Friday, February 20, 2009


When we arrived in Istanbul on a consulting assignment for a Turkish-American partnership, Farouk Bey, the owner of the large Turkish company, assigned us car and a driver. Ahmet was our driver’s name; he was a nice young man, about the age of our own kids. He had earlier lived in England for several years and in the intervening years because he had not had many occasions to use English, he was a tinch rusty. But we did fine together and came to really depend on him.

One day Ahmet picked me up from a meeting and on the way home he said, “Mrs. Title, may I tell you something? “Yes, Ahmet, what is it?”

“Mrs. Title, Farouk Bey bought 40 ships!”

My mind whirled. I knew Farouk Bey was very rich. I knew he maintained a fleet of 250 cars not only for the company but also for his relatives. He was like an Italian padrone – oversaw the care and feeding of family, relatives and hangers-on to an extent that it was hard for us even to imagine. But 40 ships? It didn’t make sense.

“Ahmet Bey, 40 ships? Is that what you said?”

“Yes, Mrs. Title. 40 ships.”

I mulled it over again. I knew something was wrong but couldn’t put my finger on it.

“Are they big ships?” I asked, wondering if we were talking about freighters or yachts (either of which Farouk could well afford 40 of) or more practically, sailboats, rowboats or outboard motorboats, small fishing boats, canoes or kayaks.

“Yes, Mrs. Title, big ships”

We rode a while longer. My mind was turning his information over and over. I can’t imagine what Ahmet thought about my response, but something still wasn’t right.

“Ahmet, what on earth is Farouk Bey going to do with all those ships?” I finally said, not in the least understanding what was going on.

“He’s giving them to the employees,” Ahmet announced in his most beneficient voice, as if he himself were the donor of the ships.

Now I was lost. Why would Farouk Bey give 40 ships to his employees. Which employees would get them? Why would the employees get them? Why not his family members? or had he already given each of his family members a ship?

Still trying to formulate a question whose answer would provide a final understanding on my part, I said, “Ahmet, is he going to give you one?”

“Oh, no, Mrs. Title. My father already bought a ship for Kurban Bayram and we are donating it to an orphanage.”

I finally got it!. Not ship. SHEEP! Farouk Bey had purchased 40 sheep and was giving them to his lesser-paid employees so they would each have one to sacrifice to Allah at the very important and upcoming “Sacrifice Holiday” that is so important to the Muslims.

I nearly split a gut trying to hold in my laughter at the miscommunication. Had he used the right word, the story would have had very little significance beyond the moment. The wonderful part of his mistake is that it made such a good story. I could never correct him directly, because he, like many people, was very sensitive and probably would not only have been crushed but also offended had I corrected his mistake.

I had to struggle to hold myself together soberly until Jerry came home from work that evening and I was finally able to throw myself down on the floor in a fit of laughter while telling Jerry all about the ships and the sheep.

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