So I’m going through the draft of the book (with Jon’s help who is a perfect crystalline genius) which makes me question yet again what it is I’m doing with myself–
Living in turkey is still a time travel adventure through bizzaro land. Jari and I have to go get our residency permits next week. Valentine said something prescient and deep and wise, and it stuck with me. We were on the ferry back from beşiktaş–we had gotten kunefe* and adana durum kebap with some new friends of ours** and wandered around an international photography exhibit which was inexplicable set up there amidst the police vans, big decorative cannons and pay phones ensconced in dolphin sculptures. (we had also watched the warship out in the bosphorus and watched what we thought (okay, just I thought) was a jellyfish, but what was just a plastic bag floating near the rocks)
So we were sitting, me jari and anna and valpal, on the roof of the ferry, and we were talking about our upcoming ikamet appointment. Val was also talking about it, and saying that he had been running around all week assembling parts of it.
“Nobody actually knows how it works. This country is a mess,” he said. “It’s really a test of how well you know how to Turkey. Sometimes the police guy is having a bad day, sometimes you get unlucky, sometimes you just smile and say you work with children and they say, okay, well just this once.”
Anna agreed. “Remember when I was at the police office that last time and I just started crying because I was so overwhelmed and so they just sort of took care of it for me? They made the photocopies for me.”
“Right,” Val said. “like I went to go open a bank account this week. They asked for my residency permit at the bank, and I said, well, I don’t have one yet. So they said well you need one to open an account. So I said, yeah, but I need to deposit my money into a turkish bank account to get a residency permit. And they said really? and I said, really. And they said that’s so fucked up! And I said, now you see my problem. And they said, aaaaaaaaaaah, well just this once. And they signed me up for an account! I walked in with nothing, no documents besides my passport.”
We all laughed. But it’s true! A new requirement for this year is that you have to demonstrate you have $500 deposited in a turkish bank account for every month you plan to stay. (last year, you had to demonstrate you had exchanged $500 for every month you planned to stay, which I learned you could get by bribing the change office thirty lira. They are cracking down on this now, apparently.)
The other things you ostensibly need are: your ikamet appointment request documents (which you get when you make the appointment online), your passport and a photocopy of it, your previous residency permit (if it exists), four passport photos, and turkish health insurance. I think the hardest ones to work with is proof of six thousand dollars I don’t have in a turkish bank account, and the turkish health insurance, which I also don’t have. (because there are free hospitals. you hold up your american passport and they waive all fees, usually. this is yet untested with something genuinely serious, like surgery, and I hope to leave it untested.) Anyways you’d think, upon first examination of such a list, that all you have to do is assemble things and bring them into the police station and call it good. Not so. The process is a (painful, painful) adventure for everyone in a different way.
Our neighbor friends Damien and Jen learned this the hard way, when Damien’s university screwed up and made an appointment for him more than a month after he’d entered the country (this was only discovered after Damien’s third trip to the central police station), so the university bought them weekend plane tickets to georgia so they could get a new visa stamp, and thus go to the emniyet AGAIN to negotiate with them.
Anna made an appointment with me and Jari when we entered the country, but her school decided it wasn’t fast enough (because the only available ikamet appointments were in late november), because they needed it to apply for her work permit. Anna’s boss apparently “knows a guy” at the emniyet, and so to get her permit, she brought her rent contract*** and passport was picked up at work by a driver, and then driven to this weird parking garage where she waited by herself for a strange hour (for a different ride?) and then was driven to the emniyet, where she hung out with a very important man all day in his nice office. (the emniyet is usually a bustling hell stuffed with immigrants from all over the world, desperately clutching at the fringes of the turkocracy to get legal permission to stay, and you have to fight for attention from an exhausted officer covered in cheap plastic laminate shreddings and mimeograph ink). Anna sat with this nice man in his quiet office and watched news with him all day, and occasionally servants would bring him a document to sign very importantly, or bring them tea. The nice man spoke no english, but tried to have a simple conversation with anna in turkolect about the news, and ordered her lamb curry thing for lunch, and at the end some documents were assembled and she was driven back to work.
In short, I have never heard two identical stories of getting a residence permit. there are a list of things you ostensibly need, and nobody knows which ones are actually needed, and which ones can be forgiven. Not even the cops, really. Val is right: getting the ikamet is a test, proof that you can do things the turkish way. If you can sail through an ambiguous quasi-legal situation and emerge with an official document, you have proved your worthiness to stay. I feel like it’s almost intentionally designed that way. If I actually had enough money to put six thousand dollars in a Turkish bank account and health insurance and all these extra things, I would not need to follow the normal procedures, because I’d be rich enough to either bribe someone, or to know a guy. My plan is to print out a record of deposits made at my turkish bank from work, and then get a letter from work saying I get money from them regularly.
*künefe: a turkish dessert which, when described, sounds much worse than it tastes. It is fried vermicelli noodles, placed on top of some stretchy cheese, soaked in thin syrup, and then dusted with pistachio crumbs.
**Jenny Kaiser who is on fulbright here to watch turkish movies, knows Jen and Damien our neighbors. Did you know the US government will pay you to watch movies??!
***the rent contract thing was kind of sticky, actually. We had originally signed a contract for six months and I had to bring it to Anna at school one morning cause she forgot it, but they rejected it anyways because who signs a rent contract for only six months? (it makes sense when you’ve seen as many situations go bad here as we have) and so we faked our landlords’ initials on the contract so we could make changes and get it notarized. Bonkers.