Burnt cigarettes on the table, used plates around the kitchen, and even a condom wrapped in a tissue; on 31st December 2012, I moved into a small apartment, not far from the centre of Istanbul and this is what I found. The boiler didn’t work, the bathroom was covered in mould, and the front door didn’t lock. When it did lock, it was then incapable of being opened.
‘What is this place?’ I thought. I had been out of the country and unable to view the apartment before arriving, so trusted in others to find me a nice new home. The one saving grace was that the landlord offered a rolling contract which could be cancelled at any time with a months notice.
My thousand and something lira deposit paid, I was committed to staying for at least a month. Due to the fact that I lived in the ghetto (I am not very ghetto), I was keen to get out as soon as possible. My first realisation that something was wrong was when I had to refuse to pay my rent in order to get the boiler fixed (December and January are very cold) and I was charged an extra fifty lira a month for unexplained reasons. When I was overcharged on my bills by around 50% of my monthly rent, I knew I had big problems.
The landlord was a rat of a man. A weasel. Worse than that, a pigeon. A mangy, toeless pigeon. I rarely hate anyone but I learnt to hate this man.
When I asked to move out many months ago, he told me that he would take my deposit and sue me for the remaining balance, equivalent to several thousand pounds. I didn’t have that money. Unfortunately, I had signed a contract that indicated I would stay in the apartment for 9 months. I didn’t know this. In good faith, I had listened to his translations of the contract in which I was ‘free to leave anytime’ and trusted what he said. The little Turkish word that I mistook for gay, actually said 9 months (9ay; ay is the Turkish word for month).
“One month, you leave no problem.” City pigeon.
This may sound like a rant. It is. I have already vented about Turkey once. This time, my feelings are much stronger and this is a supremely condensed version of how I feel.
I reclaimed the overcharged bills after a tense three hour conversation in which my new Turkish friends translated for me. Even then, he robbed me of some money for the door lock and change that he didn’t have by conveniently forgetting. I have never in my life, met such a dishonest man. Occasionally I was tempted to forgive him his dishonesty as I wondered if it was simple idiocy that compelled him to behave as he did. I now feel that it was a combination stupidity and dishonesty. He has both qualities in abundance.
Nothing bad ever happened to them, but the two girls I lived with were called to by guys near the apartment on numerous occasions One of them was followed home by an old Turkish man and there were no end of comments, even when I was nearby. This is common in Turkey but it made none of us any happier with the situation. From my caged balcony, I also heard youths shouting and driving erratically late at night. The lady next door once threw potatoes into our window to stop us talking despite her kid screaming and banging through the morning (her child was not an infant). The neighbours opposite spied on us and gave reports to the landlord about when we left the house and who visited that he would feed back to us at the end of the month. He tried to charge an extra few hundred lira when someone stayed for an extended period of time, claiming that it was in the contract. “This is not my contract,” he told me when I showed him his contract and I woke up my sleeping flatmate as I displayed an extremely rare case of losing my temper.
Often the police would come by to ‘sort out’ problems. The most amusing was watching from my balcony as the police clashed with some 18-30 year olds. As the youths lashed out at the police, the police swarmed them in numbers, kicked their feet from under them, held them on the ground by their throats, and gave them a good pounding. They then loaded them into the police van, only to let them out ten minutes later. They had to come back three times that night, each time letting the youths go. There is a similar punishment system in the school system here.
Emre, say sorry and promise that you won’t stab her with your pencil again, then you can go… Sorry… OK good, now you can go.
I hated this place.
I advertised my apartment and many people viewed it, but no-one wanted it. Until late on Sunday night.
“Can we move in at lunchtime tomorrow?”
“I think that should be OK,” I said in mock contemplation. In my mind, I was screaming profanities of delight. I did a little dance when the guy had gone.
For some people, this apartment is fine. But not for me.
I was homeless for a few days and lived on my friends sofa, spending five to six hours each day lurking outside while waiting to meet him. I barely slept due to my late sleeps and early starts (leaving the apartment at 6am).
But now I am free. I live in a basement apartment elsewhere in Istanbul. One girl went north, the other, another apartment nearby. The badness has passed, I never have to see that man again, and I wish never to think of him. I just needed to share my frustrations.
Forgive me my first world problems for now they are over. This is my great escape. It is done.