Putting It All in Context


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August 22nd 2014
Published: August 22nd 2014
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Tram-way on busy streetTram-way on busy streetTram-way on busy street

The tram running down Istiklal Caddesi, the main thoroughfare from Taksim to Galata.
Way back last June I came to Turkey, indeed continental Eurasia for the very first time. I had ostensibly signed up for a month long teaching assignment in provincial north-central Anatolia. I was fortunate enough (I will qualify that in another article) to arrive early in the month, bang in the middle of the Gezi Park protests which was more insightful than dangerous. Several days later I was on a coach to Merzifon, a medium sized town an hour or so away from the Black Sea and host to a large military base. We were able to use the town as a platform to explore some of the surrounding towns and villages which included Samsun, where Ataturk rose to prominence quelling the rebellious Anatolian Greeks. and Amasya, which is renowned for a number of stone tombs carved into the mountains there, a relic of an ancient line of Greek monarchs (a little known dynasty I recall reading). Turkey has such a wealth of archaeological sites and attendant history that it is quite dizzying. I am liable to confuse some facts.

After the teaching assignment in Merzifon I was free to travel for a few weeks in a counter-clockwise direction (my
This ice-cream is famous!This ice-cream is famous!This ice-cream is famous!

When Ayşe had told me about the famous ice-cream of Karamanmaraş I imagined she was just being patriotic (her roots are there ) but lo and behold it was promoted everywhere along Istiklal Caddesi!
choice) around the perimeter of the country, or a rough approximation thereof. From Merzifon I caught a coach to Samsun and hence to the city of Trabzon a little further East. At this point the Pontic mountains which extend from Georgia meet the Black Sea or Karadeniz in Turkish. Whilst there I was compelled to visit a few of the local landmarks which included the house of a Greek businessman who had been expelled during the 'Population Exchange' years. The house had then been given over to the state and gifted to Atatürk. I am partly of Greek extract and my reflex emotion was one of indignation but those were tumultuous times and I cannot appreciate the full scope of the socio-political landscape at a time when Imperial Europe was at loggerheads and the Old Ottoman Empire was in decline. The other place I visited was Sümela monastery set high in those coastal mountains amongst hillslopes of pines and plantations of hazelnut. It was on that leg of the journey, in a local tour bus, that I fell into conversation with a Turkish girl who was visiting from Istanbul. She was supposed to have met with some friends but they
Juice barJuice barJuice bar

Juice bars advertised as 'vitamin shops' are common in Istanbul and especially around the Galata Tower area of the city.
had pulled out. Her name was Ayşe (you pronounce the ş 'sh'). She explained that she had been born of Turkish parents in France, educated both there, the UK and the US. She was obviously pretty brainy. We exchanged details and I have kept in contact with her subsequently.

My trip to Istanbul this time was in large part to see her. She works in Istanbul for a French bank who finance projects in the regions. She told me that she had considered working in aid and development and had wanted to go to Afghanistan but her parents had dissuaded her. All the same she has an impressive resume of places visited: Jordan, Saudi Arabia. Iraq. Malaysia and no doubt other places she never mentioned. Last night we met for dinner in an Iranian restaurant that had been recommended by one of the two Iranian guys who worked behind the reception desk at the Stray Cat. It came as some surprise that she knew of the place as soon as I mentioned it, having gone there on a recommendation of an Iranian colleague of hers. I have to say it was good food - very tender chicken and garnished rice - and at a very reasonable price (The restaurant is called Reyhun near the Galatasaray Lisesi). I was a bit ashamed to arrive sweaty and unkempt from an afternoon of walking the old City Walls whilst she was washed and respectable in a light cotton dress, hair combed and nails polished. I did my best to refresh in the bathroom. We had eaten out once already on the evening I had arrived but that had been a bit rushed. This time we had a bit more time to chat. She came across as she had before as being rather a private person but nonetheless quietly observant with an understated and self-effacing sense of humour. She seemed to work a ridiculous schedule and confessed that she suffered insomnia. Like so many of us living between different countries I detected a tinge of loneliness. She spoke of having enjoyed Istanbul but that she wanted to return to Europe and Belgium specifically. More than once she emphasized that she was French first and Turkish second. Ayşe possesses a depth of character that has come through hard work and some degree of sacrifice. She talked of her parents sacrifice: uneducated villagers who had worked the 'shitty jobs' in France so that she and her brother could have the opportunity to get a further education and the fruits thereof. She told me that they are staying here with her right now on what sounds like one of a number of annual trips back to the country. They had just returned from their ancestral hometowns near Gaziantep or Karamanmaraş, I can't remember which.

I have long resisted the urge to follow a career path for reasons of a very personal nature stemming back to my experiences in Zimbabwe. What happened there has left scars and I often wonder if they will ever heal.

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