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February 15, 2012, Wednesday

Thieves in the night

Over the New Year I was lounging around with a mixed bunch of Turks and yabancıs, all of them reeling off hair-raising tales of robbery.

Rarely have I felt so like a country cousin, sitting there with my eyes round in surprise and my jaw dropping at each new revelation, especially the ones that involved people waking up to find burglars actually in their bedrooms. This in spite of the fact that I’ve been around the block a few times by now and know perfectly well that crime is as much a reality of İstanbul life as it is of any other city.

There was the friend, for example, who got through three laptops to burglars in the same number of years. There was the friend who had lost half a dozen mobile phones to the kapkaç (pickpockets) before she finally wised up and took out insurance. There was the friend who passed the men who’d robbed him on the stairs leading to his flat, exchanging greetings with them as he did so. And there was the friend who came home to find that thieves had taken advantage of the entire apartment block’s absence at a funeral to rob her of everything she possessed right down to a 6-month-old puppy. Heavens, I’d even been robbed myself, and that in the supposedly safe confines of a popular book exchange.

From time to time I chimed in with stories culled from my previous life in Bristol, England. In the early 1990s Bristol had suffered from a shockingly high level of car crime. It was routine to come home and find that one’s petrol had been siphoned out of the gas tank. To foil would-be thieves I removed a crucial part from under the bonnet whenever I went indoors, but that didn’t stop them -- they merely stole the same part from another car, inserted it into mine, and off they went. Suspicious that her car was parked in a slightly different spot, one friend opened the trunk and found it full of vegetables -- someone was routinely “borrowing” it to drive his produce to market. Another emerged into the street after a particularly rough night to find that thieves had made off with the seats from her car.

But all this seemed so urban, so removed from the rural tranquility of Göreme, despite the odd opportunist snatching of expensive mobile phones and laptops from a nearby hotel. Then someone told me that the tractor driver who parks his vehicle outside my house had come back to find the petrol gone, which was slightly alarming since it suggested that someone had been poking around my property in the dead of night without my being aware of it.

Then I remembered the sad truth that a robber had even invaded the sanctuary of my home not so long ago. I used to keep my grandmother’s eternity ring in a box beside my bed. I’d loved my grandmother dearly and it was my one concrete souvenir of her. Now it is no more. A builder, I suspect, working on my house while I was away in the UK, had transited my bedroom en route to the toilet and spotted the box. The temptation had proved too much. So perhaps the country isn’t really so different from the town after all.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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