Monday, 29 July 2013

Today's street buddy

Today something rather delightful happened to me. I could hear one of my babies ( I have mother-cat ears now I have been officially bagged) calling out on the street so I went out and found my little black cat friend trapped between some fly wire. As I was letting her out a little boy approached me to watch the operation. After a while he started chatting to me. He told me how he had seen me feeding Three-Paw the night before and how beautiful she was. 'She is too beautiful,' he said. Anyway the little boy and I started talking and he said he was an Iraqi on holidays in Istanbul with his family. His name was Danny ( a curious name for an Iraqi) and he was leaning Arabic, Kurdish and Syriana at school. He wanted to know if I was here with my mummy too. Then he started telling me how much he loves animals. ' Too much' he said again. He told me about his pet fish, his pet bird and his puppy called Bobby-Rocky. He also gave me a gruesome side story about how his last dog fell out a window and then demonstrated a number of small explosions which were supposed to be the poor dog's head and tummy. ( Arabic folk never shy from such details.) He looked sad as he told the story so I asked him if he liked cats and he said he loved the cats in Turkey. Then he asked me about Three-Paw and I told him her name was Melek which he understood. 'What a beautiful name for such a beautiful cat.'
Later he met me at the door to help me feed Three-Paw and the little black cat. He was so happy to hold their plates and watch them eat. He kept sighing and saying how lovely they were. As we talked he began to mention home more and in the end I found out he wasn't actually Iraqi born. He had been born in Syria, out in the desert, but his family had moved to Iraq some time ago so in his head he was an Iraqi.
Later I took him to meet all the other cats and he thought each one was beautiful. Even the one with the collapsed ear and the other with a face full of snot.  I loved passing the evening with this little boy. (Although Anil, my thirteen year old Turkish neighbor, snubbed me. I think he thinks I've found  a new boyfriend!)

I have realized that in Istanbul I may be a lonely person...but I am never alone.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Ambling again

Before my accident in May I was doing quite well at deciphering Turkish words. I was trying to learn verbs and understand how they conjugated and I was beginning to recognise some simple phrases. Post head-bang, and I lost the will somehow.
Traditional Arnavutköy
I also used to spend my weekend going on adventurous ambles through the city, trying to uncover new things, and  I lost this will as well. Now almost 2.5 months later (and still no money back from school's health insurance company - what a surprise!) I have realised just how horrible it was. A constant diet of painkillers, anti-inflammatories and mushy food because my jaw simply would not open nor close for that matter. Only now as I feel better do I realise how bad I felt.

I have even started some weekend ambles again. Largely over Grand Bazaar way but last Sunday I took myself along The Bosphorus to Arnavutköy. First I followed the road until I reached the magnificent Bosphorus Bridge and then found a very nice park to rest in for a while. It even had a cat the size of a small cow who decided to spend some time with me as I lay on the grass. Honestly this cat had muscles in her arms. One of the chefs working in a tea garden there told me it was all the 'balik' ( fish) she eats. Anyway after I was released from her control I followed the water's edge which had a lovely Italian Riviera feel to it, complete with very posh boats and gelati shops.

I decided to get one!

A gelati that is! Boats are not my thing. 

There are lots of traditional wooden houses in this area. Many of them need a little face lift but they are still very elegant and I would quite like to magically inherit one.

 There was also a very colourful fruit shop. Much better than the one on my street which is run by the world's grumpiest man. He always wears the same striped shirt and a grimace. He never interacts with the other men who sit on the street and drink tea. I can't really understand why a grocer could ever be angry. All those rosy-cheeked apples and smiling yellow bananas looking at you all the time. Then again when fruit turns bad...

