Istanbul, 1999

I watched a travel channel documentary last week about Istanbul. It reminded me of my own visit there in 1999. It was another work assignment, and I was there for a couple of weeks. The first time ever a job took me out of the home country. The images are blurry in my mind now, but the feelings come back sometimes. Visiting the Spice Bazaar just across the road from the Bosphorus river, enjoying pistachio ice cream in front of Topkapi Palace, haggling for scarves and lace tablecloths at the weekend market. Walking along the cobblestone lanes of Atakoy. It was winter, and the sun set at about 4:30pm every day; which was fine with me as it was Ramadan when we were there, working on the new Ataturk international terminal project. Our site office was located there, and every evening we would join the airport staff in the cafeteria for Iftar before returning back to our hotel or flat.

The funny thing to me was how we were perceived by a few of our Turkish colleagues. Some of them ridiculed our choice to observe prayers and fasting, calling us ‘ridiculous’ for praying and fasting. One young woman, I remember, actually came up to me and asked me “Dont tell me you actually do *those* things?” Having been forewarned by a senior colleague that had been there earlier, I responded just with a small smile. I found out that she and her friends had come from the richer families and eventhough they proudly claimed themselves to subscribe to religion, they associated themselves more with the secular way of life. They even told me that “only poor people pray and fast here” while puffing away at their special Turkish blend non-flitered Camels.

As much as they made their statements clear, I also made it clear that I was there to work; and my job was to ensure that the system administrators went through the training meant for them and the selected trainers were adequately instructed to conduct end-user training courses. I did feel rather intimidated by them at first, with their rather aggressive style of communication. I just stuck to the bottom line: it’s fine if they, at the last minute, decide to not show up for their training. I showed them the draft of my report that our training was scheduled, trainer & equipment were ready – it was their choice to disobey instructions and not attend. I didnt wait for them; I had proceeded with training the trainers for the end-users. Them towering over me made me feel a bit nervous. But hey – I may be short, but I still ran the show. Things went well in the end, and I was glad to return home after my assignment.

Perhaps the colleagues that I experienced was just a tiny slice of the people there. I’m not sure. For a few years I decided not to plan any vacations to Istanbul. But I suppose the ice around my heart have melted a bit too. I am actually thinking of returning there. There’s something about that city that appealed to me, appeals to me still.


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