Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Tea Sugar A Dream
I seem to be learning Turkish. I've learned that bay is man and bayan is woman and Fatih, which you see everywhere, is Conqueror. But after ten days or so I can't manage to say please or thank you. Hello or good-bye. The basic pleasantries are lost on me. But thank you, which it seems to me is the most important of all, next to please and perhaps excuse me, seems beyond my reach. I've tried and tried, but I cannot say it.
I have always been good in language. In high school where I did not particularly excell we were administered a language aptitude test in Kurdish (coincidentally). We were given an hour to study grammar and vocabulary and then tested on our retention. I was off the charts. Not so with English or math, but in languages I always scored very high. But now in Turkey I was challenged.
For years I had traveled to places where I spoke the language quite well. Latin America, France, Italy. When I went from Beijing to Berlin by rail, I took some time to learn the basics of Chinese, Russian, and German, and I still can remember what I learned. But now I was in Asia Minor and at the mercy of a language that had no antecedents for me. I was grateful that Ataturk changed the Turkish alphabet from Arabic to Roman, but beyond that I was clueless.
On the other hand there were obstacles presented by the Turks. For example I did not order the "lethal" soup on the menu. And I was befuddled by the wine list in which the English side of the menu was identical to the Turkish. And an interesting moment occured as I tried to explain to our charming desk clerk (named Fatih) what "cold turkey" meant.
Perhaps the low moment came as the man in the phone store tried to explain to me in very very slow Turkish how to activate my new phone. Or in the cab as the driver sped away from Istanbul, listening as I panicked in the backseat, even as he was taking me to the destination I had asked for.
Finally someone helped me out. To say thank you, he explained, just say tea sugar a dream. Tea sugar a dream. I said it over and over. And somehow this phrase seems to encapsulate everything we lived in those two short weeks. Something about it rang true. Now I need to learn you are welcome.