Tea for 1.3

After a great day at the Koç Technical Museum Ruskin, Oskar, Anton and I, with Neve in her sling, gathered at the gates with folded pushchair and bags ready to wait for a taxi. One stopped on the opposite side of the street and waited for us to manoeuvre over. As soon as we got in he began to tell me that he would have to go a longer route because there was a problem 'back there'. I didn't believe him but resigned myself to a few extra lira rather than get all the kids back out.  What would follow was every trick in the book to make as much money as possible from what should have been a 20 Turkish Lira fare. Ruskin noticed that the meter was rigged almost immediately so we started pointing at it and telling the driver that the price was rising too quickly. He told us it is because the taxi was going fast. I decided we should get out just as we entered the Beşiktaş-Kağıthane tunnel, it was not a good place to stop. We emerged only a couple of minutes from our destination. The meter read a whooping 34TL, but we were in time for the boat Ville was joining us on.

Pulling Anton's pushchair from the boot whilst baby-wearing Neve and shouting to Oskar and Anton to get on the kerb I handed Ruskin two 20s to pay with. Seconds later Ruskin showed me that one of the the notes had a (fresh) tear in it and told me the driver wouldn't accept it. Just as dodgy driver planned I then only had a 50, which I showed him and handed over. He handed me a 5 straight back and asked to be paid. I realised what he had done and just kept repeating that I had given him 50 already. He responded by shouting. I took a step back, put my money away and sent Ruskin to fetch Ville.

This all happened outside the beautiful Sebil cafe near to the Kabataş tram stop and across the street from the jetty our vapur departs from. We know the waiters from the cafe well and one of them came over to investigate the commotion. He told the taxi driver that he knows me because I have lived on the Islands for a few years. He gently asked him to back off. The driver questioned how he was supposed to know that I live here when my Turkish is so poor. Sometimes it is difficult to be at the stage of understanding a lot more than you can say! When I started waving to Ville he finally drove away. I had had 50TL taken from me for what should have been a fare under 20TL. Of course I should have written down his license plate or found some police to wave over. These things happen so fast especially when you have two children waiting on a busy street and Neve needing to be kept in constant motion lest she join the cacophony.

A couple of days ago I was on a boat to Bostancı to take my sister's family to the airport at the end of their two-and-a-half week stay. It was going to be a long day for them so when 3 year old Sonny asked for biscuits I took him to the counter to choose, and asked for three teas. I got out a 5 to pay with and was asked for 10. As this is way too much, I asked for a breakdown of the prices. The çaycı (tea man) didn't quite think fast enough and told me the three packets of biscuits were 2TL each, making the teas 1.3 (recurring!). I gave back the biscuits which I knew could be purchased for half a lira on arrival. Actually I sort of threw them back, impressing the kids.

In a way, what is surprising is that these two small events stand out, because life is a serious struggle for the majority of the population here. This was the first case of blatant thieving by a taxi driver I have experienced in a context where many drivers in Istanbul have families elsewhere, that they are working long hours to support. The tea man probably earns a bit over the current minimum salary in Turkey which is 739TL, or around £260 / $411, a month. His cheating of me was momentary, I would feel cheated if I had to live his life. It can be hard to navigate how important it is for me to challenge dishonesty in the light of this. There are people on our Island for whom vapur fares are a stretch, let alone the flights and school fees that make us 'poor'. They, like much of Turkey, live at the level where only bare necessities can be afforded. Some information from a few years ago showed that in Turkey 45 percent of household expenditures are spent on food, and the category of "other" (which contains almost all of what is not strictly necessary) represents only 16 percent, to be compared to the UK's 14 and 58 percent, respectively. The wealthiest 20 percent in Turkey have an income share as high as 47.7 percent.

There are some great side-effects from having too many workers scrabbling for survival (though I would rather administer a strong dose of social security and justice, and be done with the sickness). If you are feeling parched while driving in central Istanbul, look for the people weaving in-between the traffic with bottles of water to quench your thirst. Concerned that the drops of summer rain threaten frizz? You can be confident an umbrella seller will sprout before your eyes. Listen out and you will hear the artichoke heart man and the tap man shouting out their readiness to serve. There is also a real culture of generosity, papering the chasms left by a state that leaves too many unsupported. Yesterday (still waiting for DHL to bring our new bank cards from Finland) I went to a supermarket here on the Island and said to the owner Ekrem that I had no money and no card, the dialogue went like this: '-Ekrem, nakit yok, kart yok' '-Juuuliia, problem yok'. (Yes, my Turkish is that good!)

Here are some pictures of our visit to the Koç Teknik Müzesi before the exciting (for the kids at least!)  episode with the dodgy taxi driver. Shame I didn't get the camera out for a number plate capture!

Anton, Neve and Oskar with MS Fenerbahçe and submarine behind them.

Kontostroro, Koç Teknik Müzesi

Sailing on Haliç

Relaxing on the Golden Horn.

Ruskin and Neve on the Golden Horn.

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One thoughts on “Tea for 1.3

  1. It is amazing what ripples our actions make and how they can affect other people, I wonder what the taxidriver would be feeling now if he would realize that you are really one of him, struggling to survive in a often very hostile world, affronted, hurt , angered, frustrated and powerless by his actions.And still we [meaning Julia] the heros of dayly life struggle on, trying not to be part of the ripples of negativeness created by people who assume they have the right to treat us unfairly , assuming that our lives are easier than theirs.


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