Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This is Still Turkey Baby!

Because this is Turkey and because Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I have accrued the karmic debt that we have, our internet signal has gone up in smoke. Yes, we woke up yesterday morning and poof! - our five days of blissful, unlimited and cheap internet was no more.

This is especially annoying because not spending every waking hour of our day and every single lira in our pockets at Starbucks had become a bit of a priority for us. And we were just getting used to checking our email and surfing the net in the comfort of our pyjamas. Starbucks frowns on that. We asked.

But alas, it is with a heavy heart and a Caffè Misto in hand and a free but inferior wifi signal that I admit that our having an internet signal was clearly not Allah's will. At first I thought Starbucks was conspiring against us in some way - surely they have lost a crapload of money since our internet was connected at home - but I realise now that it can only be Allah. Allah not at his most merciful. Or compassionate for that matter.

In truth, Allah and I got off to a very shaky start several years ago during our sojourn in Morocco. In fact, I wouldn't be exaggerating when I say that he and I didn't see eye to eye on
anything a number of issues. But since we've been in Turkey, I've felt that, although we still don't see eye to eye on anything a number of issues, we've reached a rapprochement of sorts. I would add that all advances in our relationship have pretty much been on my part. How, you ask?

Since I've been here, I haven't complained once at being woken up at 5 a.m. for the morning call to prayer. This may not seem like much but since I can seldom fall asleep once woken up, this truly is a phenomenal concession on my part. I have also stopped curbed making snarky comments about
niqab-ensconced Covered Women and only rarely occasionally call them crows. I have even gone so far as to admire the architecture of the mosques in my neighbourhood. And because Ramadan is still months away, I have been uninspired to bitch about sensitively silent on that topic.

But these great strides of mine have gotten me nowhere. Allah has taken away our internet signal and I don't know why. What more does he want? What must I do? And what do I have to do to get someone at Turk Telekom to answer their help line?

What do I have to do to get my internet back? - she screams types madly. And where is my freaking carrot cake?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This is Turkey Baby!

By way of recap, let me just say that Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I actually received our residency cards (apparently three time's the charm) and are now illegally working legally residing in The Land of the Turk. Huzzah! So to celebrate our status as illegal workers legal residents, we headed off to Turk Telekom to have a phone/internet line put into our place of legal residence.

Aside from the Byzantine paperwork - and we all now know that byzantine has become a byword for an inflexible and conservative bureaucracy - which included two separate application booklets not unlike Canadian tax return forms - except more complicated (the phone application not the tax returns) - the process wasn't too hellish. Of course, going with a bilingual colleague helped. And by helped, I mean that it would have been impossible otherwise.

We were ushered into the private basement office of the manager, and offered tea, snacks, a meal - and I think Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad may have been offered a young girl. Or boy. Who knows? We really just wanted an internet connection. We were told that our phone would be installed the very next day and that once it was installed, we should return to Turk Telekom to pick up our modem. Couldn't we take it now? we asked, eyeing the shelves of boxed modems two feet away from where we were sitting. No, it's not done that way, we were told. Of course not.

With promises of a next day installation, we nonetheless left Turk Telekom with high spirits. Yes, we would have to cancel our trip to Istanbul scheduled for the following day, but no matter: we would have internet the very next day. Our absence - albeit impending, we giggled, from Starbucks & its free wifi will probably bankrupt the Izmit branch.

It is probably completely unnecessary to say that the Turk Telekom man did not show up the following day. Nor the day after that.

But he did arrive on Monday. With tools. And with those tools and his uncanny telephonic intuition, he was able to find the phone line - we couldn't find any jacks ourselves - and tinkered and pottered a bit and voilà! - we were connected. And what did our connected, usable phone line look like? See the photo, above left. Yes, that little bifurcated snake-tongue of a wire is our working telephone line. What the fuck were we supposed to do with that?

The following day - also known as yesterday - we went back to Turk Tele
kom to pick up our modem. Huzzah! It was waiting for us on that shelf we had eyed so greedily the previous week. We hurried home and unwrapped it. Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad then scurried to the dollar store on our street (there are, in fact five and they are known as Japanese Bazaars - or Japon Pashar's) and bought a wall jack in the hopes of being able to jerry-rig something.

But it was not to be. There were too many wires, or not enough - I have no clue. Instead we called our Turkish-speaking colleague to ask what we were to do with the little bifurcated snake-tongue of a wire sticking out of our wall. There's a little bifurcated snake-tongue of a wire sticking out of our wall! we wailed. To which she responded, Of course there is. This is Turkey, baby!

