Thursday, January 29, 2009


Ankara is high plateau living at its “finest”. The city sits at about 3000 feet, and my part of town about 4000 ft. It’s a very dry climate, and that has taken getting used to as well. Since the ground doesn’t help retain the day’s temperature, it’s all about the sun. It can be 100 degrees in the summer, but if you are in the shade, it’s a lovely day. But five minutes in the sun on a 80 degree day can be absolutely withering.

But even in this dry climate, sometimes in the winter this crazy fog rolls in. I spent five years in San Francisco and got used to the fog even though I never liked it. But this is different – the winter fog rolls in, and it doesn’t roll out. Until a week later. It can be strangely claustrophobic. You really don’t see a view out your window for a week. And when it finally dissipates, it leaves the equivalent of a winter wonderland, clinging to the branches of the trees and every surface imaginable.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Xmas Tree, 2008 or “Bring a Local, Pay Less”

I think in the interest of being “independent” and wanting to soak up the full range of cultural experiences here in Turkey, we have sometimes tried to negotiate the ins and outs of commerce and travel in Turkey without help – and with our limited Turkish language skills. This results in a predictable outcome: the desired “rich cultural experience” along with a considerably lighter wallet.

The Turkish word for foreigner is yubanci (yew-ban-gee), and all of us yubanci generally pay yubanci prices. Unless it’s a department store, nothing has a price tag on it. The price is what the market will bear, so to speak, and when the market can’t speak Turkish, the price is high. For example, I once called the VW dealer here to get a quote on the cost for an oil change. They flatly refused to quote me a price until I had given them my license plate number over the phone. (Your license plate will show whether you are a foreigner or not.) I refused to tell them, so they quoted me 250 YTL ($150), we did no business together. Sometimes this upsets me, but I’ve accepted that I will always pay more than a Turk, and as long as I am happy with the stated price for the desired item, then it shouldn’t matter that someone else will pay half that. I just let it go.

But every once in a while, I’ve made my point about being independent, I feel good about making an effort, and I just want to compete on a level playing field for once. It’s time to bring in the local. And not just any local. A Woman.

As you may recall, last year after a long search we finally found a small place that sold us a Charlie Brown christmas tree for $100 after we bargained (we thought) fairly hard (see 12/26/07 blog entry – Christmas in Turkey, Part 1). This year, however, my husband, his boss and his boss’s Turkish wife headed out to a different nursery out on the Eskisehir highway. They picked out a lush, quite handsome specimen of a conifer and then went to start the deal with the three burly Turkish men who ran the place. My husband and his boss quietly backed away and just let the boss’s wife do her stuff. My husband said he even felt sorry for the poor Turkish guys. It was just no contest. Turkish women can be fearless negotiators. They just tell you what’s what and then you do it.

The result?

Tree on left: Christmas 2007
Contest: Four non-Turkish speaking foreigners negotiate for a tree.
Winner: No contest, game to the Turkish tree guy.
Cost = $100. Wrestled it home in the Renault’s trunk.

Tree on right: Christmas 2008
Contest: 1 Turkish woman vs. 3 burly Turkish men.
Winner: No contest - game, set and match to Turkish woman.
Cost = $60 DELIVERED TO OUR DOOR, 10 miles away.

And the most wonderful part of all was that my husband had the tree delivered as a surprise, and when the kids and I came off the elevator and it was sitting right in front of our apartment door, they thought Santa had brought us a tree. Would’ve paid the $100 just for the pure joy on their faces. But don’t tell the Turks.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rx in Turkey

Hmm… I guess it’s been a while since my last posting.

Blog entries came to a grinding halt last year because my child was hospitalized - four times. I know many people are able to “write through the pain” and continue to be creative while dealing with a difficult situation. They even use the writing to keep sane.

That would not be me.

My brain is like one the first desktops (I know - I’m dating myself) that could have only one application open at a time. If you wanted to work on the Small Child in a Foreign Hospital program, you had to first close the Creative Endeavors program.

ANYWAY, the child is fine. Back to 100% and in 5th gear. It’s a recurrent, albeit very fixable, problem. Hardly life-threatening. I’m throwing a couple of specialists at it with no answers yet. But the bright side? Fodder for the blog.

I have to say upfront that if you are going to go through something like this then Turkey is not a bad place to do it. The private hospital that now knows us so well is modern and spotless with English speaking physicians. The equipment is brand new and everything is computerized. When they take an x-ray, the x-ray is already on the doctor’s desktop by the time you walk back from the x-ray room to the doctor’s office. Only once did I have to wait more than three minutes in the emergency room.

(I can’t help compare it to our time in the Paris hospital - yes, we did this there too - although to be fair it’s more like comparing a public hospital vs. a private hospital than Turkey vs. France. And while I shouldn’t really complain because at the end of the day my child was cured with essentially the same course of treatment, the experience in Paris was distressing. I have been heard to mutter that I would get airlifted out of Paris before I’d go back to a French public hospital, but that’s uncharitable of me. They cured my son – it just wasn’t pleasant. And WHY was I at a public hospital instead of a private one in Paris, you ask? Because the Parisian private hospital only accepts pediatric emergencies Monday-Friday, 9AM – 5PM. Pediatric emergencies are literally turned away outside of those hours. Now I ask you, what child, ever, EVER has an emergency during those hours? No child. They have emergencies on Friday at 6PM, or Saturday on the soccer field or Sunday afternoon during the NFL playoffs. Never during the work week).

The first clue I had that this was not going to be a familiar medical experience is when just after we were admitted, a tall, gorgeous, elegant Turkish woman walked into our room and said to my son in beautiful English, “Hi, I’m your dietician. What would you like for dinner tonight?” My mouth dropped open. My sweet, oblivious son took it as completely normal that a hospital would cook to order and promptly starting reciting exactly what he wanted for dinner. He requested pesto pasta to start so I gently tried to steer him toward something a bit more Turkish. She showed up every day, twice a day, and made him whatever he wanted. And brought me a tray of the same. My other clues? Well, there was the beautiful cut-up fruit tray delivered at 10AM, the warm milk and cookies delivered at 9PM. The maid that made up my bed at 9:30 PM so I could sleep over. The roving bands of doctors that would stop by randomly and ask if there was anything I needed. The room service.

I’m sorry, did I mention this was a hospital, not a spa?

And now that we’ve done this in three different countries, I was comforted to see that the course of treatment was identical in each hospital, even down to the medicine and the dose.

But the bill?

Turkey – 5 days – $2,451.96
France – 4 days – $5,380.25
California – 4 days – over $27,000.

And really, the only proper reaction is to be grateful we have health insurance.