The metal detector bleeped loudly as I tried to pass through to the departure lounge to leave Istanbul. An armed policeman stepped forward and began to frisk me. Tensions were high after the terrorist attack on the American Consulate two weeks before.
After a few seconds he stopped and a serious look came over his face:
-"You have kepek", he said.
-"Oh!" I said, thinking he meant I had left some coins in my back pocket.
-"You know what it is, kepek?".
-"Dandruff", he said, gesturing to my shoulder. "Don't worry - I have the same problem. You need shampoo."
-"Thank you very much. Maybe I just need to wear a white shirt."
-"Yes, that is also good", he said, smiling. "What football team do you support?"
-"I support Besiktas".
-"Turkey did very well in the Euro cup. I thought you were going to win at one point".
-"Turkey is not so good. England is good."
-"No, we're rubbish".
The conversation passed to less serious matters: how long did you stay in Istanbul? Was it just a holiday? How much was your hotel? Have you got brothers and sisters? What is your job? Are you travelling alone? Have you been to Izmir? Do you like beer? How much is a visa to Turkey? How much does a policeman get paid in England?
Ahmet, it turned out, had been a policeman for one year. Before that, he had been a physics teacher. He had studied in Moscow for four years and Azerbaijan for one year:
-"What was Azerbaijan like?"
-"Baku is a rich city. Lots of oil - English and American engineers. It's expensive - 5 dollars to get into the disco at the Hyatt Regency. But nice girls."
He had found teaching difficult: young people were hard to teach. They would smoke and shout in class:
-"I would say 'be quiet' but they wouldn't".
-"It's the same problem everywhere".
-"Now I am a policeman. We make 1300 US dollars a month" - he typed out the figure on his mobile phone to make sure I understood."We work 12 hours, then have 24 hours off. Then we come on for the night shift."
-"It's not difficult - telling people to take out their cameras and phones and put them on the X-ray machine...I want to study to be a narcotics policeman - more action. Or maybe go to the US or England to work in the Consulate there."
-"What's your name?"
-"Ahmet. What's yours?"
-"Can I have your MSN messenger address?"
-"I don't have one. I use hotmail, and skype." I gave him my address.
The last passengers were passing through now, and the plane was starting to board:
-"Do you want some tea?"
-"Thanks, but my flight is leaving. Next time."
-"Yes, next time", he said, and smiled.