June 23, 2013

As the days and weeks passed by, I had been waking up choking, coughing and all around not feeling so good; cigarette smoke. Somehow my room is a funnel where all the air drafts through and this air includes the smoke from up to 6 smokers.


During the day I would just leave, as I felt a sort of physical panic that I didn’t quite recognize. I realized that the smoke made me want to go away and not want to come back.


I also was considering taking the road. Get a bike and go see the country since my lessons are not going anywhere. I spent a large part of Monday and Tuesday scouring the internet looking for bikes, prices, what is available etc. I had my list of favorites ready on Sahibinden, a classified ads site, and started to look at the paperwork required for a foreigner to purchase such a thing. As I researched I became clear that I need the residency permit. And as I researched some more I  found out that the actual rule of 3 months in and 3 months out on a tourist visa are unavoidable. I had been told different things by different sources but now this looks to be law.


One more reason to go after the residency permit. Otherwise I have to leave Turkey by the end of August and be away for September, October, November and Europe being what it is, I am not sure I can financially afford to just wait and tour around for 3 months… or I’d have to find some sort of work or something…


So residency permit means I need an address, with the smoke issue, the next step seemed to inevitably be to find a new apartment.  On Friday I sat down with the single minded purpose of finding this new place. I found this cute room, send an email back and got a quick reply. At 8 PM I was checking out the place and it was really great.  Cute, cozy, close to Beyoglu,  I was all excited. Wow, I succeeded I thought.  The next step was to deposit the rent money ito the the girl’s account first thing Saturday and all would be set.


Now I also  have to tell my room mates that I will be leaving.  It felt bad because they all are really great guys, nothing wrong with them at all, the only issue really being the smoke and since I am in Turkey,being a non-smoker made me the odd man(woman)  out, it didn’t even occur to me to bring it up.


Saturday morning I saw Hakan, he is the one who offered me the room. I told him that I was moving out. He asked me why.


“The smoke, it is getting worse, I wake up coughing and fatigued, my lungs are tight and it makes me feel like running away, like I can’t stay here and do what I have to do.”


“Oh, really…   Oh, I understand.” He did not make anymore of an issue of it than that.


“Is there any other issue?” He asked.


“No, really, I like all of you very much, it’s just that smoke…”


I headed out. I went to this new cafe I found and sat for a while writing, looking at the next things I will need to get together to get the residency permit, forms, etc. When I looked at the clock, it was already 5 PM. How late are the banks are open? Dunno..  The Garanti Bank branch is up at Taksim Square, which is a little bit of a walk from here, I put my things away and headed out.


It’s beautifully sunny. Istiklal is filled with people. There is a protest organized at Taksim at 7 PM and already protesters are starting to fill the street. It’s in the air. When I arrived at the bank it was already closed.  Hmm.. OK, lets go back home and email her to let her know…


I make it home and Hakan is sitting in the living room with Ilhan.  He immediately asked me:


“So the main reason you want to leave is the smoke?”




“What if we did not smoke?”




“What if we went on the balcony or outside on the terrace?” There would be no smoke inside…”


“But, uh….. I can’t really ask all of you to do that… I’m the only non-smoker… it’s your house…”


“We are human beings capable of changing.  It would actually be better for us… We smoke pounds of this tobacco, he said pointing at the large bags sitting on the couch, it’s not good for us, maybe we’d smoke less… There are things that are necessities… like oxygen, food, water… this is one of them…”


I was flabbergasted. I could not quite comprehend this offer. I mean, usually smokers in a smokers house smoke when they feel like it.  Being the last in this home I certainly didn’t feel any rights to ask for anything. I kept repeating  “but there are 6 of you…”


And then he said: “ You never said anything about it… you never brought it up…”


I didn’t because I never thought I had any say in this. And that brought back a comment that my friend Bartin said to me recently:


“Speak up! Be wrong! Say what you think when you think it.” As he caught me red handed playing my ever so conciliatory mode, where I agree to everything and keep my thoughts to myself and do the “deal with it”.   This is the friend who told me the first night I was here that he thought my Turkish song was not good.   So honest. A mirror.


Hakan was right. I never said anything, bottled it in, reasoned, try to deal with this in silence as best I could then my best solution was to run… Which is something I’ve been doing a lot. Running.


Hmmm… Here is a chance for me to grow. Silly? Well, not so silly. To me it’s incredibly deep. To learn to express myself, share my thoughts with others means that I respect myself and in the end, respect others by trusting their judgments. What seemed to be the selfish thing at first was to tell my flatmates what I needed, It was not so selfish after all. Running away was in fact be the selfish thing…


Then Ilhan who is a very gentle, quiet man who never speaks much or loudly said something that Hakan translated :


“You bring in fresh air to this house…”


Those simple words….  they were so full of acceptance, welcoming and human love.  I was dumbfounded, I felt something in my heart that was very powerful and that felt very correct in the sense of being aligned with the order of things in the universe.  But I didn’t say anything yet. All of this was rolling in my head…


“Would you like cafe?” Hakan asked.


“Yes. I would.”

As Hakan was about to get up to go make coffee in the kitchen Ilhan gestured :

“I’ll make it.”


He got up in his light, peaceful way and headed to the kitchen. He came back a few minutes later with three small cups of Turkish coffee, Hakan went to his room and brought back a chocolate bar he opened and broke in pieces to share with all of us. I felt as rich as one can feel. Their generosity, honesty, simplicity moved me to the core. I could not be among better people.


