Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Amazing story from our Friends Marko and Karla

Part one: at the toll booth.

Last day in Turkey, or what we thought would be, we packed the bike early in the morning and made an attempt to reach the Bulgarian border.

We left Istanbul around noon, drove a bit until we were starving, so we exited somewhere and had a marvellous little lunch.

We tried driving along the ‘normal’ roads, but quickly decided to get back on the motorway around a place called Nullaburgas(?).

From there our destination was very close.

However, when we tried to get back on the motorway, all the tollbooths where one can/should get a ticket by pressing the knobs, booth one, two, and three, were out of order. We pressed knobs like mad and nothing came out. We tried the ‘help speaker’, and nothing happened.

Next to each toll booth there are these ‘control centres’ that reminds one a lot of airport flight towers, only smaller. In the windows of this particular one a Turk stood watching us. We’ve been down there trying our luck at getting a ticket for a good 15 minutes at least. He waved us on. We shook arms in the air, trying to convey to him that we wanted a ticket/slip. He again pointed to the road and told us to get moving.

So we moved the bike that he could see we had a bike and needed a ticket for it. He just signed with his hand that we should carry on.

So we did.

I mean, there is just that much one can do.

A short while later we reached the final toll booth where one has to produce ones ticket and pay for it.

In Turkey, normal prices for these would be between one or two lira. We started explaining to the guy in the booth that we had no ticket because the ticket booths in Nullaboergas didn’t work.

He started shouting that we had to pay. Even asking in Euro, an exorbitant amount, totally out of order and way too much of course.

Being used to haggling in India, Pakistan and Iran, we settled down and tried to explain that we wanted a ticket, that their own colleagues couldn’t be bothered to supply us with one, so that it’s not our fault and that they should please call the guys in nullaboergas to confirm this, for sure they will remember.

No one was interested in calling.

Another fat guy dressed in civilians approached us from the right hand side(booth is on the left), he was immediately aggressive and insisted we pay in euro. We replied that there is no chance, because we are in turkey, why should we pay in another currency? All we want is that they call their friends to confirm and we’ll gladly pay what we are due.

They spoke, very conveniently very little English, but of course every idiot all over the world can understand the sign when one shows talking on a phone next to ones ear.

They really just didn’t care.

Under normal circumstances, if one should have no ticket then the official pricey would be the total price on the toll road from Istanbul to there. Still very little. That would amount to a handful of coins.

The fat guy started shouting, he was on top of us on the bike. I told him to back off.

As Marko is driving, normally when we stop he doesn’t bother to remove his helmet. That’s my job, so I can speak clearer to the people.

The fat guy grabbed my jacket and started shaking me, I pushed him off, if he pulls too hard he can cause the whole bike, all 300kg of it, to tip over. And Marko would be stuck under it.

When I pushed him off, he made a fist and he wanted to slab me in the face, I kicked him in the balls at the same time that Marko came in between us shouting “Don’t touch my wife.”

The guy took a swing at M.

I slid off the bike and ran to the other side of the tollbooth where police in uniform stood.

I was shouting like mad that they should please come immediately to come and help.

Three fairly young boys dressed in darkish green uniforms came towards us.

It turned out later that there is a distinct difference in turkey between what they call ‘police’ (dressed in blue uniforms) and ‘jandarme’ (dressed in the olive green suits). The jandarme is the army police. They have nothing to do with one another.

So these 20 year old ‘boys’ flew towards us where Marko had gotten off the bike by now and was trying to avoid the fat obnoxious crazy man.

The jandarme backed the guy without question. They approached the bike and immediately started getting on it, trying to take the keys and the bike. Marko went for the bike to at least get hold of the keys before they did and tried talking to them to explain that they can’t take the bike.

All of this happened in a matter of seconds.

Before we knew what happened, they turned on him and started beating him from all sides.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was registering that they are beating his head, but as he didn’t take his helmet off and was dressed in full driving gear, all padded up for safety during an accident, I thought that they are insane, beating his head, because they must only be hurting their own fists.

But that was all flitting through my head.

When they all went for him, they dragged him down, held him down ad was kicking him. The fat guy and a fourth soldier that wasn’t present later joined in.

I went berserk.

As I had my helmet in my had, I stormed into the lot and started bashing away at them with my helmet. Immediately they turned on me and started beating me, they pulled me down and was kicking me in the face, but at the same time it gave Marko time to get up and come in between us. I got up and freaked out repetitively asking them what the fuck they were doing? Marko went crazy because my whole face was covered in blood.

