I’d been on a mission: to get old Turkish ladies to like me. I love elderly people, but I wasn’t getting a warm reception when I beamed at the grandmas. I greeted little old ladies leaning out of their windows in the morning, little old ladies carrying produce, little old ladies in the market as they purchased four eggs and I blushingly purchased thirty. (It’s difficult enough to explain a protein window in English, let alone to one’s miniscule neighbor at the store.)
Usually, the dear gals gazed right past me or gave a faint smile and a nod. On occasion my happy Merhaba was met in kind, but for the most part, the little old ladies remained aloof. One did come out of her shell at the train station in Izmir, telling me never to trust my boyfriend as she had never trusted her husband. With a faint smile, I caught the next train.
One day, I sat in a collection of four benches on the path between the Archaeological Museum and the Topkapi Palace. It was in the shade, and a good place to scrawl in my notebook as visitors came and went. A Korean man sat on the bench next to me, studying his map. An old Turkish woman in a headscarf and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses took the bench on my left. On the far right bench, another old woman in a headscarf and long coat joined us. The Far woman asked me in Turkish where I was from and I answered this softball question without incident. She continued to ask questions I could reasonably answer, and I was pleased to practice. The Near woman chatted with me as well, in a quick pace, until I told her–she closer and with better hearing–that my Turkish wasn’t so great, so please pardon me if I didn’t always understand. She slowed her pace of speech almost in time with the Far woman speeding up. Far would compose frolicking monologues that I answered with a helpless shake of my head. Near seemed to tell Far that I wasn’t fluent in Turkish, but Far only said, “Eh?” And went on talking without a break.
The Korean man said with surprise, “You speak Turkish,” and as I admitted my lack of skill, the conversation picked up around us. The man and I turned politely left, then right, then left, in a veritable tennis match of words I didn’t know. The Near woman still stumping me from time to time, despite speaking slowly, and the Far woman growing farther away as she requested details and I kept answering: “Yes, I think so.”
Despite missing the mark in conversation, both women beamed at me. I knew enough to politely accept compliments on my green eyes. I knew enough to ask with interest about their children. And as Near’s family came to collect her, she wouldn’t depart before showing off her tiny grandson–who I’d apparently heard a lot about. He was coy at first, but ultimately posed for a picture. It’s always a joy to make inroads with the recalcitrant.