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"Tears from Turkey" By Stephanie Elizondo Griest


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Posted 01 January 2004 - 09:44

"Tears from Turkey" By Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Tears from Turkey

In a place like this, chivalry is far from dead.

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN I PRIDED MYSELF FOP, HAVING TEAR ducts of steel. I was the only kid on my block who could watch Bambi without bawling; Beaches made me snicker. Graduation. Weddings. Breakups. Disappointments. I endured it all with nei- ther a sigh nor a whimper.
Until, that is, I went to Turkey. Istanbul had been a destination point on my adas for ages. After working in Beijing for a year, I finally made it, with loose plans of selling carpets by day and belly dancing at night. My plans changed my fifth day there, however, during a visit to the Archaeological Museum. As I gazed at a row of headless statues, my hand hap- pened to brush against the spot on my thigh where I always strapped my money belt. Instead of a reassuring bundle, I felt only bare skin.
My heart stopped. I threw down my backpack, hiked up my ankle-length Guatemalan skirt, and gazed in horror.
The money belt was still there. Its contents were not.
I stumbled about the museum in a state of shock. I had used my passport and American Express card only an hour before and deliberately sealed them both hack into the belt. What happened? Did everything somehow fall out? How could I not have noticed? I remembered reading about thieves who tossed powder into tourists'eyes and robbed them blind in a matter of moments. Did that happen to me?
Panic set in as it dawned on me what I had just lost: money, credit cards, passport, airline ticket, traveler's checks, visa. In short, all forms of identity-except my Beijing work permit, which said I was American in Chinese-and all my finances, save for thirty dollars in Turkish lira.
I bolted for the museum's exit, nearly knocking over a museum guard in the process. "My passport!" I shrieked over my shoulder. I raced through Gulhane Park and the Topkapi Palace grounds, darting in and out of tourist patches, frantically retracing the casual stroll I had taken only minutes before. I was nearing the towering minarets of the Aya Sofya when I spotted a Turkish policeman. I scrambled over.
"I lost all my stuffl" I wailed. He looked at me, amused. A couple of his buddies joined us.
"Money! Passport! Gone!" I told them. One of the officers pointed with his rifle toward a building la- beled "Tourism Police." I scurried over, dodged the security guard, and barged in on five officers settling down to an afternoon smoke.
Something I'd learned quickly on the road is that tactics differ from country to country. Vodka bribes had taken me far when I was an exchange student in Russia; I'd yelled a lot that past year in China. But what about Turkey?
When I approached the men with determination, not a one raised an eyebrow. Realizing that pushy women may not be well received in Turkey, I took a deep breath and tried reasoning with them.
They lit up another round of smokes. I pleaded for their help.
One got up to make apple tea. I was about to ask if they preferred Johnnie Walker Red Label or Black when I remembered that I was broke. I collapsed into a chair in despair, and-beyond my knowledge or control-a tear rolled down my cheek.
That did it. I was instantly surrounded. One officer dabbed my eyes with a tissue; another handed me a phone. The third took to patting my shoulders and murmuring "No cry, no cry, no cry," while the fourth gave me some vital instructions: "You can get everything re- placed as long as you say it was stolen. Understand? Not lost. Stolen." The fifth officer pounded away at a typewriter before handing me something written in Turkish that appeared impor- tant. With that, I was dismissed to the city police department.
I walked out of the building in a daze. I had never seen tears work outside of a B-grade movie. Surely Gloria Steinem would not have approved of what I just did. NOW would revoke my membership. I felt like a coward, an anti-ferninist, the world's biggest wuss.
But then again, I was a wuss with an important-looking docu- ment in her hands on her way to the city police. I was going places.
I handed over the document with feigned confidence to the of- ficer behind the desk. He looked it over carefully, eyebrows raised, before handing it to another officer, who walked it downstairs. I was wondering how someone could have possibly reached inside my money belt without my knowledge when a new police officer joined me. We made small talk for a couple of minutes-Where are you from? Texas? Do you have a horse?-before he stopped abruptly, looked straight into my soul, and said: "I saw you by the Aya Sofya. You said you lost your passport."
I tried not to blink. Was he bluffing? If not, should I? Then I had an idea.
"But all my stuff is gaaah-hnn," I blubbered as a fresh wave of tears dampened my,streaked face.
Within five minutes, I had an official "Declaration of Theft" and directions to the American Consulate.
And then I just got shameless. In the forty-eight hours that followed, I cried for the consulate and bawled for the bank. At first, I waited for a rejection before raising the floodgates. Then I got the tears flowing before I even walked through the door. My tear ducts got a little crusty, but I still managed some sobs for American Express. Not only was I ushered to the front of every line, but all emergency processing fees were summarily waived. My passport was replaced in three hours as op- posed to three days; my traveler's checks were replaced in a matter of moments. The guys at the airline agency gave me a discount on my new ticket; a bank teller bought me lunch.
I never did figure out what happened to my money belt that day. But I've since learned that the Vietnamese sometimes hire pro- fessional criers for funerals.
I'm considering a career change.

A Chicanafrom South Texas, Stephanie Flizondo Griest has volunteered at orphanages in Moscow, edited propaganda in Beijing, and danced with rumba queens in Havana. Her stories have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Latina Magazine, Travelers' Tales: Cuba and Her Fork in the Road. Herfirst book, an account of herjourney across the Communist Bloc, is forthcoming from Villard. She spent the past year of her life traveling some 45,000 miles across the United States in a nineteen- year-old Honda hatchback named Bertha, documenting historyfor kids.

"Tears from Turkey" By Stephanie Elizondo Griest



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