest. Now, he passed us and smiled.
     Walker summed up our experiences in Erzurum best, when he said:
     "Turkey's a dream class."

"Hosca kal, Erzurum!"
(Stay well, Erzurum!)
the Modern Oddyseus

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