Monday, December 12, 2016

Reflecting on my Second Home... - Istanbul, Turkey


It's interesting, all day I've been desperate to find a moment to write something down - to begin to process what has occured this weekend in Istanbul. I didn't know what I had to say, and, frankly, I still don't, but writing has always been my way of deconstructing that which may, on the surface, seem like a rope far too tangled to ever again be useful. What I do know is that despite the fact that this was not the first bombing, or even the first "near miss" for me, this was different.

Istanbul is not a war zone, despite what the media might depict, but I'm also struggling to honestly say that you can live here now without incurring a certain amount of risk. I know that I love living here, but I also know that I would tell my family and friends not to visit at this time. Certainly, the large explosion outside of the Beşiktaş stadium is not emblematic of any sort of everyday experience here, but I'm also not necessarily shocked this occured. And that's painful to admit. Since the tumultuous times of the summer, I was relieved to see that violence and hostility hadn't yet made its way back into Istanbul, but I, like many others, was waiting with my eyes closed and fingers crossed. With yesterday's blast, I feel like I was jolted awake just shortly after I felt as if I could let my guard down. I was confronted head on with my own naivety. 

I didn't just hear the bombs or feel the tremble in the concrete, I saw the blast from a vantage point which gave me an opportunity to see exactly what had happened, and made me wish I hadn't seen it at all. Let's be clear, this isn't a "woe is me" story. That would be selfish and ridiculous.  I was, at the time, at an engagement party surrounded by 20 or so friends I've been blessed to meet. We were together, we were able to debrief what had happened, and we were safe...when many people weren't so fortunate. So, when writing this, it's not pity I want, and, when I think about it, I don't think it's pity that Istanbul needs. I suppose, in a sense, writing this is trying to figure out what it is that both Istanbul and I do actually need, and the acceptance that I may not have the answer to either question, nor the power to solve any problems if I did. 

The flash of the bomb reached the 20th floor of the Marmara Hotel in Taksim like a devilish crack of lightning. The dim room was illuminated, and time seemed to stop as all of us tried to think of ways we could justify what we had just seen. With all our attention looking towards Beşiktaş, we saw another explosion (which I'm to understand was a suicide bomber) in Maçka Park, just to the left of the stadium. I took my phone out, took a picture of the stadium, and did what I could to warn people to steer clear. And, It also sunk in that the explosion I saw had just cost countless people their lives, and I was so close I could nearly smell the smoke.
My phone, like many of my other friends' phones at the gathering, instantly went into overdrive with messages and phone calls asking whether we were safe, with the respective messagers and callers knowing we weren't sound. Friends reached out to me from across the world after seeing this very tweet on Al Jazeera and many other news outlets. It was the feeling of having a role in a play you would have done anything to not be a part of. My friend took a video around that moment:
Perhaps the most disturbing footage comes from a group of teenagers playing guitar across the water. It gives the best idea of just how large this was. It was bizarre seeing the initial news reports of "dozens injured" or what have you, and knowing yourself, with certainty, that the explosion did more than just wound.
When this happens, you first ensure your family and friends are safe. Then, afterwards, you make sure you can get yourself to safety. In our case, we waited for an hour or so, then walked to a friend's place nearby. We went there to unwind, to talk in circles, to feel familiarity. I ended up chatting to a journalist working with CNN about the whole affair, and for the most part she just ended up repeating "wow," over and over and over again.

And I guess that's what I'm having trouble with. In many ways, I've become de-sensitized to what can and has happened in the city while I've been here, and to hear someone react so strongly, or with such shock...was, in a sense, shocking for me.

I feel as if I've come to know Istanbul so well, and come to love Istanbul so deeply, that I'm almost completely unable to look at the situation here objectively. I want to believe that things will change for the better so badly, that I'm worried I'm unable to see that they won't.

I weave back and forth in my mind between thinking that I'm overreacting when I feel this sense of worry about what the future holds for me here, and under-reacting when friends back home see the news and ask when my plane is landing tomorrow. And I teeter between what I know is true about this city with my own two eyes, and what I can't comprehend with the entirety of my brain. I feel guilty for thinking of leaving when so many people I care about here don't have that luxury, and I feel stupid for thinking of staying when so many people I care about have their arms wide open 8000 kilometres away. I feel a haunting rush of adrenaline to be in the heart of the world's top news story, and I feel a sense of crushing defeat to realize that the city in the headlines is my second home.

So, here I am, searching for a manual that doesn't exist, and cherishing all that this city and its people have given to me, while I try to figure out if there is anything left for me to give back.

I'm trying to figure out if it's time to put a period at the end of this chapter of my life.

I'm trying to figure out if I should move to another city, and accept that Turkey will always be firmly etched into my heart, but that I still may have to leave its shores.

18 comments:

  1. I, for one, will be very sad to see you and Bri go.
    We move in different circles here I know (your young hipster crowd and my geriatric hipster crowd tend to meet at different venues), but that doesn't stop me appreciating the effort you both put into teaching the youth of Turkey - and I know that they appreciate it too. Obviously the decision is yours, but I know so many people that have decided to leave and I wonder if this is what these bastards actually want! My situation is different, of course, with a Turkish wife and family - but I hope to be the last person on the helicopter, if that is what this is coming to.
    Stay safe mate.

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    1. Hey Phil, thanks very much for taking the time to read over what I've written. It's a good point you make, that it might just be what the perpetrators of such crimes desire, and that only adds to the ultimate confusion of it all for us. I also want to thank you for noticing that both Bri and I have done everything we can do try to make a lasting impact with our students and in this country. Again, thinking about all of this is part of what makes me feel as if there may not be a right or easy decision to make.