It’s a strange sensation. You feel nothing, only when I wiped my hand over it, it was all red, my sleeve stank of it hours later. He was shouting ‘Look at my wife, look what the fuck you’ve done to my wife, are you crazy?” I took my camera out to take pictures and immediately they started backing off. Once they backed away we ran to the cars slowing down to go through the toll booths.

There was a car nearest to us with a Dutch NL number plate. As I lived for 8 years in Amsterdam I speak Dutch and approached the car. Inside there was a blond Dutch guy in his late thirties. At first he didn’t want to open his window to talk to me. I begged him, I was bloody and I was sobbing and shaking.

I explained what happened and asked if he could please help us, at the least try to call the embassies. That’s the first thing you think when such a thing happens in a foreign country. Find the people with authority that would understand, speak several languages and bat for your team. He shrugged his shoulders and told me that he has nothing to do with it and can’t be bothered.

For a second time in 15 minutes I just couldn’t believe what was happening. That someone can possibly have such a callous response was a total strange thing to this girl. I backed off and he drove away.

In the meantime Marko approached a black Audi A4. The couple inside could speak English. They were Turkish Bulgarian. They stopped and confronted the cops. The cops shouted something to them in Turkish and promptly the man got very nervous, got in his car and drove off.

We managed to stop a third car. A large BMW jeep, inside two very kind, obviously wealthy German Turks.

They pulled up and Marko explained to them in German what had happened. They argued and stood their man against the cops.

One of them shoved 30 euro into the fat guy’s hand and they quietly but urgently told us to just get on the bike immediately and leave, drive close to them, follow them to the border.

We agreed. The cops agreed( or pretended to) but as the cops by now had dragged our bike in an impossible position behind the barrier it took us a few minutes to get sorted and climb on it and drive through. As the police waved the BMW off, they left and we were again alone and suddenly they made a circle around us, and refused to let us go.

By now there was about twenty young guys.

I went to the police station.

There was an older looking guy, but in blue police uniform sitting inside. From his window he could watch the whole ordeal, but as he was watching also television, he just couldn’t care.

He was police, they were jandarme.

I needed someone older in charge, someone that could speak English and wasn’t just making signs of how to cut our throats.

Someone with enough sense to fix this mess.

Shortly after a whole lot of vans with flashing lights arrived.

Out poured more of the same young boys in olive green and one older man in a woollen sweater and brown pants. He was the big boss.

He brought a clean shaven neat young guy with him that spoke quite a good English and even some German.

He was to become our first interpreter.

Later he told us that he used to be a professional dancer and that they toured a great many countries. He was kind and seemed sincere.

The older guy listened dramatically to all his soldiers and to the fat guy. He hardly bothered to ask our version of the story. We had no idea what anyone was saying. After a while he walked up to me with a massive smirk on his face and asked 9he already knew) where I was from, I replied Africa. He mumbled something to the interpreter. He translated that the boss said something to the extent of ‘so is this how you solve problems in Africa, by fighting?’. He laughed and asked for our passports and walked off.

Marko was then starting to get really rattled. He told them that he is not pleased with how things are going and that he doesn’t feel like handing over our passports AT ALL. They forced us to give it. They pushed him towards the bike and in between the interpreter ‘promised’ him that we would get it back, that nothing bad would happen to us, that it is just procedure. Marko underlined the fact and showed them the pages in the passports(not that anyone could read0 where it is stated by our governments that those passports are not even our property. That it is the property of our various governments and therefore ONLY our governments or we ourselves are allowed to have them. So it will be against the law for them to take it.

They took it and disappeared into a van.

They kept us there in the cold waiting for nearly an hour, not saying anything and refusing to let us leave.

After almost two hours Marko went over to ask what is the procedure, what is happening and when can we go?

Then they stood around shrugging and laughing at us. Marko said that we are serious, we really have such a time pressure to be back in Germany for work, that we have to drive.

The opened the doors of a minibus and told us to put the bike inside.

300kg, loaded with boxes on, even if we wanted to, it’s impossible. No way that it would fit in.

Marko asked where we would be going. They said that we’ll leave to go to the base about 6km away.

He said that he’ll drive after them. They refused and pushed me into the minibus. They told him to leave the bike where it is, it’s ‘safe’, and get in the minibus.

So we all left for the base. And the bike, fully loaded, stayed there out in the middle of nowhere.

Part two: spending hours in the army base.

In the minibus there was our interpreter and about 9 very young soldiers, all aged between 19 and 20. So were the guys who beat us up. they kept staring at us, laughing and pushing their feet up against mine, so I have to move them the whole time.

