I have a driver, Niza, who chauffeurs me on the twenty minute trip to and from my medical faculty classes everyday. He’s my Chewbacca – though he speaks no English, and I no Turkish, we have come to understand each other’s sensibilities. He loves to talk about the weather and thinks fat people are funny. We’ve been friends for about seven months now.
Every Thursday we’re joined by Hateje, a twenty-something art student. She sits in the back, and I’ve yet to find out why she has to go to the medical faculty. My best guess is she has some sort of chronic painter’s cramp or her uncle is the dean. She doesn’t speak much English, so usually our interaction is:
HATEJE: Merhaba, Cass!
ME: HOLY COW, you scared me, Hateje. Don’t hide next time.
Every Wednesday I teach a class in the dean’s office directly. It’s usually attended by higher-ups with less English skill. The topics usually revolve around simple nouns and ‘Where did Cass goes this weekend’. However, since the dean is a busy man, I usually spend the first fifteen to twenty minutes of class in his waiting room with a book.
He has a pretty secretary whose name I don’t know, but I feel like we’ve bonded over the months that I’ve been sitting in her office space waiting to teach English. She will usually ask me questions in Turkish and I will respond with, “I don’t speak Turkish.” I’d tack her name on the end if I knew it, but she knows my name and that’s half the battle. The other half is air support.
Yesterday, Hateje got into Niza’s car with a big red canvas and a smile. After we greeted each other, I rode in silence while Hateje and Niza talked about me. I know this because they said my name many times, and once Niza picked up my hand and motioned to it, as if he was making a point about my hairy fingers. Turks don’t prize body hair.
After my class was over, I walked to the spot where Niza usually waits to take me home. However, he wasn’t there; I walked into the dean’s office to ask the secretary where he was. Above the secretary’s desk hung Hateje’s big red canvas. At that point I realized that, though I’ve known them/her for half a year, Hateje and the secretary are the same person.
As she described in unintelligible Turkish Niza’s current whereabouts, I whispered in surprised, “Hateje?” She looked at me puzzled and said, “Cass?”
I’d love to say this is the pinnacle of my American misunderstandings in Van, but I’m certain I’ll do something else completely idiotic. I’m still embarrassed that I’ve ridden in the same car and sat in the same waiting room with this single person for seven months whilst thinking she was actually two, one being much prettier than the other. When Niza eventually found me, I think he sensed my uneasiness. Again, we’re very close. So to make things less awkward, he started motioning between Hateje and I and saying, “Evlilik,” Turkish for marriage. I can’t marry her, Niza. Apparently I don’t know her at all.