We chatted and laughed. Maron arrived home as well as Fırat, the “smoking ban” was accepted without questioning, a slight shrug, “OK, no problem”. We were all sitting around the table. I went to my room and got my guitar. I hadn’t played in a few days, because when I start feeling like running I can’t play much. But now I did.


“What is this?!?!” asked Meron when he saw the Go guitar.


“A guitar.” I said laughing


“Naaaahhh!!!” Meron is Italian, from Milan, he is very, very expressive. I gave him the guitar to look at. I told them about it having been made just for me.


The room darkened as night came, two candles were lit, incense… I played for a long while and everyone was sitting still. It was truly magical.


At some point we heard the sound of tear gas being shot.  We went out to the window and there it was, rising between the buildings up the street. I figured that this was going to happen since protests have been outlawed. Some people are running down the street, hands to their mouths, trying to avoid the gas. Some are running up the street to go see what is going on.


A bit later Meron asked :

“You want çorba?” (soup)


Yes. We all did. So Meron, Fırat, Hakan and myself walked up the street and had lentil soup for 4 liras (2 dollars). We are sitting on this terrace, I can feel the gas on my face, the slight burn.  But we sit here as if nothing was going on, we eat, laugh create another magical moment I will wish to remember. A cat comes between the tables. It is Istanbul, there are protests just up the street, tear gas and police violence a few thousand meters away, a zillions taxi cabs course the small narrow streets hungering for a fare. We eat and when we’re done, they light up a cigarette. Nothing is ever rushed around here. Hakan is the first to leave as he is working the night shift at the hostel. After a while Meron says :


“Lets go see what is happening…”


As we approach, the smell of gas is more obvious.  My throat immediately starts to itch. I didn’t have my scarf with me… Fırat offers me his gas mask.


We walk up  Istiklal. It is wearing its riot night look. Detritus everywhere, chanting people, masks, goggles and scarves are the thing.  Flags, maks and food sellers are doing swift business. We try to see what is going on ahead. Maron is very comfortable on the streets. He told me a bit earlier how he grew up in Milan on mean street. He comes back towards Fırat and I


“They built a barricade…”


Suddenly it happens, the hush ,like a wind turning, people start to run away from the barricade.


“Yavaş, Yavaş”(slowly, slowly) says Meron, the cry is repeated. But ahead, the police makes its slow unavoidable progress. We see the water cannon shooting, just out of reach of us. “Run!” says Firat.


We run. Fırat extends a hand, grabs my forearm. We run in the night along with hundreds of protesters.


“Careful! Careful!” he says to me as we negotiate different obstacles


“Where is Meron!?”


He is right behind us. As I look back I see the cloud of gas rising. Thankfully we’re just out of reach. We turn the corner towards the bridge that takes us over to Omer Hayyam. The moon is almost full, vividly bright tonight. Still is this  multitude of yellow taxi cabs coming from all directions, clogging the roads, all of them empty. I wonder how they make ends meet.


We decide to walk back home.


I go check my emails. The girl from the room is asking what happened as I was supposed to have deposited the money in her account, she says another person wants the room… OK. I have to decide. I call Hakan at the hostel.


“Is there gas over there?”


“No, there was some earlier but it’s quiet now.”


“I am coming over, I want to talk to you.”


It’s past 1 AM. I grab my goggles, and scarf this time. I tell Ihan I am going to the hostel and head out.


When I arrive there, Hakan is outside smoking. I told him I made my decision. He listens. First I said how amazed I am at his way to handle this. I tell him how much he surprised me.  I tell him that I will stay. He is glad.   We chat about all sorts of things for a while.  Bartin comes out. He knew about my finding a new room. I tell him about this change.


“Lots of change.” He says with a smile.


“Yeah.  This is all about me speaking my mind.  There is quite a bit of learning…”


“Yes.” He said still smiling.


“I love this place. I don’t want to leave.” I told him


I made my way back to the apartment. Called Hakan back to let him know I made it safely. I grab my saz and play a little bit quietly.


“Want some toast?” asks Fırat.


“Yes please” I say.

 He starts making the toast in this contraption, a metal sort of clamp that one heats up on the stove top.  


I join him in the living room. We chat some more. About Sufi music. He shows me some amazing clips of sufi trance music on YouTube. He tells me about his desire to get out of the body. “Be in the Cosmos” he says as he extends his arms and I can actually see the darkness, the open emptiness he wishes for.  He tells me about his desire to go and travel, be out in vast open spaces. Yes, how I can totally relate to that.


In the still darkness, the call to prayer rises. It’s somewhere between 4 and 5 AM.  I am playing the saz ever so quietly in the wee morning hours.  


“I should go sleep” I said. I lay down. I am at peace. I am in love with this incredible place. Full of contradictions, extremes, beauty, ruggedness and its bluntly honest and unfathomably generous people. The journey continues. Monday I plan to go to the music conservatory and see if they can direct me towards saz teachers. But I am not worried. I am not concerned. I am realizing that all the learning I came to do might not necessarily be on the saz. I fall asleep.






One Response to “”

  1. Danielle Liard Says:

    Silly Dani, you really should say it when something is wrong. I smoke, but I decided a while back to do it outside only. Even in winter, which you know what that’s like. No big deal. Glad you are surrounded by good people. ❤


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