Friday, 26 July 2013


This is Samir.
He used to sit in the shadow of the Omayyad mosque, drinking tea while talking to passers-by. He had a small shop but most of the time he was perched on a wooden stool under the large creeping vines, laughing with his friends...with strangers as well.
Samir lived in a ethereal place that smelt of jasmine and apple nargileh and fresh baking   bread.   He was curious about foreigners but always kind and gentle and full of good humour.
Now he is in Istanbul and when I visited him on Saturday at the Grand Bazaar he seemed very depressed. I had visited him a little while back and he was worried about his home but now he seemed resigned. Maybe the correct word is hope-less.
He was without hope.
And he wondered why everyone hated Syrians so much. And he wondered why his Arab neighbours weren't trying to help. And he wondered why the world didn't care how many Syrians had died. And he wondered what the Syrians had done to be so unloved.
By the end of our conversation he had found a little more energy I thought. Not because I am special and brought amazing healing powers but because he knows that I remember the Damascus that he loved so much. Sometimes talking about the things you love helps even if it hurts as well. It gives them breath again and what Damascus needs right now is breath... lots of it. And yes, I said to him, I remember how kind the people had been. How generous and helpful they had me..and to each other. And yes I had loved his country in a way I can't describe and he should love his country still even if he didn't know what it was anymore. 
I know his life here in Turkey is not easy ( actually whose life is easy in Turkey I wonder.) Turks have a general distrust of Arabs which they express quite openly and with the war on their doorstep they  are understandably quite apprehensive. But it is no reason to treat him like he is lesser than anyone else. Or anyone else for that matter.
Tonight I am going to share Iftar with him and his flatmates. ( I live in Turkey but I pass Iftar with syrians - interesting!) The funny thing is one of his flatmates is a man called Ahmed. I knew Ahmed from Syria as well.  I knew him independent of Samir. He helped me find the family I stayed with. We used to go out for coffee and sometimes wander the streets at night.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


I think I need to start going to meetings. I am addicted to Ramazan Pidesi. It's the second thing I think of when I wake up in the morning. Will I have some today? Will it be hot? How early is too early? 
Today I ate my Pidesi with tomatoes, red onion, labneh, cucumber, kaymak and strawberry jam.  
Mmmm Ramazan Pidesi.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

a bunch of biscuits

So the other day I answered the door and there was a man with a bag of cat food for me.  No flowers for this laydee - just a crunchy treats for my furry friends.
My transformation is complete!

The funny thing is just last week I went to the cat people who look after the Doy-Palace near the mosque and gave them some bags of cat food. It seems that I am seen as a subsidiary now - worthy of my own donations.
 I know that I am seen as Three-Paws keeper these days. I think it is the way she bunny-hops up and down the street beside me whenever I go out...and everybody loves the little Melek because she is so plucky and amiable and how can you hate a cat with a missing limb. Even Kelem, the man responsible for her radical cancer treatment, commented to me how she has moved away from their home and loves me very much.
He is a lesson in letting go because I can see how much he loves her ( and invested in her) but he is able to let her find her own path ( all 20 meters of it.) It worries me a bit that I am Three-Paw's keeper right now..for what will I do not see how I can stay here long-term, unsettled as I am..but then I choose to worry only about today and I remind myself that this  game little beastie was busy being a mother, fighting cancer and charming this street well before I came along.


And in case you are wondering - No I don't wander the streets covered in fur and scratches smelling of Whiskas. I love people too..I'm just looking out for the little furry people too...

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ramazan Pide

As I am now an expert on all things Ramazan, I can confidently report that whenever you eat Ramazan Pide it should be fresh from the baker's oven. In fact you should buy it straight from the shop when it is still too hot to handle and you should run to your house while throwing it in the air or alternatively hugging it in lieu of a lover. The trouble is I don't know which are the best bakers to buy it from and I am also a bit shy about going in there and buying one since I am a newbie to such things. Luckily my neighbour, Ozman, who manages the Kahve next door, very kindly offered to get me my very own piping hot pide today....and it was you can see by my crescent-moon devouring of it.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


Z is back. A break from filming her Kurdish comedy ( I am agog to know what such a genre entails except I can't understand any of her explanations. But she assures me it is 'very funny' 'Oh so very funny.') Anyway she asked me to come have breakfast with her ( which is the first time she has ever asked!) I think Nurdan's offer yesterday to go cycling with me in Belgrade Forest has ignited some sort of territorial war within. Funny thing is I am the worst sort of prize. I am a recluse and a hermit at the best of times and right now I wouldn't say I am at my best at all.
Anyway we decided to walk down to The Bosphorus  and eat kahvalti under the Galata Bridge. It was nice. There were young boys leaping into the choppy water, men fishing and Z knows how to send back stale tea with a very impressive bat of the eyelid.
After we went to a charity shop where Z had previously donated a lot of her clothes. She'd had a change of heart in the meantime and had gone back to retrieve some more of her more beloved ensembles. I write this all with a smile on my face.  The whole day amused me and being amused is good. When I got back Three-Paw was practically chewing off her other paw and the men next door were shouting to me 'yemek yemek.' They explained that they had tried feeding her but she wasn't interested. I think her diet of fresh Whiskas packets is beginning to spoil her. 

