Wednesday, 9 January
The next day was a work day. I was getting used to my new routine: get up early, take the bus to work, walk for 6 hours, take the bus home.
In the evening, after I had rested up from my walk during the day, I met with Ilgi again. With her, was her colleague Dilara, and Dilara’s husband Mutlu. The three of them decided they needed to test my şalgam-drinking skills. They laughed sinisterly amongst themselves, knowing what I was in for. Me, of course, I had no idea.
Popular in southern Turkey, şalgam (pronounced shawl-gum) is a non-alcoholic drink made of salted and spiced red carrot pickles, flavored with fermented turnip. I had heard about it many times (“It’s an acquired taste”), but I had never tried it. Tonight would be the night.
Ilgi, Dilara, and Mutlu quickly found a small deli that served şalgam. They ordered two glasses, one for me and one for Mutlu. I smelled mine. It smelled awful. I scrunched up my nose and took a sip. It tasted even worse. Mutlu gulped his down and wiped his lips. He looked at me with a big smile and asked what I thought.
“I hear it’s an acquired taste,” I said.
While I was nursing my şalgam, my new friends asked me if I carried a gun to protect myself while I was walking.
“Absolutely not!” I said. “There’s no way I would carry a gun. Finding food and a place to sleep depends on my getting people to trust me very quickly. If I carry a gun that isn’t going to happen.”
The three were shocked. Dilara said, “Okay, but at least we’ve got to stop and get you some pepper spray.”
Ilgi motioned at me to finish my şalgam quickly so we could go. I gulped it down, being careful to keep it off my tongue as much as possible, so it would be gone before I had a chance to taste it. I slammed the empty glass down on the table.
“You like şalgam, huh?” Ilgi asked.
I smiled and said, “It’s an acquired taste.”
As for the pepper spray, I didn’t want to carry pepper spray. I figured that if I were attacked, I would probably accidentally spray it backward into my own face. But at least they weren’t making me buy a gun, and if I had it in me to accept the “drink şalgam” challenge, I could certainly get out of buying pepper spray. Plus they seemed to be having such a great time teasing the foreigner. I didn’t want to spoil the fun. So I followed them down the road on the search for pepper spray.
Ilgi, Dilara, and Mutlu excitedly agreed that I looked exactly like Süleyman, a friend of Mutlu’s who ran a gold jewelry shop, so during the search for pepper spray we stopped by the shop so they could compare us side by side. The three of them laughed and agreed again that Süleyman and I looked exactly alike. Süleyman and I looked at each other. I saw no resemblance whatsoever. Süleyman obviously didn’t either.
“Do you know where we could get some pepper spray?” Dilara asked Süleyman.
“Try the army surplus store around the corner.”
The army surplus store did indeed sell pepper spray, but I declined to buy it, telling the three that I needed to walk without carrying guns or pepper spray.
Ilgi, Dilara,and Mutlu seemed to realize by then that I was a lost cause and that there was no way to weaponize me.