Paranoia and Pharmacy Hunting

Our bus from Nevsehir to Mersin seemed to be both bouncier, smoggier, and hotter than usual, and as a result I got the kind of carsick that is usually reserved for my father’s Evel-Knievel-esque careening through North Carolina’s mountain highways. M.K. was in even worse shape than I was, and was not able to find respite in a will-induced nap like I was. When we arrived in Mersin, we were relived to discover a row of hotels across from the otogar. Without bothering to shop around, we made a beeline for a classy-ish looking hotel and asked for a room for the night and directions to the nearest pharmacy. The Lonely Planet describes Turkey as having a wide network of easily accessible pharmacies, or eczane in Turkish. The Lonley Planet is correct, as long as you don’t happen to need drugs on the weekend or during major holidays. If you do, don’t panic, there is definitely an eczane open somewhere. But good luck finding it. The lady at the front desk gave me directions to a nearby hospital that she said was surrounded by a slew of eczaneler, one of which was sure to (probably) be open.

I rushed off to the hospital, which was surrounded by closed eczaneler. One had a closed sign, but had a few men were fixing the sign outside. Taped to the door was a list of eczaneler that were open on Saturday and Sunday. The sign was completely in Turkish but I was able to get the gist of it. Paired with the name of each open pharmacy was a phone number and address, but these were about as useful to me as snow shoes in August. The addresses were useless since I was completely mapless (and street signs are a rarity in Turkey anyway). My Turkish is still largely contingent on a combination of words and gestures to convey meaning and since I was holding a phone and not a hologram projector, I couldn’t call and ask for walking directions from where I was.

I explained to the nearest sign-fixer that I was foreign (as if the pale skin, red hair, terrible accent, and confused look weren’t already dead giveaways) and that I needed directions to an eczane on the list. A panicked look crossed his face, and he ducked inside the store, emerging with a woman who obviously worked there. I re-explained the situation to her, she asked (in English!) what kind of medicine I was looking for. I told her, and she said that she would like to sell it to me herself, but because there were some many people around, she couldn’t.

Turks are big on conspiracy theories: all American “English Teachers” are spies for the CIA; the latest corruption scandal is a product of a hidden and malevolent “deep state” acting within the larger, legitimate (and incorruptible) government; Lady Gaga is a member of the illuminati, etc. Perhaps I have been in Turkey too long because when the woman said she couldn’t sell me medicine with so many witnesses, I immediately grew suspicious. You work here. Why can’t you just sell it to me? Who would care? Are the big pharmacies strong-arming the little guys into closing on the weekends so they can have all of your business? Have they kidnapped your lover Mehmet? Will they kill him if they catch you selling me aspirin? Will he loose a finger just because you talked to me?

“That’s fine,” I said. “Can you give me directions to an open pharmacy?” She obliged, and after another 10 minutes of walking (in which time I passed three more closed pharmacies -all those poor kidnapped Mehmets), I arrived at an open store. The store was crowded, and the proprietor had little interest in assisting a yanbanci who couldn’t even explain herself. After waiting for the crowd to dissipate, I dove into a marathon of one-woman party games. I started with buzzword (where the person tries to guess the word or phrase based on your description): “gibi ibuprofen” (like ibuprofen). Nothing. Then charades. I was offered an antacid (close, but not quite), and then cold medicine (come on, you’re not even trying to understand). Finally, Ispy. In the corner of the very top shelf, I saw what I was looking for. “Su. Sol. Sol. Tamam.” (This. Left. Left. Okay.). Having won the gold in the procuring medicine triathlon (the three parts being getting directions, walking great distances, and purchasing appropriate medicine), I returned to the hotel victorious.


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