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Laleli Mosque...almost

Today I decided to walk to Laleli Cami ( Tulip Mosque) over near Beyazit. There was no deep reason for choosing to go there I just wanted a walk with a purpose and I had also read that there was a very nice olive oil shop attached to the Mosque. I began by walking down along The Bosphorus, past the moored cruise liners the size of volcanoes spewing out sea-legged passengers, and then down some side streets which were filled with quirky little coffee shops I have never seen before. I decided to walk with a can of cat food in my bag to treat any passing waifs of which there were plenty. ( I really hadn't planned to become a 'cat-woman-of-the-non-latex-suit-type' for a few years yet but life in Istanbul seems to have accelerated the process somewhat.) Anyway I crossed over and made my way up to The Grand Bazaar. I had a hankering for the bazaar, more for its smell than anything else. A nod to Syria I suspect after my dream of camphor and sweets.
The Grand Bazaar was very quiet for a Saturday: Ramazan and Taksim troubles - the main culprits. Bad for shopkeepers great for determined walkers on their way to Laleli Cami. I actually ended up pausing in a cafe for a drink and a bit of crowd watching. I am very mindful of drinking and eating in public during Ramazan ( I just don't do it) but the coffee shop was crowded with locals and tourists drinking tea I decided it was probably OK. Actually I have noticed that the men on my street seem to be drinking and eating even more than usual on the street right now. A Turkish woman at work suggested it is probably a reaction to the conservatism that has been creeping into Turkey of late.

Anyway I finally made it to Laleli Mosque in the mid-afternoon heat. There weren't many folk about. A few people oruçing under trees and some children running around the outside courtyard. I decided to go inside the Mosque so I found the lovely main entrance with its grand arching doors - only to see a sign directing women to a boxy little passageway to the left. I don't know but something inside me very quietly ( and serenely) flipped. Why can't I walk through the main entrance? Why must I walk through a side entrance into God's house. Surely we should all be able to walk together into such places. ( And don't get me wrong I feel equally annoyed that their are no female priests in the Catholic religion and no female bishops in the Anglican church.) But suddenly I felt no desire to enter the Mosque at all and it annoyed me so much I even found the attached olive oil shop less alluring than I might have otherwise. In the end I stalked back up the hill, through the Grand Bazaar, across the Galata bridge to my street where I gave Three-paw a pat and poured myself a glass of wine.

Friday, 12 July 2013


Today I was in the car with my favorite driver ,Orhan, when a truck started swerving erratically in front of us. Orhan and I turned to each other so I raised my shoulders pointed at the truck and said  "Oruç." He laughed so hard I thought we might cause an accident instead.  It was one of those little shiny moments in life that seem so rare these days.
Speaking of Oruç, last night I was lucky enough to enjoy Iftar with two bona-fide Oruç participants. I felt very privileged. It's funny because only the day before I had written about my desire to understand a bit more about Iftar and then suddenly this gift arrived on my lap.The gift came via my new temporary flatmate (Z is off filming a Kurdish comedy in Ankara) whose name is Nurdan. She had decided to host an Iftar at our house and I was very happy to be invited to join in. I like Nurdan. The house is more free somehow now.  Like we are equal sharers in the house or something. And Three-Paw of course. Not that three-Paw likes to come in that often but yesterday morning I opened my front door and she had her nose pressed against the wood.
Today I ate Ramazan Pide with Marmite. I wonder if that is even kosher!
Last night I dreamt I went to Damascus. I know they say you can't smell in dreams but I disagree All I could smell was jasmine and cardamon and apple nargileh and camphor. It was heavenly. 
I woke with a sad heart. 

