The winning entry from our Travel Guidebook competition:
Having grown to love foreign languages and having fostered a desire to be fluent in as many tongues as possible, you can only imagine the constant torture that I have given my own father over his decision not to teach me Turkish as a child. I have always grilled him about my floundering speech and over-excessive use of hand gestures at family reunions; about my inadequacy to order a kebab at the local Turkish take-away and my failings to follow simple instructions and directions. But the one time when Turkish would have proven to be invaluable to my own safety was in the summer of 2005, when I decided to go paragliding in Ölüdeniz, a charming town situated on a postcard lagoon of the Turkish Riviera.
My mother, being my mother, sent my father off to the local tourist stand to barter with the paragliding tour operator in Turkish and returned ten minutes later, ashen-faced brandishing a receipt. Our flight was booked for the next day at the crack of dawn, under our family name ‘Mustafa’, and my godmother and her daughter decided to join in the fun.
Before the jump, we had a 90 minute drive up into the mountains in a jeep where my mother’s nervous but hysterical laughter drowned out the instructors words of encouragement as we were told about the running jump that we were about to make off the mountain side. I am not sure whether it was the fear, the altitude or a mixture of both that during the ride up the mountain prompted my godmother to leave the following answer message on her elderly mother’s telephone: “Hello Mum. It’s Tina. Having a lovely holiday in Turkey. Shanice and I are about to jump off a mountain.” Cue nervous hysterics from my mother. “Love you lots. Bye.”
At the mountaintop, I was greeted by my personal pilot who smiled profusely after I gave him my receipt, handed me a helmet and strapped me into the harness.
Before I knew it, I was running. Within seconds we had caught a breeze and I was soaring into the sky and gliding through the valleys of the mountains before hovering over the Mediterranean. From that height, I was able to see the entire lagoon, the Greek island of Rhodes but not my own impending doom. After half an hour of gliding, free-fall tricks and high-speed descents, we were coming down to land and picking up quite a speed.
Suddenly, the pilot shouted at me in Turkish. “What did you say?” I tried as we came to our final plunge.The pilot shouted again in Turkish, this time more panicked. “I don’t speak Turkish. What did you say?” I tried.
“Stand up!” He managed in English.
By this point, it was too late. I remember seeing my dad with a video camera on the shoreline. After that was pure carnage. My knees buckled as I tried to stand and we crash-landed onto the promenade. The sheer force of the rough landing thrust me forward on my bare legs, painting the concrete with blood as I went. The upside…I broke the poor pilot’s fall.
He unclipped himself from the harness and gave me a grave stare. A stare that wasn’t concerned with my bleeding knees or his gushing elbow but a stare that said, “shame on you! A Turkish boy that speaks no Turkish.” Needless to say, my father then received a stern telling-off from the pilot about his son’s uselessness in the Turkish language. Something along the lines of “he has the blood of a Turk, he should speak like a Turk”, but as this accident proved, I could have been lost in translation.
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Image by Ergun Zengin via Flickr