Saturday, March 16, 2013

Faces and Places in My Neighborhood

People who specialize in cultural adaptation will tell you that there may come a time when one might hit a proverbial brick wall after a few months in a new cultural environment.  May and might mean probably.  The routine becomes established and we become habituated to the exotic until it no longer seems so .... special.  We cease to see with fresh eyes, and the neighborhood baker morphs into just another guy that takes our money. The same can be said for anywhere we live.  We may be surrounded by day to day miracles and stunning beauty, but cease to be awake to it because we take it for granted.  As I hit that brick wall a week or so ago, I determined to set out over a five mile radius of my neighborhood and to re-awaken my senses and appreciation for the things and people around me daily.  In particular I want to connect with the human beings that have become part of my life here.  Not necessarily my colleagues, though a couple may end up on these pages serendipitously, but the merchants and acquaintances that make up the periphery of my day to day existence in Ortokoy, Besiktas, Istanbul, Turkey, 34340.
Saturdays are my shopping days.  I get to sleep in late, take my time with my morning routine and go for a walk.  I stop along the way into the neighborhood shops to pick up whatever I need, or want in the case of pastries and dried fruit.  Yum. Last week was beautiful and warm.  I went for a long walk up and around the long winding hill road back down into Ortokoy.  I have always wondered (I think I asked the question in another post) where the dogs in the area go to sleep or get away from bad weather.  I found out.  As I rounded the top of the hill, there under the bridge were about twenty dogs resting in the sun.  There are only eight visible in this picture, but I didn't cross the road to get closer because there is a large sign warning about the dogs.  You can see how each animal has it's spot staked out. It is still amazing to me how people and animals... dogs and cats manage to live in fairly unfettered peace.  The animals are definitely a part of the community here.  Sometimes they are taken in and domesticated.


Some are not.  This is the doorstep of the Cami (Mosque) just down the road from my apartment.  This is the resident guard.  He is not a domestic... you can tell by the clip in his ear which indicates that he has been neutered and given all his shots, checked for disease, bathed, and put back out on the street to live.  He earns his keep.  I have seen him sleeping on the bench next to the mosque as well. 

I am out of bread, and I have a yen for a nice Turkish pastry, so I continue down the road past the many little family owned shops that line the streets.  The Turks are big on bread.  It is eaten with everything and they've honed the art of doing creative things with flour and sugar and other lovely ingredients.  I can get a fresh loaf of wonderful bread for about 1 TL.  It doesn't have preservatives, and it is consistently tasty with oil, cheese, and olives.  Sometimes I choose one or two of their pastries as well.  These aren't light and fluffy by the way.  It takes me about three days to eat my favorite one, a heavy crescent stuffed with walnuts and honey.  These guys know me now, and I am always greeted with a lovely smile and friendly service.


Next up is the produce market.  These men also know me by sight.  They sell everything from giant artichoke hearts to eggs.  Today they talk me into some strawberries which will go well with my yogurt.  I also purchase some lemons.  Sometimes the youngest boy who helps out, will flirt with me... the older guys usually shoo him away though and take care of me themselves.  The oldest man sits in the back at a cash drawer and takes the money.  I love the fact that this little stand is not slick or commercial by supermarket standards.  The produce is fresh and reliable, the prices are excellent, and again... there is just something so very nice about seeing the same people every time I shop there and to have them know me and be so willing to help me with kindness, in spite of my limited Turkish.

As I rounded the corner I saw this man, a kebab restaurant owner, breaking up a crate for firewood to grill some meat on the street. 

This shop sells nuts, dried fruit, honey, teas, and  herbs.                                                                                 
They are very friendly and cheerful though I didn't see the proprietor working, I snapped a picture of the man who sold me some dried cherries, pineapple, mango and kiwi.  I've already eaten half of them.

Not all of my wandering were food oriented or animal oriented.  I try and buy fresh flowers often.  Nothing cheers me up so much as to have a nice bouquet on the table.  There are small flower sellers everywhere in Istanbul.  One area of Taksim is dedicated to flower stalls, much like Pike Street Market in Seattle.  I used to buy my flowers from this nice man who owns a shop on Dereboyou.  He would always send for tea and invite me to sit and have tea with him while he prepared my purchase of roses, or delphinium or whatever struck my fancy.  He was very sweet, but I stopped dropping in because I was afraid he would misunderstand my frequency.  Once some friends of his came into the shop and I am almost certain they were teasing him about me sitting there having tea, so I haven't been there in quite a while.  This lady sits at the bottom of our hill on the corner in all kinds of weather, selling her flowers.  We've gotten to know each other, and hug one another and greet each other now with the standard Turkish kiss.  The first time I bought flowers from her, she cheated me.  I won't go into details, but I did heartily complain to her in my limited Turkish.  The next time I stopped by, I cheated her.  She also heartily complained.  By the third purchase we had come to understand one other, and there has been no cheating ever since.  She is my consistent source for flowers.  Last time I bought a delightful bunch of gerber daisies from her.  Her husband happened to be present, and he slipped a little daisy head band on me along with a small bunch of miniature daisies.  I told her she was my arkadas (friend) and she told me I was sweet.

 These are some of the people and animals that inhabit my day to day routine outside of the work world.  They are interesting and friendly and genuine.  Like me, I am sure they are not perfect.  We all have flaws and shortcomings, but we live together in this village-like place called Ortokoy.  I have left some people out.  The guys at Epope where I frequent for soup and bread and wine, the Jewish restaurant staff who serve Turkish meals in an atmosphere that is decidedly different than the other places around, the grocery clerks, bus drivers, furniture guys, cell phone service people, and the bank staff that speak English, or not, but manage to help me anyway.  I now understand what it is like to be an immigrant.  How difficult it is to function in a foreign country with limited communication, and limited understanding of social and political intricacies.  Nevertheless, I continue to manage day to day thanks to others who surround me in this world.  They aren't all like me.  Many aren't even remotely like me.  And yet...
it is becoming "normal" to me.  I think today I realized that this routine... is a good thing.  It's predictability sustains me and comforts me.  We are all in it together.  Similarities and differences... adventure and routine... life goes on.  Forever.



  1. Another insightful reminder of appreciating the small things - thanks for keeping me grounded in what truly matters! Love the kitty photo, too! 8-)

  2. Susan, at first I thought it was your cat, but then I realized it wasn't in the right window to be yours. I liked it as well... seemed quite comforting.