There are many, many things about living here that are inconvenient, frustrating, irritating, and/or nerve-wracking. There are really no hard and fast traffic rules, public services are often unreliable, construction and environmental standards frequently disregarded, and urban planning seemingly nonexistent. (Turkish language fun fact for the day — according to the U.S. ambassador to Turkey’s Turkish language instructor, there is no term for “civil engineering” in Turkish.) It’s easy to get hung up on the things that can make life here more frustrating and less convenient than what I remember or imagine life to be like back home, and I’m often guilty of complaining about those things, while taking the benefits of living here for granted. So as part of a general effort to be more positive, I figured I would write a post on one of the things I really do love about living in Turkey — the level of solicitude the Turks typically demonstrate to small children.
When we flew to Istanbul in December, for instance, Danny and I were negotiating the (rather large and somewhat disorganized) Istanbul airport with two rolling carry-on suitcases, a stroller, a backpack, and a toddler. On the bus from the plane to the terminal, not only did several men offer me (the one who was carrying said toddler) their seats, but one of the men from our flight insisted on carrying my suitcase and the stroller off the bus and into the terminal. Contrast this with one of my Stateside airport experiences…I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and travelling alone to see my parents, bringing with me a very large suitcase. When the time came to board the bus for the airport, not only did no one offer to help me get the suitcase onto the bus (not even the driver!), I had to lift the (large and heavy!) suitcase into the luggage racks on the side of the bus by myself. There were literally men and women standing around trying not to make eye contact with me as I struggled to get the stupid bag onto the bus, I kid you not.
During our January trip to Istanbul, Danny and Stephen and I went to see the fabulous Iran exhibit at the Topkapi Palace museum (this exhibit was, in fact, the impetus for the trip). Trying to be prepared parents, we had packed a variety of snacks to keep Stephen happy while Danny and I enjoyed the exhibit, including saltines, nuts, Cheerios, raisins, and pine nuts. Being a typical toddler, at least 1/3 of whatever I gave him to eat ended up in his stroller or on the floor of the museum. We were a little concerned that the museum employees would be upset about the mess he was making, so we asked one of them if it was okay for us to be feeding him in the museum, and they immediately exclaimed, “of course, he’s a baby!” while staring at us like we were crazy to even ask.
Finally, I love how wherever we go Stephen ends up getting special attention and little treats. He and I went for a walk this week to pick up some tomatoes from the greengrocer in our neighborhood, and while the grocer was bagging up my tomatoes, he asked me what Stephen liked to eat. I misunderstood him, thinking he was asking whether Stephen liked tomatoes, and indicated that he did, but the man very politely repeated his question, adding, “does he like pineapple? Grapes?” At that point I finally understood the gist of his question and told him that Stephen loved all fruit but especially bananas. The grocer immediately rushed over to the display of bananas and picked one out for Stephen to eat while I finished shopping. This scene is repeated pretty much every time we’re in the market, the grocery store, a restaurant, even the butcher keeps little candies and toys that he gives to Stephen when we come in to get meat. I think the weirdest example was when a guy at the outdoor market offered a raw fresh anchovy to Stephen when he was 9 or 10 months old…we’re still trying to figure that one out. When we got out to eat, one or more of the waiters will usually entertain Stephen for at least part of our meal. When he was younger, they would pick him up and walk him around the restaurant (keeping him within our line of sight the whole time), and now that he’s older they’ll play peek-a-boo with him or offer to monitor him closely as he wanders among the tables.