In the interests of being green and planet friendly I’m recycling this from early on in my blogging career.
Alison and I were on holiday in Northern Cyprus. This is the Turkish bit, as opposed to the bit on the southern side of the Troodos mountains, which is held by Greece. Mainly. Anyway, we were in the north, not far out of Kyrenia, which is a beautiful little fishing port. Utterly charming. However, as with all resorts the world over, the closer you get to the pretty bits, the more expensive it becomes. This was very true of the restaurants, which along the quayside were rather overpriced, if scenic. Away from the waterfront, prices dropped dramatically, though even where you paid top dollar this wasn’t a lot since the Turkish economy was in its usual state of freefall, and inflation could be measured on a daily basis. But Alison and I always did prefer to keep away from the obvious places, and some of our best meals ever have been had in cafes at the back of bus stations, or in this case where the local dolmus drivers hung out.
We had a truly spectacular meal, and sat back to watch the world (and dolmuses) go by to the accompaniment of the last of our bottle of wine and a rather fine coffee At the rear of this particular thieves’ kitchen was a table occupied by a man on his own. Unlike the dolmus drivers, he was neatly and well dressed, with a rather well cut suit, white shirt, even a tie. Eventually he came over to us, and said, in perfect but heavily accented English, ‘May I join you? I find my own company tedious sometimes.’ We always were suckers for talking to anyone and everyone we met, so of course said yes. He bought us a drink, an exceptionally frightening tasting local brandy, gave Alison a cigarette (I didn’t smoke then,) and we settled in for the long haul. He was a very pleasant man, well read, good company. Then he said, ‘How rude. I have not introduced myself. My name is Ali Rizah. Here’s my business card.’
Sure enough, the card, which was rather nicely done with proper embossed type on a heavy white stock, confirmed his name as Ali Rizah. There was a local PO Box number, and a mobile phone. And that was it.
‘Oh. So, Ali, what is it that you do?’
He waved his hands gently in the air in the universal gesture of Well you know how it is…
‘I arrange things. When people need something doing, I organise it for them. Expedite, I think you say in English.’
Oh great. A fixer, probably a crook, quite possibly a villain, and we’re talking to him.
‘Yes,’ he said airily. ‘If you ever need anything while you’re here, come and find me. Or that card will help you. Just show people the card. Even at that bank, it will make a difference.’ He pointed at the bank across the road, bade us a courteous goodnight, and strolled off.
Next day we decided to try it out. Inflation was raging back then, and if you cashed in a pound at 9:00 in the morning you might get, say, 350,000 lire. Cash in just before close of play at 4:00, and you might get 360,000 lire. That’s inflation of about 1% per day. Didn’t matter to us, since we had a fistful of good solid Sterling, but it was a major cause for concern among the inhabitants. So, that afternoon we hied ourselves to the bank Ali Rizah hand indicated. The exchange rate was about 360,000, but with Mr Rizah’s card tucked in among the traveller’s cheques this leapt mysteriously to 390,000, another 8% or so. He really could expedite matters.
This worked very well when we came to hire a car for a few days, to go and explore the remoter parts of the Panhandle. We needed it for three days; the card got us three for two. Hotels while we were rambling about? We prebooked them through our hotel, where the proprietor was himself plainly a crook, and with the card, and the proprietor’s influence, we got two nights’ bed and breakfast for the equivalent of seven quid a head. Not bad, since we weren’t reduced to a flophouse, the place had a massive pool and a rather good restaurant, where we got a 25% discount on the meals. Drinks were more or less free.
Mr Rizah even invited us to his daughter’s wedding. How nice was that? Of course, should he fetch up in England and somehow find me, I imagine I might have to get things organised.
Footnote. The dolmus is a splendid Turkish idea, found on the mainland as well as in Cyprus. It’s a bit like a cross between a bus and a taxi. From Kyrenia you could get in a dolmus that went eventually to, say, Lefkosa (aka Nicosia if you’re in the Greek bit of the island,) but it went round the houses a bit to drop people off en route. There are lots of 1960s/1970s American cars plying the Turkish dolmus trade. Also some of dolmuses are small vans or minibuses, the size of a Transit. You can get goats running up and down the aisles of those. Anyway, a dolmus ride is always eventful, and ridiculously cheap. Just don’t be in a hurry.
Oh yeah, ‘dolmus’ is the Turkish word for ‘stuffed,’ a bit like the Greek ‘dolmades.’ Don’t expect a lot of room to get comfortable.