Went and paid my gas and electricity bills the other day. Lord, what a nightmare it is anytime I need to go and pay my bills. When my parents were here we talked a bit about how if you go and live in another country for a while, you go through experiences that, try as you might, you cannot explain to someone who has not done the same.
For example: what it is like to be at a Georgian supra when you don’t want to be there and don’t want to drink at all of these toasts, trying to decline the wine but failing because to decline the wine would be insulting either Georgia or whoever the toast is for. The whole deal with my internet fiasco. Six weeks of no internet and spending 60 lira on phone bills complaining to TTNET, only to receive a bill for my internet, which I refused to pay, canceling my account, then getting a legal notice to pay my bill, and finally paying my bill because it would be less than any court fees would be. Or it could be extremely simple things, like knowing where you have to go to buy certain things such as light bulbs. Because I live in Taksim, there are really no markets in my area. Back in January or something I had a few light bulbs go out. I would peer into windows in shops on my way home looking for where I might find light bulbs. I wasn’t having much luck. Meanwhile, my apartment was getting darker and darker as more and more bulbs went out. Soon I only had two bulbs working in the place and I had to go light bulb shopping. I looked up the word before heading out, but forgot it shortly afterward. Walked around, asking shops if they had light balls or light things and gave a twisting motion with my hands. They would tell me no, but direct me in the way of the nearest light bulb shop. I eventually found some. The next time I had light bulbs go out on me I realized that the wine shop just down the street from me has light bulbs. Another example is what it’s like going to the post office. God, going to the post office is a nightmare that will stress me out for about a week before I work up the courage to go. Or then there’s paying my bills. I let my bills pile up for a few months at a time because it can be so stressful for me to go through the process of paying them.
I don’t have a mailbox in my flat, there’s just a spot on the stairs in the landing that letters and bills pile up on. I’m always sad when I see the latest batch of bills on the landing because that means the time is drawing near to when I have to pay them. I get one for gas, one for electricity and one for water. It’s taken me about nine months here to develop a system for how to pay these bills.
The first time I had to pay my bills I took them to Ziraat Bank. They yelled something at me and pointed outside. I shrugged my shoulders and said I didn’t speak Turkish and they grumbled and muttered and eventually let me pay my bills there. I later realized that the big problem was the water bill. Apparently you can’t really pay this one inside any banks, you can only do it at the ATM. Why you can’t pay certain bills inside but can pay them at the same bank’s ATMs is beyond me. That’s just how it is. So by a stroke of luck one day when I tried and failed to pay my bills in Vakif Bank in December, the security guard wrote down the series of numbers I needed to punch in the ATM to pay my water bill at the Vakif Bank ATMs. I still have this same piece of paper from December for any time I need to pay the water bill.
When I finally got my work permit I had to get a bank account because the school has to have documentation showing that they’re paying me, so I now have an account with Garanti bank. Hooray, I thought to myself, surely this will help with my bill paying woes. So I brought my electricity and gas bills there, not bothering with my water bill because I already sort of knew how to do that at the Vakif Bank ATMs. They yelled something at me and I shrugged my shoulders, and they said I can’t pay my electricity bill at Garanti. I can pay my gas bill there, but I have to take my electric bill elsewhere. So Garanti does gas but they don’t do electric. Why, who knows.
Due to all of this nonsense, I get very sad when I see that my bills have arrived on the landing. I usually let it slide for an extra month before paying it, because it stresses me out so bad and takes so much time I can’t do it so regularly.
So I paid my bills the other day. I’ve let them slide for a while, and since I’m moving out shortly, was kind of hoping I would just not pay them and all would be well. But the landlord told me to pay the bills. So I went to Ziraat bank to pay the electric bill. Got a number and sat, hoping nobody would yell at me for doing something wrong or being in the wrong place or for trying to pay my bill in here when if I knew what numbers to punch into the ATM, I could just do this there. It was surprisingly easy, though, I only had to wait fifteen minutes and paid my bill with no hassle.
I then went to find the Vakif Bank ATM to pay my water bill, using my trusty piece of paper that still has what the security guard wrote down in December to help me out. It’s quite warm in Istanbul at the moment, so I had to stand outside in the sun waiting for the ATM behind other people who were paying their bills. This took some time,sweating buckets, awaiting punching information in a language I don’t know. On Istiklal street you will bump shoulders with someone nearly every time you walk down the street, as it is so crowded. You sort of expect this. But to be standing in line to use the ATM, to be walked into is not something that you plan on. So I was just standing there, and some big burly guy just plowed into me, almost putting me on the ground, as I am quite small. Already stressed about the upcoming adventure with the ATM, I was not pleased by being knocked over by a stranger on the street. He did not look back or apologize.
I finally got to the front of the line to pay my water bill. As I had not done this for nearly three months, having let one month go by without paying my bill and then another month hoping to just not have to pay my bill, I had sort of forgotten the order of numbers to punch into the machine. I kept punching the number at the wrong time and getting the same screen again and again, and not knowing how to remedy the situation, kept punching in the same number. Meanwhile, people were piling in line behind me, and personal space is not as it is in the States here, so I was feeling rushed and stressed. Finally I got the number punching correct and saw how much I should pay. 28 lira, they said that I had to put in 30 lira to the machine. But I only had either a 20 lira note or a 50 lira note. I’ve dealt with this before, and if you put a 50 lira note in, they will spit it back out to you because they want a 20 lira note and a 10 lira note, not a 50 lira note.
So I had to cancel my transaction. All this time punching numbers in wasted, I’ll have to do it again. I had another errand to run, had to send some postcards. So I went to the post office, which I’d been dreading for a few days, to get stamps. It was surprisingly not very difficult, and I paid for my 4 lira bill with a 50 lira note so I could be sure to get the right bills to put in the ATM for my water bill. I paid no heed to the grumbling of the post office clerk as he gathered my change.
I finally was able to return the the ATM and pay my water bill, once again entering various digits and hoping they would go through. Despite having a long line of people once again gather behind me as I punched the numbers in the wrong order, I didn’t panic and was able to sort it out.
Moving out in a few days though, my lodging for July is taken care of, so I don’t need to worry about having to go pay my bills for a while. I only have the slight problem of being homeless when I come back to Istanbul in August.