We had been wanting to live in Turkey ever since we sold our business, the Philadelphia Music Conference, in February of 1997, but moving there was not an option until Elif had her U.S. Green Card. And then one day in 1998, about nine months before the INS said it would come, it arrived in the mail. We opened the envelope and looked at it for a good long time. We immediately put our belongings into storage, and within two weeks, we were gone.
Much can change in Istanbul in just one year. Suddenly, everybody has cell phones. The dolmu?’es, which just last year were old 1950’s American Packards, now are almost all minivans. The lira, which three years ago was worth 46,000 to the dollar, is now 270,000 to the dollar; my leftover 10-and 20- thousand lira bills from last year are now no longer accepted. On the mainland, you now see teenagers wearing T-shirts with English writing on them. Mercifully, none of the street signs, storefronts, or restaurant menus are in English; whereas I used to think the Quebecois were snooty for banning non-French languages from Montreal storefronts, I now agree with them.
Our first task was to get me an extended-stay visa in Turkey. Before we had left New York, I had mailed $40 along with several photographs, forms and tax returns, and Elif’s mom called to tell me that the government had informed her that my application had been approved. But once we arrived in Turkey, their entire file on me had disappeared.
Thus began the ordeal. We went to the Immigration office in some remote part of Istanbul to procure forms, waited two hours and paid the equivalent of ten dollars to have a typist fill them out in quadruplicate (using carbon paper!) and to have eleven pictures taken of myself. I then waited on another line to get a form signed. Then I had to go into another line, which was considerably less pleasant: in a small hallway which was way over 100 degrees, we were smashed against a wall in a crush of Armenians, Georgians, Bulgarians, and Azerbaijanis, unable to breathe; even the venerated Turkish police unable to keep the peace in the moshpit. There were no exits, just a bunch of elbows and armpits, and nobody there was glad they used Dial. At some point, we literally fell out of the line, and that was it; we went home, defeated.
Back at Elif’s mother’s house, we learned that even if we had made it to the front of the line, we still would have have needed additional documentation, as well as $120 for the extended-stay visa (the same one for which I had mailed away $40 dollars from the US). We had had enough. Elif told her mother Dilek that we weren’t going back, and we gave Dilek my photos and told her to take care of it herself or to have one of her attorney friends do so. A week later, she handed me the visa.
As Dilek tells it, how it happened was quite simple. The Turkish immigration officers informed Dilek’s attorney friend that it was absolutely necessary for me be there in person, and that there was simply no way they around that regulation. If I didn’t like the rules, I could go home after three months. And then, one of the officers noticed the lovely little piece of paper that the attorney had accidentally left on his desk. Another officer in the room walked over and also admired its rectangular dimensions and its delightful yellow hue, as well as the picture of Ataturk on it. He was obviously in a patriotic mood, as he simply had to have one too – and as coincidence would have it, she had another one for him right in her purse!
My visa is good for a year.