Beautiful

If it is said, “Istanbul is a beautiful city,” I must retort, “It may be a city that contains parts that are beautiful.”

Areas popular with tourists and elites may rightfully boast of culture, history and wondrous architecture, or classy waterfronts and spacious parks.

But, alas, Istanbul as a whole — the sprawling megatropolis of greater Istanbul  — known to all others is anything but beautiful. It is hot and dusty, filled mostly with ugly towers rising out of crowded districts, connected by grid-locked motorways.

As home to sixteen million people, could it be any other way? I have visited two neighbourhoods today, travelling between them by taxi. The first of them, a once-poor neighbourhood increasingly wealthy. Nearby, expensive apartments with cutting edge designs, apparently mostly owned by Gulf Arabs.

The second of them, a very poor neighbourhood closer to the centre, which in the twenty-years I have been visiting has always been poor, and has never seemed able to lift itself out of its poverty. There are other districts I used to visit, more middle-class and affluent, but I haven’t been back in years.

If there is beauty here, then it must be in the personalities. We have met a few of these. As for the urban sprawl: that’s hard to embrace. But perhaps, in the end, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As it always is.

Güneşli

We travelled over a thousand kilometres this morning, but still I felt compelled to wander down to Güneşli central mosque on our arrival for Friday prayer.

Technically, on such days, I could let it pass and just do the shortened travelling prayer instead, but the pull is sometimes hard to ignore. We’ve been visiting this Istanbul neighbourhood for two decades, in which time we’ve witnessed a lot of change.

It used to be a very poor district, but with increased investment and gentrification, all that has changed. Driving through its streets, gazing up at luxury apartments all around, you can’t help thinking to yourself, “Para para (money money).”

But we’re not here for that. Regardless of what’s different, some things stay the same: the hospitality of my sister-in-law and our niece, now all grown up. We will enjoy our brief sojourn here before our final voyage home.

Grump

For all the comforts here, the thing I really struggle with is lack of personal space. From the first day to the last, every plan of our own has been steamrollered by others. For this, I will be glad to return to our little home and quiet life, if the Most Merciful wills. Today’s plans — our last here — already obliterated by the crowd that arrived three hours ago, and who may yet warble on for hours more. If I sound a grump, it’s because I am.

Guests descend

Guests descend, always. And always we’re the hospitable host. But not today. We’ve been here six weeks. We’re setting off at sunrise tomorrow morning. Today we’re busy packing up home. Today is not convenient for us.

But even so, relatives who say they couldn’t visit us before now, insist on dropping in to see us. They will only stay an hour or two, they proclaim, persistent in their plan.

And so guests will descend, although we will have nothing to offer them as we will have given away all our food, and they will have nothing to sit on because we will have covered up all our furniture.

But still we will be hospitable hosts, however grudgingly we receive them. They say it was not convenient for them at any point over the past six weeks. We say it is not convenient for us today. But always the guest will win.

Two places

Today, my last day working here. Tomorrow, our last day here at all. I will find it difficult to say goodbye to these comforts. My beloved: she is ready to return, for she has had a trying six weeks, waiting on her mother. But our kids: they protest, reminding us how much they hate England; they wish they could stay here permanently. Their return will be something of a trial for them.

Continue reading “Two places”

Call to prayer

I’m a practising Muslim. I observe the five daily prayers. Ordinarily, I look forward to the call to prayer. But even I wish the village mosque would turn the volume down on their minaret sound system. Better still, just turn it off completely, for there really is no need for the village mosque to be in competition with the town; the whole of the valley can hear that one perfectly well. Sometimes, I feel we have completely missed the point of our religious practices. Call people with wisdom and beautiful speech, not by blasting them to pieces with a megaphone.

Our humble home

“We’ll miss all this space, won’t we?”

“We will,” says my wife, peering back at me, “but I think I’m ready to return to my humble home.”

“Are you?”

“Definitely. I love my little house. It was our first proper home. I miss it too.”

I suppose I’ve got used to these new comforts — and the space — but it’s true: that’s our real world, for now.

This is just our dream world, for a few weeks at a time. Escapism. A dream to grasp hold of. A vision for the future, perhaps, if the Most Merciful wills.

Until then, we must return to reality… and, yes, soon enough we will be settled once more, still living within our means.

