Dolmuş: “Apparently stuffed; filled; full.”

I’m forever telling children to share. It seems to just be the role I have been assigned to play in humanity. Sharing: under-8s division: marketing department. Sharing is good, kids! Let’s all share! When they hit their teens I’ll present them with their very first guide to socialism.

It’s not even that they’re reluctant or unwilling to share that irritates the hell out of me. It’s that it doesn’t even occur to them to share. Setting aside the problems this causes humanity in general, it’s a complete pain in the arse as a teacher. I will never forget those harrowing art classes in Korea, with several students at any given time howling in panic about the absence of a green crayon or a pencil. To this day, the mere mention of the word eraser makes my blood freeze and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Rarely did it occur to them to nudge the kid next to them and say “hey, could I use that crayon when you’ve finished with it?” or “do you have a spare pencil I could borrow?”…. but never, EVER did it occur to the child blessed with a pencil/crayon/eraser to say “here, what are you whining about, sure haven’t I got one here you can use if you wait a second?”.

Most unfortunately, there comes a point in every advocate’s life where (s)he must practise what (s)he preaches. To that end, in a fit of cheerful insanity, I have moved to the most over-populated city on the entire planet.

Personal space is but a fond and distant memory. Every moment, from when you step outside your home until you go back inside and close the door, is shared with an alarming number of people. I vaguely recall getting on the subway in Prague and being the only one in the carriage. Hailing a taxi by myself at any time of the day or night in Daejeon, without a second thought. Ahhh, those weekends in Ballymena, when we walked home from partying in the wee small hours and didn’t meet a single soul on the way! That plane journey where I got bumped up to business class and was able to stretch out and not come into physical contact with anyone… blissful memories. Did they even happen at all?

I can’t remember buses with empty seats on them. I can’t remember what a bus seat looks like, actually. Walking down the street alone is never, ever going to happen, as more often than not it involves me weaving in and out of Slow Walkers and tutting loudly (tutting is a very common sound here) at the ones who stop suddenly for no apparent reason or come at you in large groups that force you into the road.

As for taxis… well, with the Istanbul traffic being what it is, I quickly realised that getting taxis here, there, and everywhere as I did in Daejeon was not going to be a financially viable option. Enter the dolmuş.

The dolmuş is a cross between a bus and a taxi, in that you state your destination and get out wherever you want, like a taxi, but it follows a set route and is shared with strangers, like a bus.

dolmus Online guides describe them as minibuses, but to my mind they’re more intimate than that, more like the large cars we’d call “people carriers” in Ballymena. Minivans, maybe? Anyway, they look like large yellow taxis, seat about 8-10 people, and will cheerfully accept as many more as can squish in until the doors won’t close. Actually, more – I’ve seen them drive off with an unfortunate arm or leg still hanging out.

They gather at designated spots, and don’t leave until the driver decides he’s got enough passengers. The fee, obviously, is split amongst the passengers, so it’s much cheaper than getting a taxi, and only a little more expensive than taking the bus.

I still haven’t figured out how to use a dolmuş with a reassuring amount of certainty. Mostly I have relied on friends, occasionally on complete strangers, and once or twice on vodka-fuelled confidence.  As far as I can work out, there is no clear way of knowing where to catch a dolmuş for a certain destination. You can’t look up a timetable or station or anything like that. You have to know someone who can point you in the right direction, or spend a lot of time wandering the streets in a state of clueless bewilderment.

I am not sure if you can randomly flag them down as they pass, as I have been too timid to try it.

I do know, however, of some established dolmuş departure points on random street corners, where they sit around waiting for enough passengers to make their journey worthwhile. You look for one with your destination (or vague direction) on a little card shoved in the front window, and clamber in in the most dignified manner you can manage. While it would make sense – to my mind – to tell the driver where you want to go and pay him at this point, while he’s, you know, NOT DRIVING, it seems that the normal procedure is to wait until the journey has just begun, at which moment everyone should immediately start thrusting their money forward towards the driver, who is talking on his phone, weaving in and out of mental traffic, honking the horn, swearing, and tuning in his radio as he accepts fares and gives out change.

Meanwhile, I am hiding in an all at once terror-stricken, confused, and fascinated way at the back. I refuse to sit in the frontmost of the two rows of seats, as this means that the second we start moving all the people behind me will begin shoving money at me with instructions for me to pass on to the driver. They become somewhat irate if I look blankly at them or stammer a nonsensical reply in broken Turkish. At least if I sit at the back all I have to do is tap someone on the shoulder, thrust a banknote at them, and apologetically say my destination name several times in various accents until they understand me and convey my message to the driver. My change is dutifully passed back within a few minutes.

When you want to get out of the dolmuş, you call out a few words which I – without fail – manage to forget at the exact moment I see the spot where I want to get out. This leads to more nervous stammering in incorrect Turkish until one of my fellow passengers realises my desperate plight and yells at the driver for me, whereupon we screech to a halt and I am bodily hurled out into the middle of the road, my dolmuş experience instantly forgotten as I try to dodge traffic effectively enough to make it to the pavement in one piece.

Share, children. Share, and also in the meantime try to get a job that pays better than ESL so that you can afford a private driver, helicopter, or suchlike.

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