Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Someone Build Me an Ark

Last week, it was Israel's killing of the Turkish activists.  It set the city on fire--or at least at certain times of the day; protests erupted everywhere, especially in the Fatih district, a rather conservative, religious neighborhood where bellowing boys were unfurling Palestinian flags and shrieking for "vengeance."
This week, the disaster is the flood.  Four straight days of heavy rains and two more to come.  It rolls in down from the Black Sea in black clouded wave after wave after wave.  Streets turn into rivers, rivers into lakes, and schools are closed...well at least most schools.  Not Fenerbahce Sports Penitentiary and High School.
I took the bus this morning, as did every other human being in this city of 15 million.  The water was sluicing down in huge sheets when I got to school.  It was a half foot deep at the gate and racing down the hill like a muddy waterfall (We're on the city's highest 'mountain').  My shoes, socks, and pants legs all got soaked as I hopped toward the entrance.
As soon as I entered school, a gaggle of women closed on me demanding I take off my wet clothes.  "You'll catch your death of cold!"  I couldn't argue.  (Though on the whole, as I've mentioned before, Turks are paranoid about the elements--air and water are the enemies of every fragile man or woman child who walks the earth--contact with either means certain death).  Upstairs, a salesman had left samples for next year's school uniform in the school's library.  I went up and changed into a pair of blue and yellow sweats and a Fenerbahce T.  The students giggled when I emerged.
"Oh, Jeff," said Mete.  "You look like a student."
Mete, of the infamous class 9B, is one of the biggest pains in the ass at school.  I've perfected an imitation of him that other students ask me to do when he's not around.  It's not hard, you just have to glaze your eyes over, let your mouth hang slack, and talk like a movie zombie, kind of like a slightly undead version of Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
"Why don't you just go home, Mete." I say.  "Lie.  Say you're sick.  Please."
"You are so funny, hoja," he says.  "You are looking so hot in those clothes."
"That's true.  Please.  Tell someone you're sick.  They'll believe it.  It's raining outside for God's sake.  Rain kills."
Behind him his friends are trying to get me to mimic him, mouthing "Do it! Do it! Do it! Pleeeeease!"
My clothes hang in every free window of the teacher's room, trying to dry.
Puddles and small lakes are everywhere.  The construction site for the gym that will never be built is a grey sludge of mud water.  The parking lot reflects back the sky, pecked with endless rings of water from the falling rain.  On the school's soccer field, there is what looked like an army of seagulls--about forty in all, big and bright white, milling casually through the puddles in the grass and turning their heads back and forth as if mingling over drinks while waiting for someone to call the meeting to order.  They lingered there till mid morning when the rain slacked off from a Biblical deluge to a steady drenching.  
And I had just swore to Ekrem's mother, Seyhan, last night that I would not go out without an umbrella again.  She, Ekrem, and Ekrem's Dad, Emin had invited me over for dinner, and though it hadn't rained all afternoon, as soon as I stepped off the Metro, the clouds opened up and the clouds emptied themselves out.  I quickly got lost and roamed the backstreets of Cerrahpasha for nearly twenty minutes until Ekrem's father found me looking like I had just crawled out of the sea to give this evolution a shot.
"Where's your rain slicker?  And your umbrella?"  He had both.
"Broken and lost," I explained.  "Then forgotten."
He gave the Turkish tsk tsk tsk of dismay and worry, and hurried me home.  When we got to the house, Seyhan met us at the door with a look of hysterical amusement.  Look what the foreigner's done now!
"What happened to you?!"
"If you're thirsty," I said.  "I could wring out my shirt."
They immediately made me change clothes and then spent about fifteen minutes taking turns working me over with a hair dryer to make sure I was warmed up.  I started giggling when the gravelly voiced, cigar smoking Emin made me lift up my arms so he could take the hair dryer to my armpits.
"Don't miss a spot!" Seyhan called.  She threw one of Ekrem's T-shirts at me and gave me a fierce look.  "Now you must promise me not ever, ever to go out like that again without at least a rain slicker."
Well, I broke that promise and paid the price.
This afternoon I was running down by the water when the rain finally let up for a bit.  Clouds of steam roiled on the sea.  The Princes islands were swallowed in white water vapor.  A fissure opened up in the clouds and the sun was out for the first time in days, then promptly went back in as the clouds rolled shut again.  Men were huddled in their boats playing poker and backgammon.  They made snide comments as I passed, as usual.  "Run, Forrest, Run!".   Then suddenly, as I rounded the cape, a gang of police and firemen were crowded about the bridge that separates the boat docks from Fenerbahce Stadium's parking lot.  They were fishing a corpse out of Frog Creek--(The quaintly named stream is a cesspool, filled with garbage and raw sewage that burst out into the sea when the water broke the little net that filters out the bigger shit and keeps it from pouring into the Marmara.  Turks may be psychotically clean in their own homes, but on the whole, people treat this city as if it were a garbage dump/human litter box).  A family of women stood around a wet fireman, who was desperately explaining something to a young teenage girl.  She was near tears, her eyes wide, nodding and nodding.  A man had fallen in when the water burst over the barriers--a city worker sent to survey the damage.
A group of rubberneckers had formed a swarm along the bridge over Frog Creek and along the newly paved footpath.  Everyone was craning their heads over everyone else, trying to see what was going on.  A news crew was setting up a camera and cat weaved in and out of their feet, soggy, its hair matted, a dead kitten in its teeth--it had drowned, as well.
Istanbul's strays are roaming the streets, sodden and sullen, having given up on places to hide.  As the bus sludged through puddle after puddle on the way home today, I even saw a black and white rabbit with a collar hopping through puddles in an outdoor cafe.

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