Ankara, June 2, 2008
I have had some humbling experiences riding the buses. It is one thing to be a foreigner asking for directions or making a purchase -- people are generally very helpful and patient here, so there is time to hobble through a conversation. But with a bus, it's different, especially when it is the last bus of the night. Tonight I hurried from a dinner with my cousin Gülrü to catch the last bus, at 11 my aunt told me, from dowtown (Kızılay) to Konutkent, at the city's edge. Just as I arrived to the stop, at 10:50, a bus pulled up with a sign that said "Konutkent." I asked two men standing nearby whether it went to where I wanted to go, and they said yes. I hopped on board and asked the driver if he was going to the *second* addition to the sprawling Konutkent development, to confirm. He rattled back at me something that included the phrase "I don't know." When I said I didn't understand and repeated my question, "do you go to second Konutkent?" he seemed to say the same thing, with a couldn't-care-less expression. I hopped off and asked an old woman in a headscarf (the traditional, loosely-worn rural style, not the modern, tightly-tied one that has more religious and/or political meaning). She said yes, it would go where I wanted to go, but it would take the long route, and that I should wait for another bus, coming soon.
The first bus drove off in a cloud of diesel smoke, and the two men I had first consulted began to argue with the woman, pointing in different directions and clucking their tongues. Turns out I had just missed the last bus of the night that went directly to where I was going. Instead, I caught the last bus of all, which looped around one suburban development after another, but at least it was heading west on the Eskişehir road. At nearly the last stop, the two men and the old woman all got off, scowling, and walked in three different directions, fading from the streetlight into the shadows, where the sidewalks end and the city dissipates into dry hills. At very nearly the last stop, I finally recognized where I was -- just minutes from home -- and breathed a sigh of relief.