Like I always do. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Tonight when I came out of the metro station I heard playing some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. I don't even know what the instrument was but the music had this thrillingly exotic rhythm to it. Like something quite magical was about to descend on the square. And I suppose it was for we were only minutes away from Iftar ( the breaking of the Ramazan fast.) People were milling about, some children were dancing, and all these white tables with white cloths were set out across the square.

White tables where white gas had blown just days before.

I wanted to stay but I was weary ( after being locked out of my house since 6:45 am - a story for another time) so I went down to my home and promised myself that another night I would come up and enjoy Iftar under the stars.

I did bring some Ramazan Pide home though to eat with kaymak (clotted cream) and honey.

The first Iftar was actually yesterday and apparently there was an amazing scene up on Istiklal Street. Friends and strangers had built  long picnic lines all the way down the street and were sharing food together. A student told me about it today and she said she got goosebumps just imagining the scene. I did as well.

I hope another night I will see it for myself.

They even ate amongst the water cannons...or Toma's as they are known.

 There is a part of me that wishes I had a real Turkish friend to share the experience of Iftar with. To understand more about it. But I did get a visit last night from two thirteen year old boys who live on my street that I have got to know. One of them is called Anil ( Ok I am really going to have to find out the pronunciation on that one) and the other is called Batu. They have opened a little store on the side of the street where they sell junk and dvds. Anyway they came to me door last night bearing a bowl of popcorn and sunflower seeds to share with me which made me laugh..but was kind of cute as well.

Monday, 8 July 2013

On the Eve of Ramazan

Tonight the metro unceremoniously dumped all its passengers at Osmanbey ( which is the stop before Taksim Square.) I meekly got out and began the dark, potholed walk towards home along side streets and back streets. The closer I got the more police I saw with their shields and their guns and their canisters of gas. And I thought to myself " Ah the spirit of Ramazan Eve." 
When I got to Taksim Square I was ushered into a bar after being told it was dangerous. Too dangerous to go home. Apparently Gezi Park had been re-opened to the public today only to be swiftly closed when it appeared that there might be a chance that a few people may come and assert their right to peaceful protest as guaranteed under Article 34 of Turkish Constitution which reads, “Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.”
I didn't want to stop at the bar.  I just wanted to go home, see Three-Paw and drink wine.  But I agreed to sit inside and wait for a few minutes. And in those moments that I sat down, the bar-owner started stroking my hair and saying I looked tired. "Belki a massage would help." And I thought Ah the spirit of Ramazan Eve
Needless to say, I got up and decided to continue my long march past the police with their shields and their guns. 
Do I sound disappointed?
Maybe a little. 
I suppose I should feel sorry for the young police boys ( some of them are still trying to grow hairs on their chin) as well as those who oppose them. I am sure these boys would much rather be at home ( growing that one hair), spending Ramazan Eve with their family and friends. Not holding shields and gas canisters and great hulking guns. 


For the past week I have listened to many of my students tell me, with a glisten in their eyes, about the beauty of Ramazan. And while I have my quiet doubts about letting my driver navigate bullish Istanbul traffic after ten hours without food or water, I have no doubts as to their passion. "Teacher, it is such a wonderful thing. To break fast with family. To see the tents set up in parks in gardens. Feeding the poor, bringing people together."

But gas, guns and shields on Ramazan Eve, it just makes me sad. 
In Istanbul, 
In Egypt, 
In poor lost Syria. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Melek of the Street

In the past few days I have made some very interesting Three-Paw related discoveries.

* Three-Paw is in fact a laydee. I should have known she would hide such magnificence under such a lovely fluffy tail. Still she was a bit of a hoodwinker what with her obsession with trucks and motorcycles.

* * Three-Paw lost her arm to cancer. Apparently she kept getting a tumour on her paw and after six operations the vet said they should amputate or it might mutate to her chest. ( This explains Three-Paw's less than satisfactory road-sense. I had assumed she had lost her paw in a traffic accident and had been disappointed by her non-existent learning curve. Simdi Anliyorum!)

* ** Three-Paw was a beautiful mama in her time. She is neutered now but I have been told she was wonderful with her babies. Sometimes when the old men on the street give her food their eyes mist up as they talk about her life as a mama.

**** And probably the sweetest thing I have learned is that Three-Paw has a name on the street. The locals call her Melek which means Angel...sigh.