May Day

The phrase may be a bit too apt for what happened in Istanbul yesterday, but I’m happy to report we’re all fine and in perfect health…though with final reviews a few days away, our mental health might take a dip. In any case, I feel that we owe it to you to recount some of the events that took place that day.

The Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, brought in close to 40,000 police officers to restrict access to Taksim Square and to quell protests throughout the city. 5,000 officers would crowd into Taksim alone. Last year things got a little messy when people tried to organize in Taksim and riots broke out. In addition, a few weeks later the Gezi Park protests started. What good is public space, though, if it can’t be used whether to celebrate or not? In any case, none of us had plans to leave the neighborhood other than to grab a quick bite to eat. We caught a faint whiff of tear gas on our way to a local pide shop and saw plenty of cops and trucks blocking the way to Osmanbey metro station, but we never felt threatened or troubled, merely inconvenienced. When we got back home, we saw a bunch of people in gas masks running down our street and two or three tear gas canisters five or six blocks up the street. It was time to go inside.

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Later, when we were working in our apartments, a huge flood of protesters ran past our apartment. We all rushed to the window (or the balcony) to see what was happening. They rounded a corner just as a horde of policemen came running after them with a water gun truck in tow. Some protesters had stayed and blocked the street, while others threw fireworks at the gathered officers. The noise was unbearable! During this altercation, another troop of officers in riot gear showed up to support the officers already gathered. They stood at that corner for a good, long while and then…they disappeared.

Shopkeepers rolled up their garage doors and resumed sale. People crept back onto the streets and things were the same as they had always been. It was as if nothing had happened! That’s the amazing thing about this city and these people: They show uncompromising resilience and flexibility in all aspects of daily life. Maybe it’s the general sense of “fusun” or sorrow that comes with living in the city. Maybe it’s frustration or annoyance. Maybe the Turkish just realize that there’s just so much to do that one can’t waste time on these silly games of cat and mouse. I can’t really say for sure.

In the days since there’s been no mention of those events. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time here it’s been that same sort of flexibility. It’s living life a la turca. dealing with things as they come. Had this happened earlier in the trip I might have freaked out, but now I can take it in stride and continue on as if nothing had ever happened. Nobody was injured, nothing was broken and so we move on. There’s always so much to do.

We look forward to coming back to see you all soon.

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