Ups and Downs: Crisis And Court
Dear Readers Who Are Following This Tale: I apologize for getting a piece out of place in the narrative. Vicky originally posted her story to a Turkish expat forum, and she was writing cathartically, in a stream of consciousness fashion; as I copied and pasted her posts into this blog, I inadvertently left out, in the previous post, the biggest crisis of all: when the roof fell in. That chunk is below, followed by the details of the court case they’ve been pressing. This is the final installment.
OK here comes the funny bit (depends on your sense of humour).
Our plumber was on a contract elsewhere so early one morning Mr P went to town to pick up a plumber recommended by our friend Ugur. Ugur explained that his plumber friend was also a geologist and surveyor. He came up to the village and translated for us. After greeting them I busied myself in the kitchen getting the tea ready (like a good Turkish woman!). I could hear Mr P showing the 2 of them round the house and explaining which toilet/sink etc should go where. I heard him say (with his sweet French accent which I won’t try to reproduce) “And this is our best room!.” I heard the door open and then a very funny silence. Then a strangled voice says “Euuh, Vicky, can you come”. Slightly irritated to have to leave the tea-making preparations, I did. When I saw everybody’s faces I knew this was serious but I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Mr P with his hand on the door handle had his jaw sweeping the floor. The entire room which was supposed to be our king suite was full of huge rocks up to manhight and the room and bathroom above this room had fallen through leaving a gaping hole to the sky.
The first thing that flashed into my mind was that nobody was hurt and then next thing was Oh my God what if this had happened a couple of weeks later when we might have had guests sleeping in there. The thought made we weak at the knees. Ugur made me sit down on the little wall on the terrace while Mr Plumber/geologist surveyed the damage and the rest of the building.
When he came back his face was grim. Ugur translated for us. “Look, I am going to be brutal but it is time for you to pack up and forget your dream. You will never get an authorisation to open to the public after this. Part of the mountain has detached itself and crushed your house. But in any case it wasn’t built correctly. Originally the houses in the village were caves only. In the 30s they built arched rooms over the top but didn’t think of consolidating the caves underneath. Look, he said, you have your roof terrace over your 2 arched rooms, underneath you have your cave rooms, underneath the courtyard you have 2 more cave rooms which are over another caveroom which doesn’t belong to you and that you say is used for storing apples by your neighbour. There is just too much weight and not distributed correctly. The mountain above is obviously crumbling away and you can have rockfall everyday. Look around you – why has everybody moved down to the bottom of the village in new red-roofed houses? Why are only the poor people living here?” We thought about our neighbours – old Mussa who was losing his marbles and who we would hear singing to his donkeys in the evening and we would see him wandering around barefoot with his flies open. Halime and Bulus with their 2 children living, sleeping and cooking in a tiny room where the baby slept in a sling strung across their room. Fatma and Suleyman, Fatma and Mehmet, Fatma and Ibrahim, yes, they were all poor. Mr Plumber continued “You probably don’t even have the right to build here. Normally the government doesn’t allow in areas prone to rock fall. Have a look on your tapu, it is probably written on it”. “But we don’t have tapus here” we bleated. “Sorry, but forget it, just write it off as a big mistake” were Mr Plumber’s last words as he left.
As soon as he had gone our neighbours all came round. They had heard the rumble and crash of the rock but we had come back late at night and they didn’t want to disturb us. Evrybody inspected with much “allah allah” and “haaan”. Fatma Teyze sat next to and hugged me. “Don’t cry” she said. And then hopefully “Maybe a little reinforced concrete?” (Here reinforced concrete is the panacea for everything and comes second only to interlocking paving stones). I told here that this time even reinforced concrete wouldn’t do the trick.
