I had just graduated from university and was working at a state-owned machinery factory when an unexpected opportunity arose. I was selected to represent Turkey in a technical training program organized in Moscow under the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Together with engineers from forty different developing countries, we attended technical courses at a university in Moscow. English was our common language of communication.
To help us integrate into the local environment and not feel like outsiders, we were given basic Russian language lessons. These lessons covered simple phrases like “good morning,” “how are you,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” We also visited nearby machinery manufacturing factories. At the time, besides us, there were very few Turks in Moscow. The Turkish embassy was staffed solely by career diplomats, while secretarial, janitorial, and even security duties were handled by locals.
Upon my arrival, I was immediately taken to a shop, where I acquired a sturdy fur hat. The outside temperature in Moscow could drop to -20°C, making it extremely dangerous to go outside without a hat. It was said that about 30% of a person’s body heat escapes through the head, emphasizing the importance of keeping it warm. Furthermore, one’s social status in Moscow could be inferred from the quality and value of their fur hat. I bought myself a large, high-quality white rabbit fur hat that provided warmth and comfort.
One day, we received news that a Turkish modern folk trio would be coming to Moscow to perform a concert and would be staying at a particular hotel. Having not seen or spoken Turkish for three months, I was eager to meet them. I decided to visit the magnificent hotel where the modern folk trio and their orchestra members were staying. This hotel, one of the seven grand hotels reportedly built by German prisoners of war after World War II, was truly impressive.
Upon arrival, I inquired at the reception desk about the guests’ location, and I learned they were staying on one of the upper floors. I entered the elevator, and as we ascended, fellow passengers disembarked at various floors. Eventually, I was alone in the elevator cabin. I was wearing a fur coat with my white rabbit fur hat on my head. While it might have been easy to distinguish an African, a Middle Easterner, or a Western European from the locals, we Turks did not stand out significantly from the Russians unless we spoke and revealed our accents.
As the elevator reached the floor where I needed to get off, it came to a stop, and the doors opened. Standing outside were the members of the modern folk trio, who entered the elevator cabin. Instead of exiting as I originally intended, I found myself descending with them. The three friends continued their conversation in perfect Turkish, sounding like music to my ears. At some point, I couldn’t help but join in.
Suddenly, the trio fell silent. In the elevator cabin, there was a definite foreigner in his fur coat and fur hat, and they were speaking flawless Turkish to him. Who knows what went through their minds? Perhaps they thought the KGB was following them everywhere. The trio remained silent until we reached the ground floor, where they quickly exited and disappeared as if running away. I can only imagine how they must have recounted this incident to their friends, family, and acquaintances upon their return.
Years have passed since that encounter, and I haven’t had the opportunity to see the modern folk trio up close again. Over time, they ventured into different areas, distancing themselves from the music scene. I often ponder this momentary encounter and wonder what lessons it might hold. What are your thoughts?”