Adventures in Turkey: the Daily Thrill Ride

Today I wanted to give all you lovely readers a taste of my life in Turkey! Since I live in a big city where a majority of people rely on public transit rather than owning cars, I've had to familiarize myself with all the various ways of getting around the city. Most often I take either the metro, the bus, or my personal favorite: the minibus.

To my knowledge, the minibus is a phenomenon specific to Turkey, and it's not just a means of transportation but also means of peeking into the culture of Turkey. Let me paint a picture for you of what an average ride on the minibus looks like!

A minibus (as pictured above) is kind of a cross between a regular bus and a van. It has maybe 20 seats (depending on the model of minibus) and then a varying amount of standing room. The minibus drives along specific roads in the city with a specific starting point (like downtown) and a specific ending point (the outskirts of town) but with no prescheduled stops in between. So any one can hail a minibus as it barrels down it's route, get on, tell the driver the general area they're headed to, pay a flat rate, and then when they get to where they want to go, just ask the driver to open the door, and then hop right off! Pretty convenient right?

Well here's why a minibus ride is so entertaining to me. First of all, the minibus seems to have a center of gravity somewhat similar to a Jeep. Meaning that, as it flies down the road, you have the sensation that it could roll over at the slightest provocation. Secondly, there is the minibus drivers. These guys all seem to have superpowers of multitasking! Not only will they drive the vehicle (at whatever speed they can reach in city traffic and following their own set of traffic laws), but they keep an eagle-eye out for any pedestrian who shows the slightest interest in getting on the minibus and will then honk at said pedestrian until they either get on or wave the driver off. They also manage to smoke with one hand out their window, while using their right hand to shift gears, take passengers payment and make change, and open and close the side door for everyone getting on or off.  All of this comes together to make quite an interesting ride for the passengers! If the minibus is fairly empty and you're able to get a set, then all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the roller coaster. However if you're standing, you better have planted your feet and grabbed onto whatever railings or handles are available! The driver will speed as much as he can and brake as hard as needed to pick up or let off passengers!

What's neat about this experience is that as a foreigner, I get to observe a random sampling of Turkish people everyday and try and pick up on cultural norms and expectations. Turkish people are very warm and friendly, very respectful to their elders, and kind to ignorant foreigners (like me!) who don't understand what's happening most of the time! For instance, if the minibus stops to let an elderly person on, everyone on the bus will help that person by giving up their seat, lending a hand while they climb the steps, taking their money forward to the driver, etc. Even though each person on the bus is a stranger there is a certain sense of teamwork between all of the passengers to help each other out!

And so this is why I love the minibus. Sure, safety is not guaranteed. Sure, I may or may not look like an idiot bumping into people as the driver hits the gas or brakes unexpectedly. Sure, my hair might smell like smoke after an hour of soaking up the fumes from the driver's cigarette. Sure, my personal space may be intruded by the thirty people trying to squeeze in during rush hour. But such is Turkey! Such is life as a frugal musician living in a big city. It's different, it's uncomfortable at times, it's funny, it's surprising, and it is beautiful.