Until now, my knowledge of the Turks was limited (and still is in many respects) to what I studied at A-levels in my boring European History class and because it was boring, I have little re-collection. Turkey or its people were…well, not on my bucket list.
I did recall, though, that the Turks were tea drinkers and me, I can drink tea for Africa.
Then we went to Turkey.
‘Just for a few days,’ my partner said to me.
I shrugged. What’s my business with Turkey? But he was excited.
Our 6 plus hours flight from Lagos was uneventful; at the Ataturk International airport, you could get an e-visa just by punching a few buttons on the computers mounted at specific spots in the huge airport.
By the way, their airport is 10 times the size of ours, may even be much bigger. Some gates are 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walk apart…though not as big as Heathrow or Pearson Toronto but massive.
Anyway, unlike my partner who had got his e-visa slip form, I didn’t. I waited until the last minute, as in, when I got to Istanbul gangan to begin the processing of the e-visa-after all, I was given that option.
The machine that issues e-visas, after several delays, several inputs, didn’t issue the receipt for payment that I needed to present for clearance at the security point.
After waiting several minutes for the receipt to drop, and might I add, that there was a long queue and the majority of us on that queue were Nigerians, who, you guessed right, waited till the last minute (like me) to get an e-visa knowing fully well…ok, let me just stop here.
‘Let’s ask the airport officials,’ my partner suggested.
Good idea…big mistake!
The airport officials were hostile. The first lady we approached at the information desk, this lady, perhaps in her fifties, didn’t even let us finish explaining our predicament.
‘Good morning madam, (see? We are well trained Nigerians) please we have just…’
She responded by bellowing into the microphone in front of her- ‘Go to passport control. Don’t kam hia, go…goo,’ she shooed us away like naughty kids after which she broke into a flood of Turk before filing her nails.
Whaaa! Biko madam, hear the gist first na!
We paused, then attempted another version of explanation.
Subdued tone: ‘No madam, you don’t understand…’she didn’t let us finish, she shut her well painted eyes as if she was counting down before releasing another floodgate…
‘You don’t kam hia, you go dia,’ she pointed a green lacquered finger to a far off desk, like some 6 to 700 metres away.
I shrank, I felt my five feet plus height reduce to like just five feet.
Why? You know that kain feeling when someone you can’t shout right back at is shouting at you in public and everyone is straining to see the person shouted at? And you look furtively about you trying to catch a sympathetic face.
Anyway, madam shook her thin shoulder length honey blonde hair and jabbed at the air towards the far desk of the Border Police and like sufficiently frightened rabbits, we scampered towards the Passport Control check. Did I mention that it was 3am and we were jetlagged and really tired after our 6 hours flight from Lagos??
We got to the passport desk and the Border Policeman was in a transparent cubicle, the type with holes for you to talk through. He appeared to be a man in his late 50s.
‘Excuse me officer…I need your help with…
Huh, abi he didn’t understand my African voice ni?
I was stunned. I shifted uncomfortably and still tiptoeing I cleared my throat again.
‘I mean, I have no visa because…’
‘Go back if no visa, go back!’ he just dismissed me like no man business.
Next! He called out to my partner. He checked my partner’s visa and waved him on, to me, he said, ‘go back.’
I felt like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters.
‘We are together,’ my partner began to protest. ‘Officer, we have filled the form, her visa has been approved, we have paid the fee but no receipt to present at the security for entry…”
He listened then raised his voice some more-‘Then go back,’ the Policeman replied, ‘no visa, no go!’
At this time, the option of getting another flight to London was not appealing at all. We may have to wait 24 hours; which was a lot better than what a young Bulgarian got when he approached. They asked him to go back to Mauritius.
“To do what he asked?”
“I don’t know,” he was told.
So, back to the machine, we went. A few other Nigerians had the same issue too. They had waited and upon seeing how we were screamed at decided to go straight to the security checkpoint to report.
Bingo, their details were already in the system, so they were cleared.
Thazit? Well, that’s how we got cleared. Then the second part of our drama continued.
We approached the taxi desk to take us to our hotel
We should have called Uber. We didn’t speak a word of Turkish and they had difficulty understanding English, add our African accent join, it became a classic case of motor jam police, police jam cow…
As we were ruminating on our options, behold, Sayid, a handsome smooth talking Turk in his 50s appeared like the jinni from Aladdin’s lamp, what’s more, he spoke English! It was a relief.
Sayid convinced us he could drive us to our hotel at a huge discount; quickly before we could process much of what he was saying, he had brought out a receipt, telling us its best we booked a return drive back to the airport after our stay in Istanbul.
My Partner said no.
But Sayid didn’t seem like he was used to tourists telling him no. He shook his head as if he pitied us for missing out on something great but he had like a million other suggestions. He encouraged us to see the sights and promised to get us a guide that spoke English.
In minutes, we had parted with some money…even though we bargained, even though we haggled, we bulked at the charge but Sayid knew we were cornered, where would we go? Hail a taxi outside and you never know where it will take you…finally, we agreed at $150; which when changed to the Lira was a small fortune. The glint in Sayid’s eyes convinced us we had been had after which it took all of another 45mins for us to realize our fast talking Turk had no taxi!
‘It’s in traffic…big traffic in town.’
We were hassled off to the next cabbie desk; Sayid gives our money to Cabbie2 and removes a portion of the money, stuffs in his pocket and walks off…deal done.
Cabbie 2 tells us, ‘DonTuWori,’ probably the only English expression he knows. He smiled reassuring us we would be at the hotel soon, of course again we had to fill forms and wait another 10-15 minutes to realise his taxi wasn’t coming either. He passed us to the third taxi desk, and like Sayid, he handed over some cash to him after removing a portion of the cash. Leaving cabbie 3 to find us a cab to our hotel.
We felt like oyibos discovering they’d been swindled by Naija boys! See us, we shaprapra Naija peeps getting mugu-ed in Istanbul! Wetin person no go see?
No cab, no driver, nothing.
We switched to pidgin to disguise our anguish, these people must not know we have been rattled o! Wetin we go come do naw, which kian wahala bi dis?
I looked at my partner, and wanted to say, ‘Chai! See as dis Turks come wan use a whole naija man shine. Our people must not hear o.’
But you see ehn, that is not the kind of thing you say to your partner especially when you see a vein throbbing in his temple.
I just jeje-ly respected myself make civil war no start for Istanbul airport.