Friday, February 27, 2009

Turkish Cells

... a very minor saga.

I suppose I should apologize for the title of this blog since, for most people, the words 'Turkish' and 'cells' conjure up images of nasty Turkish prisons. Alas, this blog has nothing to do with anything even smacking of Midnight Express (a much despised film in these here parts, not least of all because of its fake fictional rape scene).
What it does have to do with is telephones. Or more accurately, cell phones. And more precisely, our visit to Turkcell - Turkey's leading & Europe's 3rd largest mobile phone operator and all-round fun place to lose several hours of one's life.

Surely the picture of the chicken with the antennae on its head was your first clue.

And before I begin my tale of frustration, let me first say that thus far in my travels, I have had a contradictory - if not inimical - history of sorts with cell phones: in Morocco, buying a cell proved to be a Kafkaesque descent into Mobile Phone Hell; in Spain, a nice man met us at our hotel and delivered our prepaid sim cards to us; in Slovakia, we just walked into a store, waited a bit in line, and bought sim cards. Now where would Turkey figure in all of this?

Let me als
o add that in Turkey, after you purchase a sim card for your phone, you have to then register both it and your phone with the government The Powers That Be.

So, Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I, not having any credit left on any of our three sim cards (Morocco, Spain & Slovakia), really need Turkish sim cards. Our Place of Gainful Employment lends us the use of one of their administrative assistants who speaks marginally more English than I do Turkish to navigate the murky waters of cell phone acquisition. Our communication is limited to grunts and a lot of pointing. I work at an English school. Office Boy works at an English School. In all fairness, my expectations were too high: when I asked him (three times) what his position was, he told me 'office boy'. I didn't know that 30-year old men could still be office boys.

And because this is Turkey - or anywhere in Europe or Africa or Asia - there is a mobile phone dealer every 16 metres on any given street in any given city or fly-blown village.
In truth, Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I hope to save enough money so that some day, we can open our own cell phone store, say, in Berkina Faso or Belarus. We'll be so rich!

Unfortunately, I have forgotten my cell phone - so I cannot buy a sim card or register both it and my phone with
the government The Powers That Be - but nonetheless, we set out with Office Boy to the nearest cell phone store. No that's not true - we pass about 6 competitors until we reach the first Turkcell shop. Apparently the decision has been already made for us: we are getting Turkcell sim cards. I'm fairly ambivalent about it (although it would've been nice to have been asked) but I cannot for the life of me figure out what its mascot is. Is it a cricket? An ant? A space alien? (Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad thinks its an aardvark, which means that someone's getting a Mattel Barnyard Animals See n' Say for Christmas this year). I prefer their other mascot, the chicken with antennae - although why they didn't choose a turkey boggles the mind. (Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad thinks it is a turkey. See what I mean?)

We pop in and are told that we cannot buy sim cards at the Cell Phone/Sim Card shop. At least that's what we think because Office Boy grunts, shakes his head apologetically to us, and walks out of the store. We follow. About half a block later (= 4 competitors), we enter another Turkcell. The saleswoman here knows a fraction more English than Office Boy and in no time we leave with a sim card for
Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's cell phone. His phone will be activated and ready to use in 24 hours - and it is. Huzzah! But as we leave the shop, in the time that it takes to pass 2 competitors, I pose the question: at which point was Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's phone and sim card registered with the government The Powers That Be? The answer: at no point.

We express our concerns to our Place of Gainful Employment (we are unable to express anything to Office Boy) who advises us that Office Boy has been derelict in his duties. No shit. So the next day we return, two phones and one rogue and probably contraband sim card in tow to the same store. (The second same store.)

This time, there is no Helpful Saleswoman but a Nice Man whom Office Boy greets and to whom he explains our situation. Still a little weak on the vagaries and intricacies of Turkish, I believe that the Nice Man is telling Office Boy that this should have been done yesterday and that we had no business leaving the shop until
Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's phone and sim had been registered with the government The Powers That Be. He is quite insistent on this (or some other) point.

