Notions of Work

Now that Caravansarai owns a building, I have a small room in which to practice foot juggling, among other things. Technically it is our ‘office’, that we are using until our military checks go through and we can legally obtain the deed to the building. The government has to make sure we are not a threat to the hardware and hydraulic stores that line the streets in our new neighborhood. But the only danger we present is the fact that we will confuse the old Turkish men who work at these stores.

Our building currently has several businesses running out of it–all of them selling various plastic, rubber, or metal parts to things. There is also a ‘çayci’ (tea guy) who runs tea up and down to all merchants and guests. This guy also acted at the building’s super to the old owners. Even though I am part owner of the building now, this guy treats me like a weird curiosity that is renting an office in there. He is very nice, but it is probably because he is trying to secure his place as ‘the guy’ for the building. Still, he walks in without knocking, sits down and makes himself comfortable, interrogates all my visitors. On the first day I practiced, he sat there in a chair an stared and clapped and ooo-ed and ahhhh-ed until I told him I really had to practice. Then he went and rounded up the other tenants of the building and one-by-one brought them up to see me. There is nothing wrong with this–it is not common to see a foot juggler juggling in a tiny office space in the middle of a hardware neighborhood in Istanbul.
But after 30 minutes of this, he asked me, “Aren’t you tired? When are you going to stop?” I told him that some days I practice for 4 hours and that before, when I was learning, I practiced up to 10 hours a day! He thought I was lying.

Then the thought struck me that here is a case of cultural difference that will continue to baffle that generation (and maybe others) of Turkish people–hard work. Except for the metal sellers and rubber sellers in the building–NO ONE is working. If you are to peek into one of the other offices you will see a couple of dudes playing backgammon, drinking tea, and trying to quit smoking (it’s all the rage now in Istanbul.) But they don’t look busy.
Though people do work hard at their jobs, they seldom work toward things. So concepts such as how you learn to foot juggle are difficult to comprehend. Instead of laboring away to become good or accomplished at something, they rely on their networking talent and bullshitting abilities. These are treasured commodities in this culture, and ones which I am sorely lacking. So while I am slaving away trying to become ‘good’ at something, they are busying scheming ways to get in with their son-in-law’s brother’s wife’s father. We both think the other is weird.

Meanwhile, I lay on the floor in my office and people come in and out and ogle the freak and wonder aloud why I never get tired and I go home and write blogs about how the same people don’t understand that to excel at something you must work at it. Both of us are wrong.

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