She then took her stick and shuffled off home. Five minutes later she was back accompanied by another woman, both of them carrying bowls. Fatma Teyze had brought soup and the other woman fasuliye. It was so kind it brought fresh tears to my eyes. “Hush, don’t cry and eat your soup” said Fatma Teyze. I obediently spooned down my soup and had to chuckle that in Turkey soup is the answer to everything especially when you’ve lost your dream, your home and all your life savings! When I’d finished she told me to wipe my tears and then said “Right, what are you going to do next?” It always surprises me the resilience of Turkish people, they build up a business, lose all their money and start up something else. Instead of moping and wailing and pouring ashes on their heads they get on with life.
So Game Over, what’s next?
At this point Vicky and Mr P realized they needed a new source of income, so they worked first at a jewelry store and after that at a carpet shop. Eventually, they realized they could start their own technology-based business and design Web pages. They also decided, along the way, to take their case to court, in the hopes of recouping some of their losses. Below is a rundown of their time in court so far. This upcoming week, on May 30th, they have another court date:
Our lawyer told us it was a clear-cut case (but then he would, wouldn’t he). Mehmet had sold us a property that we didn’t have the right to buy, had taken money from us in return for something he could not give and therefore should return the money (with interest and moral compensation). So since December 2009 we are in court proceedings. First step was the legal notice where the lawyer notified Mehmet that he had 15 days to return the money otherwise we would go to court. The 15 days were up, we went to court. The first hearing was an anti-climax we had barely the time to sit down than it was over and the date for the next hearing fixed for 2 months time. And thus it has been since, 2 minute hearing and next date fixed for in 2 months time. In between time they changed the judge so it started all over again. And scrimping and saving every penny to pay off the lawyer. However last time it seems like things are moving. Mehmet claims that the money we sent he used to make work on the house. Except we have every invoice and every scrap of paper for everybody who worked for us. All our workers have promised to come and witness that they worked for us and were paid by us (I had tears in my eyes when they told us that because I know how people are frightened of courts, justice and the police). The judge has named an expert to go to the village and evaluate the correct price of the house and the work done on it. He will also listen to the witnesses. I don’t want to crack up at the sight of what was our dream but Mr P kindly said that it might soften the judge if I do cry. (Grrr, Mr P). Anyway the expert will submit his report end of May and judgement expected mid-June. I just want all this to be over and turn the page, close the chapter and get on with the next bit of our lives. I just don’t know how I will react if they decide that Mehmet was in his right. So cross fingers for us, please.
He is not just a nasty piece of work – he impresses me with his art. Someone we knew came back from his army stint, nowhere to live and 5000 TL in the bank. Mehmet his good friend offers a room at his hotel and the friend will work on his website. He accepts. All his friends say be careful, keep your money in the bank, look at what happened to V and Mr P, don’t trust him etc. Friend says, he wouldn’t do that to me, we are friends, we were at school together. A month later he phones and asks do we have a spare room. Well, we do, but no bed so he slept in a sleeping bag on our floor until he found somewhere else. Completely wiped out. By a “good friend”. (Selfishly we felt a little less stupid).
Just a few weeks ago, in early May of 2011:
Our witnesses all turned up (I had worried about them copping out at the last minute but no, they were there).
