Midnight Express

We met the rude little man outside the Customs House at Izmir Airport. As the goods were registered in my name alone Liam had to wait outside. I then embarked on my second major appointment with the Byzantine Turkish bureaucratic system. The rude little man ferried me around various offices to pay various official fees to various bored officials, obtaining various bits of official paper, all duly officially stamped along the way. He then deposited me in a holding pen and wandered off, returning now and again to demand ever more cash. I sat there for about an hour and a half with not so much as a cup of a çay for solace, observing the drama unfolding around me. So much of Turkey appears modern or modernising but alas, not the State Sector it seems. My place of confinement was bleak and starkly furnished. Lonely electric wires twisted aimlessly from the cracked ceiling, and an ancient typewriter sat sadly neglected in the corner.

That Infamous Film

Next to me was a glass fronted office where five of six apparatchik sat working at their desks. Well, I use the word ‘working’ euphemistically. All I witnessed was a lot of gossiping, tea brewing and reading of newspapers, periodically interrupted by someone waving a piece of paper in need of an official stamp. Stamps are big in Turkey; everything must be stamped. Without a word, a heavy-boned, hirsute man would give each document a cursory glance, apply the requisite official stamp and then return to his newspaper. Clearly, this is his job, probably his only job: keeper of the official stamp. However, I assume all the over employment keeps the unemployment figures down and each of these underemployed men probably saves a large extended family from destitution.

The waiting was finally over and the rude little man led me to the depot for my goods to be scrutinised by a rude little customs officer. She didn’t seem much bothered and only inspected the top layer of one crate, though much hilarity was generated by my embarrassing and doomed attempt to mime the function of a terracotta patio heater. At last, I got the last official stamp I needed to release the family silver. I emerged from the Customs House two hours later to a relieved Liam, who had convinced himself that I had been arrested and carted off to prison in a ‘Midnight Express’ kind of way.

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