This is an assortment of excerpts from my journal of Turkey. It’s very lengthy… but covers an assortment of experiences from the trip.. for those thinking “enough already”, sorry.. for those who find it interesting, thanks..
The Truth About Cats and Dogs
Turkish Cats and Dogs are so…. Chill. They wander E-v-e-r-y W-h-e-r-e. As a person terrified of dogs…. Dogs- they aren’t scary at all. When I first arrived I felt so terrified to see dogs everywhere. In America stray dogs look as though they could go either way- bite you or lick you. Turkish dogs are interested in neither. They lay around and relax. Play with their children in the park. There is almost a mutual respect. People and animals. Same with cats. They abound everywhere. They seem content. I would have felt sorry for them with my american notions that they belong in homes. Who’s to say? They are not people, why is it an open and shut case they belong in homes? They too had families and friends so surprisingly easy to distinguish. There is one cat. A beautiful gray and white cat with long lashy green eyes. She sits right by the door of the blue mosque. I never saw her go in . Curled up right by the entrance. I’ve never seen her elsewhere. Subhanallah. I think these animals look happy.
We ran into a boy. Continuously. Pale in complexion and small in height. He stalks the blue musjid. Each day he is there. Armed with postcards and Istanbul books. He appears the head of a “sales gang” of even younger boys who spend their lives here. Since we have come he approaches us daily, begging us to purchase just one book. Finally Kashif, as a joke, gave him a penny, he grew more eager, “no… no penny… book…buy my book…” Message not taken. Plan misfired. Guilt acquired. Next day, same thing. Blank- did not remember us…. We talked to him.
Ismael. 15. Parents in Anatolia. We watched him as he tried to find sales. I feel so sad looking at him. I feel sad when I see the lady in hijab, age clearly upon her face, dragging heavy bags with her wares she sat selling since dawn on the street. Every so often she rests her load. Then picks them off and struggles onward. He will be like her one day…. Where are their retirement plans? Work will never end.
We didn’t want to buy a book…. aware they are selling for higher authorities. How much do they keep? We gave him a dollar. Buy some icecream we told him… He seemed to not know what to do with himself. By a tiny, minute act of kindness. He was so visibly touched that it left us both feeling desolate. These kids job is to harass us, tourists….. and usually they are ignored or cursed. A smile and a simple gesture to buy an ice cream cone brought him to tears..
How does it feel to be cast aside every day? And return because you have no choice? Day after Day.
At McDonald’s one evening a boy. No more than 8 or 9 years old saunters in. Maroon sweater with holes. Blue pants and black shoes. “Dressed for Success” if he was a student at my school. He is small, but has the gait of one trying to be older. He leans on the counter, one hand holding red roses, the other some liras. He slides them across the table. He collects his fries. Walks to a side table. Puts a napkin, spreads it on the table, places another on his lap. Gingerly he spreads his fries on the table, smoothing the napkin out.
The staff cares for him. I see them glance at him. Slip him food. He sits by himself.
What is wrong in this world that you, young child must eat fries by yourself at 10:30pm. Where are your parents? Where do you go? Why aren’t you in school? Its all relative isn’t it? Where ever you go there is someone worse off than you. A need to pause and be grateful… Appreciate your life.
That same evening I saw another boy, about 17. Ran straight up to me. As though he expressly wished to share his joy with me. He held a kitten the size of a cotton ball in his arms. Exuding joy as he showed her to me. Through the roof- he must have just found her. He will probably raise her and it will bring him joy. He chooses to be happy.
Ahhhh carpet sellers! Carpets and Kilims. Where to begin on a profession that requires volumes to do it justice. They abound- e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e- literally. You think I jest. The salesmen.. they are big, small, tall, short, light, dark, happy, grim, carefree, desperate… but I don’t know if I trust a single one of them.
The most interesting part is the characters, and their different approaches. There was Irfan and Fahad the two brothers on the corner by the Blue Mosque. Each wore pinstriped suits and accessorizing smiles. There was Zia on the other corner, who at the end told Kashif understandingly “I understand why you didn’t buy a rug- your wife didn’t let you”…. And then there was White Store man with the big belly and the good prices. And of course Creepy Guy who paced the darkened store for three hours waiting for us to return.
The initial approach is always the same. They invite you in with a big smile. They are “your friend” and you drink Turkish tea. Then they vary. But you know, every single one of them gave us their BEST price! So low they barely make a profit actually. “For you my friend- I make a good price.” “I could make double on it, but it is a gift for you.”
You are never in control. The Sales Man is always right…. The best… is when they quote you a price. Minutes later, realizing you like it, they hike it up and act like you’re the one whose crazy…. They turn their stores over for you. Each one bringing out twenty to thirty rugs AT MINIMUM, their henchman huffing and puffing as they lay them out, and continue the stream.
Space goes upwards in Turkey so most stores are two to four stories high but very small on each floor. This really bothered me at carpet stores, and if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t do it again. They lead you upstairs through narrow winding stairs to show you more and more rug. Each floor you ascend they begin to pressure you more. On one occasion we both became anxious at the demeanor of our salesmen who looked a bit maniacal in their desire to sell us something…anything…
I didn’t want to go. The media and news had scared me half to death about going abroad. Maybe there is validity in it. But I never felt safer in my life. In America I’m always scared. In the back of my mind I am thinking of the millions of things that can happen. But Istanbul, at least Old Istanbul… was peaceful. Even its ghettos did not inspire fear. No one hated Americans. They all said the same thing “We dislike the American government’s policies, not its people.”
If ever an emotional roller coaster existed, it was on my experiences shopping in Turkey. I started off completely psyched to do the bargain hunting in Istanbul but got frightened by the carpet sellers. But by the end I rebounded and loved every minute of my shoppers high at the grand bazaar.
Oh the bazaars. The Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is a labyrinth of 1,000’s of stores, stands and cafes. The first mall in the world. They try to lure you in their stores. If you so much as accidentally glance at one of them, its over. Even if you don’t…its over.
And they love Pakistan. We thought it was a gimmick but they really do. They have bumper stickers on their doors saying I love Pakistan. Pakistan Zindabad. Once you tell them you are from Pakistan…. They smile warmly, “you are our brother country, you know our ways.” Some even know Urdu. One eagerly pulled out his birth certificate, indicating he was born in Pakistan.
Best response when asked if a rug seller was lying to us: “I cannot swear that I am being honest…. It’s not my business practice.”
Its indescribable to not feel different. To not feel so much like a minority. No one can know the burden a minority carries unless they’ve experienced it. I can’t describe what it feels like to not feel so “different”. You feel just like any other in this stream of people who may not look like you, but are a part of you somehow. No worries of inadvertent stereotypes, no burden to represent everyone of your faith…. it was a release… I don’t know if I can put this feeling into words to belong somewhere that Muslim is not a dirty word, but a source of pride. It’s feeling understood.