Friday, 7 June 2013

Dancing at the Bakirkoy Mental Hospital

When my friend Cabbar invited me to come to the annual party at Turkey's largest and most famous psychiatric hospital, I wasn't sure if I would go.  Cabbar is a musician who had been invited to come and play music with his group for the party.  Knowing how much I love to dance, he asked if I wanted to come along.

Always trying to be open to new and potentially uplifting experiences, I decided to accompany this group of young, alternative Turkish musicians to their gig at the mental hospital gardens.
The hospital sent one of their vans to Beyoglu to pick us up, and twenty musicians, jugglers, and myself climbed in along with musical instruments, amplifiers, hula hoops, and red clown noses. The sky was filled with dark ominous rain clouds when we left.  The smell of rain was in the air.

By the time we arrived, the sun was shining.

My musician friends took the stage and set up their equipment as the clowns/jugglers donned their red noses and gay apparel and juggled, hula hooped, and circulated through the throng of patients, visitors, nurses, orderlies, young, old and everything in-between inviting people to join the festivities.

When the music started everyone took seats in front of the stage, sat and listened.  But to my mind, music is made for dancing.  It has always seemed a cosmic wrong not to dance when good music is playing.  And so I began to shake and shimmy, swirl and twirl, inviting people to join me.  Soon the people were on their feet, patients' faces lit up in huge, joyful smiles.  Nurses and patients, orderlies and visitors, clowns and children all dancing together.    

At one point, the musicians broke into a lively, well-known Turkish song.  The patients formed a huge circle, holding onto each other like a long conga line.  A bit out of rhythm.  A bit clumsy.  But one hundred percent joyful they danced around in the sunshine in front of the stage, then broke away to dance with other visitors, clowns, jugglers, and me.

All of us celebrating the music and the moment and life.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Shoulder to Shoulder: Gezi Park

Today: Gezi Park.
I walked up from Besiktas on Gumussuyu Ave. for the first time since the protests began. As I emerged from the steps that lead up from the waterfront, the hair on my arms stood straight up. The cobblestones and bricks had been pulled from the sidewalks to create blockades on every street. Blockades erected to deny the police access. Cobblestones, bricks, outdoor cement tree and shrub planters, plasterboard siding from construction sites, signs - anything portable had been stacked by protesters to deter the police.

Then i reached the top and the sight of Taksim Square filled my eyes with tears. Everywhere. Everywhere flags of every color and shape fluttered in the wind. Red, yellow, orange, blue, white. Flags, banners, placards.

I had wondered, by day 6 would the people's energy weaken?

There were more people of more diverse backgrounds than before.

A group of leathery-faced Alevis (Muslim's most oppressed sub-group) marched and chanted as the crowd applauded them. Behind them, pot-bellied union workers waved flags. They were followed by blithe university kids whistling and singing and clapping. With the passage of each group the other people around would clap and cheer. Bodacious mustachioed Kemalists cheered a group of Kurkish protesters. Football team antagonists marched shoulder to shoulder. Opposing party members helped opposition raise their banners in trees.

One middle-aged woman stood on the steps up to the park waving the Socialist flag. "I have a son," she told me. I don't want him to inherit a world of injustice. I'm here so he can have freedom and a better life."
She hugged me and thanked me for coming and supporting the Turkish people. A young woman came up to us offering us free sandwiches from a large plastic bag filled with sandwiches.

Other young people roamed the park offering various free food items. Some appeared to be pastries donated by bakeries in Taksim. O
ther volunteers moved silently through the crowd picking up trash.

Under trees heaps of cat food lay in mounds. Along one wall supplies were stacked on the ledge of blocks: antidotes for tear gas; bandages for wounds; antiseptics; concoctions of water and Talcid; biscuits; water.

At one station people come and donate supplies as volunteers sort and dispense.
On the crest of one hill, a sound system has been set up. Between rousing speeches musicians come and play. People form circles and dance traditional Turkish folk dances.

Young, old, fat, thin, left, right are joined in a common cause: freedom

Monday, 3 June 2013


Last night at 9pm, people all over Turkey banged and clanged their pots and pans. Friends reported absolute riots of protesting cacophony in Cihangir, Cukurcuma, Besiktas... But my neighborhood was silent with the exception of me and one other pot banger down the street (probably another foreigner or alternative Turk.) From their flats old men shouted angrily at us to stop. Why, i wondered.
My neighborhood is a poor, un-western, area filled with poor, religious Turks. And they support Tayip Erdogan and the AKP Party. Because for them, life has become slightly better in the years since the AK Party took power. Inflation has been cut. They are able to hold jobs that pay the rent. There is no war. They live relatively peaceful, content lives.

When I think of all the people i've seen protesting on the streets these last 5 days, I realize, I rarely (if ever) saw covered women. These were not the poor, disenfranchised of Turkey on the streets of Turkey. These were the secular, educated.

The people of my neighborhood don't see what's happening on Facebook. They happily watch the Penguin Documentary aired by CNN Turk, listen to Erdogan on the news chastise the trouble-makers and tsk tsk tsk their tongues at the mayhem.

I think it's still a long way before Turkey unites in its visions. The vast Anatolian population lies at the opposite end of the continuum from the Western freedom seekers. The poor still give thanks for small favors: meat and rice on the dinner table, a TV, peace to live their simple lives. The people on the streets protesting desire a democratic cornucopia of freedom.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

and still the people come

The angry people of Istanbul pour into Beyoglu from the side streets. The police fire rubber bullets. And still they come. The police blasts the crowds with water mixed with tear gas. And still they come. The police fire tear gas bomb after tear gas bomb until the city is an angry gray cloud of toxic gas. People bang and clang on pots and pans in neighborhoods throughout the city. Tanks roam the city. Water cannons pummel back the crowds.  The people leave Taksim, walk to the Bosphorus Bride.   People take the Bosphorus Bridge. The police fire plastic bullets, brutally beat non-violent protesters. And still they come. There are now, in the early afternoon over 4000 people in Beyoglu alone,chanting, fists raised in the air in solidarity. It is rumored that 50,000 police from other areas in Turkey have been sent for. But still the people come. 100,000 people are expected to fill the streets and parks and byways and avenues of Istanbul by this evening.