With two weeks left before Taylor and I leave Istanbul, I find myself spending more and more time on our terrace overlooking Tarlabasi. One reason for this is that spring has come, providing warmth outside from the moment I wake up until well into the night.
Another reason, though, is that from this terrace, my little corner of the city, I can experience some of my favorite things about Istanbul. I can soak in the little things that I will miss most.
I am going to miss the sounds of the city, the calls of the simitci and eskici. The jingle of the propane truck. Even the squaking of seagulls on our roof in the morning and the sexual exploits of our neighborhood cats at night.
From here, you can hear all 5 calls to prayer. The first one rolls over the terrace and through our open door finding its way into my dreams every morning at dawn. The last one comes late, after 10 pm during this part of the year prompting reflection of the past day.
At sunset, the horizon takes the shape of building roofs and minarets silhouetted against the oriental orange sky. For the last few nights the clear night’s sky has allowed us to see the crescent moon align with the brightest star in the sky to mirror the flag of the republic.
During the day, the faint construction noise reminds me that this neighborhood with bad reputation and good people is trying to rebuild itself from the bottom up. The same could be said of the entire country.
The packs of children running wild through the streets remind me that this country is young and nothing if not hopeful for its future.
I can see clearly up here, what Turkey has taught me: simplicity. A food basket descends from a neighbor’s window, filled by the corner store owner and lifted up for the family breakfast. A doner delivery boy waves as he leaves another building. A fruit cart and tea seller bustle below me as I write. They are the symbols of our lifestyle here: Relationships are more important than convenience, and we should not take more than we need. When we buy food, it is for the next meal we will cook. We visit and chat with a butcher, a vegetable stand, a spice man, a wine guy, and on the way home with bags in hand, we stop and have tea with our neighbors. Oh, and we walk to get that food too, because you can’t buy what you can’t carry. We are not ascetics, but we have become minimalists compared to ourselves a year ago. A supermarket will never be the same again.
Mostly, though, I sit on this terrace because I can. Here, I can read, write, study and think in peace. Not peace from the outside world, but peace from within. Turkey, if anything, has given me a different perspective. It’s given me wider view of time through its long history and rapid modernization. A different vision of success through the disparity between its lush opulence and tragic poverty. I have seen a better vision of a community and culture through hospitality and friendship. But, I have also learned that my place in Istanbul is not to judge it or to try and fix it. My place is to enjoy it and celebrate it.
This, is why for the first time in my life, momentary inner peace has come without hurry or worry about the future. I found it in Istanbul. My worst fear about turning back to the states, is that I will lose this. I hope the cultural white noise of billboards and television, of materialism and fear-mongering, of us and them and Armageddon will not strip me of what I have found.
So for now, while I still have them both, I will enjoy this city in peace.