Meander

Final wander before my parents return home, meandering down the lane parallel to ours, lower down the hill. Just under two miles. The same sights, somehow completely different. A bit warm; we arrive back dripping with sweat.

For a time

The kids are up the hill, harvesting hazelnuts with our neighbours. My parents are sitting on the balcony sipping Turkish coffee. My beloved is enjoying a well-deserved rest. And me: I must head back next door to continue repairing and rejuvenating our old furniture. All this amidst this landscape. Living the good life for a time.

Just me

And then there was one. To his credit, after several days ignoring us, demonstrating his new-found independence and indicating that he had no more need for us, our lad did skip back to me as the others piled into the car. “I’ll miss you,” he said, throwing his arms around me. They’ll only be gone a couple of nights, inshallah, but their departure apparently still warranted an, “I love you.”

Continue reading “Just me”

Quiet please

Noise. I cannot abide it. I realise I was made a quiet man for a reason. The guests have the television on at full volume. Some opposition political commentary. Because the television is so loud, everyone is speaking even louder to make themselves heard. And here I am, trying to do maghrib, turning a bright crimson with exasperation. I will be the gracious host for as long as they stay, but then I will breathe a sigh of relief, seeking refuge in quiet once more.

The gang

The kids have their young cousins to stay for a few days, so now go roaming down the lanes showing the adults who’s boss. Their happy cries are audible far away. This is the freedom they dreamed of. The joys of the rural village life, hanging out and having fun.

What?

Our friends from Ealing call us, “We’re in Turkey too. Kalkan. Come over!”

Right. That’s only a twenty-hour road trip, a mere nine-hundred miles. We’re virtually next-door neighbours.

“Maybe we’ll drop round when we get home,” we suggest. A twenty-five mile drive instead.

Farmer boy

These weeks, our kids are enjoying the life I dreamed of when I was young, with no shame at all. Daily, they go racing up the lane to our neighbours to actively participate in the rural life here. They are learning new responsibilities. A couple of weeks ago, they’d be seen following our neighbour around as she walked her milk cows for their evening graze. Now they have been assigned a cow, looking after it themselves. In just days, we’ve seen our little farmer boy grow in confidence and maturity. Oh, how we will miss this place.

Sunday

The day began with our lad begging me to take him to town. But then our neighbour appeared, and they both spent the day helping her instead, starting with making hay, through to clearing beneath the hazel trees, and finally looking after the cows, rewarded along the way with garden produce. Me: I had the pleasure of cleaning the old furniture next door. Sunday’s no day of rest over here.

Friday

In the decade we’ve had a place on this hill, I’ve never been to the other side of the valley. There are various paths and lanes on beyond our house which lead that way, but the prospect of running into wild animals (bears, boars, snakes) or a guard dog has always made that trek more that a little daunting. However, as it’s Friday today, and I am working from home, I thought it was time to visit the village mosque for once.

Continue reading “Friday”

Good life

Lucky kids. While I work at my computer, they sit cross-legged in a hazelnut grove with our neighbour, tending to her cows. They’re living the good life, playing at being rural villagers. That’s the life for me too, but I have bills to pay. So on with project tasks and meetings, grateful for these technologies which enable me to sit here and them sit there, reunited in person at sunset. Better that a three-thousand mile commute.

Data spring

When working remotely, data can be much like the natural spring which feeds our home: a precious resource to be managed carefully. Just as we have an enclosed reservoir up there in the forest in which the spring water gathers and rests — an often finite resource, limited by the flow rate in and our rate of consumption downhill — so I have a limited pool of data at my disposal.

Continue reading “Data spring”

Coolness

We are really blessed with the relative coolness and freshness up on this hill. The kids insisted I take them to town this afternoon for a meal, icecream and generally hanging about, but even they had to concede it was too hot down there. We’re all glad to be back home.

View from town, our house just visible in far background up on the hill.

No plans

This is a land of no plans. Whatever plans we make — however long-planned — will be blown out of the water at short notice. We are forever at the mercy of the plans of others, changing our own at the drop of a hat. We are, of course, always the hospitable host; to adapt to circumstances is a must. Still, even after two decades, I’m yet to get used to this. I like order; to be able to relax a little and not be thrust into complete disarray.