Turkish Shoe Shine – Lisa’s Little Men

One of Lisa's Little Men - learn more in Exploring Turkish Landscapes…I am short. I’ve spent most of my life being short except for one brief moment when I was 12 and was the tallest girl in the class. Had I been a boy I would have been the tallest boy then too. Over the years I’ve come to accept that I’ll never wake up with legs up to my ears and am used to most things being just out of my reach. I know I’ll always miss out on knowing what’s going on if I’m standing in a crowd.

When I first came to Turkey I could almost console myself to being short because Turkish women are short too. Initially I felt at home because eye level for them was the same for me and I didn’t feel so hampered by my lack of height in kitchens here. I say almost, however, because while we share a vertical similarity, their horizontals are so much smaller and slimmer than mine. Once again I was prepared to resign myself to the fact that I am short, when I met the first of my little men.

Kayseri 2002 - Cumhuriyet Square vendorsAt that time I was living in Kayseri in central Turkey. I was working at a government university and living on campus. From there it was a very fast and frightening three minute bus ride the four kilometers into town with a driver who thought he was competing in a Formula One Grand Prix. Red lights and speeding trucks were never any deterrent to them. When we screeched to a halt at Republican Square it was always a relief to get off the bus, even though it did mean leaping several feet onto the ground from the curiously high set buses.

The old town centre was originally completely enclosed in a towering granite wall. By the time I arrived the crumbling façade had been clumsily and controversially rebuilt with poorly mixed concrete. The final result might not have been aesthetically pleasing but it was practical. Along its base an assortment of Turkish shoe shine men had carefully set themselves up to ply their trades. They were lined up next to one another, each sitting behind an even more elaborate brass plated, boat-shaped cleaning kit. They were lavishly decorated with postcards featuring portraits of luscious female Turkish singers and impressively masculine Turkish performers proudly showing off bristling moustaches. Their ranks were supplemented by five men sitting at ancient tabletop treadle sewing machine with the original glistening gold lettering, repairing shoes. All of them displayed coloured shoe laces by draping them over a piece of string suspended the length of the table. When the wind blew and the call to prayer sounded they seemed like Hawaiian dancers undulating in time to the music.

All of the trees in the row planted in line with the wall had been claimed. At each stood a man with a cart, usually made by a converting an old-fashioned baby carriage, offering a startling range of goods and services. I still smoked back then, and I went to the third tree from the left, where a little man, dressed winter and summer in a long-sleeved shirt covered by a hairy jumper, would refill my lighter. After being caught out by a burst of gas the first time I went to him, I always stood upwind when he inserted the nozzle of a bottle of butane into my lighter and refilled it. At other times I waited as he started up his portable generator and turned on his laminating machine to cover a new identity card or travel pass with plastic. Along with the men at the other trees he sold mobile phone cases, pens, worry beads and an assortment of other small things…

If you enjoyed reading this brief experience with Turkish shoe shine men, you can read the the rest of my experiences in my second collection of essays called Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries.

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About Goreme1990

I’m Lisa Morrow, the person behind www.insideoutinistanbul.com. I was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up a leafy middle class North Shore suburb. After finishing high school I went to Sydney University but failed to find my niche. After working as a public servant, cleaner, sales assistant, waitress, bar maid and car counter, I went overseas. Once there I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. My three months stay in the small central Anatolian village of Göreme changed my life. On my return to Australia I earned a BA Honours Degree in Sociology from Macquarie University. An academic career beckoned but the call to travel was louder. After several false starts I moved to Turkey and lived there for ten years. In 2017 I moved to Lisbon, Portugal, but continue to travel regularly to Istanbul. In addition to my blog I've written a travel narrative memoir called "Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul" and two collections of essays, "Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City" and "Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries". I have a regular segment on San Francisco Turkish radio and in early 2017 I released an audio walking tour called "Stepping back through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk", through VoiceMap. In addition I write for various international and Australian magazines and websites, as well as for this blog. A full list of my published articles, with links, can be found on the Writing on Turkey and Writing Beyond Turkey pages.
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One Response to Turkish Shoe Shine – Lisa’s Little Men

  1. The year 2002 Another story was beginning for me in Kayseri.It was the first year of my college life. My origin is Kapadokya however I was born in Ankara. I thought the life would be similar to Nevşehir in Kayseri and chose to study there but It showed me the diversity again.

    I would like to share a significant part of my first year in Kayseri; I went to Kayseri alone to register school, it was the first day (if I’m not wrong), a man in the Mimar Sinan park stared on me by a very weird way! Then he came close and started to chat with me. He realized that I was a stranger and we encountered a police officer soon. The police asked me if I know him or not. I just told that we had just met.

    I heard a similar story by another student in my dormitory. Then I started to afraid of my further days in Kayseri. But it changed… I found a girlfriend and this kind of strange thing never happen again. But I had another serious problem. She was taller then me ! The vital catastrophic problem was that and finished…It was the first time I realized that as a 170cm man I’m under the average and there is no way to change this.

    The first year was English prep. class. Sure I have good memories worth remembering. Lisa Morrow and her husband Kim were a big part of it . Lisa was one of my English lecturer at school ,also Yeşer Eren and Mrs. Sevgi … Very special thanks to you all ! I have been in Istanbul many times and I live in Ankara, Sure I’ll buy Lisa’s book but I would like to share my prior opinions;

    I think the diversity of people in Turkey is one of its wealths. You can observe it in Istanbul rather than Kayseri. Sure Kayseri carries Selcuk and Ottoman traces but the people living in Kayseri are almost the same. But Istanbul ! It presents you what you look for. Beside this its is full of surprises. As if the smell of the Bosphorus mixed into the food! In fact the point is that it smells, it smells of history, it smells of culture, it smells of trade and more. Ankara has different smells its more official, more army and more serious.

    Hearing from you made me really happy, thanks for sharing your observations and life, its a very significant work for us, I wish you success, even though you succeed already in my opinion.

    Sincerely ,


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