I spend quite a bit of time in a village in the Turkish mountains. It’s a bit like Scotland but with warm sunny weather. Not in winter, though. It’s a summer place.
I complained long and loud to anyone who would listen about my April trip to Turkey earlier this year. A number of unexpected power cuts hit the country and I spent more hours than anticipated sitting under the duvet wearing two pairs of pyjamas, waiting for the electricity to come back on so I could boil the kettle, make some coffee and have a shower. And possibly connect to the internet, but that’s not life-changing.
I noted to my listeners that all communities in Turkey have a public address system, a useful and informative method of reaching thousands of people instantly. On the occasion of the power cuts it was not, unfortunately, employed to give us any information. A wasted opportunity to contact a needy public. But never mind. Even Turkish-language announcements get willingly translated to the English-speaking people who live or stay here.
Today the public address system was used to relay information to… me.
I drove to the municipal offices this afternoon to pay my water and sewage bill, a bit overdue as I don’t live here all the time.
The lady who processes your account and takes your payment sits in a little office of her own and welcomed me. I produced the bill that had been left at my house by the meter-reading man and she tapped details into her keyboard. She told me in Turkish how much I owed – well, confirmed how much the bill said.
I offered her my Turkish bank card and she apologised. No, sorry, only cash would do.
‘Ah,’ I said, ‘cash machine in the car park!’
‘Yes,’ she smiled.
‘I will come back in ten minutes,’ I said.
‘I wait for you,’ she said.
Off I went, drew out a chunk of money, paid a large commission to the bank that owns the machine and returned to the water lady.
As she was processing my payment she explained that I had paid two surcharges for late payment. She went into some detail about how these surcharges could be avoided for the next bill. What I needed to do was come to her office at quarter to four on October 23 and she would telephone the man who takes readings and she would allow me to pay in cash, sort of in advance.
‘How much will it be?’ I asked. I wanted to make sure I had enough cash next time or the bank surcharge would eliminate any avoided late fee.
Her hand gestures and facial expression indicated that she couldn’t tell me and she couldn’t possibly guess.
‘I will return on 23 October, three forty-five,’ I tried to say in Turkish, while writing it down on a piece of paper in figures. She smiled. I smiled.
I went back up the street and bought some bread. Swinging the package from my right hand and complimenting myself on an afternoon usefully spent – water bill paid, bread bought and money withdrawn from cash machine, I headed back to my car. The sun shone brilliantly and the swimming pool beckoned. Perhaps a glass of chilled chardonnay might even follow.
School was just about to finish as I walked past the playground. The public address system announces key times at the school – start in the morning, lunch break, end of day. The electronic music played its little tune – like the one Classic FM plays to introduce their adverts.
‘School must be ending,’ I thought.
Then I heard a garbled, oddly-pronounced message ‘A… H… M… come back to belediyesi.’ It was repeated. Across the whole valley, to thousands of people, the water lady was calling me, in English, to return to the municipal water payments office.
I laughed out loud in the street. I must have forgotten my receipt. Or perhaps it was actually going to be possible to pay in advance – today.
She was all of a dither. I had not paid, she said.
I did, I said. I came back with money from the machine.
But in the discussion and explanation about my returning at precisely three-forty-five on the actual date of 23 October, I had in fact not paid her the money – but she had in fact given me a receipt. She must have been horror-struck when she discovered her mistake. And then she had to broadcast it to the whole valley. Possibly she worried that her boss would deduct the amount from her meagre salary.
I paid her and apologised. She apologised back.
We both smiled.
At least the public address system works.