Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tarlabasi town

I sometimes wish there existed some form of futuristic technological device that could simply be plugged into my brain and read thoughts and sentences and all the semi-coherent writings in my mind, and transcribe them onto paper (or blog). My current life in Istanbul is so colourful and crazy and every moment, every day, there is something worth writing about, but I simply am TOO BUSY ENJOYING MYSELF, and too lazy, to sit down and write (besides constant scribblings in my paper journal which goes with me everywhere). It is now 10 pm on Sunday night, and rather than watch a movie on my computer and curl up in bed, I am forcing myself to sit at my new desk and WRITE.

How to begin. Well, I just heard the sound of random fireworks going off, and looked out my open bedroom window towards the Golden horn, and saw  red and green and purple coloured explosions - assumingly marking the end of gay pride week. In looking out my window I also caught a glimpse of my very shirtless and buff male neighbours, lifting huge barbell weights and doing situps in a dimly lit room together across the alley. It was quite the comical moment, (and very pride perfect), as I closed my curtain again to giggle and write...this.

Today's Gay pride parade was huge and hilarious and very fun; thousands of people taking over Istiklal street, rainbow flags and drag queens fluttering their lash extensions. Dancing in the streets with trannies and men and women, gay, straight bi, who cares... and even some lost little gypsy girls, long tangled reddish hair flailing as they twirled about on a makeshift stage outside a gay bar. I have never been to such a huge pride parage before, anywhere in the world. In Istanbul!! Take that Erdogan! :P

I also moved this weekend into a new room in an area of town known to most locals as a "ghetto". There has been much written about Tarlabasi on the internet (just google "is Tarlabasi dangerous?" to see a variety of conflicting opinions). My own personal experience thus far is that this is simply a poorer part of town where lots of minorities live (Kurdish, Roma, Africans), children are constantly playing in the street, the weekly produce market is AMAZINGLY cheap and fresh, and I dont know how posh people might react to having a gaggle of Kurdish women constantly sitting on my front stoop, shucking peas, but I personally love it. Everyone is friendly and kind (my corner grocery old-man is so sweet), and in some way, it being so busy and the fact everyone knows everyone is what makes it safe. I'm sure if you go deep into the area, further up and around the maze of streets where there are more abandoned buildings and squats, perhaps there are drug deals and some robberies, but where I am is seemingly completely fine, and I feel really happy to have chosen to get out of trendy ex-pat Cihangir, and into a real working class neighbourhood. There is constantly something happening out in the street, it is noisy, the laundry flaps endlessly in the breeze, and yes, its a bit dirty and chaotic - but if i wanted serenity and peace, Id be living in Switzerland, not Istanbul. My room-mates are also 2 awesome dudes from Kurdish Syria, and it makes so much  of a difference, living with friendly, relaxed people (who also share their breakfast with me!!).

My job is going alright, although the concept of being an english teacher at a preschool where some of the kids are barely 2 years old and in diapers, seems ridiculous. Thankfully it is only 5 hours a day, Monday to Friday, and i have plenty of time to just enjoy myself.

The last evening call to prayer just sounded, and it immediately started raining, as if on cue. The poetry here really writes itself. I am just an observer, trying to capture it, in words, photos, the occasional drawing...and these all-too-few blog posts. I feel to exhausted from all the partying and running all over the city to write much more than this. Tomorrow is Canada day, and true to form I am going to coral a group of my friends into drinking beer with me at "Montreal" - random Canadian themed pub in Taksim. I need to rest up for more festivities.

Legendary Turkish hospitality

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Good Fight

I have obviously been desperately wanting to write some sort of blog entry about the past few days of chaos in Istanbul, but when you are in the thick of things it is hard to find time. I'd much rather be in the streets seeing things with my own eyes, taking photographs, observing (and yes, unfortunately being teargassed), than cooped up insıde just listening to the sounds of revolution outside my bedroom window (literally within feet of Taksim Square). I am thus taking a few moments while it is quiet, working at the hostel this afternoon, to write down some general observations.

Discarded lemons on the sıdewalks and teargas masks scattered everywhere you look; overturned garbage cans as makeshift barracades line my street. Walk 30 seconds up the hill and Taksim square looks like a post-warzone. Graffiti everywhere, broken shop windows, fıres still burning.Yet, being that the polıce seem to have moved on to other areas of the cıty to contınue theır ruthless assault on peaceful protestors (what happened in Beşıktaş last night is simply dısgusting), things are oddly back to normal in the square - for now. Doner shops spin their sizzling wheels of meat, Orange stands squeeze out juice for the thirsty, tourists gawk and take photos with overturned and spray-painted buses. İn the evenıngs, bars open and people drınk their Efes openly ın the streets. Neighbours gather on the many steps of hilly Cıhangır to bang pots and pans and cheer ınto the nıght, whenever chantıng and marching randomly starts. The general feeling ın the aır ıs one of solıdarity and strength - people are only getting more and more angry at the mistreatment of Istanbul's cıtızens and confıdent ın theır anger towards the government here. İf the onlıne photography blogs I have been followıng are any ındıcatıon, as days go by, more and more older people, familıes, and even what appear to be some rather traditıonal lookıng people, are joining the cause. Citıes across Turkey, from Izmır to Adana are stagıng protests, ın solıdarity and respect.

I am hesitant to become overtly optimıstıc as you how thıs wıll all pan out, gıven how poorly the varıous revolutıons ın Syrıa and Egypt have turned out. (İt is hard not to make that comparisıon when I was ın Tahrır Square in Cairo 2 years ago, and now am here ın İstanbul's Taksim Square, and the general feeling and energy seems very similar). A revolutıon ıs only as good as the system that replaces it - then agaın, Turkey ıs a much dıfferent country than Egypt, with a history of Secularism and NATO membership and its hard for me to ımagıne a more conservatıve or Islamıc party capıtalızıng on thıs. For now, I wont even speculate.

Admittedly, it is excıtıng to be here at this time, (even if seeing streets off of Istiklal that I used to frequent in such a state of destruction is heartbreaking), and to see people so impassıoned ın their cause. What started out as a peaceful demonstratıon agaınst the demolition of one of central İstanbul's last remaining parks has sparked somethıng huge. In the weeks prıor to thıs, I had wıtnessed several other teargassıngs and small skırmıshes of protestors and polıce - May Day seemed to start ıt all-  but İ don't think anyone could have predıcted ıt would become thıs gıgantıc.

Whether or not you thınk ıt ıs waste of tıme to take on a government that seems to just think it can do what ıt wants - passıng ever more controllıng laws relatıng to the sale of alcohol, womens freedoms etc, on an ıncreasıng basıs, governments need to be remınded that they are not ınvıncıble, and in a democracy, (whıch Turkey ıs supposed to be), they must be held accountable to the people whom elect them. There are numerous blogs explaining just exactly why the government here ıs so awful and I wont try and encapsulate it here. But obviously, İ thınk the peoples critıcisms are justıfıed. And it is hard not to feel inspıred by the show of bravery of the Turkish people - the amount of teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons that have been used is sımply insane. Bravery, lıke any emotıon (fear, happiness, sadness) ıs contagıous; if you see people who seem brave, and behaving fearlessly, you feel braver by relatıon, And that might be why this movement shows no signs of slowing down. People are feeding off each others bravery and it's working.

Keep it up Turkey, you've got a tough fıght ahead of you.