Sitting in the dolmuş, I am occasionally accosted by both people I know and people I don’t. One of the downsides to living in a random city is that foreigners are few and far between, people tend to remember that token American the way one would expect any small-town American community to remember their token foreign exchange student, the town drunk, or the local millionaire. Its that person that everyone feels they know, without actually knowing anything about them. Being the outsider makes people feel you belong to them in some strange way. They bring you up at dinner parties to their friends, they smile knowingly at you on the street, or in Turkey they stare unabashedly at you.
The problem I have with all of this, is that I never know if I should know one of these people. I typically put on my iPod (thank the Lord for Steve Jobs and his team of wünderkinds, where would I be without my iPod?) and tune out the world around me. And, as much as I admire those who travel to new places and immerse themselves in the local culture, sometimes I need to be anywhere but on a dolmuş being stared at by an aging Turkish couple.
All this brings me to Sinan. I was sitting on the dolmuş looking out the window when suddenly, my arm was grabbed by a twenty-something man. This was surprising to me for several reasons, 1. Men do not touch women in Turkey, 2. I could understand what he was saying, and 3. He looked vaguely familiar. Sinan asked me in clear, concise English what I was doing that evening. This, again, is very suspicious. He clearly knew exactly who I was, but I was still baffled. I managed to both save face and weasel my way out of that evening’s engagement. But, much to my chagrin, he became a nearly daily character in my life in the weeks that followed.
I should add a personal note here. Some people are anal retentive, some people have social anxieties, and some people, like me, cannot remember names to save their lives. Regardless of the country, the situation or the importance of an individual, their name never seems to stick until I either hear and see it more than a dozen times (thank you Facebook!) or I have some little mind trick to remember their name. Maybe their name rhymes with their hometown, maybe they resemble a childhood friend, maybe a physical characteristic begins with the same letter as their name. Whatever the trick, its my only hope in remembering who they are. So, when I finally overheard that his name was Sinan, I lucked out.
Mimar Sinan is one of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest gifts to the world. The internationally renown architect created some of the most breathtaking structures still standing today. I have been enamored with his work since visiting the popular Çemberlitaş Hamamı back in 2008. Known simply as Mimar Sinan, or Architect Sinan, he is still one of Turkey’s most celebrated historical figures. And, since I live in Eastern Thrace, I am lucky enough to be only two hours from what he considered his crowning architectural achievement, Selimiye Cami. Selimiye is quite possibly the most beautiful mosque in existance, it incorporates elaborate designs, beautiful calligraphy, and a spacious open-floor plan. And, especially when one considers that this work was all designed and completed in the 16th century, there is an added sense of awe at the accomplishment of his vision.
So I had finally remembered his name, but I still had no idea who he was. Because my university has programs up through the doctorate level and since I interact extensively with members of administration and staff, there are a large number of clues that I cannot rely on to identify who a new or unfamiliar individual is. Age is far less of a factor than it has ever been before. A 30-something could be an instructor, a secretary, a janitor, or a student. There’s really no way of knowing for sure. And, being as young of an instructor as I am, I tend to err on the side of caution when interacting with new male acquaintances, just in case one of them happens to be one of my 450 students.
I spent two months trying to get to the root of the matter. And, since he had friended me and messaged me incessantly on Facebook, there was a real sense of urgency as to how to proceed. Finally, after weeks of research, I discovered he was indeed a student. Not my student. But, a student. And, because of the intense hierarchy of the Turkish professional system, I now knew I could rely on the superiority of my position to shame him out of my life. And, before you scoff at me for the use of the term shame, he knew these lines and ignored them, crossing endless barriers that he knew to be inappropriate.
Such is my life, the daily scramble to remember individuals when my brain is already scrambled eggs. I think I’ve become quite the sleuth however, looking to key social, economic and professional indicators to decipher who this new person is and whether I should know them. But, when all else fails, I simply introduce myself, turn on the charm, and hope for the best.