Ever been fooled into love by a dozen red roses? What about an apology accepted with a bunch of tulips?
Istanbul’s artistic flower designs and manicured highway gardens are hopefully appreciated by the traffic of cars that are squeezed together like corn kernels on the cob, but are flowers enough for us to love Istanbul? Is it enough to divert our attention and make us accept Istanbul’s downfalls and delusions?
I ask our Istanbul siblings, both foreign and native, why they are turning their backs on the city and choosing to relocate abroad.
Packing his bags and leaving for Canada is Turkish national Cenk, a 30 year old psychology masters student.
Before we think glass half empty, let’s admire the glass that is half full.
Cenk speaks fondly of Turkish people describing them as “warm and friendly”. He is also quick to admire Istanbul’s beauty and he gives Turkish cuisine its own special mention.
So what is the problem Cenk? Beautiful city. Tick. Great people. Tick, tick. Food quality and variety. Tick, tick, tick.
I am not prepared for his half empty version or perhaps we should refer to it as the glass that is completely empty…
It comes out of his mouth in static bursts as if he is telling me his shopping list. Milk, eggs, “abuse of power”, “bribery”, bread.
He believes these things are “so common that people seem to be desensitised to them”.
The list continues… orange juice, yoghurt, “no justice”, “no democracy”.
As if we are walking around a MMM Migros supermarket, our basket is filling up with some quite heavy issues.
So what is his plan I wonder. Return the items to the shelf and walk out of the store empty handed?
Exactly! He is leaving Turkey with just his bags. Shifting abroad where he intends to settle, live his life, marry, have children and hopefully get a 2nd passport to offer his child saying, “A second passport really is the ticket out.”
We now shift our focus to Louise, a 34 year old sales director from America.
Louise seems overall quite pleased with her experience living here. She addresses the areas needing improvement as the transport system, and the lack of English spoken saying it would really help tourists if it was more widely used.
She leaves one small parting word of advice though, “The Government ought to stop embezzling money and put it towards creating clean water for drinking, educating the public on littering to improve both the cleanliness in public places and the sea.”
If that is not enough, she would also like to see “better education on the treatment of women”.
Even though Louise is on the way out, she still encourages others to come and live within the Istanbul skyline, saying “it’s a very interesting place with a liveability that makes having an adventure in a strange place easier than one might imagine.”
In conflict to Louise, Cenk says with the high cost of living in Istanbul he can’t “recommend the city to live if the person asking doesn’t have a big income.”
Secondly, and as if offering sound advice to our American, he throws in that he “wouldn’t recommend it to people who are sensitive about human and women’s rights”.
He finds the society “quite repressed sexually and men being somewhat unnecessarily aggressive”.
As he says this I remember an article in Hürriyet Daily News published on the 22nd of August this year. At the top of the page there was a picture of nine people. A mix of men, women, children plus one rather brutal looking dog. The news reported their neighbour had survived being “stabbed 43 times by her husband”.
One might find it easy to agree with Cenk when we continue to read that the man was released “after a court decided they would not arrest” him. So, the neighbours came to the decision to patrol the area each night to keep the woman safe from her husband.
But not to worry weary traveller. These remain the problems of those who choose to live here. They are all our problems. We carry them in our pockets like a dirty tissue we use over and over again refusing to throw it out. It is our tissue.
Relax, take out your guide book. Look at the pretty flowers, because Cenk’s final words are as bright and as beautifully constructed as Istanbul’s gardens.
“I would definitely recommend Istanbul to all travellers. There’s a lot to see in the city, it has lots to offer with beautiful scenery, hundreds, if not thousands of years old architecture to explore. A lively, vibrant city, an old culture, and an overall fun place to see!”Cenk
I picture myself pouring tea into Cenk’s empty glass. The hot water rises past the halfway mark and now it has risen all the way to the top.
Cenk’s glass is now full.
Written by Sheldon Heyes
Why do you love or hate Istanbul? Comment section below.
“Istanbul is alive. Everyday, anything can happen. Just go for a walk in a neighbourhood like Beyoğlu and you can find yourself inside an antique mosque, or walking through a gypsy street wedding and being invited to join in. You can become an incidental ‘extra’ walking through a film set, or randomly dancing to a Black Sea traditional fiddle with locals on the shopping street. And more shockingly, you can suddenly be in the middle of a protest zone on your way home, getting tear gassed without warning.”Behiye
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