The class is in Şişli, Istanbul’s business center and a fifteen minute bus ride from Beşiktaş. While shorter than the ferry commute, this ride is far less comfortable. The majority of ferry commuters get on this bus. Pushing my way through the throng, I am the last one on. As the bus driver tries to shut the door, I am standing on the last step by the door and my backpack is almost snapped off. Nevertheless, one last man manages to squeeze in as the door finally closes. Turks squeeze onto buses like sardines and so we ride in the door as if we were wannabe firefighters. Holding on to the pole for dear life, my short arm strains to press my akbil (lit., “intelligent ticket”) into the slot to pay the fare.
The traffic begins before we even leave the immediate area of the quay. Our bus waits for an interminable stoplight to change. When it does, several cars whose drivers haven’t realized – or have ignored – that their traffic light is now red continue along. Past the intersection, the bus becomes suddenly vertical as it plods up a hill that is seemingly at an eight-five degree angle. All my weight shifts to one side as I again grasp the pole and try not to knock down my fellow bus riders as if they were bowling pins.
These Turks are a varied bunch. There are old and young, men and women. The men wear business suits and traditional Muslim attire, but mostly jeans and leather jackets. Some women wear the typical headscarf, but often with glitter or rhinestones. Some are in dresses, some in long form-hiding robes. Others are in tight-fitting but still Muslim-approved jackets and pantsuits. Mercifully, this diverse group that has been packed over-capacity in the old bus gradually disperses after the first few stops. At this point, I can sit down and again, glance out the window.
We pass a museum to Turkey’s founder and national hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. A day never goes by in Istanbul without seeing his face. His portrait greets us on the ferry boats, in kebab shops, in the school, on the façades of office buildings and on every denomination of Turkish currency. His numerous statues are scattered across Istanbul, and the rest of the country.
The final Part Four coming tomorrow!