Istanbul typically is known by its many charming attributes. This story, however, is specially designed to take you beyond what is known and what is being seen about Istanbul
Istanbul, the city that is home to almost 18 million residents and best known as one of the most densely populated areas in the Eurasian continent. It attracts almost 4 million visitors, coming from all over the world every year. Istanbul has been the capital of many empires throughout history: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. A city where both Eastern and Western cultures, values are unprecedentedly entwined together with this mixture creating a unique atmosphere, peculiar to the city. There are countless attractions in the city; authentic cafes, coffee houses, restaurants and bars host both tourists and locals every year. As a local of Istanbul, I identify this city as the place that I spent my childhood and had unforgettable memories and even regard as a part of my very essence. But leaving aside its bright side, like every city in the world, Istanbul too has a bitter side.
Suburbs, full of disadvantaged people, who stand beside the joyous while they cannot have a share in it. They stand beside those who galvanize their morale with an exceptional view of the Bosporus whereas every single day for them is a struggle and even an utmost form of survival. Today, as a local of Istanbul who often shares the joy of this beautiful city, I want to share my impression from a short trip I took to one of these suburbs; Sülüntepe. Sülüntepe is a large neighborhood in Pendik - one of the subregions of Istanbul - and consists of many single-storey squatter houses. Narrow streets full of half-naked children, playing games, cheering, smiling, totally unaware. A life that their elders try to live when going through countless troubles every day.
An ultimate fuss to buy a couple of eggs, vegetables, bread, maybe half a kilo of raw meat, if that was a lucky day. We also came across little teahouses where elderly people, mostly men, get together and socialize. Women, washing their carpets close to the street, a little reluctant to display their wares in public. As I wander around, take notes in my little notebook, an elderly women approaches and asks if I am lost or if I need help. I just passed a brief explanation that I came to observe the neighborhood, I am writing a piece for a newspaper. She appeared very odd at that moment, "A piece! A piece about what?" she asked in surprise. "Well, about you!" I replied and her bewilderment seemed to multiply. After a brief conversation she invited me for tea in her little garden. I couldn't refuse as it was an unexpected chance to talk with a local about the life in this neighborhood. Her name was Ayşe. She has been living in Sülüntepe for 30 years. I asked about her husband, she nodded and said, "He died five years ago. Heart attack…" With a little hesitation and reluctance, I asked, "How do you earn your living then?"
She said, she is receiving a widow pension from the government and relies mostly on the support from her sons and neighbors. She asked me what I studied at university and added "My grandson went to university too. I am very proud of him! My son struggled a lot to pay his university expenses." Her eyes filled with tears… I asked her what its like to live in this neighborhood. She replied, "Well it has its own difficulties but we are living, one way or another. Thank God! I see what happens in Gaza and Syria everyday on TV. I pray for those people as much as I can. I save some money from my widow pension to help the Syrian refugees that live a couple street back. They are our brothers, our neighbors. We should help them, it's our duty. Turkey, Syria, Palestine… We are many but one!"
These words of deepest sympathy really shook me at that moment. It was truly sublime, seeing this 60-year-old woman's expressions of sympathy and fellowship towards Muslims that suffer from relentless regimes and cruelly killed using high-tech weaponry. It was surprising to realize and recall how the people of Turkey perceive themselves along with other Muslim nations, brothers and sisters of a bigger family, a bigger ideal; the Middle East. I told her I needed to leave. She stood up and walked me out to the exit of the garden. Before leaving, I asked to take her picture. She gently refused and added with a smile "Maybe next time. You can visit me anytime you want. It will be a pleasure."
Every journalist, adventurist or explorer wants to catch the "big story" when they walk into a setting they are not familiar with. I am not sure whether I caught one today. I just wanted to show the bright side of Istanbul from its bitter side.
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