Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Bloody Car

One of the things I like best about travelling is experiencing cultural differences. Now that I'm living in Turkey, I'm exposed to a myriad of differences on a daily basis - cultural, religious, national, political, secular. Sometimes I smile with pleasure when I witness or experience the difference. Other times I'm shocked and sickened. Many times I laugh. 

One day I'm going to have to devote a post entirely to all the interesting customs, old wives tales and religious duties that I've experienced in Turkey. And the faux pas I committed because of my lack of understanding or acceptance of them. There have been some funny experiences, let me tell you! But today I want to describe a custom that I observed for the first time only recently. 

Kaya was taking me for our usual daily expedition of "outside". We were wandering through the carpark when I noticed smears of blood all over the wheels and front bumper of a brand new car. At first I was shocked and saddened, imagining the poor animal that must have been hit by that car. And then I felt disgusted that the owners of the car hadn't even bothered to wash the blood away. A few hours later when Kaya and I met Murat after he arrived home from work, I showed him the car. Murat informed me that the blood was not caused by an animal being run over, it was purposely smeared on the car! Apparently, when a new vehicle is purchased, it is common practice in Turkey to sacrifice an animal, such as a goat or chicken, and smear the fresh blood on the car. And apparently, the brutal killing of this innocent animal and it's blood being splashed all over the vehicle is somehow meant to prevent the vehicle crashing when driven. What the F!@#? Where am I? What century is this? How ridiculous! 

Looking at the statistics of traffic accidents in Turkey, obviously this stupid practice is not working. Each year in Turkey, there are approximately half a million traffic accidents, 9000 of them fatal. How about instead of slaughtering animals for the sake of preventing accidents, let's educate drivers to stop at red lights, observe speed limits, wear seat belts, drive one car per lane (instead of the usual 4 or 5 cars across 2 lanes), drive on the correct side of the road, not stop in the middle of the road for no apparent reason ... oh and here's a novel idea, how about teaching drivers to give way to other traffic occasionally! 

On the topic of driving in Turkey, I cannot believe how often I see children jumping around in the back seat and even on the driver's lap! Oh, and what about the families of 3 or 4 or clinging on to each other on the back of a moped? The other day I even saw a moped going along the highway carrying a man (driving), a small boy, a woman holding identical twin girls on each KNEE, and a second boy on the very back! I wish I'd had my camera with me that day. Incredible! Incredibly idiotic!

You know what else is normal practice in Turkey? If a car breaks down, or has been in an accident, the driver places a large rock, or pile of stones on the road about 15 feet behind the car to warn other drives of the upcoming hazard ... doesn't anyone wonder what their hazard lights are for? Rocks are also used in this way by council workers digging up roads. One day, Murat and I were driving home along a brand new road late at night. There was no street lighting. At the last moment we noticed a sizeable rock in the middle of the road and Murat quickly swerved to miss it. About 20 feet in front of that rock was a huge hole. And I mean HUGE. It was deep enough to fit several cars inside and in fact there was an earth mover down in there. Can you believe it? No reflective signs, (in fact no signs at all), no barriers, nothing. Oh except that one big rock.

*Sigh* Living in Turkey is certainly interesting. But fortunately most of the interesting characteristics of Turkey are not as negative as those I've just described. In fact, most of the time I feel inspired by my experiences in Turkey. Next time I write about Turkey, I promise to write about some of the beautiful things that distinguish Turkey from other places.