Despite being blatantly foreign to this culture in my thoughts, I am constantly having to remind myself that this is not my home. Immediately, after the first day, I found myself without the “foreigner” label. Convenient enough for me, I blend. I match the exact general description of a Turkish woman, except my eye colour betrays me. I can best describe my first encounter realising how intriguingly well I camoflague here as follows:
Walking through the busy streets of Kadıcöy Boğa at 22:00, I cannot quiet the crazy gnat buzzing about in my mind cleverly named Paranoia.
They all know that I am not one of them.
These simple thoughts of heightened delusions occupied my already busied mind. There was no validity in those infecting thoughts. I had prepared for the subconscious occupants of the dreamer to turn on me as an invader as viciously in the film “Inception.” In reality, I was actually treated as if I were one with them.
As I walked back from a rally by the waterfront in Kadıköy Rıhtım, the streets were packed with thousands of demonstrators passionately screaming.
HER YER TAKSIM, HER YER DIRENIŞ!
(“Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance”)
I participate in the chant as I document the protest and keep an eye on my friend.
People, people everywhere and so much stimuli your mind’s gears screech and jolt to maintain the desired high speed of mental processing. I turn my head jerkingly, looking side to side for my friend. She is quiet, little and beautiful. It seems hard for someone so sweet like her to be in a situation like this. It baffles me also that such an astonishing contrast between her and the hostility of the protest to go unnoticed. I feared the demonstrators had gotten carried away and devoured another innocent. I use my peripherals, trying to maintain an air of coolness while I stress.
The police are coming.
They will gas us soon.
We need to get back to the flat.
There are so many people.
There is not much time.
I need to find Sebahat.
I become more aggressive in my movements. I grab my bag tightly, slightly flex and prepare to act in any means necessary to complete the task at hand: find Sebahat and get home fast. I bend and bounce to get the lactic acid in my knees flowing, just in case I need to bolt. Not realising at this point how silly my little pre-game warm-up looks, I pivot in a 90 degree increment, looking for dear Sebahat. Ducking, avoiding the thrusting of fists and signs, I rotate my head with my eyes squinting looking past the bold colours of torches to see the darkness of the people.
I face adjacent to the crowd. I still don’t see her. Without a working mobile phone, this is most certainly not the time to hunt for a miraculous wifi signal (despite it being needed and most ideal). Communication-less and separated at the worst possible time.
If she gets hurt or gassed again, I will never forgive myself.
This thought brings about an anxious weight of her well-being being my responsibility upon me and I get a sharp pain in my gut.
I think I am going to be sick.
I hide my feelings, but they escape through my stare. I almost feel the subconscious projections realising now that I am an intruder- this fear they smell wreaks and they trace me as the source.
I am achy and tired and even lifting and turning my head in a compact angry mob hurts. I am stressing unfathomably and trying to maintain self composure and control, but I can feel my exhausted self slipping.
The crowd still roars.
(“Murder the police”)
I can hear the police banging their shields with batons, trying to flex the muscles and establish a desired sense of dominance but end up failing to do so and come off as being both unprofessional and rather timid. They are young, probably most are former schoolmates with the protestors. Unexperienced and appearing frightened, they looks like youths in their boyscout uniforms carrying their AK47s. These boys cannot cry to mother when the mean kids mock them, so they fire as them and hose them with gas instead.
My eyes burn. I can feel tear gas in the air. Though a distance away, the officers draw near. I acknowledge the fear of the consequences if I am to encounter a close quarrel with the police and it forces more weight on my strong but enervated back. Pushing people out of my way as I challenge myself to go against the current, I am swimming far away from all of the rules I firmly established in my mind in terms of not standing out. I crouch a bit and protect my body with my arms raised to defend. I hurry along with swift strides of intense precision.
I walk 100 metres, scouting as if for my prey.
I walk a few strides farther.
Still, no sign of Sebahat.
I fight to post myself up, juxtaposed to the crowd at a makeshift curb of the street. Drenched in excretion from the harsh combination of heat, people, and panic, my thoughts race and I have almost lost all hope.
I can’t leave.
I should go.
Maybe she made it back to the flat.
I cannot risk that.
I have to stay here.
I can’t leave.
From the 15cm curb I territorially claimed as my spot, I searched through the crowd with my effulgent eyes. What I am looking at is a disguised Kadıköy Boğa (the centre of this district). Famous for always being busy with traffic, trolleys and the thunder of passersby, it has has recently become the notorious night venue of the #DirenKadıköy movement. Its iconic bull statue in the middle of the square is lost in the protest. Kadıköy is transported, its natural state almost completely lost at this point, in the mist of people, protest, and police. The neighbourhood becomes unrecognisable, even to the locals.
Thousands march past me, none of familiar. Time changes its shape, it morphs with the chaos and transforms five or ten minutes into hours. I find myself overwhelmed with stressor emotions and I hover over the fine line of focused and out of control. I am standing still, almost statuesque, slightly above the people. I am able to look down on their heads, only signs, banners and flags tower above me. There is no empty space in my view, the canvas is cluttered, busy, and completely filled. I play a twisted game of “Where’s Waldo,” looking for a little girl in a white tank top in a cacophonous crowd of contentious civilians.
