Ankara and the Halfway-House

The receptionists of the hotel were matching magical girls in uniforms with pigtails and symmetrical eyebrows. They smiled at us, told us we were beautiful, and filled our pockets with sweets.
 We got a taxi to the bus stand and the taxi man put us straight on the right bus, where all the passengers helped us to pay and get to the right stop, and two young students took us off the bus and directly to the hotel we’d needed, leading us by hand to the door. It wasn’t their stop and they had to walk back to where they were supposed to be going.

The reception man in the hotel said we could park in the hotel lobby for free.

Turkey was going to be hard to beat…

We moved in, and marveled at having real walls, and almost a bathroom.

Our hotel was in a seedy part of town on a crossroads. To get to the hotel you had to walk past strange beggar-men selling bits of tat they had found or swapped- old Harry Potter books, fake Diesel boots, parts of mobile phones, all thrown onto the ground- like Tranmere car-boot sale on a really bad day.

Dodgy young guys sold hardcore porn DVDs hidden away in alleys behind the hotel.

The corner-shack next to the hotel sold newspapers by day and illegal beer in black plastic bags at night. Young boys brought it there from somewhere or other, and there were various drunk age-groups gathered below our window every night.

The first night there was a drunk man holding an 8” blade, waving it in the air while people tried to remove it. He leant against a truck, crying. His friends gave up on him and went home. A few hours later he started up again, and tried to stab someone. I was watching out the window but they saw me and I had to hide. I don’t know the end result.

We had a visit to the Iranian Embassy planned and I needed hijab gear to get in. We found a lovely shop assistant in a more conservative Muslim shop in town, she dressed me up and showed me how to fix the skullcap underneath, and the headscarf with pins.

The beauty of wearing hijab in Turkey for me was that no one stares. You become invisible. To look in the eyes of a non-related woman in hijab is almost a sin in Turkey.

Ankara was visa time for us.

We visited the Indian embassy. They told us we couldn’t have a visa for India until we had a Pakistani visa. Then they told us we wouldn’t be able to get one of those, so we might as well not bother. We left. Oh.

We called the Pakistani embassy. They told us to go back to England to get a visa. We called back. They told us to go away. Hmm…

We visited the Iranian embassy. I sweated underneath my hijab. We were very nervous. There was perceptible shaking as we sat in the offices. Without an Iranian visa we would be completely stuck.

We received the visa the same day. We left the offices and did a little dance. 19 days in Iran!

We began to realize our hotel was a little..odd. The man next door to me waited until I was on my own. He grabbed my arm in the hallway and told me ‘Definitely don’t worry.’ He said it 5 times. The man down the corridor kept coming out of his room with no trousers on every time we went past. There was a woman in reception with a tiny skirt on, clutching her head and being shown to her room. Our day was tried repeatedly at night, and someone knocked to be let in, convinced they lived there.

We came to the conclusion it was a hotel being doubled up as a half-way house.

There was no hot water.
There was no flush to the toilet.
There were cockroaches living in the curtains.
At night billions of tiny creatures crept across the bathroom floor.

It was cheap though.

We had a couple of days of non-visa activity, and went off to see the sights. We climbed the castle walls. Teenage lads released their pet pigeons from the rooftops. We went to the mosque and watched hijabed young women going to pray together. There were devout men with their heads against the mosque walls. I thought it must be odd to go for a pray with your friends. We bought olives and peynir and Turkish Delight by the gram.

The man from the hotel who had grabbed my arm saw us off as we left Ankara. He was quite drunk at 8am. Possibly he was an arms dealer. He told us he was in imports-exports. He had lived in Libya, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq and was now living in a squalid hotel in Ankara. He clutched at himself as he spoke and hugged his shoulders. He made a video of us for his daughter, whispering into the camera as he watched us leave. He had tears in his eyes. He blew Adam a kiss as we rode off.

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