Finally we arrived at the base, more than 6km away. Somewhere in the town of Edirne.

They filed us into an office with computers, told us to sit and wait. All the same young guys hanging around, looking and crowding the doorway.

Finally a fat guy with a slightly different uniform came in. He had slick hair and rather bulging eyes.

We weren’t sure who he was. We thought at first he might be some sort of clerk or secretary about to take our statements.

Then they brought the guys who beat us in, including the fat guy who started punching.

He took his time listening to their stories, all the while glaring at us and nodding his head.

Then he turned and asked the interpreter to ask me if I have any sisters or girlfriends, because he needs a girlfriend.

I responded that it would make him a poor man, because women cost a lot of money.

He just made what obviously seemed like some filthy comments in Turkish, everyone laughed and our interpreter said it’s nothing worth translating.

This went on for a while.

Then we were told to get up, we had to go for a check up at the hospital.

Again we said that we are fine, we are just in a rush and really aught to be on the road.

We felt that if they can’t come up with any clear accusation, or plan of action – by now it was clear to us that they didn’t care what really happened, they were just mucking about wasting time – then we should be going.

So off we went again into the minibus, this time along with the guys who beat us, the fat guy being so sweet that honey couldn’t melt in his mouth. They took us to a public hospital where they told us to wait.

Local Turks came up to us and started talking, many of them in German, asked what had happened. Marko told them, and the interpreter told them off, we weren’t allowed to talk to anyone.

The doctor called us in. pulled my now very tender and swollen eye apart and said that it’s not much. He made the nurse bring me ice in a latex glove and said that they had no paracetamol to give me, after I asked for it, but that I could have a shot in my bottom. With everyone asking and a handful of janarme standing around I definitely wasn’t about to lower my trousers for their further entertainment.

Marko was luckily wearing his helmet and back protector during the time that they were kicking him, so he was mostly okay, but where the back protector ended, in his lower back, there it was painful, without much to externally show for it. Then the guys who attacked us had a turn and suddenly they all had all sorts of problems. Complaining of this and complaining of that.

Marko started losing his temper outside.

The jandarme boy who was the first to start beating and kicking Marko was taunting us and pointing at my face and giggled. Marko pointed to him and shouted that it is rubbish, they beat US up and then they laugh about it. I was looking really terrible indeed, bloody all over and eye rapidly colouring and swollen so much that I couldn’t open it.

He told our interpreter that it’s totally ridiculous, that they are wasting our time and that we want to go, if not we demand to call our embassies IMMEDEATLY. He asked if we had their numbers, of course we didn’t have it in our pocket, why should we?

The guys stood around and laughed.

Our interpreter told the boy to leave. He did.

By then we had all the sick people who came to the emergency help at the hospital around us. I decided to take advantage of that, started telling people what had happened and asking if someone could please help us to get in contact with our embassies. The interpreter told them that they weren’t allowed to, should put their cell phones away. I asked the hospital staff if I could use their internet for a second, they switched the computer screen off and told me that it was out of order. Then I asked if they had some sort of phone directory, again they were told by the jandarme not to help.

Shortly after we were taken back to the base.

Still no one even asked our version of the story.

We’ve been sitting around for nearly 4 hours.

The young guy who was taunting us at the hospital was hanging in the doorway doing more of the same. I flew up, before Marko could get upset, and asked the fat bulging eye guy, clearly someone in charge, how does that work? That they can beat us up and then stand around laughing? I didn’t appreciate that at all.

Some of the younger jandarme shoved the boy away. The ‘boss’ turned around and very threateningly told me that in the office he was boss.

The fat guy who started the fight was busy giving his version ‘statement’ at the computer was grinning from ear to ear.

We had no idea what was coming for us, but we weren’t happy.

‘The boss’ sat staring at my tits and body, so I kept my big bulky jacket on. They showed us the prison downstairs where the men side was brimming over with guys badly beaten up. the woman side was just a dark empty cold cage. Thy told us that IF…(highly suggestive) we should go in there, we’ll be in there for six months, Marko will be in that little crowed room where there wasn’t even a place to sit and I would be all by myself in the ‘ladies room’. They ripped themselves apart and thought it was very funny. We pretended to find it enormously interesting. Clearly they were trying to scare us, but we weren’t about to show fear. I am certain though that if given such a chance ‘the boss’ won’t hesitate to rape me in that prison. It was incredibly unpleasant to be ogled for hours by a drooling ‘boss’. Not something that would give one hope should Turkey enter the EU.

