Come Back Next Week

By now, we all should know that time in Turkey is… slow.

Slowing, waiting, practicing patience– these are all traits of grace that have yet to flow naturally from my veins. My character’s tendency is to activate, think quickly, maximize time, and serve with efficiency.

There’s nothing worse than being halted in my tracks; painstakingly frozen on the bottom step, unable to move forward. I have goals, a plan. Places to go, people to see.

I see each day as a gift to be unwrapped and used to its full potential, leaving nothing untouched or wasted.

Maybe it’s the American achiever in me, or maybe it’s the genuine desire to obediently live out a life of stewardship and responsibility with whatever God puts under my feet.

These feet, however, had suddenly been forced to a standstill. Weighed down by one notably important factor determining my steps and very much affecting the future of my work: the infamous visa.

I applied for it about 7 months ago, but since Turkey’s population is daily being stuffed with new immigrants and asylum seekers, my appointment ended up befalling in March.

Nervous beyond limits for the grandeur of the occasion, I arrived on my assigned date with the necessary paperwork and passport. With the exception of a minor complication that sent me running through an unfamiliar neighborhood in stressful search of a money exchange office that would give me a receipt for proof of a heinous dollar amount, the initial visit went quite smoothly.

I left the police station with a slip stamped “April 8”- the retrieval date for my visa.

April 8 was a full day so I went the 12th instead. As long as I got it within a month’s notice I’d be fine.

Excited to finally become an official resident of this country I have come to love, I sat in the lobby with my roommate eating pre-celebratory M&M’s, waiting to hear my name.

At the sound of my name I jumped up and stood at attention before the source. He looked at me, then back down at the slip of paper he was holding, the one stamped April 8. A new stamp had pressed its inked letters unto the white surface: April 17.

“Come back next week,” he said.

Trying to refute this delay of documents, I meekly asked, “Why?”

“It’s not ready yet,” was his short reply and he turned to gift someone else their bit of bad news.

Following orders, I faithfully returned the next week where I was handed the same instructions of “come back next week” along with a new stamp.

Now, the trek to this police station takes about half a day… It’s not terribly convenient. But then again, convenient is a word I barely recognize anymore.

My third trip at an attempted retrieval followed the same suite as the first two. I began to wonder, did they lose it? As soon as familiar phrase was repeated I confronted in brave Turkish “I think you lost it. It’s been almost a month, I’ve been back here three times already!” To which he replied, “it is not lost, it’s just not ready.” Then tagged it again with “come back next week.”

Not wanting to be bested, I brought along my Turkish friend to fight for me the following week. We waited in the lobby for about 2 hours, ears tuned for the only English name in the overflowing room. Babies cried. Mothers scolded. Multiple languages were being voiced. My friend and I scripted out our response for if I was overlooked again.

She heard it, and we went up to the front. I almost didn’t believe what was happening as they pushed papers towards me to sign… then it clicked: MY RESIDENCE PERMIT WAS READY! I nearly jumped up and down.

I doubt they’d ever seen somebody as happy as I was- happy that I’d never have to journey back to the station again.

Due to the frequent trips as well as my Turkish celebrity-like appearance I had made friends with many of the policemen… As nice and kind as they were, I didn’t mind saying goodbye. I was beyond relieved. My feet were free! I was free!

Free to live and move forward as a resident of Turkey.

The wait, though painful, was worth it.

The Goose Chase

There is a box containing 100 knit hats, handmade with love by one of my grandparents’ dear friends, sitting in a FedEx warehouse. Knitting hats and sending them to different groups of people in need has become a special type of ministry to her, so upon hearing about the poverty and struggles of the thousands of refugees here in Turkey, she inquired about sending me some. It was a total God-thing, being that hats were the exact clothing article requested to be collected for our clothing drive.

She shipped the hats and soon after, a notice was delivered to my door telling me to come pick up my box. I googled some directions, found out which buses to take, borrowed my roommates backpacking backpack to stuff the hats in for an easier return trip, and set off on my voyage. Based on previous experiences with customs and packages, I prepared myself for a long day.

Sure enough, staying true to my past history with Turkish procedures, what followed was a series of hapless events…

It was almost comical. A 23 year old American girl, traipsing back and forth between airports and customs officials and FedEx warehouses. I had entered the world of men. Every office I stepped foot into I immediately became the exhibit in a zoo. If only the attention played in my favor. Unfortunately, it did not.

They were highly skeptical of my explanation as to what my package’s contents were for. Surely I was planning on selling them and making a profit. I defended my case a hundred times over; I came here to fight for those hats– for the many who would be blessed by them. I was not going to leave empty-handed.

So the charade continued. To add to the stress, English-speakers were nowhere to be seen; thus far, the communication was all in Turkish…

Finally, I was allowed a petition for my box, and it was explained that all I needed was a stamp of approval from the commercial dealings department. I went back out to my taxi driver (with whom I had racked up quite a bill) and we set-off for the airport again. Thanking him a million times for joining me in this race, I ran back into a whirlwind of a system I did not understand and pleaded my case to an official. Perhaps he was impressed at my Turkish, or perhaps he felt sorry for the chaotic mess I was handed as he had previously witnessed me running around like a chicken with my head cut-off. Whatever the reason, he stamped my papers. YES. WINNING.

Back at FedEx, I confidently presented my approved petition, proud of the victory. The two men behind the desk seemed to be amused by my persistence. They appeared to almost enjoy watching me wiggle whichever way they directed; I was powerless, a pawn under their command.

As I sat there awaiting my fate- rather, the fate of my box- a woman came in. She was the first woman I had seen all day. And she spoke English. Ah ha! Perhaps there will be a breakthrough this time! I replayed to her the events of the day and everything I had gone through and what the hats are for and how I now had the stamp that should allow me to get my box. She began speaking to my captors; if there had been any misinterpretations before, hopefully those would be cleared up.

Then, all was silent. The decider clicked his pen and wrote something on the back of my approved stamp. He was sending me to someone else because he wasn’t buying my story. Stamp and all.

I broke. The tears came. I had excepted to encounter some bumps today, but I never imagined it would be this difficult.

And how would I know if I got this next person to approve me that this man wouldn’t send me on yet ANOTHER wild goose chase? If they weren’t budging now, I doubt it would make a difference even if I got Ataturk to testify for me.

Contrary to my character, I threw in the towel. Not wanting to accept the defeat but at the same time realizing that this scavenger hunt could very well continue as long as they deemed it. My resources were drained from the transportation costs, and my emotions were drained from the man in the tie behind the desk who was never going to take me for my word.

Oh, and sitting in traffic every time I was sent somewhere else was also beginning to take its toll on my sorry state of being…

Anyways, to say the least, it was a disappointing day. I did everything I could, but in the end the control was out of my hands. Trying to think positively so I wouldn’t be a sobbing mess on the bus ride home, I searched the day’s events for some silver lining.

Two things came to mind that slightly raised my optimism meter:
1)I spoke Turkish and actually found myself understanding it, and 2)the outbursts from my taxi driver as he loudly complained about how corrupt and ridiculous the entire situation was. I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but I’m sure glad he did.