July 24, 2013
I was working in Istanbul for four months from December 2011 to March 2012. The hotel I was staying at was in the Old City, close by to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, both of which were within walking distance. Outside my hotel I would come across vendors of all sorts of goods and services, from umbrellas when the heavens opened up, to roasted chestnuts and shoe shine guys.
There was one vendor a shoe shine guy who placed himself to the left of the hotel entrance and laid out his wares. His shiny golden shoe shine cabinet with all the different polishes, waxes, creams and cleaners. There was an assortment of brushes and cloths that were placed neatly in their respective holders. The chap owning the paraphernalia and manning the station was a young Turkish man and come rain or shine and even the odd flurry of snow he would be at this post. He would clean and shine shoes each and every day without fail.
I took the advantage of his services pretty much once a week every week during the weekends. If the weather was good I would wear my shoes whilst he polished them, else I would leave them with him. One sunny Saturday when I first began to use his services I began to get to know him and between his broken English and my dodgy Turkish we managed to communicate and become friends in a strange way. I got to know his name as Ercut, he was 28 and was married with two children. He said he lived local and worked seven days a week.
My assignment in Istanbul ended in March 2012 and the last I saw of Ercut was the weekend prior to my departure. However, I had been invited to a wedding and revisited the city in June 2012. I stayed at the same hotel and I made a note of looking out for Ercut and he was dutiful as ever manning his shoe shine stand at his regular spot. I was only in the city for a couple of days and on the day of the wedding I got my shoes shined. We bantered in our Turkglish, with him questioning me as to why I was not married for someone in his forties. I shrugged and gave an answer that was befuddling to him.
I revisited Istanbul a year later in June 2013 and stayed at my usual haunt. This time however there was no sign of Ercut and not knowing how to find him I was disheartened. I was travelling with my girlfriend, to whom I detailed my friendship with Ercut and my concerns of whether he was OK and if his family was doing well. I walked around with a heavy heart concerned about Ercut.
On the third morning of my 4-day trip I left my hotel room and as my girlfriend was sleeping I decided to get some new towels and toiletries from the room service guys. I walked out and saw a young Turkish man cleaning the adjacent room. I excused myself and as he came out of the room and looked at me there was a moment's hesitation followed by recognition. It was Ercut, he cracked a massive smile and his eyes lit up. My heart lifted into the heavens and the two of us clasped each other in a bear hug.
Ercut was wearing the hotel uniform with his name on a shiny bronze name tag. He looked immensely proud and happy with his new job. We both reverted to our Turkglish and exchanged greetings. I asked him how long he had been in his new job and he replied 5 months. He then reverted back to his job at hand and as my room was on his service route, he asked if I needed anything. He happily supplied fresh towels, tiptoed back into my room with me and took the old towels. He insisted that he clean the room, I replied that it was not necessary as my girlfriend was fast asleep and I did not want to disturb her sleep. He insisted further feeling that he was failing in is duty, I told him it was fine and he beamed a smile at me and went back to his duties.
I left the hotel and went about some tasks I had to complete. Upon returning to the hotel I explained to my girlfriend what had happened and what I had experienced.
I was so happy that through grit, determination and a desire to succeed Ercut had lifted himself out of bare subsistence. He now was on the first rung of the ladder to a bigger and better life not only for himself but also for his wife and two children. Ercut to me was the embodiment of human drive and desire to succeed, to overcome the odds and prevail.
On my last day at the hotel I had a picture taken of Ercut and me, as I left he gave me a hug and the biggest smile.