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  2. Wow. Thank you for this perspective, I've spent a lot of time in Turkey as a pseudo-archaeologist, and it breaks my heart everytime I see it flash across the headlines like this. I love the country so deeply. Stay safe.

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    1. Thanks for taking a moment to read this. I too love this country with all my heart, and that is part of what makes these heinous crimes so difficult to contend with.

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  3. Many thanks for you taking the time to write this.Turkey has been my home for the last 20 years ( Fethiye to be precise) but I visit and stay in Istanbul at least once a month.I too was there this weekend when this dreadful occurrence took place and although I was in Kadikoy we could hear the helicopters and the mayhem. For the very first time I too have many of the same thoughts as you which saddens me deeply. Then I think well where is safe in this crazy world we are living in ?

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    1. It's a very good point. I wish I had the answers to more of these questions.

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  4. Hey buddy,
    Thanks for posting this. I think what you have done here is publish your thoughts but also touch on what many of us are thinking and feeling. The search for answers, next steps and concern about the future is a top priority but, having said that, I feel deeply attached to this amazing city and it's people which have made us feel so welcome over the past 1.5 years. Thank you for making a point of talking about your own thought process and how you are dealing with this. You are correct in pointing out that there is indeed no manual for dealing with things like this. I feel like a lost pig in the woods at times when it comes to deconstructing and making sense out of these 'incidents' and having you and Bri with us the other day really helped us both. Perhaps what we can take out of this, if anything, is that a strong network of caring and supportive friends is crucial when attempting to navigate this madness. Like you, it pains me to watch a tragedy like this unfold and be cognisant that we have the option to leave while many do not. At times like these our best option is unity and friendship. Thanks for being a good friend and opening the dialogue.

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    1. Hey Owen, thanks a million for reading this over and sharing your opinion. As you'll know, your opinion matters quite a bit to me, and it's humbling to know that what I've written could in any way do justice to what you're feeling as well. I too thank you for being a good friend, and you'll always have my full love and support. Thanks again, my friend.

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  5. I have encountered acts of terrorists in several parts of the world. Surviving when close friends didnt! If you move they will have won. Who is to say it wont happen where you move to. All we can do is be vigalant, and move on with our lives as best we can. If it has yiur number on it, itdoesnt matter where you are.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I think you've got a valid point that it really can happen anywhere, and that really all we can do is be vigilant. But, I suppose, sometimes it's hard to remember that when you feel like you've got to be looking over your shoulder at times. Anyway, thanks for taking a moment to read and share your opinion.

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  6. This is exactly what Me and my husband are going through! We have been here since last 2 years and after the Saturday's twin blasts we have been thinking over the exact things! Just because we love the city so much, are we underreacting to such events ! We become so defensive when someone back home requests us to leave this city and move somewhere else . We were 500 mts away from the Macka Park explosion and still we don't let the gravity of situation sink into us. We are still hanging onto anything in terms of security to continue staying in this city ! It's a beautiful place and We have been blessed with great friends ! Let's see!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your comments, it's good to know that I'm not the only one feeling this way. It's difficult to really let the gravity of the situation sink in, and that's actually why I wrote this, so I could find some sense of clarity. I think, as someone noted above, that all we can do is be vigilant and support each other. I want to thank you for taking a moment to read my words.

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  7. I've just discovered your blog and your writing are powerful !! Thank you for sharing your experiences and your thaught especially this last post. I'm feeling exactly the same from saturday night questioning myself about the amazing life we live in Istanbul but looking for the answer of what's gonna happen tomorrow...
    Thank you !

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    1. Thank you very much for letting me know. It's great to know that my words have in some way be useful. I wish you all the best!

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  8. Very nice piece. I was organizing an Irish music festival in Taksim when the riots happened in gezi park the first night in 2013 so I understand your sense of bewilderment about what to do next in a city you love and which has so much potential. My conclusion finally is that this 'potential' will never be fully realized in the future of its citizens because 1) there is no political group organizing itself diligently since gezi which could one day be a credible opponent for the current regime. There is a lot of posting on Facebook but no organized action with a long term view or plan. 2) this will keep happening and ultimately it feels like the country is going backwards not forwards. It can be fine for certain individuals doing their thing and getting on but mostly people encounter serious setbacks because of the reigning policies and dogma. When we live in a city we're part of a community. I found that that was so fractured there and suffering from inertia in areas where it should be moving forward that eventually after 5 years in Turkey I felt it was time to come home and invest my time and effort in a community which wasn't afraid to work hard to move forward and create, aspirationally at least, a safe, positive and exciting community for all. We can always visit Turkey to get our fix...

    I'm sure your gut will tell you what to do, listen to it :)

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    1. Sorry for the delayed reply! Thanks very much for offering your thoughts. It's tough to try to come to terms with what can or can't be realized as a result of the current situation. And, you're right, listening to my gut will ultimately inform me of what's right. Thanks again for stopping by.

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  9. Very nice thought James. I have been living here for 8 years now. Its not that I never wanted to leave this place but somehow Istanbul just hold me back with its love. What really makes me cry is people have lost their hope perhaps thats what government wants and nobody wants to sort out any problem. Everybody has accepted this fact that Turkey as we know will die sooner or later.
    good luck and keep posting !

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    1. Thanks for popping by my blog and offering your thoughts. I too find it very hard to imagine leaving Istanbul, but I also have a very hard time imagining staying, so it's hard to know what to do!

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