Responding to the waving arm of a village woman clad in the traditional clothing of shalvar pants and long white head scarf, the dolmus driver pulled over.  As the door to the mini-bus rolled open, the woman leaned inside and asked in Turkish, “Is this the bus to Urgup?”

“No,” responded the driver, “This is the Nevsehir bus.  The Urgup one is coming along soon.”

“Ah, okay,” the woman said as she removed her foot from the step, backing away from the bus.  At that moment, a buzz went through the first two rows of seats, amongst other traditionally-garbed women. Suddenly mutters of “Not the Urgup bus?” and “Going to Nevsehir?” and “Whoops, wrong bus.  Lemme off!” accompanied the bustle of several other women packing up their bags, re-adjusting their scarves, and making for the door.

Not even rolling his eyes with the exasperation to which he was due, the driver waited while they disembarked, wished them a good day, and propelled the dolmus back into gear.

As it turns out, Groom and I sorely lack that kind of placid lenity.  We are card carrying eye rollers, in fact, and our club privileges kicked in during those few rustling moments of “whaaazuh?” and “huzzabuzz” and “wherewegoin’?”  In fact, by the time the last woman had slipped her feet back into her sensible slides and exited the bus to wait on the roadside for the imminent Urgup dolmus, I actually had to take off my glasses and rub my eyes for a second.  Feeling a bit wonky, I blinked real hard-like until focus was restored. Then I dared a glance at my husband and gasped.  Who knew he was so damn cute?

Such are the dangers and benefits of Acute Ocular Elliptoid Circumvolution.  The eye roll–that bewitcher!–dupes one into certainty of superiority…even when one has been having a quiet cry over a plate of toast while bemoaning belly fat mere hours earlier.

Once Groomeo and I stopped with the eye whirls, we marshaled the energy to speak.

“How come,” I choked out, “every time we get on the bus,”–and here I stopped to wheeze a bit, simply for dramatic effect meant to punctuate nothing–“this happens?”

Running with it, His Groomishness chimed in, “I know.  We’re here in the village, picking up people who have lived here their whole lives, heading to one of two possible destinations, and there’s this vast confusion about which bus to get on.  Women hop on, get to chatting about how their knees ache, only to discover six minutes later that they’re on the wrong bus…”


‘Tis true.  The dolmuses from our village either head to Nevsehir, or they head to Urgup.  In the front window of every dolmus is a big sign that says either “Ortahisar-Nevsehir” or “Ortahisar-Urgup.”  Even I, legally blind, myopic bi-focal wearer, can decipher the six-inch letters when the bus pulls up.

So, as they kids these days acronym so effectively, WTF?

Although I can lay out myriad explanations for this syndrome of the ladies not knowing what bus they’re getting onto–theories that range from Women In the Middle of a Good Gossip Are Oblivious to Vehicles…to They Are So Sheltered and Well-Watched After That They’ve Never Had to Pay Attention for Themselves–

the reality is all too easily explained:

Until relatively recently, Turkey’s requirement for mandatory education was built around five years of primary education (now students are required to finish out 8th grade, however). Factor into that a lack of busing, families that didn’t approve of educating girls, and overcrowded schools that offered half-day sessions so that a second set of students could come in during the afternoon hours,

and it’s amazing that these women are able to find the bus stop at all.

As the slightly-emptier bus rolled towards Nevsehir, and Groom and I reviewed our notes about the history of compulsory education in Turkey, Girl piped up.

“So, wait.  What are you talking about?”

Quickly, we briefed her.  In a final parental attempt to drive home the scope of this issue, I said to her ten-year-old self, “So basically, a whole bunch of people in Turkey, unless they were lucky enough to have special intelligence or a family with the means to send them on, stopped going to school after 5th grade.  Think of it this way:  imagine how much you wouldn’t know if this year of school you’re doing right now were your last, if you never again had to sit down and get your head around fractions and decimals, if you never again had your brain spin in the face of simple versus complex sentences, if you never again got to learn anything academic.  Imagine if 5th grade were the end of your learning.  That’s what we’re talking about:  people for whom 5th grade was the peak.”

For just a beat, one perfect beat in 4/4 time,

Girl was silent.

She looked out the window at the garbage blowing in the wind.  Her eyes took in the crumbling houses, already eroding although only half-built.  She flashed back to hours spent in waiting areas, times when we muted the collected crowd by opening our bags and pulling out books.  She recalled that these hours in waiting areas took place in a governmental building to which her parents were required to make repeat visits because, with each visit, different workers offered up different versions of “I don’t exactly know the answer to your question.  I need to make a phone call,” and when the phone call ended, said worker offered up an entirely new explanation of what needed to happen.   Her active brain remembered all the times the cash register at the grocery store indicated we owed 12 lira, and when we would hand over a 20 lira note, it would take a minute of finger counting under the counter before change was made. She blipped to the street repair outside our house, when the entire lane was dug up to fix some pipes and then, a week after that job, dug up again to fix a few more.  And, of course, she riffled through the many instances of women getting off the well-marked bus once they realized where it was headed.