Office Boy looks downcast.

The Nice Man calls over a salesman who speaks very good English and he gladly takes upon himself the mantle of Assistant to the Idiot-Foreigners. Huzzah! Office Boy, although possibly nice (we have no clue) has been less than stellar so far and spends most of his time with us feverishly sucking on cigarettes, so we are happy to throw him under the bus. Metaphorically. The Nice Man deals with us directly and translates everything into Turkish for the benefit of Office Boy. We buy my sim card, stand in line, and pay for it. Then the Nice Man calls over to Office Boy, explaining (we think), that we need to now join another line (in the same store) to register our phones and sim cards.

Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad joins the queue, the Nice Man offers to activate my cell phone in order to complete the registration. Huzzah! - no 24-hour wait for me! But no! - my cell phone is locked! I confess that in a fit of childish, adolescent, puerile frustration with my cell phone, whose battery was beginning to die a horrible death, I had thrown the phone in the garbage a week ago. It is unlikely I can still retrieve it as this happened in Italy and because the garbage bins at the Shelter for Wayward & Unemployed English Teachers were guarded by two large and particularly fierce geese. One of our Life Counsellors at the Shelter for Wayward & Unemployed English Teachers took more pity on me and gave me her cell phone. Purchased in Spain, it was - unbeknownst to me - still locked by her cell phone provider. Mine - i.e., the one in the geese-guarded garbage bin - had been unlocked in Morocco for just this very occasion. Colour me stupid.

"Your phone is locked," says the Nice Man. "But since this is Turkey, we have solutions for everything." And he advises me to complete the registration process and then pay a visit to my current unlocked pity-phone's dealership. Or more accurately, any Nokia store.

Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's line moves slowly. The girl behind the desk, sensing that she isn't being paid by the client, is typing with the efficiency of a sting ray - or something else without hands (be imaginative). Finally we make our way to the girl who in as lackadaisical a manner as possible and while conducting separate conversations with 2 people, photocopies our passports including our Slovak residence visas (?), types in a whole bunch of shit into her computer, prints unknowable forms in Turkish (which we duly sign) - all very slowly - and says something equally unknowable to us but points to the cash register. We rejoin that line, eventually procure receipts, and hand them to the girl behind the desk. She says (we think) 'goodbye'.

As we leave, Office Boy begins to shepherd us towards the other phone dealership to unlock my phone but
Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad tries to explain that this step is not necessary. Office Boy is confused, not because he doesn't understand why Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad should say such a thing - for this would contradict what the Nice Man had translated to him in Turkish - but because he has no idea what Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad has just said.

That night
Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad unlocks my phone with a spiffy little google search.

So now we are the proud owners of two legal, properly registered sim cards and cell phones. The fact that our phones required registration by
the government The Powers That Be irks me a bit (Not the government! Our Place of Gainful Employment assured us. But if not the government, then who?). But at least it's given me a taste of what fun it'll be to apply for our residency papers. I have a sinking feeling that Slovakia's red tape follies will have been a cake walk compared to Turkish bureaucracy. After all, Byzantium or Constantinople (or Turkey for that matter) didn't give the world the word 'byzantine' for nothing.

Maybe the Midnight Express analogy wasn't too far off the mark.


Cath said...

The mascot looks like Jiminy Cricket mated with a snail.

This Cat's Abroad said...

Excellent! No Barnyard Anımal Mattel See N Say for you!

Snowflake said...

That's the cutest chicken I've seen in a while! And I agree with Cath, Jiminy Cricket mated with a snail....

This Cat's Abroad said...

I've seen stuffed Turkcell chickens - i.e., plush ones - around the city. Can't seem to find one on any of the Turkcell outlets. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I've wanted one of those mascots for 10 years, during which time I've made five trips to Turkey, and have never been able to get one.

Next time I go, I'm thinking "smash and grab."