Nail-biting hour’s wait because the judge was late but then they all turned up in a minibus which drove through the village to the astonishment of the Village People – the judge, his reporter/secretary or whatever you call the person who is supposed to write down everything that is said at a hearing, his clerk, 3 experts and the 2 lawyers – Mehmet’s and ours. The newly appointed judge is from Ankara and clearly this was his first experience of real village life as he said “And we have to climb up there?” So the tied and suited contingent negotiated the donkey dirt and other dirt and we went up the dirt track to “our” house. I had been so stressed about seeing once again the object of our hopes and dreams that I hadn’t been able to eat for 3 days, couldn’t keep anything down. But when I saw the ruins it really hit home – no regrets. The travertine wasn’t as beautiful as I had remembered and although the view over the valley is lovely we have seen much nicer since. Suddenly all that pent-up stress and angst flooded away. Then in the midst of all these suits and ties turned up our serefsiz Mehmet. He tells the judge that yes, he took money from us, that he paid for all the work on the house and that we stayed rent-free in the house for over a year. The experts take photos of everything. Then we go to Mehmet’s hotel to hear the witnesses. He has one, we have 4. I did not want to set a foot in his hotel but our lawyer says I have to make an effort so overcoming nausea I do. Our first witness is Emin, he was great. He was clear and precise. He explained how he had helped us find workers, who had worked there, how much we had paid, he told how Mehmet had told him before 2 witnesses that he would never give us the tapus. All this was noted. Then came our acorn-hatted old neighbour Ibrahim Amca who was clearly intimidated by the suits and ties and suddenly couldn’t remember anything. Our 2 other witnesses were workers who impressed me because although they were obviously daunted by the whole proceedings (for every witness the judge said “the court will rise” and we all did although this was is Mehmet’s living-room and I thought it a little ridiculous) but as one witness said “I will not tell lies, I will not say what other people told me, I will tell what I saw, what I did, what I got paid for”. Which they did. I looked at Mehmet’s lawyer, he looked as if he’d been sucking lemons. Mehmet was looking sour-faced too, and his feet were jiggling around. Then they brought in Mehmet’s witness. He is also nervous but he upholds Mehmet’s claims that the money we sent to buy the house was spent on the work that was done by them. He tells the judge he and Mehmet worked on the house preparing it all for all the rooms to be ready when we arrived. The judge asked him when, why, how much, what work. He can’t remember, doesn’t know, starts stammering. Mehmet tries to help him out and his avocat and the judge jumped on him “You don’t talk”. Stupid guy, he tries to do it another two times with the same result. Our lawyer reminds the judge that we have invoices for nearly everything and where we don’t have an invoice we have a piece of paper signed by the workers to say they have worked from this date to this date, that they have done this work and that we have given them this amount of money. The plumber, the electrician, the tiling, the solar panels, the central heating, the construction, the karton piyer, the terracing, the sewers, everything. So what did you do? asks the judge. Yasar looks desperately at Mehmet who has at long last understood he can’t prompt his witness and so he says that they made some special things. Judge asks him to be more specific, he can’t remember exactly. We stop there. The recorder prints out their testimonies and asks all the witnesses to sign them. Suddenly we can’t find Ibrahim Amca. Then we spot him, he had wandered out and gone back to his fields. When the clerk hollers out that he has to come back and sign, he says that he can’t leave his donkey. So Mr P goes down to hold the donkey while Ibrahim comes up to sign. The suit and ties are creased up, I don’t think they have ever had a witness say he can’t come and sign because of his donkey, Mr Judge is definitely boggle-eyed!
Anyway, our lawyer tells us that this is looking good for us. He says he believes the judge will order M to pay the money back that we paid for the houses, but that as for the money we paid for the restoration we may not be able to claim it especially if M finds other false witnesses who will swear that M paid for all the work or people who will write him fake invoices. Next hearing 31st of May when the experts will return their report. But I slept like a log last night – maybe the gin-tonic did its trick but at least I know : no regrets.
I think that with everyone’s crossed fingers and toes, the thumbs held (German), the hotline to the Holy Spirit and the hand of Allah over us, we seem to have friends out there and some of it should work. I honestly and naively think that whatever good you put into life comes back to you and that evil deeds are paid for in the end, in this life or the next (but as Fatma Teyze said pragmatically, better for your pocket if he pays in this life because he’ll pay for it anyway in the next one). Money would be great if we did get something back but for me Justice is more important, and protecting and informing potential victims is important too. We can’t publish his name or the name of his hotel now without risking problems of libel or whatever but when we win (note, I don’t say “if we win” but “when”) we’ll make a special website just for him! I don’t want people to think all Turkish people are like that but when you have a rotten apple in your bag of apples you need to take it out so that the other ones don’t rot.
There isn’t yet a final resolution to this story, then. As the court case proceeds, I know I’ll be rooting for Vicky and Mr P!–Jocelyn