Last month we took a spontaneous vacation to Turkey as IS began knocking on the door of our province. While there we took in a few sights from the beaches of Antalya to the big city life of Istanbul.
Because of my previous experience living in Istanbul I was able to quickly jump back into the culture and, in one instance, go much deeper than I had expected.
There are so many different ways to get around the jewel on the Bosphorus: from large boats, to ferrys, to buses, minibuses, vans, and, of course, taxis.
Taxi drivers in Istanbul like in many big cities are used to conversing with a wide range of people. And when you are sitting in stock still traffic for hours on end, their costumers become for them a type of community.
So, I wasn't too surprised when my taxi driver seemed keen on striking up a conversation. The first thing that did surprise me however, was his nationality. Istanbul has over 1,000,000 Kurds, and for some reason, I've always have seemed to find them in an inordinated numbers driving those yellow cars around. When I asked him what his nationality was he said emphatically, "I'm Arab!"
Whoa, in 6 years of living in Turkey, I've never heard a Turk declare himself to be an Arab. Turks are notorious for their distaste for Arabs, but here was a taxi driver telling me quite proudly - "I'm an Arab!"
My, have times changed.
Upon further questioning, he did reveal that his mother was, in fact, Kurdish, but his father was Arab.
Surprise #1 - check.
As we began getting into the "sum of all fears" and the "world's great conspiracy theories" - the former being the reign of women over the household, the latter being the typical "America controls everything diatribe" -- I continued to nod my head, "yes, yes" knowing full well I wasn't the first person to get an earful from him.
He cited an interview with President Obama in which the interviewer asked him, "Who controls the remote control in your house?" To which the President responded, "My mother!"
"You see!" he said almost gleefully, "Women control the world!"
When he asked me my age, and then asked me to guess his I struck unreasonably low for a man with 6 kids, but he thanked me and said that he mustn't charge me my fare now and shook my hand.
But, then the conversation bled into the recent conflict in Iraq, and it was learned by my driver that I, in fact, was living there now. There was a pause in the conversation, then he said quite dramatically, "I was there!"
He continued, "In 1991, I was serving my mandatory military service for the Turkish army, and was posted on the border with Northern Iraq and Syria. I saw the refugees massed in camps in the most atrocious conditions. They were suffering something awful and divided into three main camps: Kurds, Yazidis, and Christians [Chaldean/Assyrian ethnic Christians]."
"One day, however, a helicopter came with the wife of Franciois Mitterand, [Danielle]. She came and visited the camps, then left. Later, a swarm of helicopters arrived and took away all the Christians."
At this point, my taxi driver was almost to the point of tears, he turned his gaze off the road, looked me in the eye and said, "Aren't we all people?"
Here was a man who is legally a Turkish national, but Arab and Kurd in his blood, explaining to me very poignantly the fact that people are people no matter what their skin color or religious background...
When we returned to Iraq a few days later a certain lingering question had been answered in my mind, I hope that you too will consider the weight of his words.
I ended up paying my fare anyway. Amazing what lessons you can learn from a taxi driver. On the whole, I'd say I got my money's worth that time.