The batons banging, the warlike drum roll matches the beat of my heart. It is hard not to lose hope as the crowd becomes more heated as they continue to provoke the police. Louder, the tension shrieks as a kettle does when it about to boil. My thoughts pound violently in sync with my pulse and I fade out of focus, wondering in a subconscious sea of neverending stress. My subconscious embraces the crowd, unites with it and becomes one as the rush comes.
I have surrendered to the stampede.
I accept the chaos.
I agree that I am a part of it.
This confirmation brings an unorthodox sense of peace to me and calms my head. Forced feelings subside, my eyes already open can see past the opaque haze of both tear gas and confusion and I can see again.
“They don’t know that you’re a foreigner, did you know?”
A familiar voice.
Quiet, almost a vivid imagined whisper, just barely audible amongst the discord.
Jolted with my new found vision and now apparent auditory abilities, my head turns cautiously, almost suspiciously to the target of the stimulus.
Behind me, sandwiched between a brick wall of a posh daytime café and the infinite mass of demonstrators is little Sebahat.
Finally, as I had just accepted a perceived to be doomed fate of a potentially brutal encounter with the Turkish police, I had kept my hope and promise.
I found my friend.
I grabbed her hand and clasped her fingers so firmly as I navigated the massive maze of men to lead us to safety.
We would make it home just in time.
Istanbul, Türkiye– I anticipated the excitement, the colours, the infinite sense of intensity, passion, wonder, and romanticism. It is truly impossible to describe properly. The first few hours after my arrival were as perfect as a postcard. When I was preparing for my big move, I had expected to gradually shift from the status of foreigner/tourist to eventually being accepted and, as I familiarised myself with the city, the later privilege of being upgraded to honorary local. I am humbled to say that I skipped the tourist step and was thrown into the role I will refer to as “blending in” as a local resident.
My timing of arrival could not have been more perfect (used relatively and perhaps ironically depending whether my mother is reading). My first night moving into the district of Kadıköy, Istanbul (Asian side of the Bosphorus) was the same night the Turkish police killed another civilian. 22 year old Ahmet Atakan: killed by a canister of tear gas by the Turkish government’s right arm: Türk polis. Outrage– another civilian casualty adds fuel to their fiery cause and consequently sparked more demonstrations all over Turkey.
I am currently writing an article regarding the political situation in Turkey at current. The situation is dense and traces back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. However, recent evolution of the new Ottomans begins in 2002 with the election of the AK Parti. The economic success of Turkey within the past decade is due to the AKP, however their manor of rule has been quite shady in terms of the people. Escalations of disagreements between the ruling party and the people of Turkey peaked in May 2013. The original cause was in Gezi Park, Taksim, Istanbul back in May (28th) in which the people voiced their opinions against the government’s decision to destroy one of the city’s last green spaces. The AKP maneuvered with confidence, but they did not expect the consequence of their action. Hard police action, the government reacted to the protestors with blunt force by gassing its own citizens. This turned the cause of the initial protest into an amplification of rage and triggered the protests to spread from Istanbul to a nationwide cause. Taksim Square, Istanbul and Ankara hoist the worst demonstrations in terms of aggression, hostility and violence, but more demonstrations are arising.
My first night in Kadıköy was also a particularly heated night in which another demonstration arose in Istanbul. Kadıköy Boğa Heykeli, a few blocks away from my new home in Caferağa Mahallesi, play host as a new venue of the Occupy Gezi Movement. As I looked out from my balcony, beyond exhausted and already feeling the inconvenience of jet lag, I first heard the chanting. This was about 21:00 local time. I had unpacked by this point, ventured through the neighbourhood, bought groceries, and cooked a housewarming meal with my Turkish roommate, Sebahat. We were eating pasta with cucumbers, tomatoes, and fresh local cheese as the protestors were gathering. A few hours had passed and we could hear faint chants in the background as we cleaned the kitchen and went our separate ways. I was still functioning on eastern standard time so 2:00 felt like 19:00 to me. The yelling had gotten more aggressive and the wind was perfumed with smoke. As I sat at my desk lethargically and dazed attempting to strain my tired eyes into reading, I began to cough and noticed an unfamiliar burning sensation in the back of my throat, my nose and eyes. Confused, I acted instinctually without hesitation and rubbed my eyes profusely as I continued to gag. Wrong. I unknowingly experienced my first encounter and lesson to tear gas. It is almost like crystalized glass in the air and leaves residue on everything, therefore the worst thing you can do is follow your instincts and rub. I learned, and the sensation has gotten to be familiar already and I know the remedies and how to prepare for gas effectively now- a great, un-glorified skill to have.
Within the day of my arrival, I had already come to the realisation of what I truly would have to look forward to this year. There would be no frou-frou tourist fluff for me. I am a visiter, I am a guest, I am an objective observer taking notes and seeing political and cultural tension internally under a microscope. I was flushed with an empowering sensation that filled my being that I can only come to label as both appreciation and sheer excitement. I knew that my time here will be unscripted, unpredictable, and raw. No media framing, I will be seeing untainted stimuli– this is real.