Marta, Sandra and tear gas…

October 7, 2014

I was sitting outside Chillout, playing guitar. They started to walk down Balyoz Sokak, many people, of all types. Unusual. I wondered for a second, then I saw the spray.

“Hey it’s good ol’ TOMA.” I said to Ufuk as if I had seen an old friend… he looked up saw the spray and the white vehicl, yeah.. the police is at it again. A TOMA being one of these water cannon vehicles. I remained seated but kept watching the progress. If they are just passing by it’s one thing. But if there is gas it’s another. We keep an eye down the street to see what will follow or not. A group of people, well dressed, mostly tourists, turned the corner and started to almost run, hmm… not good. Then we saw it and breathed it, it was there: Gas.

“Gas!! Get inside!” As I gather my things among the group coming down, I see this woman, all dressed in black, visibly very upset, her face contorted in stress and fear. I start to cough, with the gas, for me it’s almost immediate I have no tolerance. Hostel customers and passerbys rush inside. I put down my guitar, then I hear;

“NO, NO, NO!!! How can they do that!!! WHY!!! WHY!!!

It’s the woman in black. Her mascara all run down her face looking like a sad clown , she is frantically rubbing her eyes.

“MY EYES!!!! I CAN’T SEE!!!”

I know exactly what she is going through. She is standing up gesticulating in a panic, rubbing her eyes, getting up sitting down a cluster of people handing he wet toilet paper, a cup of water, as if following the lopsided flight of a wounded butterfly. First thing, I think, is that she needs to calm down.

“What’s your name?” I ask


“All right Marta, you have to sit down…” She sits for a second then gets up frantic.

“NO! NO! NO NO!!”

“I know how this feels, you have to stop rubbing your eyes, it will make it worse.” I tell her. She sits down, she is in shock. Asking over and over “WHY??” I put an hand on her back, and gently rub her back, “breathe” I say. “all right, that’s good… don’t rub… close your eyes… try to relax…” on the speakers plays Yanıyorum with Kardeş Turkuler and Neşet Ertaş. I tell her it’s one of my favorite songs and I sing softly. She begins to breathe a bit. She says it’s the worst thing that ever happened in her life. I respond that in a way it’s good, as it’s now behind her. Rebeca says:

“Welcome to reality.” We all laugh as it is so true… I say:

“There is no logic to these actions, there is this ugliness but there is also a beautiful humanity, all these people here willing and trying to help you now. You have friends here…” she looks up at me, a flicker of thankfulness in her eyes.

Her clothes are wet. She was right in the line of fire got soaked by the water cannon and the water of course is laced with pepper gas… Just standing next to her, I can feel the gas’ fumes, it makes me cough, my lips burn. Nasty shit. Slowly she calms down. She asked to take a shower. Giulia took her up. She came back a few moments later in a doubled up panic, in her underwear, her legs are bright red, from the pepper gas. Likely, the soap, hot water made it worse. Yeliz starts to rub milk on her legs. Yeliz went through Gezi she knows what to do to help, but Marta is in a massive panic, She yells:

“NO, NO, NO, NO!!!” Her arms flailing wildly, as if trying to stop a collision with an incoming express train. She starts to take more clothes off, many male guests around ogling the free show as we’re in the middle of the cafe, I say:

“Lets get her in a room…” we go to number 3. She goes from panic to calm to panic again, she shakes, whimpers, almost cries, almost laughs. I know from experience that the gas will cause the body to release massive amount of adrenaline. Combine that to the psychological shock of not being able to deal with the events, the mind refusing to accept what happened then multiply with the person’s tolerance to pain and hardship, it can get pretty dramatic.


“I know… I know” I say. “time will make it better… it takes time.” But she fights.

With Marta was another woman, her friend Sandra. Sandra had been gassed too, but Sandra suffers in silence. I went to see if she needed anything, her legs were soaked too, so I got her a towel and wrapped her legs with it. I talked to her. Later, Sandra said she wanted to go to her hotel. She wanted a taxi. I’ll get you one I said. I went down to Pera Taxi and rode back up with the driver. In the mean time, someone had called an ambulance and Marta was in there. They couldn’t do much more other than wait. The recommendation was cold water and ice over the affected skin. They got in the cab, Marta in her underwear and wrapped in a Chillout blanket, Sandra stoically taking it all in. They left.

Western lives. Most of us live undisturbed routines, the most upsetting thing being someone cutting you off on the highway or some clerk being rude. We feel entitled, we feel we have all these rights, all this clout. We think we’re safe. We get incredibly upset when we don’t get what we want. We feel protected by insurance policies, lawyers and government rules.

Here, it is not so, you can be walking on the street minding your own business and be caught in the middle of something that looks more like warfare with police squads looking like an army regiment, you can be shot at with plastic bullets, tear gas canisters, water cannons, paint bullets, without any cause or reason. A coal mine can engulf 700 workers because of gross neglect of safety rules and the powers that are will tell you it was the will of Allah, too bad you were in harm’s way.

Seeing her experience the police brutality reminded me of my own experiences since I live here. How shocked I was a year and a half ago while Gezi Park took place and how I now just look at the events and stay grounded, able, undisturbed. Now I am actually able to help.

Istanbul is a gigantic school of life. Spend some time here, a few years and I believe you can deal with anything, anyone, emotions, events life throws at you… your senses sharpen, your awareness, your people instinct, your appreciation for the good moments and your ability to absorb the hard ones. It’s a kind of removing of the marshmallow coating we have in the West.

They left, we cleaned up. Sat down and chatted, it’s all in an Istanbul day or night.


One Response to “Marta, Sandra and tear gas…”

  1. David Walker Says:

    Dear Danielle, A throw back to days in IslaVista at UCSanta Barbara in anti war riots. Tear gas, cops and national guard. When you truly challenge the power structure it becomes ruthless in the twinkling of an eye. I don’t have illusions about the West either, in fact it is more dangerous here in that most people have no clue.
    love, david

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