I’ve again ran into some trouble in Turkey. The other night, I was trying to open the door to my apartment building, and a guy started running down the hill towards me. At this point, I was only mildly on edge. But then he came right up to me, and started saying some stuff really quickly. I was trying to tell him that I didn’t want anything, and that he should go away. I was feeling uncomfortable, and didn’t know what to do, since I couldn’t go inside my building and let him follow me. Nor could I really leave– he could just stay there and wait. After him standing there, getting closer, backing me into the corner, he finally lunged in and started trying to grab all over me. I smacked his hands away, shoved him as hard as I could into the street and yelled loudly, “don’t TOUCH me!” He got scared, then, and ran off.
Since that day, I’m afraid to even come home at night after work. I’ve realized that he’s part of a group of hooligans who stand on my street corner breaking bottles at night. I see him almost every day now, and have to wonder when he’s going to try and take his revenge at me for getting away from him and embarrassing him. Will he bring friends next time?
These situations may sometimes come with the sort of fearless lifestyle that I’m trying to live. But after being attacked 3 times in 3 months, I’m saddened that my view of the city has been tarnished by a few evil people. I’ll try to enjoy the rest of my time here, since the best parts of Istanbul are really something, but I’ll also be glad to make it to a safer, more comfortable place next month.
As far as the music goes, I am in heaven. Before I came, I made a playlist of random songs I found on youtube when searching for “Turkish house music”. It’s been my jam ever since, and I was glad to see that most of these songs are actually popular in Turkey. The songs have a special quality to them that I haven’t heard in other house music. I think I would describe it as wistful. When I listen, I sometimes can imagine myself staring at the sea, waiting for something to happen. Check it out on youtube, and maybe you’ll see what I mean.
One of the rare delights when I find myself out of bed early enough, is “kahvaltı tabağı” or breakfast plate. The plate, although sparsely populated, has the most harmonious combination of foods known to breakfast. Usually I’m not a fan of breakfast, because it’s so polarizing. When you go out to breakfast, you either order something salty, like an omelet, or you order something sweet, like pancakes. If you go for the pancakes, you feel bad all day for having eaten unhealthy crap for breakfast. If you get the omelet, a part of your heart is missing the pancakes.
Well, the Turks have solved that problem. They give you a plate that has a little bit of everything– bread, meat, cheese, vegetables, and best of all, honey and preserves with whole pieces of fruit in them. And the fruit has soaked up all of the sugar in the preserves, so it’s like biting into a strawberry from an angel’s garden. (Frequently at night, you can find me idly eating strawberry preserves out of the can while watching How I Met Your Mother.)
I think breakfast will never be the same after the kahvaltı tabağı.
Let’s talk about a slightly touchy subject: religion. You may imagine, as I did, that living in a Muslim country would beget a really limited lifestyle. But it hasn’t, it’s been so chill so far. I don’t feel any pressure or judgment whatsoever. Turkey is a very modern Muslim country in that way– people carry out their own beliefs, but they don’t expect others to think the same way. If women want to cover their heads, they do– if they don’t, they don’t. Many are strict with themselves about not drinking alcohol, but don’t seem to condemn others who do. It’s great to feel this warm and welcoming community, where people’s personal choices are respected.
My whole Turkish experience has really gone to a whole new level this past month- since I’ve started a relationship with a Turkish boy who doesn’t speak any English. You may wonder how it’s possible to conduct such a relationship– when I met him, I was still at the stage of pointing at things in shops instead of speaking. But boy, things got real, real quick. At first, he would send me all these texts in Turkish and I’d be like “what in the world is this gibberish?”, and then I would ploddingly translate every word. But the crazy thing was, that I was remembering every word I had to look up. A miracle happened overnight, and I learned an entire language. It’s crazy how fast you can learn something when there’s a good enough motivation!
The neighborhood with the dodgiest reputation in Istanbul is Tarlabaşı. It’s right next to the main area of Taksim, but most locals avoid it like the plague. Mainly it’s a center for the Kurdish populations of Istanbul, and poor families share small, run-down spaces here that haven’t seen any maintenance for decades. Though it’s right in the center of everything, it’s almost a no-go zone, since it’s know as a haven for shady dealings.
After being here for a few months, and seeing a fair amount of Tarlabaşı, I can’t say that I would stroll in there on purpose. And even if I wander into Tarlabaşı by mistake, I’ll almost immediately know that I’ve crossed into this area. It’s mostly about the mood– it’s not very welcoming. People will just look at me like I don’t belong, and am bound to get in the way. And others’ smirks seem to say, “Haha, stupid girl, what are you doing here?! You’re asking for trouble.” I usually get uncomfortable and try to head back out as soon as possible. One of my least favorite things in the world is being looked at like I would be someone easy to take advantage of. But hey, Tarlabaşı is not the only place in Istanbul where those types of looks can occur– they are just really intense and overwhelming there.
Despite the bad reputation, and sometimes bad vibes, there are some redeeming factors. The buildings are so colorful, though they could use some repair work. Some of the best views from the posh terraces of Taksim are of the many rooftops of Tarlabaşı. Plus, there is a market here that has some of the best prices in the city. If you can stand the looks, there are a lot of interesting things to see.
I’m sure Tarlabaşı’s problems are real, but it’s clear that the biggest problem is discrimination. The Kurdish population is pushed around a lot, and they just have this one place to call their own. No one seems to want to go in or out. And even in this area, there are some building projects being started to clean up the neighborhood– i.e., push the marginalized populations further away from the main area. It seems that what’s forbidden isn’t this scary neighborhood– it’s the Kurds. And I think the hard feelings and hostility towards outsiders who enter the area has a lot to do with these tensions. As far as the crime rep, it can’t be so different from anywhere else here–I’ve experienced some bad things in the “family” neighborhoods of Istanbul, but never in Tarlabaşı. So I’m rooting for the neighborhood to gain a more positive image, or at least some understanding.