Turkey is a medium crazy country, it doesn’t have health and safety mini Hitlers presiding over every day life but it has its fair share of the weird, wacky and downright bonkers. A lot of this madness is expressed in the idiosyncratic ways the dolmus drivers personalise their minibuses and go about their business. In a country where vehicles cost three times what they do in the UK most people are justifiably proud of their wheels and accessorise them to high heaven.
Here, in reverse order, are the all time top ten of all time top accessories for your dolmus, mate – cue countdown music.
10 – Magic Tree – one is never enough. Your average dolmus has at least seven of these Christmas tree shaped air fresheners (and I use that term advisedly) hanging from various bits of the roof. Some will have lost their scent around about the time of the Falklands war and will just be there to poke you in the eye with their sharp edges but all too many will still have a few heavy smell molecules hanging on and an enticing mixture of super sweet mango and toilet cleaner pine will make you gag all the way to town. Combine this with the odour of rapidly maturing sweat and you need a haz med suit to go further than three miles.
9 – Embroidered covers for your sun visor – no dolmus driver’s mother would let baby boy out of the door with out some lovingly embroidered accessories for his dolmus. Currently in vogue are sun visor covers (why??) with the words Seni Seviyorum chain stitched in genuine fake gold thread. You’d like to think this was the work of some loving wife, but it isn’t, it’s the work of some insanely possessive mother who wants her son to read the words “I love you” all day whilst being dazzled by the sun shining off the numerous sequins she has lavishly scattered over any empty space. I’m all for naive folk art but this is just yuck.
8 – Business cards holder glued to dashboard – for the super suave twenty first century dolmus driver on the way up (or hopefully abroad) social networking is vitally important. He doesn’t get as many opportunities to establish a relationship with foreigners as his waiter friends so he has a business card with a wildly flattering photo and his Facebook Id always at hand ready to press upon any likely looking (female) customer – Ali Kusadasi 4000+ Facebook friends, all of them English, all of them “helping” him with his language skills. The only sentence he really needs to understand is “Shut up and drive!”
7 – Furry dashboard cover – preferably in lime green, red gold or midnight blue this glittery swathe of tinsel type cloth that covers the dashboards of many dolmus (and indeed regular cars) in Turkey is a mystery to me. I assume it is there to stop things careering off the dashboard when a driver takes a corner on two wheels but mainly it seems the natural habitat of small crawly things that are happily evolving in its dusty strands. Any day now I expect David Attenborough to appear gamely from underneath the dashboard to advise the viewer in hushed and respectful tones that “Here, we find the recently discovered lesser spotted dolmus roach…” cutaway to close up of neon coloured bug with too many legs “…grazing on it’s favourite meal of skin flakes in it’s natural habitat”
6 – Worrying Masallah signs to avert the evil eye – Masallah and its linguistic cousin Inshallah are words with strong cultural connotations in Turkish, you shouldn’t use them unless you understand the context they are normally used in. I could go into them in depth if only to make some people realise that putting Inshallah at the bottom of an obituary is a gross error but we’re majoring on Masallah here. You’ll see Masallah painted on the front/back/sides/roof/wheel arches of many vehicles on the roads here in Turkey; it’s there to ward off the evil eye. Traditionally, whenever you see something pretty, you say “Masallah” to ward off the evil eye that has been attracted by your admiration, sort of like the eye of Sauron every time a hobbit whips out a ring of power. You see a beautiful girl, you say “Masallah!” You see a pretty baby, you say “Masallah!” You spot a pimped up and striking dolmus, you think “Masallah?????” Nope, that last one doesn’t work for me either. It worries me that some sleep deprived dolmus driver hyped up on three gallons of cay and forty cigarettes before breakfast is putting all his faith in the word printed on the outside of his bus and because of this word he can drive a single lane mountain road at 60mph with thirty people on board and not die in a burning wreck because the driver coming the other way has read the huge MASALLAH emblazoned on the front of his dolmus and as a result the evil eye has been averted. As security blankets go it scares the hell out of me!