She sent her
Civil Engineer Boyfriend over with lots of terribly serious-looking tools and he fiddled about and managed to connect our little bifurcated snake-tongue of a wire to the modem. This man - deemed qualified by the Government of Turkey to build bridges - hooked up our modem to the telephone line thusly - see photo, below right. To be fair, I suppose, he is a civil engineer rather than an electrical engineer.

We tested the modem and
voilà! - all the little lights flickered. But no! - where was the internet connection? Where's the fucking internet connection?!! I screamed. The Civil Engineer Boyfriend - by this point possibly frightened of me - duly called Turk Telekom and inquired as to our internet status, or rather, lack thereof.

Ahhh ... it seems that it takes three days for Turk Telekom to turn on the internet once its been hooked up. Three days. Which probably means five. Or October. So it's back to Starbucks.

And why three days (Or five. Or October)? you ask. Because this is Turkey, baby.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Kahve, Cole & Karma

It's not that I don't like Nat King Cole - because I do. I really do. It's just that it's April 17th and it's sunny outside and it's 20° C and it's Turkey ... and well, listening to Caroling and Caroling, which Starbucks is currently regaling us with, is a tad disconcerting.

I can only imagine that this is some sort of penance - karma maybe - I have to pay for drinking a filter coffee in Starbucks, whereas I could - or rather, should - be sipping a kahve, an authentic Turkish coffee in an authentic Turkish café in Turkey.

Oh goodie: now it's Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

But the free-wifi-seeking whore that I am, I come regularly to Starbucks to plug in my computer and download. And, of course, blog.

And now it's Do You Hear What I Hear?

And besides, the last time I did have a kahve, an authentic Turkish coffee in an authentic Turkish café in Turkey, I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed until 4 in the morning.

Ahhhhh ... Bing Crosby.

Shoot me now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Byzantine Bywords: Part the First

Turkey - or perhaps more accurately Istanbul - has generously given us the word byzantine which has become a byword for an inflexible and conservative bureaucracy. They gave us baklava too, but that's not really relevant. Now I'd like to be able to say that the more I've travelled, the more tolerant and patient I've become - at least when it comes to lines, red tape, and Power-Wielding Pinheads behind counters. And yet, I haven't. (I probably didn't actually have to say that.)

Last week, we began the process to acquire residency permits and what fun it's been! And it's not just fun because bureaucracy is - well - byzantine here (which it is) but because Mr. Cat's (Not) Abroad and I - as well as half a dozen of our colleagues - are breaking the law when we show up to work on any given day. It seems that when the Turkish government added the "employment prohibited" proviso to our tourist visas, they really meant it. But Our Place of Gainful Employment has chosen to turn a blind eye to that little addendum because if they sought work visas for us, they would have to pay tax on our behalf.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last week, we began the process to acquire residency permits and what fun it's been! But it seems that the Police have begun to notice that, over the past few months, a stream of English-speaking 'tourists' have requested residency permits in Izmit. Izmit: a town with zero tourist appeal and which every guidebook - with good reason - neglects to mention. All of our colleagues have shown up at the Police Station with identical paperwork and with Office Boy, our hapless navigator through the turbulent seas of Turkish cell phone acquisition. And for the most part, our colleagues have all used the same address on their paperwork: the shared teachers' accommodation Out In The Middle of Nowhere.

The Police are not stupid. I know we'd all like to think they are, but they are not. They know that Our Place of Gainful Employment is sending us to get residency visas and employing us illegally.

Last week, Office Boy took a colleague to get his residency visa and who was given the third degree over his reasons for applying for an extended stay, but who ultimately received his visa. Slow on the uptake, Our Place of Gainful Employment has finally seen the folly of sending Office Boy - who is clearly known to the police as an employee of Our Place of Gainful Employment - with each and every one of our colleagues to the Police Station, and so although Office Boy will take us there, he will wait outside while we fathom the waters of Turkish bureaucracy ourselves, without benefit of a translator.

We all cram into a
dolmuş - a veritable stuffed grape leaf on wheels - and set off for our 45 minute bus ride to Another Place in the Middle of Nowhere. Advised that he cannot go into the police station lest he be recognized, Office boy sits out front in full view of the surveillance cameras. In fact, as we pass through the security desk, we can see him smoking his cigarette on monitor number three.

We make our way through the complex to the police station - Office Boy has drawn us a map which makes me question my students' claims that the Ottoman empire produced the world's best map makers - until we find the passport office. Huzzah! - the Power-Wielding Pinhead behind the desk speaks a bit of English and is quite pleasant. I make a mental note not to call him a Power-Wielding Pinhead anymore.

