Dolmus Do-Si-Do

At first, we were oblivous, plopping ourselves down in any available seat, attempting not to sweat on our seatmates.

Little did we know, sweat is not the issue.  Sweat can be–is–shared freely.  Body odor also comes free of charge.

The issue is gender.  Age runs a close second.

In short, even though we’ve only been here a month and a half, we’re now attuned to the subtleties of who can sit with whom on a crowded mini-bus (called a dolmus; we use these to get everywhere, from village to village, town to town…we used one to bring our vacuum cleaner home; we used one to tote our tv home; we used one to bring mattress-sized pieces of foam home). 

Our clodhopper tourist days of the easy plop down are over.  Now we know.

All power, all respect, all seating hierarchies stem from The Headscarves.  Who knew a rectangle of fabric could hold such power?

Well, maybe Betsy Ross did.

However, our family was oblivious to the hidden dynamics that govern seating on the bus.  Over time, though, we’ve clued in; we watched passengers and the driver rearrange bodies until the cryptic code of seats cracked open for us.

Here’s how it goes:

Grandma In a Headscarf will always get a seat, even if it means the driver turns over his spot and just holds the steering wheel as he runs along side the vehicle.

Middle-aged and young women in headscarves, too, are assured of seats; bonus inches are afforded to those who enter the dolmus dragging a twenty-pound bucket of just-picked tomatoes.

Once The Headscarves all have seats, the hierarchy loosens a bit.  Generally, all women get seats before men do.  In the case of a hunched-over grandpa type, though, a non-Turkish, non-Muslim woman might be expected to stand (such as it is inside a mini-van).  However, when a non-Turkish, non-Muslim woman enters a full bus, the younger men will hop up to offer their seats.

In other words, first to stand are Turkish men under 50.  Next to stand are non-Turkish men who are aware that they should be offering up their seats; the truth is, tourist men usually have no sense that they should be copping to a traditional view of who sits, and so they continue to slump in their seats, backpacks on laps, managing to look pasty and sunburned simultaneously.  Tourists get away with such obliviousness.  Turks do not.  If a Turk fails to follow the code, the dolmus driver or some other older male with a firm manner will reorganize things.  Woe to the dreamy twelve-year-old boy who fails to register the entrance of A Headscarf, who fails to leap from his seat and compress his body into a 6-square-inch cower.  Woe, too, to that same lad if he fails to hop off the bus and help The Headscarf with her twenty pounds of tomatoes or her burlap sack of peppers stowed in the luggage compartment below.  Twelve-year-old boys pretty much have to dance attendance throughout their ride, often switching seats at every stop, from having a personal seat to–at the next stop–sharing a seat with an older man to–at the next stop–sitting on the plastic pink stool that is moved around the bus and lodged into any open space to–at the next stop–sitting up front with the driver to–at the next stop–standing in a hunch on a patch of floor between six older men.

Pre-adolescent children may sit with The Headscarves, usually on their laps once the bus fills up.  Girls age 9 and under wear pink shirts that announce “Barbie Princess Carefully Sweetheart” and have their pert ponytails cemented to their skulls with no fewer than 6 hair decorations.

The last rule is inviolate, which means Byron and I choose to violate it all the time:  men and women never sit together.  Never.  If they do, I’m pretty sure someone gets indignant or pregnant or something.

To sum up, then:  women sit with women, preferably Headscarves with Headscarves and “moderns” with “moderns” and all women towards the front of the bus; men sit with men, with older men sitting up front by Their Buddy the Driver and younger men in the back where they can compare the nicotine stains on their fingers; the elderly always get to rest their aching backs; tourists crash in and throw off the whole mix; children get tossed on top of a mosh pit of mothers; and adolescents’ feelings that no one understands them and the world is against them are confirmed. 

This photo is a bit blurry as I shot it surreptitiously, lest one of The Headscarves of Power turn around and chide me for treating her life as a Cultural Artifact.

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9 Responses to Dolmus Do-Si-Do

  1. Jazz says:

    But there’s no aisle. Where do you stand?

  2. Jocelyn says:

    Jazz: In one with the bench seats like in the last photo, people would stand at the end of the seats or down in the door-well where the door slides shut. Most dolmuses have seats on both sides, with an aisle down the middle.

  3. Meredith says:

    You know what’s funny, my dad always followed similar rules. Only they had nothing to do with headscarves, religion or tomatoes. It’s nice when young capable people offer courtesy to those less young and less capable. You don’t see much of that.

  4. Deborah says:

    I loved this. You write the BEST commentaries on your astute observations of lives lived differently. Your well-developed English major roots show when you reiterate so neatly – and thank heavens you did. I got the whole picture, and it was wonderful. You know, it isn’t that different than when I used to ride the bus downtown to my swim lessons in Grade 3. OK, no headscarves, and couples didn’t split up after they paid their fares, but still. Small boys helping, bigger boys offering their seats. Respect of elders, a nod to the feminine gender, and intervention by the bus driver, whose authority was recognized by all.
    You and Byron might just start something. You never know.

    I can’t help it. Your humour and wonderful writing and the fact that you can even do both at the same time makes me want to spew endless compliments. I also just realized that I started and ended my day with a great read from Jocelyn. Nice.

  5. I have been trying to figure the hierarchy out at my local Persian grocery–so far, since kids don’t normally shop there, I seem to be low woman on the totem pole. The cutting of my chunk of feta is put on hold for all grandmas and men.

    I was going to gush, but then I read Deborah’s comment and I don’t want to be responsible for Jocelyn getting a swole head!

  6. lime says:

    at least there is chivalry. i remember being 8 months pregnant, standing in the pouring tropical rain waiting for a bus in trinidad. when it stopped, all the able bodied men pushed ahead of the old grandma and me. i wanted to make sure she got on so i moved to help her and she threw out her cane to trip me. the bus pulled away as i stood getting soaked because there was no more room on the bus…i kid you not.

    all that said, i love that you have been so observant and learned the unspoken rules so well.

  7. Tom shilk says:

    These are great observations…the types of things you learn living somewhere instead of bring a tourist. The stuff books are made of.

  8. Tom shilk says:

    Or “being” a tourist. Bring me!

  9. James and Eileen says:

    “I’m pretty sure someone gets indignant or pregnant or something.”

    What a great line. I’m still laughing!

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