5 – Led signage – I was sitting in Selcuk bus station the other day watching six grown men trying to make an LED sign in the front window of a dolmus display the next destination. The destination was Gökçealan, a word which is actually really difficult to pronounce properly and where the slightest variation from the true pronunciation will result in blank stares. The LED sign was on its last legs, glowing wanly under a thick coating of dust and the squiggle under the “C” and the dots above the “O” weren’t glowing at all. Utter disaster! Nobody would know where the bus was going. They would never work it out. Confusion would reign. Eventually after much consultation, phoning of friends and eventually, thumping, the all important dots and squiggle flickered and came on. Disaster was averted; people would now know that the bus parked in the Gökçealan bay with Gökçealan painted in black letters on the bonnet was indeed going to Gökçealan because the LED’s said so. LED signage is now absolutely mandatory for the cutting edge dolmus driver, it is modern, it is bright, it is shiny; in other words it ticks every box in the Turkish lexicon of taste. If you can get it to work and it stays working without fusing all your lights so much the better, if it stops working your mother can embroider something to cover it.
4 – Blue fake python skin steering wheel cover – For the seriously smooth the reptile skin steering wheel cover is a Freudian slip of the most telling order. Normally sported by the younger drivers who once saw an old episode of Pimp my Ride and who can’t work out how to lower their suspension and still make it out of the village the steering wheel cover is the next best thing. Ideally the steering wheel cover should be glossy and luridly coloured, its shine enhanced by droplets of hair oil cast about by the driver as he dramatically answers his phone every thirty seconds.
3 – Photos from your youth – photos are very important to Turkish people and until recently having your photo taken was a big deal and family photos were cherished possessions. Now every mobile phone takes pictures and your younger dolmus driver will spend half the trip photographing himself looking butch/cool/enticing at the wheel so he can post it later on his Facebook page. Old school drivers have a montage of photos of themselves pinned around the windscreen. The more popular drivers have so many photos they only have a small window through which to peer at the approaching traffic. The photos are normally very old, yellowing, invariably show them with their arms around comely tourists and the dashing young man in the photos, all flashing teeth and slicked back hair, will bear no resemblance to the paunchy, elderly chap at the wheel wearing a cardigan his mother knitted him. Ahh the golden days of our youth, some of us can’t give them up.
2 – Turkish flag – preferably in sequins – Turkey is a patriotic nation, the national flag is everywhere. Small flags are attached to wing mirrors, larger flags are wrapped around the bonnets of cars or wired to the aerial but the pinnacle of patriotism comes from the dolmus driver who, having run out of other places, affixes a huge, sequinned flag to the inside of the roof of his dolmus. This allows the passenger to be showered with detaching sequins all the way to town and ensures you arrive with more glitter on you than the drag act from Roxy’s Bar.
1 – Ben Hur hubcaps – the number one must have accessory for your dolmus. Spiked and serrated, honed to razor sharpness, preferably with tatters of flesh hanging from them these brutal spurs must protrude at least a foot from the hubcaps of your dolmus. Designed to tear up the sides of a rival dolmus during a neck a neck race for the traffic lights they can also scythe clean an entire pavement in the overcrowded streets by the Friday market, clearing a space for the determined driver to park directly outside the tea shop for his all important refreshing glass of cay. In the UK the more rakish boy racer may have something similar attached to his Renault Clio and they will be made of plastic and designed to snap off if they encounter an obstacle more robust than a windblown plastic bag, here they are made of tempered steel and will take a less than nimble tourist off at the knees.
It should be pointed out that whilst all this seems eccentric it is as nothing compared to the amount of pink bling your average British teenage girl can pile onto her car. They don’t do pink “Princess on Board” signs here, yet, thankfully, but the Mothers of the Dolmus drivers are waiting for the day the first container load of plastic “Little Prince on Board” signs arrives from China, they’ll buy the lot.
PS I am joking about the hub caps – they aren’t made of tempered steel!