|139 years of Taksim Tunel|
|Photo by Kaan, caption: "Depressed Turkey"|
(I traveled to Turkey for vacation during first half of July,2014. Following is an account of my experiences in Ankara/Istanbul. This is the tenth installment of the series, involving my encounter with some Turkish teenagers working as volunteers and what I learnt from them. I hope you enjoy it)
Cuma, On Bir Temmuz
(Friday, 11th July)
(Friday, 11th July)
I was back from Ankara. After a terrible scheduling issue and Istanbul’s heavy traffic, I had failed to make my flight to Cappadokia, and I had decided on the fly, to spend another day in my favorite city: Istanbul. I had a rough night on Thursday, half-awake and dizzy throughout. The breakfast was a low-key affair as usual. Having spent my previous week in a lavish hotel in Sultanahmet area, I had settled for a modest place this time in Asmali Mescit area. I started my day with a walk across Isteklal Cadessi towards the Tunel station, from where I boarded the Taksim Tunel to Karakoy.
From Karakoy, I took the tram to my favorite haunt, Sultanahmet. Upon arrival, I roamed around the half-empty hippodrome and ended up chatting with an Ask Me volunteer who was curious about Pakistan, particularly our (supposed) fascination with Tea.I taught her the recipe for milk tea(the variety that is common in Pakistan) and told her differences between Pakistani and Turkish cuisine. She couldn't understand why we used the bread (roti/ekmek) as a spoon to eat the curry/çorba/shorba. She also found it difficult to imagine lives of vegetarians and how they don't apparently have any variety in their food.She asked me if people in Pakistan consume tea more than water, as she had read it in some book. I replied in the negative but later discovered that it was the case in Central Asian Republics.
Afterwards, I met Kaan's friend Mustafa, who wants to write and teach history and Elif who wants to be a diplomat.I was delighted to talk to Elif as she is a wonderful person and her ambitions at such young age are impressive. We talked about some of my favorite topics from Turkish Politics: The main opposition party (CHP), Presidential candidate Mr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, SOMA, usage of religion in politics and “Blasphemy of Ataturk”. We also discussed as to how the Turkish social structure is stacked against older people. Kaan showcased his photography skills with my camera, and I was impressed. It was almost ‘lunch’ time for the volunteers so I accompanied them to their office, where I encountered Mehmet, and did his “photo shoot”.
While we were sitting outside Sultanahmet Camii (Mosque), the Juma/Cuma sermon started. Elif was kind enough to translate it for me. The Imam (Hatip) talked about marriage and finding a well-educated wife with a job and to beware of apparently "perfect" proposals, that there should age difference between bride and grooms, some spiel on dating and even mentioned 'tourists from pakistan' in some context that was not apparent.I was pleasantly surprised to hear such ‘progressive’ views from the pulpit, having been accustomed to hearing utter drivel during most Juma sermons in Pakistan.
The pleasantness was short-lived as the Hatip switched to English in the final part of his speech. He railed against many aspects of modernism and how latest technologies are driving people to loneliness. He mentioned refugees from Syria and that they should be helped, ended with "May Allah Help muslims in gaza, east Turkestan, and Myanmar".
I moved near Hagia Sophia after the prayers where I met another Mustafa and my favorite volunteer: Özge. I discovered that Mustafa was also a football fanatic like myself and I learnt a lot from him. We discussed major Turkish football clubs, Turkish football league and its structure, famous players who played for Turkish teams, nicknames of supporters of Istanbul’s big three(Galatasaray=Lions, Fenerbahçe=birds, Beşiktaş=Eagles), Coldplay, English Premier League, Merlin, Turkish wimmens and much more. He was studying to become an interpreter and wanted to move to the UK after studies. Upon his insistence, I tried Simit (a Turkish snack) for the first time. It was a chocolate Simit and was probably a bit dry for my taste. We sat on the steps facing Hagia Sophia, between Million Stone and Basilica Cistern, till the time for departure of volunteers arrived. I spotted Mehmet again and took some more snaps for the “Behlul look-alike album”.
On my way back, I finally gave in to the temptation and indulged myself by getting a new cover of the iPhone (which as I later discovered, was too expensive). During my daily stroll around Isteklal, I decided to try "Kumpir" for dinner, which is basically a baked potato stuffed with different toppings. It was actually quite tasty. While walking back to my hotel, I witnessed that the impromptu musicians that throng Isteklal Street hide their instruments as the police approaches.