Seven in the morning and a loudspeaker wakes me up. I look outside and I see a blond woman, high heels and a miniskirt. This time the loudspeaker does not call me for prayer – as during the past three months in Turkey – but it tells me where I’ve arrived.
But where am I? Sure you have miniskirst too in Istanbul but not this early, ready for work, waiting for a train.Â I try reading the sign of the station, it is written in a alphabet that I don’t understand. I rub my eyes and I look again. I see the platform full with women.
Forget it. I close my eyes and fall back asleep. Eight hours later, and yet after another passport-check (“Do you smoke anything special?”), I leave for the final destination and walk around a new town.
The following four days I learn how many women are in fact working in jobs here and how much they dominate the sights of public life. Quite a cultural shock after Turkey and it really was the first thing that got my eye.
Believe me – Istanbul is not that bad – but what I saw in Bucharest was against all odds. The contrast is just enormous! Women are present just everywhere – more so than what I am also used to from Spain or Holland. They fill the museums we visit, the post-offices, the restaurants, trains and a lot more.
Bucharest is also full with new construction. And hopefully one day this will lead a city build less from a male perspective but more with a female eye. As such, this city has a huge potential – though currently it is still full in transition and not as full of life as in most Balkan counter-cities.
It would be impossible to summarise Istanbul. There are only impressions, feelings and thoughts. No matter how many different perspectives you would acquire, there are simply too many different paths and lives here, to give a conclusion so sound that its people find their own stories back in it.
A city this huge just makes you realise there is yet more to explore. Never enough, there is always another corner and another road, another family and another party. Life of the Istanbul wo/man seems never-ending and no words can really grasp what this city is about.
Highlights, this is one of the few things what you might be able to offer. I recently made one small effort for this purpose. With the photo-essay “Live it and you will love it” I offer a viewpoint of what Istanbul-life for me is about, how I perceived the city, and how I see the people and culture here. I hope it offers you a good snapshot of Istanbul.
I find this country and this city one of the most social I have been so far. People meet each other everywhere and nobody seems lonely. True, there is a lot of poverty and people who just try to survive but somehow they always receive a lot of support from each other. Here I see people interacting with each other continuously. Meeting on the street, a random passer-by, somebody who waits for a bus or sits next to you on the boat, they are all excuses for a conversation.
And when they find out you are not from here, they become very curious and want to know where you are from, what you are doing here and how you like it. Imagine that in a city such as London, Amsterdam, Paris or Barcelona. No way that someone would even show the slightest interest in your life or imagine people talking in the bus or whilst queuing!
Here, though, the person you start talking to will respond with genuine interest, without hesitation. Imagine how it feels to have the freedom just to talk to anyone you like. What therefore might be one of the biggest paradoxes of this massive town with more than fifteen million people: there are no strangers here, only people you still have to meet.
The three of us sit at the front of a small fishing boat, peddling our feet in the water. The captain guides our boat to the fish, over the Marmara Sea with our backs to the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia.
The captain’s son is telling me how grateful he is, how privileged he feels to be able to enjoy Istanbul from a boat. “Millions live here but who is actually able to enjoy Istanbul like this?”, he reflects.
His dad bought the boat just five years ago, after his retirement. Quite a character he is: a funny, open, intelligent man full with humor. As we are unable to catch the big fish we want, he jokes to me not to tell anyone, especially not in the Netherlands. ‘Just tell them that we caught many big fish!’
How amazing to be part of this crew! Just days after returning from traveling from the South of Turkey with my partner, and having been with my new Istanbul host for just some hours, he receives the invitation to go fishing the next day. We get up at eight and an hour later we have our breakfast on the boat in a small Istanbul harbour.
While some of the other fishermen join us I am drinking my tea. They are joking. I am being introduced as the Dutch friend of the son’s friend and they ask me if I can swim and if they also know how to fish in Holland.
A little while later we leave the harbour to a spot a mile away from the coast, where there are more boats and fishermen. We take out the gear and merely 20 minutes later we already caught 40 fish to be used to catch bigger ones closer to the coast.
But the big ones don’t bite and since ‘we need something for lunch’ we return to the first spot to catch more of the smaller ones. We catch at least a hundred more, they are being cleaned o the boat with the water from the sea, and we feed the intestines to the seagulls. Yet an hour later we enjoy our wonderful lunch at the harbour with laughs and stories we share. What a wonderful experience!
And as we were seated with the three of us at the front of the boat I remembered what Vero and I told a man who gave us a lift in the south of Turkey, who asked us if we would need some money: ‘We are happy with what we have and need little to be happy…’
I also come to realise yet again how most Turkish people live their lives. How aware some are with what they have and at the same time how to be thankful for it, how to share this with others who don’t have it, how to share happiness and how not to preserve special things for oneself but to realise in fact that sharing makes everyone better. Win-win at its best.
This principle of sharing, how to be thankfull and to be aware of me being priviliged in terms of the opportunities that I have had, are among the most important things that I learned in Turkey.
While the Istanbul heat was ever-present last weekend, I spend three days in a forest, enjoying the fresh shades of the trees and a refreshing breeze. But I was not alone! The forest turned into a small town of fifty thousand, all there to enjoy the fifth edition of BarisaRock (Rocking for Peace) festival – with free entry and normal prices for drinks and food a unique festival for Europe.
There was a special atmosphere at the festival. Not only could you see most people walking around with smiles on their faces all the time and partying until early morning. But chances were high that you encountered some form of protest for even cheaper beer, the right ‘to get drunk’, free toilets or even against techno-music at the festival.
Barisarock is organised by volunteers and has a budget of only 5000 euro. The idea is that enjoying music should be possible without sponsors and commercial interests. It is therefore not just a festival for music but also a political act: it started as a free alternative against the commercial Rock’n Coke Festival a weekend later with an entry-fee of seventy euro and high prices for food and drinks.
Another great thing of Barisarock is the free space available to anyone willing to perform or organise. Apart from funny protests there were serious debates and different types of gatherings at the festival, as well as exhibitions, forest-games and theatre all day long.
For me it was a revelation to experience such an event. I was one of the only foreigners present, and it was great to be part of such a huge Turkish musical gathering.
Also, I was quite amazed to see that people are still able to organise these free events. Festivals have since long been killed by commercial interests, but these people have been able to pull it off: three days of festival with free entry, free camping, normal food-prices and no sponsors or any other commercial activity allowed.