First Time

Holiday culture piece - With no prior knowledge of Turkey, equipped only with two pages of Turkish language and gestures, and our bellies full of anticipation, me and my...
With no prior knowledge of Turkey, equipped only with two pages of Turkish language and gestures, and our bellies full of anticipation, me and my family booked a last minute holiday flight to Bodrum. We are neither racist nor antiracist, nor are we religious. I am 38 slightly disabled, and a decided bohemian agnostic, but with a lust for life and good food, and the wholehearted belief that variety is the very spice of life. And, without fear, but with some of the usual gripes and groans, I look forward to approaching middle age. I have a beautiful Latino wife of around the same age. My daughter is 13, blonde, pretty, and intelligent. Her two handsome brothers 8, and 11 run on Duracell.

The pirate ship Taliban had to be a joke, though no...not if some facts were known. But at least we can still laugh. Tired we allowed ourselves to be taken to the hotel Turhian to see our temporary accommodation. The Brighton of Turkey was what it was. Peaches on the beach, but not a hijab or a burka in sight. Saved from drowning by the pirate ship, was a good description of what happened shortly after we'd landed and passed through the military style customs only to be relocated in another three star hotel over the hill from our Bodrum destination,. All five of us lighter by of ten pounds cash, newborn babies included, taken when we produced our passports. But we had been warned. Seated in the hotels dining area, you could imagine being on deck as you gazed starboard over the low white wash wall with its colorful hand painted murals and the single blue eyes dotted here and there, and then out across the bay where colorful sail boards weaved skillfully among the masts of yachts. The hills in the backdrop, and the windmill ruins at their summit, which would illuminate like lanterns from the spotlight glare. But that was in the evening when I'd had three bottles of Efes and half a bottle of their "Pink wine" as they so, so, liked to tell your pretty lady as they stare into her eyes. Mm, I thought, so this was contemporary life in the young summer of Turkey 2005. This was going to be interesting.

And well, you were told about these bad men weren't you ...?

Yes sir, the next morning by the kindly Irish holiday rep. Two days she promised, and things always cooled off...


And what about the legal age of consent?

Not until it was too late.

A holiday with a test, this was new. How was I to take it?

And anyway, here's the first guy as he appears, bearing an uncanny likeness to a younger Genghis Khan. Obviously well accustomed to another Brit family, in fact did he even barely acknowledge moi?

What did he say about her Spanish eyes, already? No, must be hearing things, must've been me, hey. Not trying it on already with yours truly, surely. Only been here five minutes, asleep on our feet.

Je me disais que ├ža n'avait pas d'importance...I tell myself in my head.

Not even his blatant ignorance toward me will faze me...Trying to wind me up...Oh, the excitement of the culture clash. Blood runs hotter through my veins.

And he's still here staring at her...

Ok, so I let him do it. He won't keep this, looking- at-her-not-at-me, thing up for long. Will he? I'm not feeling inadequate. Or am I? But why? Should I?

And if that hand gets any closer to my daughter, waiter, I thought preparing myself to grab his wrist. And so the new gestures of his hands I observe as they hover all around the shoulders of my family, in what appears to be an offer of massage. But looking for somewhere to land. Does he really see sister, like I try to do when looking at females of all generations? That sexless way. Hard for most hot blooded men, I know. But only in the next village live the more devout brothers of these men who have wives who cover themselves with their hijabs, away from the staring eyes of other men. Are not those men and women the mentors of my waiter?

Hands, like mine, that could save or kill, like mine. But a strange, dark foreign man to add to them too.

And already the dry heat is on all the time with the sunshine glaring down like a possessed demon, as I practice the strangest way of saying no to the amusement of my family.

Ah, he leaves us at last with a smile, and the order...and yes, there. He winked at her, caught him. Meant me to see it I reckon.

We'd flown five hours, me and my family were hungry and tired. We just wanted food before our rooms. I don't make a habit of upsetting people who cook my food behind closed doors. No more mosquitoes for the guests this morning waiter, please. If you know what I mean. Especially when abroad and unaccustomed to a new, and different culture. One with deep religious roots, which I hoped to gain some humanistic insight from. So my wife and I ate the freshly sliced plum tomatoes, juicy black olives, local Kurci cheese, freshly baked rolls, sweet red watermelon, and the coffee which I'd read so much about. More palatable than bitter espresso, and stronger too. The children, their palates unaccustomed to the new tastes, settled for buttered rolls and jam Later I'd planned to have pot kebab but forgot in the heat.