That single beat later, Girl’s sponge of a brain–so ready to absorb any input–had processed the information about Turkey’s former educational requirements, and her eyebrows shot up.  Matter-of-factly she noted,

greeted by our hoots of laughter,

“Well, that sure explains a lot.”




17 responses to “Compulsory”

  1. unmitigated me Avatar
    unmitigated me

    Husband once had a talking lawyer-doll. Pull his string and he would utter lawerly phrases. Our favorite, because we felt there was never a time when it DIDN'T apply, was "This is an outrage!" I think Allegra's reply belongs in that category of Always Applicable.
    "Well, that sure explains a lot."

  2. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    It does, doesn't it?
    But I do wonder why the women don't ASK before getting on the bus rather than go through the hassle of boarding and then having to get off.

  3. Jocelyn Avatar

    Green Girl: a lot of them do lean in and ask when the bus pulls up, so it was particularly noteworthy that this cadre of them was on board, clueless. I have to say, too, that I would think a lifetime of living in the same place, with the same buses running to only two locations, would have taught them to recognize the "U" for Urgup and the "N" for Nevsehir on the front of the bus. I mean, there's a certain kind of survival literacy that doesn't have to come out of schooling.

  4. Pam Avatar

    Yep. Recognizing word shapes is something done in Reception right?. We had a problem a while back in the irrigation fruit-growing areas of Australia, where uneducated "blockies" (fruit block owning migrants who had lived here most of their lives) were found to be mixing agricultural chemicals in dangerous combinations and proportions – turned out it was because they couldn't read the instructions.
    Wouldn't you think just once, they'd ask someone who could and take it from there?
    Education for girls (culturally deemed inappropriate)is one of my hobby horses and thank goodness for organizations like World Vision where sponsorship allows us to contribute to this happening for someone.

  5. kmkat Avatar

    What it doesn't explain is how in this country of compulsory education to age 16 or so, we still have so many idiots and dummies. Or functional illiterates.

  6. lime Avatar

    LOL, ok ya h ad me. here i thought girl was going to come up with some deep gratitude for the opportunities she has and declare her profound thanksgiving for such. i do believe i let out an audible hoot myself at her actual response.

    oh and for the record, as a lifelong eye roller who frequently gets told about how disrespectful it is of me to roll my eyes, i am TOTALLY stealing "Acute Ocular Elliptoid Circumvolution" as the name of myincurable affliction.

  7. haphazardlife Avatar

    Funny, just recently I was talking to my boss (who's Turkish), and she said when she was a kid she went half days to Turkish school and half days to the French school (cause both her parents were very – you WILL be educated).

    Eventually, after high school they emigrated to Canada to be sure both their kids got the best possible education. I don't imagine she'd be an engineer and MBA i they'd stayed there.

  8. Deborah Avatar

    This is brilliant. Perfectly planned, paced and plotted. If you wrote this in under a day then I have nothing more to say to you except iwishtohellicouldwritelikethatoffthetopofmyhead.

    Wonderful story, AND a moral. AND humour. AND local colour. AND information. And so on and so on. Oh my, but I ennoyed this.

  9. Deborah Avatar

    Of course but I meant 'enjoyed' and not something uncomfortably close to 'annoyed'.

  10. alwaysinthebackrow Avatar

    Ah, yes, from the mouths of babes. It does explain so much, both here and there. Only here it is not the opportunity which is lacking, but the execution of the opportunities.

    Have a wonderful Turkish New Years!

  11. christopher Avatar

    This seems quite sad on a few different levels.

    And as I tend to be a person of many gestures, but little eye-rolling, I do find it curious that the bus driver wouldn't succumb to announcing where the bus is headed upon each boarding.

  12. secret agent woman Avatar
    secret agent woman

    Maybe its less about the destination than the journey – they got on, rode for a bit with friends, got off, and will board the next bus. No worries.

  13. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    I think the part I found most sad was the cultural reluctance to educate girls. And that sure does explain a lot.

  14. Pearl Avatar

    It does explain a lot.

    I've actually had arguments with U.S. citizens about the duty of the government to continue to fund public schools for all. Perhaps those that feel the poor should work it out for themselves need to be sent to Turkey for a bit…


  15. sweffling Avatar

    Been coming here quietly for a while and enjoying your posts so much! Just wanted to wish you a happy New Year:)

  16. monica Avatar

    :o)) isn't it great when the wonders of the world all of a sudden are crisp clear ! haha…

    Happy New Year to you all

  17. Mother Theresa Avatar
    Mother Theresa

    How do you do it? You always manage to take one tiny event, slice it up and present it with all the garnish necessary to make it into literary haute cuisine. And about this experience, I'm thinking that our kids could use a similar one to appreciate how lucky they are to have the educational opportunities that they do, because right now they're all "Do we really need to learn all this stuff?" If ours had been born in Turkey, at 15 our eldest would probably be married by now, maybe with child of her own, getting on the wrong bus. Scary thought.

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