Istanbul’s highways are lined with Syrian refugees.
Your first evening in Turkey is spent with an international politics student. Along İstiklâl Caddesi, distinctly Arab-looking families huddle in the chill while their children play in the gutter. You ask her where they came from.
“Syria.” She says, pronouncing it Sye-Riya.
You probe her for details: “Is the government doing anything to help them? Why did they choose to come here and how did they cope during the winter?”
“Most of them were…” she pauses, trying to remember the English translation of the word. “Scammed? Is that the correct word? They were brought here illegally by people who took their money and passports and then left them on the street.”
“What do ordinary people think about them being here?”
“They don’t, really. This is the restaurant I was talking about. Will it be okay?”
You had been looking for a place to eat. The conversation then turns to Turkish cuisine, and you don’t get another opportunity to discuss Syria for the rest of the evening.
The local government in Istanbul have spent a not-insignificant portion of its budget on tulips. You decide to spend a day in Emirgan Park to look at the displays, as it had come highly recommended by the guidebooks, fellow tourists, and the Turkish people you met.
It takes longer than expected to find the right bus.
“It will say ‘Emirgan Park’ on the front if it,” the chef at your hostel told you confidently. In an unrelated aside- this man used to work in the best kebab shop in my town. You can find pieces of home everywhere.
You scan the destinations of every bus for half an hour, at which point you begin to wonder whether you’re actually at the right bus station. Dejected, you sit down and try to figure out what to do when something catches your eye. You squint at the little piece of yellow paper displayed in the driver’s window of a far off bus.
“I think that says Emirgan.” You say slowly. “And I think it might be pulling away.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, it definitely says Emirgan on it.”
Your friend stares at you incredulously. She hitches up her massive bag and breaks into an ungainly sprint to catch up with your only means of getting to the park.
The buses in Istanbul always stop to collect more passengers. The driver sees you running for his bus, opens the doors and accepts your thanks with a curt nod.
The bus was stuck in traffic for several miles, then you got off too early and had to walk the last half hour stretch past dilapidated wooden houses and overgrown gardens- and you endured those stresses for what is best described as a low-budget monoculture Kew Gardens, minus the greenhouses and charm. With the immense amount of time and effort it took to reach the park, it is painful for you to admit that you are disappointed.
Dead daffodils line the paths. The Tulips are in bloom, and they have been planted into beds the shape of trees (see photo below) and similar organic objects. The fibreglass water feature is falling apart and has been patched together using pieces of chainlink fencing. Bird faeces are on every surface. You stand in the same place that Pierre Loti stood in to gain inspiration for his writing.. and are again somewhat underwhelmed.
Well maintained green spaces are abundant in London, and Emirgan Park withered in comparison.
It rains on your way home. Dust, cigarette butts and sunflower shells float down the street. You pass a man wearing a keffiyeh sitting under some scaffolding with his infant daughter in his lap. His clothes are soaked and he is openly crying.
You put your expensive camera back into its bag to save it from the rain, and then shuffle past him like everyone else.
As this has made Freshly Pressed, I’ll include a few links for donations.