Next day things went from bad to worse. The waiters just kept getting friendlier with my wife and daughter of 13 who they seemed to convince themselves was above the age of consent. It seemed they liked my boys too, running and playing. It really was a struggle to hold on to rational thoughts in my attempt to relax. Just to clear my own mind from the muddiness born of jet lag. But over and over, I kept reminding myself: "A man' s a man for a' that," , as the poet Robert Burns once wrote. Soon it became my mantra as I bit my lip harder to remain on the surface which grew choppier. Though I came to realize that the crucifying my male ego made public, had been part of a bet, no doubt made by the backdoor of the kitchen where the waiters joked and wagered with each other. I caught them in a glimpse through the swing door before it shut, but not they me. I was done being firm, and I knew that somewhere I'd have to draw the line.

And it was drawn on my face, first as disbelief, when the waiter asked my blonde daughter on a date. Followed by rage, which I fought to control. No more could I like his motives to even, Jean Reno, the actor who played Leon, the professional hitman, and his relationship with Mathilda

So, without swearing, I got up and offered the instigator outside in no uncertain terms. It was either that, or I grabbed his windpipe while the other staffs were nowhere to be seen. And I would have done exactly that, had it not been for the fear of my wife and three children.

I walked through the exit archway backwards watching and waiting for him to follow. But he was gone on his way to another table, shocked and ignoring me.

He never followed me...

Minutes later, away from the source, within a self requested, but mosquito infested chill room. I viewed my mixed feelings of anger and relief. Centering my largely sober self, whilst seated cross-legged upon the bed. 'Be diplomatic,' my kindly advisor whispered, like a waterfall cooling my anger. 'Be prepared to fight for your life,' his counterpart added, as I kept one eye on the window overlooking the white washed stairs from where they'd appear. But no one did until my wife and children appeared again. Well at least I got the power to sack him through the rep. But using what I believed to be my discretion I let him stay and bear me and my family the apology. Deciding the bigger money was on me slapping him one and getting myself thrown in jail. Yes, I can laugh about it now as I imagine telling the homo gang I've got AIDS virus. A lie of course, just to save my only remaining virginity. Great solution. Or at least so I thought, until the prison lag a gypsy who resembled a bull with no neck was glad to hear I had it too. And maybe In his mind: all his freaky genetic bulk and muscles about to waste happily with a fellow carrier away from his little island home called England.. I see it like a film as he tells his four Muslim buddies to pin me down for the big strike. Overkill: Gypsy's infected blood sample syringe, stolen from the roach infested hospital wing. Final buttock puncture scene. And... cut for a cup of Turkish coffee. Holiday from hell eat your heart out. Hard, in fact to believe we were actually on holiday. So there you have it, Contemporary life in Gumbet. A holiday spoilt, but was it not for the sheer picturesque beauty of the hills with their windmill ruins, and the fine, powder sand shores as we wandered through the orange and tangerine groves bordering the beach, did surely work their tranquil medicine on my tight wound mind, and I chilled under a sun which shone like a demon, while we strolled from stall to stall haggling, remarking on higher prices than we'd expected, and then wandered nearer the lapping sea to observe the crystal clear water pools, teaming with aquatic life there near the shore.

On a slightly lighter note, there was always charades down at reception. Useful when in need of toilet paper, as I observed one guest trying to obtain one morning on my way for a swim. Surely easier to learn a few basic words I thought as I watched another little play down at reception. The two Turks stood behind the desk watching. One wearing a sardonic grin, the other remaining stoic. But both of them watching him without a word. And after a good minute of watching him they put him out of his misery and tell him the word in Turkish. No doubt laughing with their mates later, at the back of the kitchen where they made little bets.