Naturally the Pleasant Police Officer recognizes the paperwork that Our Place of Gainful Employment has prepared for us because it is identical to the forms submitted by all of our colleagues over the past few months - as well as the previous week. He asks us if we work
at Our Place of Gainful Employment, calling it by name. We shake our heads most vehemently. We aren't working, we assure him. We are tourists.

the Pleasant Police Officer asks us why we want to stay in Turkey longer than the three months allowed by our tourist visa. Turkey is such a beautiful and big country, we say. We wish to travel, the lies just keep tripping off our tongues. How long would you like? he asks. How long can we have? we smile. Ten months? he suggests. Nifty, we say. Ten months it is.

the Pleasant Police Officer asks us who our sponsor is. The easy answer, of course, is Our Place of Gainful Employment, which is employing us illegally and swindling the country out of thousands and thousands of lira. But we are quick on our feet - we know that such a response would not be prudent. We also know that Our Place of Gainful Employment hadn't foreseen this situation, else they would have sent someone with us as a sponsor. In spite of the fact that they have been in business for well over a decade, they clearly have no clue how residency visas are acquired. At least legally.

I pull out my cell phone and call our Turkish-speaking Supervisor
, apprise her of this wrinkle, and toss the phone to the Pleasant Police Officer. They chat. We learn that we must come back another day with Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor as she will be our sponsor. Before we leave, he tells us how much our 10-month visas will be, as well as the banking information so that the fee can be deposited in a timely manner.

We smile, wave goodbye, and rejoin Office Boy outside, who is on his 15th cigarette. We walk back to the side of the highway and wait for a veritable stuffed grape leaf on wheels.

Time passes.

On Monday, Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor drives us to the Police Station out in Another Place in the Middle of Nowhere. She has with her the necessary paperwork which shows that she will be our sponsor as well as notarized copies of our applications. Huzzah! - the Pleasant Police Officer is on duty! We smile and say hello. He smiles and says hello. But there are a few problems, not least of which is that our paperwork indicates that Mr. Cat's (Not) Abroad and I are not married and that we are both Christian. We are neither single nor Christian but we must now sign a government document attesting to this. The liberties taken by Our Place of Gainful Employment in filling out our paperwork irritates me in no little way.

But this is not the problem.

It would seem that
Our Place of Gainful Employment has neglected to include Mr. Cat's (Not) Abroad surname - i.e., Abroad - on the necessary forms.

It would seem that we cannot have a 10-month visa because although Turkey is indeed big and beautiful, tourists don't really require that much time to enjoy the wonder that is Turkey. We can apply for a 6-month visa. He denies that he ever suggested such an animal as a 10-month tourist visa. I am disappointed in the Pleasant Policeman for this blatant lie. Consequently,
Our Place of Gainful Employment, thinking that we had been pre-approved for 10-month visas, has paid the incorrect fee.

It would also seem that our paperwork has been dated incorrectly.

Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor must go to a bank and revise the payment for our fee. We sit and wait.

Forty-five minutes later,
Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor returns. The Pleasant Policeman takes the revised bank receipt and then looks at our bank books - Our Place of Gainful Employment has kindly opened fly-by-night bank accounts in our names and deposited a certain amount of cash into each to ensure that our visas be approved - and asks why we all have the exact same balance in our accounts. And why our accounts are in Istanbul when we are living in Izmit.

Pleasant Police Officer then calls his supervisor, the Angry Police Officer, into the room. Surprise! - she is an acquaintance of Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor's family. The Angry Police Officer knows who we are. And when I say knows who we are, I mean that she knows that we are associated in some way with Our Place of Gainful Employment. Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor swears that she is only our friend and not our supervisor.

The Angry Police Officer
is angry. She raises her voice. She spurts out something in Turkish to Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor that is no way indicative of her status of 'family acquaintance'. She then turns to us and says, you don't work. You work and you deport. The English teacher in me is tempted to correct her grammar but I am quick on my feet and decide that such a response isn't prudent.

We assure her that we are tourists. I don't bother with the
Turkey is such a beautiful and big country. We wish to travel spiel. The police are not stupid.

The Angry Police Officer stomps out of the room and
The Pleasant Police Officer takes our paperwork and collates and stamps and staples this and that, and hands us receipts. He then tells Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor that she must return before our visas can be processed with the revised forms with the correct date, and a revised notarized application form with Mr. Cat's (Not) Abroad's surname, i.e., Abroad.

We smile, wave goodbye, and leave. We return today to pick up our visas. Our 'Friend' and Not Our Supervisor has no desire to return to the Police Station and will send us with Office Boy. This being Turkey, a country which generously gave us the word byzantine - a byword for an inflexible and conservative bureaucracy - we don't know what to expect. That's not entirely true: we do expect that we'll be able to watch Office Boy - who is clearly known to the police as an employee of Our Place of Gainful Employment - on security monitor number three, smoking his cigarettes. And that our visas will not have been processed.