I traveled to Bodrum this past weekend. While I was on the metro to the airport, a short, rather pudgy, middle-aged man politely asked me if this was the final stop. I had to stop, look from side to side to make sure he was talking to me, before I answered. After all, why would this man ask what was undeniably the most foreign looking person on the metro when there were plenty of natives?
I thought to myself, Look, buddy, you’re asking the wrong guy. I’ve only been here a few weeks, but responded politely “Evet, Havilimani.” (Yes, this is the airport).
Since this was my stop too, we disembarked together. He looked more lost than I did, so he began to follow me. Little did he know that I had never been to the airport metro stop. We were, at the very least, equally lost. But, hey, if you look confident and like you know what you are doing, people will follow you, right? That’s just plebe leadership class for you. I could thank LT Romero later ...
It turned out to be quite the hike to get from the metro stop to the terminals, so, not wanting to be rude, I walked with this man who clearly wanted to have a conversation. Since I was travelling alone, the company was welcome. He even spoke English, which is more than most around here.
He asked my name and where I was from, and I responded, “Benim adim Andrew, Amerikalyim.”
He did what most people do around here when you respond with that answer. His eyes got twice their size, and a great smile crossed his face with excitement as I anticipated the immediate, inevitable, and predictable follow on.
“What part? New York, Washington, Texas?!”
I kindly replied, “Tennessee.”
He made a sort of frown as if he were thinking of a way to solve a second-order differential equation. And so, with a sigh, I spared him the mental anguish. “It’s in Texas.”
His face lit up again. “Oh Wonderful, I know Texas!”
Not being entirely interested in my false background, I shot back, “Nerelisin?” (Where are you from?) I still wasn’t quite sure why I was speaking in Turkish when English was a little more up my alley, but, hey, when in Rome ...
Oh. Well, that gave me pause as I raised an eyebrow. I played it cool, and as nonchalantly as possible asked, “Hangi sehir?” (What part?)
Well, the ball was in my court, but I was never any good at basketball. So I made the most intelligent comment: “Big city, eh?”
I had to fight to keep the agony that my own response caused myself from affecting my expression. I reassured myself that Baghdad was at the very least, the largest city in Iraq.
The man looked away, sighed, and replied, “Yes, it was until the American soldiers came in and, well, blew it up,” in a truly mournful - though not in the slightest bit accusatory - tone.
I very nearly replied, “Yeah ... sorry about that,” but I was getting better at this whole tact thing. So I opted for the slightly less awkward no response. An awkward silence ensued. And let me tell you, there was still plenty of walk ahead.
So I asked, “Why are you in Turkey?”
He looked at me with grave eyes and said “Because the Shias, they will ...” and he proceeded to make the, what I now know is universal, gesture of sliding the index finger across the throat accompanied with a skin crawling “SSSSSSKKKKKKKK” sound.
I nodded in faux understanding and said “Ah, so you’re Sunni?”
He, still looking away, nodded “Yes, yes ...”
But this was a cheerful man, so after a few seconds, he smiled again, turned to me, and said, “You’re a soldier, aren’t you?”
I’m no EOD tech, but let’s just say, “MINEFIELD DETECTED.” After barely swallowing my academy gut instinct to respond, “Actually, I’m a sailor,” in the most pompous tone, I thought on my feet (literally). Ok, quick, buy time to think of a response.
“Hahahahahaha,” I chuckled. Good, now get an actual answer, idiot.
“Hayer, hayer, orgenci.” (No, no. I’m a student).
He looked at me suspiciously. “Do you know why I thought that?” Hmmmmm: military regulation haircut, clean shaven, physical fitness (if I do say so myself), martial posture and gait, or was I just singing the Marine Corps hymn to myself again? “All American soldiers carry lots of water with them. They will always have their packs loaded with water. They won’t go anywhere without it.”
With these choice words, I was momentarily taken back in time two years to being covered in sweat yelling, “HYDRATE OR DIE!” as I emptied my canteen via my esophagus even though there was no room for a full canteen of water in my stomach. I guess old habits die hard.
I laughed and once again made the most intelligent reply I could muster. “Hey man, it’s hot.” (Not an untrue comment).
He enjoyed this remark and grabbed my forearm as he too belted out a hearty laugh that could only make one smile even if it is one of those "I’m only smiling because we’re in a crowded airport and if it were just you smiling this would be weird.” Which it was.
He then said, “Women must love you! How many women do you have?”
I chuckled as my mind wandered to my present situation regarding women, or perhaps more appropriately, lack thereof.
“Sifir” I responded.
This joke, though not actually a joke (who doesn’t like self-deprecating humor?) evoked quite the cackle. He held his sides (and my forearm again) and said, “No matter where you go in the world, women will be all over someone as good-looking, strong, and tall as you.”
Ok, buddy, you haven’t stolen from me yet. What exactly is it you want me to buy? I look like my face has been hit by a train, and I have trouble maxing the strength portion of the PRT. But he just clung to my forearm smiling. I politely chuckled as he asked what sport I do.
Hmmmm. I responded “wrestling” since I was indeed a wrestler, albeit in high school.
He was delighted by the response and said with a smile “Oh, yes! See what I mean! Big and strong!” as he popped his chest out and sucked his gut in, in a pseudo bodybuilder pose that would have given Schwarzenegger a run for his money.
I chuckled again not because of the pose but because I knew, and he didn’t, that I could count the number of matches I won on both hands. He was eager to tell me that his sport was eating, at which point he gave his prominent gut a two-handed shake.
I laughed and replied, “Yemek buyuk seviyorum,” which garnered another hearty laugh and grab of the forearm. You know what girls say: if he ain’t good-looking or rich, he better be funny.
After the conclusion of this surprisingly successful joke on my part, we had finally completed the hike. I shook the Iraqi’s hand, said “Gule Gule,” and we went our separate ways.