Granted, I’m naive, but I haven’t been pickpocketed. I haven’t been held up, even walking down dark streets. No, but it’s only because the real danger in Istanbul lurks in ranks of the shoeshine men.
One investment I made before my trip was a new pair of walking shoes. This being my 5th trip to Istanbul, I knew I needed sturdy walking shoes with plenty of spring. Here they are:
Running shoes, right, for the man who never runs, on principle. So how, you are asking, did I fall for the shoeshine trick?
Usually if a person needs help, I’m tempted to lend a hand. That was my downfall. The shoeshine man walking in front of me suddenly lost a brush. He was ten feet ahead of me on a not-so-crowded sidewalk. “Hey!” I shouted. That’s Turkish for “Hey!” (Advanced level stuff, you know.) The man turned, all gnarly-teeth showing in a big grateful smile. In one movement he was down on the ground with his portable shoeshine box. I’m thinking, running shoes? But I quickly understood he wanted to comp me a wash. My nice white shoes weren’t so white after 11 days hoofing it in soggy Istanbul.
So there I am, my right foot up on the pedal, and with my rude understanding of Turkish I pieced together the words “brother” and “hospital” and “America great country” etc. etc. Then he tapped my left foot, and by this time his friend had arrived – reinforcements I understood, in hindsight.
Unless you have a heart of stone, you can’t deny a man with a brother in the hospital fair compensation for a quick wash of your running shoes, don’t you agree? I was thinking, ok, two dollars, maybe three. When the tab came to nine dollars, my Turkish was challenged. I didn’t argue long. I forked over the money, realizing only then that the man probably had a button on the front of his box just to make the brush fall off.
Rain and wind don’t keep me from walking in this town. The very next day, I was walking near Taksim square, not far from my school. A shoeshine man happened to be walking in front of me. When the brush fell on the pavement in front of me I neatly sidestepped it and kept my eyes facing forward, the direction of the wise and experienced.
Ugly reality confirmed …
Zig-zagging through other pedestrians, I could hear the man’s plaintive voice receding into the background, talking about a brother, and a hospital.