Oct. 19, 2014: Won't You Be My Neighbour?
In the last three weeks, we’ve gotten into a pleasant routine. We take to the stoop in the afternoons to drink coffee, and have the occasional cigarette (as is the style in the region). During our respite, we’ve gotten to know the neighbourhood better.
We live at the corner, looking towards a small, dead end street. Across the street is a high-end clothing store/cafe, and kitty-corner to that is what appears to be a derelict building. It only has one occupant, an unkempt-looking older man who spends his days smoking and trying to give tourists directions. Everyday, dozens of tourists try to walk up the dead end street in an attempt to get to Istiklal (the mainstreet).
The thing is, he only speaks about two words of English. He can say “go right.” Combined with gestures, it’s usually enough to convey to tourists that the way they want is back from whence they came, and right.
About half the time, they understand and adjust their route accordingly. Otherwise, they wave him off and walk up the dead end street before sheepishly turning around and coming back.
I’m not entirely sure when it started, but now Adam and I are helping direct tourists when we’re enjoying our afternoon coffee on the stoop. We wait until we're sure they're lost, and then ask "are you looking for Itiklal?" before giving them directions in English. So now it’s become a thing between us and the guy across the street. We recognise each-other and wave. We don’t know much Turkish and he doesn’t know much English, so that’s as much as we’ve ever interacted.
Until last night. We were out on the stoop late, maybe about 9:30pm, chatting and having a cigarette. The man across the street was inside his dark, street level dwelling with the door open. I looked over and he gestured while saying something in Turkish. I didn’t understand, but I smiled and waved anyway.
About half an hour later he walked out to us with something cupped in his hands. When he reached us he presented us with two turtle figures, made out of glued together shells. After a little initial confusion, he made it clear that he wanted us to have them. Adam stuttered out the only turkish word he knew, “teşekkür.” Our neighbour smiled wide, corrected Adam’s pronunciation, said “thank you” in broken English, and wandered back into his home.
I’ve been smiling ever since.