Finally another somewhat older in his late twenties second interpreter arrived to replaced the first one that used to be a dancer. He was born and lived in Germany until he was 22, so at least communication went somewhat smoother.

He was brusque and rude towards us at first. Asked questions and started translating to ‘the boss’ and another guy higher in rank than ‘the boss’. But the weren’t bothered to listen. ‘The boss’ was proudly displaying his 3 different cell phones on the table, taking them apart and interrupting the interpreter translating our answers with stories of his own of how one phone is for work, one for the wife and the third for girlfriends. Then the higher in command guy also took his three phones out to compare. (later we learned that having so many phones means ‘status’ as the younger troops aren’t allowed to have phones at all)

Anyhow, no one cared or listened much to our version of events. When we started asking then how is such a thing possible and pray tell how can FIVE men beat the TWO of us, plus me being a woman, up for no apparent reason, what would happen to the man that would shake, slab, beat and kick ‘the boss’s wife or girlfriend. Then suddenly everyone got tense and stared at us. I stared back, got very good at that game thanks to my brother when we were little kids. I wasn’t about to flinch. We did nothing wrong.

Then the interpreter said that we are really in a very bad spot because WE were the ones who was beating up jandarme and that that was a very serious offence. That we would have to wait six months and appear before a judge.

With everyone else lying?

I’m sorry but I haven’t seen ANY sanity, kindness, or basic human justice that entire afternoon and evening. We were close to twelve at night by now and it was just ridiculous. So we said that we absolutely don’t think so. How can we be wrong if we defend ourselves when they are beating us to death FOR NOTHING? We demanded to have the numbers and WILL call our German, South African and seeing that my parents are Canadian, also the Canadian embassies right there on the spot. They have wasted enough of our time, they have brutalised US, and it’s twelve at night, we WANT our passports back, they have no right to keep it, if there isn’t any formal charges being pressed and besides, we wanted to have the video footage there.

Video? What video?

The ‘boss’ stopped ogling and seemed to be on alert.

We insisted that we saw the cameras, this entire ordeal happened not only in public but at a toll booth and there are loads of camera, so it must be on tape and we want to view it, then it is easy to see who started beating who and how. Suddenly everyone in the room was looking at one another.

We pushed on, the fat guy was playing innocent, claiming that we just attacked him out of the blue for nothing. Now with video footage that would prove to be just the opposite. It would show how we were on the floor and 5 jandarme boys were kicking us to pieces. A very good thing on international TV, good propaganda for how well things are truly going in Turkey, not flash Istanbul, Ankara or the little safe cells of vacation villages, but the REAL Turkey.

So yes. We indeed do insist to have the tapes. AND pull up the phone, we are going to make some phone calls. OR we WILL leave, because they are keeping us there against our wishes. They have been rude and they not only hurt us, but they also waste our time.

Suddenly all the cards on the table changed.

‘the boss’ grumped at the translator “that I speak too much”.

But within ten minutes they came up with a solution : if we are willing to sign a (stack of) papers saying that I fell and bruised my eye and that we left without any hard feelings towards each other, then we are free to go.

We said FINE. Do it.

We’ve been in there for well past 8 hours, we were shocked, beaten up, hungry, tired and on top of that in a hurry. They could be a bother and drag it all out, and it might become enormously tedious, so we figured that with a rubbish system of justice such as that, we might just as well sign and get out of there, to a place where one does have the right to say that things like these are not the way to do it.

They produced papers in Turkish. The interpreter promised on his honour to Allah that what he was translating for us was what was written down.

So we signed and as we were handed our passports back, without a thank you or a sorry, it was 12.25 and we were eager to be off.

Part Three: a few more hours into the morning.

Little did we know that the night was far from over. At that very moment, in barged more young troops. They dragged in what was the ‘taxi driver’ and without a thought started slapping him around. They shoved in 6 stunned scared Asians.

The interpreter explained that they were illegal ‘Vietnamese’, trying to cross the border and that this is real bad for him, because now he would have to spend the entire night trying to get a word out of them and normally they won’t speak at all, so they would have to be taken downstairs and beaten until they admit that they were illegal in Turkey.

He said that they catch a 150 such ‘illegals’ EVERYDAY.

Yeah right.

The little office was quite crowded.

The ‘Vietnamese’ were rattled out of their wits, but they looked very Chinese to me, and I told that to the interpreter. He insisted that they were illegal Vietnamese.

As they were still shouting and pushing the taxi driver around, one girl started crying. I went over to her and addressed her in Chinese, asking if she understood me or not. My face really looked awful so even that must have made them feel quite uncomfortable.

