The sun is rising and the sound of the azan hums in the background. In a few short hours I will be boarding a plane back to New York. I’m filled with array of emotions that is mostly aptly described as bittersweet. Istanbul is starting to already to feel like a lucid dream, the good kind.
I used to be one of those New Yorkers completely wrapped up in with my city unable to fathom living anywhere else, visiting is just fine. Istanbul has shown me that I’m capable of much more than I ever give myself for.
I’ve done a lot of growing these past few months by observing my surroundings and learning from the people I surrounded myself with. I came to Istanbul not knowing a single person but I am leaving with confidence that I have made a number of close friends.
Today when I was walking down Istiklal I thought a lot about why Istiklal street got to be the way it is, that is so abundant with international chains like McDonald’s, H&M, and Starbucks. I know globalization is in inevitable in almost every major city in the world.
Istikal street and Taksim are parallel to a significantly less affluent neighborhood, Tarlabasi. Many of the migrants from the refugee center live there and I’ve heard some terrible stories about it. There’s a lot of construction projects going on in Tarlabasi I can’t help but feel the familiar wave of gentrification making it’s way through. This makes me think about a Afghani refugee I met named Zubaida and here family, where is she and her children going to live now?
It feels hypocritical of me to complain about the gentrification of Tarlabasi when I’m inadvertently causing it in my own adopted neighborhood of Ortakoy. I’ve never seen more luxury cars before until I moved to Istanbul. It’s hard for me to believe that most of this city survives on less than $1,000 a month. Fortunately we’re going to learn about the Turkish economy and its policies in the upcoming week.
Classes at BAU are winding down and before I know it I will be thrust into the tight inescapable grasp of finals. For many people in the program it’s come close to the end, but it’s not close to the end just yet. Kim and I have decided to stay in Istanbul to take a summer class and continue working on our respective internships. I’m thankful we have more time left because I finally understand this city, not everything but I’m getting there.
I don’t feel the same hesitation I used to when ordering food or asking a question in a store. Shopkeepers on Dereboyu recognize me and ask me how I am. I no longer feel the same sense of paranoia of getting lost I felt when getting on a bus that’s not the DT1 or DT2. Neighborhoods outside of Ortakoy area feel less distant although I haven’t quite reached the same level of familiarity of this space Joe.
The most surprising thing I’ve noticed is how kind and helpful everyone in this country has been toward us. Not to say that I though Turks would be mean or volatile people, but I wasn’t expecting this level of kindness one exhibits to strangers.
A good piece of advice I can give to students, at least those who really wish to get to know this city, is to buy the aylik sinirsiz.
Ever since Joe realized how to purchase an unlimited transportation card (aylik sinirsiz) one of his favorite things to do has been hopping on a random bus until he gets really far and then hopping on another. I’d like to attribute this to the fact that he’s majoring in geography. His other motivation for doing so is getting his money’s worth. The unlimited card let’s you have 200 rides for only 75 lira so if you use up at least 70 rides you will be breaking even.
The aylik sinirsiz encourages you to see more of this extensive sprawling city. It’s so cheap, especially in comparison to a Metrocard, there’s really no excuse not to. On one of Joe’s excursions he was able to find a Dunkin Donuts and that made him really happy.
Alevis are Turkey’s largest religious minority (about a fifth of the population) and today we visited an Alevi derga on Asian side.
The Alevis have suffered oppression from the Sunni majority in Turkey. For example, in Turkey the state pays Imams and trains them. However the government does not pay or train Dedes who lead the Alevi community. Then there are the subtle ways in which the state attempts to undermine the Alevi community.
When we visited the Derga I noticed that there many Sunni mosques built very closely to the Alevi derga. This is not a terrible huge problem but those mosques could have been built anywhere else. Then there is the more blatant ways in which the state attempts to undermine the Alevis such as by building a bridge named after Yavuz Sultan Selim also known as “the executioner of Alevis.”
The historical background of Alevis, as a persecuted minority, have caused them to vote for more secular candidates, meaning they do not favor parties such as the AKP.
Before I went to the derga I didn’t know much about Alevis aside from the act that is a sect of Islam and Bashar al-Assad is Alevi. As a Sunni Muslim, I’m glad that I got the chance to learn about and see the customs the Alevis practice.
One of the most noticeable distinctions between Alevia and Sunnis is that men and women do pray in separate spaces. Another distinctive aspect of Alevi customs I noticed at the derga was that they play music during worship. I like this aspect a lot because I reminded me of all the times I have fallen asleep at mosque because it’s so boring and quiet.
As a New Yorker I’m acutely aware of the speed people walk at. In New York everyone has somewhere to be and no ones afraid of pushing their way through throngs of people to get to where they be. Someone asked Burak, why people in Istanbul take their time walking to where they need to be.
“So? Where do you need to be that’s so important?” he responded. Not to say that you should be late, but to give yourself enough time to walk leisurely is what he meant. I liked this idea and have been keeping this in mind whenever I go anywhere.
It’s nice not being in rush all the time. Istanbul’s drivers do not share this mindset.