Thursday, 20 September
The next morning when I woke up I went back out onto the square and saw Eren and Ozgur at the bufe. They invited me to join them for breakfast.
I learned a little bit more about them then. I learned that they were very close friends and figured they had been passing private jokes between themselves the night before and nothing more. Also, I learned that Eren owned the bakkal across the street in addition to the bufe. I realized that his darting eyes the night before had probably just been him watching his store, which had been open but unstaffed. There was nothing to worry about, these guys were fine. After breakfast I went back to the hotel to take a nap.
Greater Middle East Project
It had been about a month since my last haircut, so it was time for another one. I emerged from the hotel, strolling out onto the center square and into the barbershop.
When the barber finished my haircut I switched chairs and joined the other patrons for a cup of tea. As we talked over over our tea, a man walked into the shop. He took a chair to wait for his haircut, spotted me, and asked if I was aware of the Greater Middle East Project.
The Project was a popular conspiracy theory to the effect that Western Europe and the United States wanted to redraw the borders in the Middle East. Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, supposedly would be the emperor running an assortment of redrawn national entities which would include a smaller, carved up Turkey, a new state called Kurdistan, and other national entities, some of them loosely based on existing nations. Basically, the Project would reformat a large part of the world.
“Is this true or not?” he asked me.
His was a simple question, but my answer would not be. So I needed a few seconds to see if I could piece together a nuanced response in my Tarzan Turkish. I stalled for time.
“I don’t know. You tell me. What do you think?”
“I asked you first. Is it true or not?”
Man, I thought, I just wanted to come in here for a haircut, and then go back and take a nap. I didn’t come in here to talk politics. I usually tried to steer clear of political conversations anyway, especially when I was alone in Turkey.
He pressed, “Is it true or not?”
In my very bad Turkish I replied, “I understand what you are asking and I’m knowledgeable about the topic, but I can’t have the conversation you would like to have because my Turkish isn’t good enough.”
Usually that’s enough to end a conversation and for people to say Well, we would love to talk about this topic with this foreigner but since his Turkish isn’t good enough we will just have to stick with small talk. And then the conversation would end and we would talk about the weather.
But this guy would not back off. He was determined to talk about the Greater Middle East Project come hell or high water.
Finally he asked me rudely, “Does the Greater Middle East Project exist? Yes or no?”
I repeated, “My Turkish is not good enough for this conversation.”
But the more I said it the harder he pressed me for answers, even on other points that I cared even less about.
I swallowed my last drop of tea, then stood up and started walking toward the door shaking hands with everybody including the hostile questioner. I was so flustered, though, that I almost walked out without paying. But I remembered and stopped just as I began to step out the door. I looked over at the barber, tongue-tied. Now I couldn’t remember the Turkish for “How much?” a term I said dozens of times each day.
The barber looked at me and shrugged apologetically. He seemed to understand my frustration and how obnoxious his other customer was being. He said, “Don’t worry about it; it’s on the house.” So I left and went back out on the square.
Sipping Rotgut With Sef
I crossed the square to say hi to Ozgur and Eren. I was moving quickly from suspecting them to befriending both them and their buddies who hung around. They were a good group to know, because they had stores at the center of the village and they knew everyone. When Eren saw me he put down a container filled with bags of chips, smiled at me, and said, “Nice haircut.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I am going back to the hotel to take a nap now.”
Ozgur spoke up, “Come back this evening. We want you to meet The Mayor.”
“Well, actually, he’s not the real mayor. We just call him that. His nickname is Sef. He used to run the local bank branch, but now he’s retired.”
“Okay, sounds good to me. I’ll see you later this evening,” I said as I turned towards the hotel.
Toward the end of the afternoon when I woke up from my nap, I went back out onto the square and found Eren and Ozgur sitting out on the curb in front of one of their stores eating sandwiches with a couple of their friends.
They offered me a sandwich. I thanked them and took the sandwich and started eating it, letting the breadcrumbs spill on the ground around me. Ozgur got a broom and swept up the crumbs, telling me that spilling breadcrumbs was a sin. “Don’t do it,” he warned.
Then I noticed that they were not spilling their breadcrumbs, and I could not figure out how anyone could be so tidy when eating a sandwich made of crumbly bread. I certainly didn’t have those kinds of eating habits so apparently I was offending God by spilling my breadcrumbs.
As we stood on the curb eating our sandwiches, Ozgur piously cleaning up after me, Sef came by.
As it turned out, Sef was the village drunk. In his retirement he had taken to booze. Not just any booze, but a particular brand of rotgut.
Sef motioned me to follow him. So we walked into one of Eren’s stores where Sef bought a bottle of rotgut and picked up a couple of plastic cups. Then we crossed the street and carried a couple of chairs up a set of stairs onto a balcony overlooking the square.
We sat down and Sef poured a round of rotgut into our two plastic cups.
I’m not much of a drinker, and it was a horrible tasting rotgut. I took only enough of a sip to taste it on my lips. Sef, however, tipped his cup and slammed the rotgut back in two gulps. Then he set his cup on the ledge of the balcony and poured another.
I realized I would never keep up with Sef. He got drunker and drunker.
A group of pre-teen girls approached below the balcony, chatting and laughing together. Sef began making lewd gestures at them. I cringed as I sat in my chair not drinking the rotgut. Sef slammed back another cup and made more lewd gestures at them as they passed. Then more innocent Pre-teen girls started coming into the square and Sef made more incredibly lewd comments and gestures at them while slamming back more and more rotgut. I got a bad taste in my mouth, and it wasn’t due to the rotgut.
I got up to leave. This was not a good person to be with. I didn’t want to be associated with this guy at all. Then I began to realize I’d been had; Eren and Ozgur were playing a joke on me. I sat back down.
A group of also-drunk teenage boys came by. There is nothing more dangerous than a group of drunk teenage boys trying to prove to each other how tough they are. I must have been the greatest story in Cardak by then because they, like the man in the barbershop, started asking me about the Greater Middle East Project. They began speculating rowdily back and forth amongst themselves.
“He’s probably a CIA operative!”
“No, he’s a KGB officer!”
They agreed on Mossad, and from there on they referred to me as Mossad. In the spectrum of intelligence agencies, as I had been finding out in the past couple weeks, you start out as a CIA agent. Then, if you are a bad-ass you get promoted to KGB. If you are a real bad-ass you get promoted to being Mossad. When they began calling me Mossad I knew that even though they were drunk they were showing me respect and would not be throwing me off the balcony.
They soon left to do whatever else drunken teenagers do. Sef finished all the rotgut, walked me back to Eren and Ozgur, and went home to sleep it off. By that time it was 10:30 p.m. so I said a quick goodbye to Eren and Ozgur and went back to my hotel to wash off the dirty feeling of Sef in the shower’s lukewarm water.