Out in the cold

It’s a quiet Sunday so the pedestrian walkway is quiet, the bazaar is closed so there is nowhere to “pedest” to. But I am at my usual table at Coffee World. It’s a huge café, seats for 40 outside and 40 inside on the first floor alone, but there are only six of us here now. I think we are outnumbered by the staff.

Which is OK, because the staff is busily scrubbing the walkway. It’s an endeavor that seems to demand quite an effort. There’s a scrubber with a long-handled bristly scrub broom, three guys carrying large watering cans and buckets of water from inside, and a supervisor, pointing.

It seems the idea is for the scrubber to scrub, and then the guys with watering cans chase the dirt down the cobblestoned hill, row by row, until the water flows into one of the planted areas that sprout in the center of the walkway. The supervisor seems to be pointing out areas that need more attention, although to be honest, they look like pretty clean cobblestones to me.

So here I am, wasting time, or filling time, or hoping for some kind of bolt of lightning that will tell me what I’m supposed to do with my day, and, oh yeah, my life. Instead of casting around for the thing I CAN do, maybe I should be thinking about what I WANT to do. It’s a gray day and I’m feeling dissatisfied and directionless. But I‘m easily cheered up, because I sneeze, and one of my nice waiters teaches me the Turkish equivalent of “bless you”, which is, spelled phonetically, “chok esha”. He tells me it translates to “much life”, and I teach him how to say and spell “sneeze” and “bless you”.

A few minutes later a new waiter comes out to ask me if I want to come inside, if it isn’t too cold for me out here. There’s such a fear of the cold here, the slightest draft is seen as an enormous risk to your health. One of my students was even concerned because I was drinking cold water when I was sick, she thought I was damaging my health by not drinking room temperature water.

This widespread fear of cold is somehow connected in my mind to the Turkish habit of never being alone. Actually, I can’t decide if it’s a need or a habit, because it seems to be such a part of the fabric of life. I never feel judged because I do things alone, there’s just sometimes a blank look of incomprehension when it comes up. An assumption that I live with someone, am going to that place with someone, that I must not have understood the question, or they don’t understand the answer, when I mention doing things on my own.

The problem is I’m starting to think they’re right, I don’t want to do everything by myself. I still need time alone to recharge and retreat and de-stress, but more and more I find myself envying the support system that seems to be built in to the culture here so that there is always someone to go shopping with or go to dinner with. Of course as my friends and I agree we already feel that if we died alone in our apartments our absence would be noticed more quickly here than at home in the US so maybe we are moving in the right direction.

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