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Published: March 3rd 2008
sigara içmek öldürür
"cigarette smoking kills"
Construction, construction, construction...
We bounced up and down what must've been the bumpiest, most torn-up road in Ankara (be sure to keep that it mind as you read on - bump, bump, bump). It was about a month or so ago. I had squeezed into an already-full minibus and was standing in the doorway, which was about halfway back on the right side of the vehicle. I had a perfect view of the driver from where I stood. He seemed to be having some trouble with his cigarette lighter. The darn thing just wouldn't light, so, gripping the steering wheel with his knees (bounce, bump, bump), he cupped his hand around the cigarette, but still just couldn't summon that needed flame.
Wind wasn't the problem.
No, it was a hand-held energy crisis. It was an obviously empty lighter, but the driver just was not one to give up without a fight. I found this episode to be more amusing than troubling. I have ridden enough Turkish dolmuşler and minibuses to know that drivers are quite skilled at multi-tasking while driving (bump, bang, bump, bump). It is completely common for a driver to make change for five different passengers at
hallway near some of my classrooms
"In the coridoors and in the classrooms cigarette smoking is prohibited." Students seem to be good about not smoking in classrooms. The hallways, however, are lung cancer passageways.
once, while in the midst of a heated cell phone argument, and at the same time overtaking large trucks in the middle of rush hour traffic. In Turkey, this is unfortunately standard practice.
What makes this story a story is the driver's execution of Plan B.
Growing ever-more frustrated while working his thumb into a frenzy, he pushed in the dashboard lighter, hoping that a red, glowing coil would save the day. After a few minutes of the thing not popping out, the driver decided to inspect its progress and give his flame lighter a rest (bump, ba-bump, bump).
He pulled out the dashboard lighter, and we could both clearly see that it had not reddened at all. Rather than give it a try on the actual cigarette, the driver decided that the best way to determine if it had sufficiently heated was to smell (!!!) the thing. (Picture a college freshman failing a sobriety test on Cocoa Beach). At this point I experienced a strange mix of emotions: mortal fear combined with overwhelming amusement at the ridiculous slapstick that was unfolding before my eyes.
Carefully, he brought the lighter ever closer to his face - left hand back on the steering wheel now, just to be safe... His right arm moved up and down as if were conducting a symphony, but still he appeared to fear no injury - something that, to me, seemed imminent.
Moments before contact was made, which would have resulted in presumably the funniest death ever of a full busload of innocent people, a nearby passenger offered up her lighter to the driver. A large plume of smoke was released, providing enormous relief to at least two people. It was like a brand new day. The driver took long, satisfying drags, creating a cloud which nearly obscured the large "NO SMOKING" sign which hung clearly above his head. He drove confidently on into the night...
Cigarette smoking is as much a part of daily life in Turkey as it was in America 20 years ago... probably even more so. I'm told that later this year smoking indoors will become widely prohibited in Turkey, thanks to some new legislation. I'll believe that when I see it. All over campus there are no smoking signs - all of them growing yellow from smoke.
When I visit professors in their offices, often the first thing they do is offer me a cigarette (the 2nd thing they do is offer me a cup of tea, which I must admit is pretty cool).
Ahmet, my roommate, is thankfully a non-smoker. We keep the door to our bathroom closed though, because smoke seems to come through the vents from our neighbors below or next to us.
"Sigara içmiyorum" (I don't smoke.) is one of the very first sentences I learned when I came to Turkey for the first time in 2004.
Although it is really just a bit of an inconvenience for me - especially while I'm eating (NY State restaurants have spoiled me) - there are times when I find this country's smoking culture downright offensive. There seems to exist no tabboo here about smoking around little kids or even babies. I feel that America has evolved to largely view this as unacceptable nowadays.
And that's that.
Spring is right around the corner, which means more time outside and more fresh air - harika!
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