The Russian invasion of Georgia taught me what my local friends had always admonished—plans are illusions. So when an American friend and I were still in Georgia a few months on and on a whim decided to visit Turkey that weekend, I didn’t stress about the unplanned nature of the thing. Just grabbed a small backpack and met him at the bus station. We’d find a way there somehow; no need to stress on the details.
We bought a so-called “direct” bus ticket to Kars, a town not far from Ani, the ancient Armenian capital now located in Turkey.
At the border of the two countries, the passengers disembarked and walked through the Georgian border control, through no-man’s-land and to the Turkish border control. The bus rolled through separately, with our luggage checked by whosoever wished to do the job.
B and I were in the middle of the line, but the guards had already spotted us as foreign. Everyone else was either Turkish or Georgian and we were the only ones bothering to read the signs.
One officer gestured for us to follow him from the line. We looked at each other then followed.
He led us into a squat brick building and down a corridor. We were shown into a small room, sparely set up. A large photograph of Ataturk looked down on us and the two chairs before his desk. There was nothing else in the room.
We sat down. He sat down. He had our passports.
We tried to look like we weren’t watching our passports, and like we were unconcerned about being brought to a private location. B settled this by looking mildly constipated and I smiled hopefully.
The officer nodded at us and looked down at our passports. “You are American.”
“That is bad.”
Truly there are few responses to that judgment when a uniformed representative of another country’s security is stating this while holding onto your passports in a remote outpost of the world.
I think I went for “ah?” and didn’t quite have the wherewithal to see how B was handling the news. I could feel Ataturk’s eyes on us.
The officer stared at us, then grinned.
“I am joking.”
On grateful and happy jelly legs we were escorted back to the bus.
We had just settled quite into the loveliness of the landscape when the driver pulled up to a station oasis in the middle of nowhere and told us to get out. That the direct ticket was sort-of direct. A little minivan would be here in 45 minutes. We could take it to Kars. It would be free.
I climbed out, reveling in the stark beauty. A white star and crescent were emblazoned on a hill opposite a small stretch of water.
B looked at me through the bus-dust as it pulled away. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”
He studied me and then asked respectfully, “How good are you at telling time in Turkish?”
I blanched. “No, I’m pretty sure.” Then I walked toward the short building opposite.
B followed. “Shouldn’t we wait here?”
“Nah. We should have tea. We’re in Turkey. Don’t worry. I’ve never been wrong yet in telling time in Turkish.” Then again, I’d never been right yet either.
I’ve had time to look back on that Turkish officer and his little joke. I suppose few Americans cross into Turkey overland through Georgia, and I suppose my smile and B’s constipated look were just too tempting. I can see that I should never be a person in uniform; my sense of humor isn’t cut out for it either.