Find some Fun – Here is a Crazy Surprise in Istanbul

In these crazy times, we need to find fun wherever we can.
I discovered some new-to-me comedy writers.
Sometimes I blow bubbles on the porch for a moment.
Or find a new route to walk.

What do you do for fun?

Since the pandemic started, hubby and I have enjoyed a daily story-time, based on our past travels. I read aloud from my old journals, and we both recall extra angles and memories from each long-ago day.

Here’s one of those days . . .

November 1980 – our Surprise in Istanbul

After a 36-hour bus ride from Athens to Istanbul, my husband Gary and I strolled through the Turkish city, past the ancient dark wood houses, into the courtyard of the famous Blue Mosque.

Here came a guy who wanted to be our guide for 100 Turkish lira (about $1.20). We decided to splurge on it.
(We’d been traveling on eight dollars a day for each of us, in that 1980 world of scrappy paper maps, no cell phones, youth hostels, and flop houses. We packed light, with only two changes of clothes and the shoes on our feet. Plus a pup tent and sleeping bags.)

Sultan Ahmet the First built the Blue Mosque between 1609 and 1616, said our guide. It is the only mosque in the world with six minarets.
It had a huge central dome flanked by four half-domes around the sides, all decorated with blue Iznik tiles.

The guide took us to the main entrance.
We removed our shoes and left them in the shoe racks with the men at the door (like we always did at the mosques, and the guys waited for a tip on our way out).

Under the great vault of the central dome, the guide told us all about the place, showed us the Turkish carpets on the floor, all of which are gifts (some are 400 years old). The floor felt cushy under our stockinged feet.

The walls and columns displayed the beautiful simplicity of mosaic tiles in geometric designs and eight-pointed stars. Small arched windows encircled the bottom edge of the massive dome.

He said that on Fridays, the holiest day of the week, the Imam (leader) stands halfway up the pulpit stairs (out of humility). The service consists of reading and explaining the Koran and praying together and alone.

The place was beautiful and nearly empty, this time of the afternoon.

We went out the main door again.
My shoes were missing.
My thickly cushioned, sturdy, soft and comfy snow boots.
Gone, disappeared!

Left in their place sat a pair of stiff curled-up old black leather shoes.
Had they been lying in the sun for months or years?
They were so curled up, I couldn’t believe anyone had been wearing them.
I thought this was a trick, a joke.

Gary and I searched all the shelves. No shoes for me.
The attendants acted like they didn’t understand, when we pointed to my feet and shrugged and hunted through the racks.

Did they want me to buy back my boots?
Did these fellows keep an assortment of old shoes to unload on tourists?
We couldn’t speak Turkish, but hey, come on, where are my shoes??

We told them to call the military police.
But they just looked at us with pale, nervous faces. (After the recent political coup, they were scared of the police.)

Soon we were yelling, commanding them to call the police.
We couldn’t understand Turkish.

Our English-speaking guide translated a little for us, but mostly he trembled.
He kept saying, “I didn’t tell you to leave your shoes there, did I? That man told you, didn’t he?”
His eyes darted around nervously, looking for an escape. He offered to return our 100 lira note to us.

We went back inside the mosque, looking for the shoes. Nowhere in sight.
Back to the doorway again.
The men gave me some black plastic slippers to wear against the cold cement.

The yelling steadily ramped up again.
We shouted that they were responsible.
They shouted that they were not.

One man said we should run through the adjoining park and look at people’s feet to find the stolen shoes.

The main man (possibly the caretaker) kept asking, “You want money? How much you want for the shoes? Do you want shoes or money?”

His words made us think this was a racket, but who knew?

“We want the shoes! Those same shoes! We bring the police here!”

Maybe shoe-stealing was a regular gig for them?
Every time I demanded the main man’s name and address, he just glanced around, a sheen of sweat on his face.

Gary prepared to fetch the tourist police, whose station was three blocks away.
I was afraid these men would split while he was gone. (As a woman I was not respected in 1980 Turkey.)

We kept demanding the truth.
They yelled who-knows-what at each other. (? Why didn’t you guard the shoes/ I needed the bathroom/ These were too expensive to steal/ I didn’t take them …?)

Gary picked up the shabby shoes which had been left in place of mine. The soles were worn down on the inside edges. Could these belong to a small pigeon-toed man? Should we pursue the thief into the park?

Were my shoes really gone, or did these men have them?
We couldn’t decide what to think.

We told them it would it cost $70 to replace my good boots (true).
We yelled that this main man in the brown coat was to be held responsible. He collected money to watch shoes, but neglected his duties.

We were getting nowhere.
Finally, we decided that I would fetch the tourist police, while Gary stayed to hold the men there.

Off I went, half-jogging down the street, trying to keep those silly plastic slippers on my feet.
A random man laughed and shouted at me.
I hurried to the tourist police station and up the creaky stairs.
I felt outraged and jittery.
They brought a policeman who spoke English.
I poured out my whole story to him.
The slippers on my feet were visible evidence.
They took me down to the office of the Chief of Police. They talked with him at length.
Then I was left there alone for a while, waiting for another cop.

Soon a big quiet cop and I strolled calmly down the street together toward the Blue Mosque. (No catcalls then.)

When we arrived, the cop spoke softly to the men, who responded with more arguing and shouting.
Too much yelling.

A gray-haired aristocratic-looking man offered to buy new shoes for me.
He had showed up while I was gone, and Gary assumed he was associated with the mosque.
“No way! We want my shoes!”

The loud crazy conflict escalated into silence.

I caved in and agreed to receive new shoes, although snow boots were an impossibility in this part of the world. My feet would no longer stay warm in the ice and snow. Those had been my only shoes for this long trip, and I loved them.

The cop, the gray-haired man, Gary, and I walked back to the tourist police station together.
I fumbled along with the slippery plastic sliders.

We all stood in the Chief’s office while they argued in Turkish.
Then we sat in another room, Gary and I by ourselves.
They were questioning the gray-haired man.
They asked us if we wanted to prosecute.
We said no, we didn’t want to delay our travels.
At this the police looked disappointed. We thanked them anyhow.

Was this a recurring tourist cheat, or did the police just want more action?
Were the shoes stolen by a knock-kneed person, or hidden by those mosque attendants?

The gray-haired man walked Gary and me to the shoe stores, where I acquired stiff hard-soled shoes, uncomfortable compared to stateside shoes.
The man paid for them and asked me to sign a statement to release him.
I gave him my black plastic slippers to return to the mosque.

The “little me” stayed mad.
The “bigger me” allowed that maybe somebody born to discomfort and lack would enjoy my beloved snow boots.

Gary and I wandered back to sit in the park, looking at the Blue Mosque and the absence of pigeon-toed men.

(For the record, we enjoyed many weeks of friendly Turkish hospitality after that first wacky day.)

One Crazy Day in Africa, Loss and Gain

Blue Mosque by Pedro Szekely on Flickr

(Thanks to Pedro Szekely on Flickr for this image of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.)

About Diane Langlois Stallings

Diane Stallings RN, Reiki Master, Energy Healer, Healing Touch, Enneagram Coach, EFT tapping, Meditation Coach, Nutritionist, Integrative Health Coach
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