They peeped at one another and kept quiet.

I was told to sit down.

The jandarme was by now trying to make phone calls on the phone they took off the taxi driver.

Soon the shoved two more men in

Total: four girls, and two guys. All well dressed.

I tried again. I asked slowly in Chinese if they understood me and can speak some Chinese.

The one guy nodded yes, and started talking so fast in Fujian dialect that I had a hard time understanding him.

I asked him to kindly speak slowly and in Beijing hua so I can follow. He did. They had no idea why they were there and would like to call their embassies.

I told him that that might not be so easy.

We all were shoved out into the corridor.

The interpreter rather rudely made a list of questions I had to ask these ‘illegal Vietnamese they were so eager to beat up”.

Thought that was a bit out of order after what the cops put us through that day, but as I can help, I settled down and tried to help. Offered food and water, they accepted water. I ordered the cops to jump, if they want my help. After a lot of to and thro’ they not only could produce their PASSPORTS, flight tickets in and out of turkey, but even a visa card.

Clearly NOT illegal. (the girls gave me a whole facial with wonderful clinique beauty products, fussing about the state I was in)

All the did when they got picked up was drive together in a taxi to the big bus stand and bought a ticket for Istanbul. (if you are heading overland into the EU, then that is the other way.)

Obviously there was nothing that they did wrong. The ‘boss’ was very unhappy about that. Kept grilling them through me. around 1.30 I said it’s enough, it’s not my job or my place to translate for them the jandarme. IF they want to communicate with these people, then they should call their embassy for a translator.

And walked out, smoked a cigarette.

Now please remember that our motorbike is still in the middle of nowhere, it is 1.45 in the morning and the jandarme don’t feel like taking us back, we have to lick arse and show a lot of humility and patience because no one is there to drive us back to the bike.

2,45 all of us, Chinese included who bought fruit juice for everyone including the jandarme ‘guarding’ us and our two interpreters, were still shivering outside, smoking and waiting to be driven away from the base.

‘the boss’ was too busy.

Finally the took us and first dropped the very grateful Chinese off at the bus stand. Their only concern was to retrieve the two little packs from the boot of the taxi.

The jandarme made them toss it all out, nothing much in it they scratched through it and told them, in ‘the boss’s words “to fuck off”.

His only English.

Then they ‘joked’ (ha-ha-ha-, so funny) that we should walk to our bike. We got back into the van and ignored their tremendous efforts at being funny, said we’ll go now.

At the bike everything seemed in order. The stood around watching us getting things back in place.

We drove off into the morning, heading to the Bulgarian border 6km away, without saying good bye.

Rock stars, movie stars and passports

We received tremendous help from yet another Turk who I met at ATA motos. This time it was Ozan, who fearlessly drives his bmw 1150 on Metzelaar knobbies around Istanbul when he isn't playing double bass in a local jazz band.

We needed to drop Claras motorcycle at a warehouse about 20 miles from the city in a place called Tuzla. On a hunch I asked Ozan if he could be our guide and interpreter. He was awesome! We 3 cruised East through the harrowing traffic. One problem our motorcycle guides throughout the world have is that they don't take our panniers into account. So while they bob and weave through traffic, we are stuck smelling fumes, or taking even riskier moves on our wider bikes. However, we were able to stay with him and after stopping for directions a few times we got to the warehouse. A few young boys came running over from their soccer game to check out the sights before Ozan sent them scurrying to find the custodian.

A few hours later we had Claras bike packed up, disconnected, and ready to go back to the Usa. we had made it back to the shippers office after a 15 mile race at 60 to 80 mph in a 30 mph zone on a curvy seaside 3 lane track following the shipping agents agent in a van with Clara and Ozan who was fighting with lesser educated Turks about turn signal etiquette in the right hand lane at speed, Ozan had treated us to lunch and let us know he used to be in a famous Turkish rock band "Athena", and Ozan had shown me a shortcut which included riding the wrong way up one way streets and riding on the brick sidewalks. In Istanbul, it is not a matter of if but when you are going to be in an accident.

We had to pay more than 100 dollars to get a power of attorney notarized, a complete govt. Racket whick shows some of the inefficient govt progress which everyone acknowledges here. We will hopefully have Clara passport back Saturday once her bike gets stamped for leaving the country.

Finally, last night our friend Hakan made a wonderful dinner for us and his moviestar friend, Cinemas. We were able to enjoy it right after he and I fixed his overheating Renault in the middle of traffic!
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