Dolmus

I don’t like hot, crowded places and I don’t like to let other people drive. And yet, here I was, weaving in and out of traffic on a hot, crowded Dolmus, on the Asian side of Istanbul, with a nearsighted madman at the wheel…. and I was smiling. Something was wrong with me.

First, they call this little bus a “dolmus” because just like the Turkish and Greek dish, “dolmus” (that grape leaf thing they fill with rice)…they keep packing it until it is stuffed. And this little blue bus was stuffed today.

As you walk or drive through the city of Istanbul you can’t help but notice the thousands of Dolmus’ competing for passengers and lanes on the crowded roads. If you miss one at a bus stop you only have to wait a few seconds until 3 or 4 more race to the curb to pick you up…or pack you in.

Designed for 14 passengers, this dolmus had over 25 people in it. The windows were closed and nobody seemed to realize that we were all close to asphyxiation but me. I tried to open the window next to me but it was held fast by a bolt. It had to be 95 degrees in this hot little box and nobody cared.

In fact they were bundled up in jackets, scarves and sweaters. I was wearing my new safari shirt, (and looking very “adventurish”) and I was still dripping wet.

From somewhere in the back I heard the small voice of Stanley, our 10 year old boy, I heard him talking to someone but couldn’t see him. He had been caught in the wave of boarding passengers and ended up behind me. Eventually I caught sight of him sitting on the backrow with 3 big Turks. One of them was an elderly man dressed in a suit, he was sitting next to Stanley with his big arm around my son’s shoulders.

All the bells and flags of parental protectiveness went off and up in my head. And yet Stanley’s demeanor and face told a different story. For a boy that is shy and suspicious and always on the lookout for robbers and dragons, he was at ease, even comfortable talking to this big hairy Turk.

We had been in Istanbul less than 24 hours, the start of a 3 year search to learn all we could about those who live along the Silk Road of Asia. Just 48 hours ago we were comfortably ensconced in our Los Angeles rental and today we were half a world away. None of us really knew whether we had what it would take to live our lives out so far from home. And now my little boy is sitting at the back of a crowded bus with a total stranger. A stranger that was hugging him and laughing with him.

As our Dolmus made its stops and the crowd thinned, I finally got a clear view of the interaction on the back row. Stanley was now smiling and laughing with his seatmate. The Turk was giving him his full attention and talking a mixture of Turkish and broken English. His arm was still resting on Stanley’s shoulders and as they laughed their foreheads would bump together. The Turk looked at me and winked.

As our stop approached we got up and I thanked the Turk for his kindness. As our Dolmus sped away in a cloud of blue smoke, Stanley’s first words were, ” I already have a friend in Istanbul, I love this place!”.

This was certainly a city one could become passionate about. It would be hard for anyone even remotely interested in World History not to love Istanbul. Byzantium, Constantinople, the City of the World’s Desire as it had so aptly been named was one of the oldest cities in the world.
Here, is where East meets West, where Islam meets Christendom, and where the continent of Europe meets the continent of Asia. It is a place of drastic contrast and entrenched tradition.

It is in Istanbul that the Aya Sofia stands across the square from the Blue Mosque. It was where Ottoman rulers commanded a vast empire that only lost its power within this last century.
It was the place we had chosen to live and gain a perspective of the world outside the lines of politics and boundaries. It was here that we wanted to meet the people we had only read about. It was in this fabulous city that we took our first ride on a little blue bus called a Dolmus.

A few hours later we were in another Dolmus on the way home. It too was hot, crowded and shuttered against any dangerous breeze that might waft through. I thought about our first intimate glimpse of the Turkish people in this city of over 15 million, a stranger, helping a little boy far from home to feel welcome in his new country. I smiled. I loved this place too.

5 Comments so far

  1. Meral (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 7:59 pm

    Welcome:)

    About actual dolmuş, I won’t comment because I may write and write and write which will be all complaints, so very boring…

    But about the Turkish/Greek dish: Greeks call grape leaf filled with rice or ground meat as “dolma” but we call the same thing as “sarma”:) “Sarma” comes from the verb “sarmak” which means “to roll”, so “sarma” means something like “rolled” (this is a rough information!). You put the rice or ground meat (together with some other things which change according to every one who make sarma)on the grape leaf and roll it, exactly like rolling a cigarette. This sarma is made not only with grape leaf but also with some other leafy vegetables. We do have “dolma” also, but we carve vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, tomato, bell pepper, etc; the inside of these vegatables are carved and the gap that occurs is filled with rice or groud meat. And here is your dolma!:) “Dolma” comes from the verb “doldurmak” which means “to fill”, so again “dolma” means something like “filled”.
    I’m not sure whether Greeks have such “dolma”. Does anyone know whether they have such “dolma”? And does any one know why they call “sarma” as “dolma”? Erato, can you please clarify me on this?


  2. ERATO (unregistered) on July 12th, 2006 @ 9:32 pm

    well, we call the cut and stuffed vegetable “yemista” which means “filled” actually. what you seem to call sarma we indeed call dolma, but we also have sarma. women with origin from anadolu and constantinople usually make it, it is – i think – rolled entero (i don’t know the english word) stuffed with chopped meat. we also call it tziyerosarma, it is a “political” (from istanbul) dish, very heavy and difficult to make. i personally hate it, whether “yemista” are a typical everyday dish around the country, and dolmadakia is everyone’s favourite, gialantzi if not containing meat too, but too much trouble to prepare, so not very often made, except from tavernas…
    anybody hungry?
    a! by the way, i noticed that your dolma is quite smaller from our yemista..


  3. Oguz (unregistered) on July 15th, 2006 @ 6:32 pm

    What a fantastic post! It’s true Turks are extremely warm and friendly.


  4. Sven Holmström (unregistered) on July 17th, 2006 @ 10:59 pm

    Some Turks I know are very careful with not calling the minibusses ‘dolmus’. Instead they reserve that word for the yellow cars with fixed routs that go for example between Minibus Caddesi (Asian side) and Taksim.

    It seems to me like many who have lived in Istanbul all their life say so, while those who have moved here from some other Turkish city call both them and minibusses for Dolmus. Am I right here?

    BTW, ‘Dolme’ is a traditional part of the Kitchen Swedish. It’s very close to Turkish Sarmak and was brought there by Turks. I might return to that in a post, if I haven’t already been writing about it. (I must check.)


  5. Stan Steward (unregistered) on July 17th, 2006 @ 11:18 pm

    You are right about the Dolmus/Minibus names…but to those who live on the other side of the World….it seems to be all the same.



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