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.
A resident of Switzerland, Fred has worked as a teacher, language school manager and school owner. He has three boys and two cats and recently had to learn how to operate both washing machine and dryer. He makes frequent trips back to his native Chicago.
When not writing or doing the washing, Fred can be found walking along the banks of the Rhine River, sitting in a local cafe, or visiting all the local pubs in search of his lost umbrella.