On the third morning after I'd offered the waiter out, I went for a run up that hillside, littered as it was by rocks and shingle. While I breathed in the crisp air and relished my endorphin high I studied the agreeable panorama, which rolled away down, and covered the opposite valley and saw in a moment the natural beauty of Bodrum view from the top of the hill.. Here was I stood on the summit divide, between commercial Gumbet and historical Bodrum. Admiring the marvelous castle built by the Knights of Rhodes. There in the surrounding community I guessed that most of the Muslim women wore their hijab with pride. So, having experienced the more than vivacious, friendly and bohemian atmosphere behind me, I was now invited to feast my eyes upon the olive covered hillsides as far as the eye could see. But on my return, after I'd shoulder pressed a bunch of workable rocks which I'd hoisted from , floor to lap, to chest, I was to find out that I was being watched by the group of Turks at the jet ski hire kiosk. They waved their binoculars as I jogged past on my warm down, "We saw you," one shouted accusingly as if waiting for an abusive answer. Though I was ready with my reply as I answered: "If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain," an unexpected response which seemed to quietly amuse them. But you can bet I was glad I'd taken proper care in replacing the rocks I'd disturbed, respectfully and gently back in their places. I laughed quietly to myself, imagining their cries of dismay as they'd watched me lift these rocks, their expressions of expectant terror, assuming I was an insane tourist on 'mission landslide'. Sighing with relieved hearts as I kept control with every rock until it touched home turf once again. Leaving things the way they were. Otherwise I might have been dragged through the town admiring the, traditional white houses, with colorful bougainvilleas dotted all about, squinting through a grimace of red pain. And then on into the night I imagined, as I peer through my one good, but slightly swollen eye, at the gleaming night lights, through the iron bars of the mountainside jail in which they might have locked me and my family. But I snap out of it and return to reality. Looking forward instead to spend an exciting night of fun as we walk by numerous discos and bars throbbing beside the picturesque richness, of poor, native Gumbet bay.

For the rest of the holiday they were fine with us, even a wine contribution, by apology of the manager, a man who'd wrote: "Drink, eat, dance, sing, enjoy, live long," as the dictum beneath the hotel's name. A man whose facial features reminded me of the fictional tank driver, created for an arcade screen game I'd once played. Such was my anger to make me think of these TV battle games that man sometimes loves to play to feed his native imagination. A fictional character, but much less fleshy than the manager. His war machine incorporated a dinner plate satellite dish which would sink into its recess under enemy fire and then reappear to search for the satellites. One curved ice plough jutting from its front. And the words daubed in red over its sharper face read: "Welcome your peace!" The Islamic tank driver driving like a maniac on his destruction derby, as he recited words from the Koran. But whether it was the sacred one or not, I guess I'll never know though it was just an arcade game. And just being an Islamic extremist for a few adrenalin pumped minutes bought me escapism at fifty pence.

On the final day of our week holiday, the bay was choppy, the angry cumulus clouds which raced across the sky, blown by the ebbing gale did not look good for the morning of the boat trip. But they cleared within the hour without a trace as we set out on our voyage of mythological wonder, without the voice of a guide nor a written pamphlet. Diving from the Aussie boat called 'Mysheila' into the crystal clear water of the crystal blue sea. I tried three times to touch the bottom, though I'd only just eaten and drank a glass of wine, must have been deep, despite being only a stones throw from camel island, our destination and fifteen minute stay. The Ausie captain seemed happily inclined not to introduce himself on his boat, "Mysheila" as I heard him confirm aloud to a tourist who pointed at her name written near the wheel, and then continued to talk in German. On top of the cabin the two topless Muslim girls from London lay next to us as bold as brass, turning over now and again. Everyone seemed to be deep in peaceful meditation, as the rhythmic pitching of the boat rolled in my stomach like a soothing lullaby, as if relaxing me after my night of near rage. And slowly, nearing the end of our holiday, and relaxing back at the Turhian things did not seem so Taliban. Maybe after all the beautiful new sights of our blue sea journey, the pirate ship had been better than drowning, but only just, as they happily returned our refunds, and carried our luggage to the bus. All of us, me included, speeding away from there, and traveling safely to port again. Me and my family with the rhythm of the boat haunting us in our bones. And not quite as suddenly, Genghis Kahn did not seem like the waiter and his friends anymore. He'd even told me in confidence that he was a bad Muslim, in his apology. To which I simply nodded. So this was the first time. Maybe I should have been a little firmer earlier on. But I relied to heavily on the promises of the Irish holiday rep. What promises, I wonder, will Turkey and the rest of Europe rely on with regards to cementing the EU? So much like the Christian club. At the moment the word sanction seems to me, like an open sore. But like deciding the future of the bad waiter, we all have power of choice.
Published: 10/31/2005
Bouquets and Brickbats