ISTANBUL: The Balici Boys on Atatürk Bridge

Karaköy Tram Station
Karaköy Tram Station

You smell them before you see them: two young boys huffing glue from a crumpled plastic bag.

Earlier, you tried to visit Galata Tower and got lost in Beyoğlu instead. It’s a sprawl of streets set on a thigh-burningly steep hillside, and the towering apartment buildings quash any hope of using the witch’s hat roof of the Genoese tower to navigate.


Karaköy Tram Station
Karaköy Tram Station

You smell them before you see them: two young boys huffing glue from a crumpled plastic bag.

Earlier, you tried to visit Galata Tower and got lost in Beyoğlu instead. It’s a sprawl of streets set on a thigh-burningly steep hillside, and the towering apartment buildings quash any hope of using the witch’s hat roof of the Genoese tower to navigate.

You head uphill and the streets quickly constrict around you. Men sit on upturned crates and play backgammon on the pavement while vans squeeze around everyone to deliver goods to the dozens of little electrical shops selling yellowing boxes of bulbs and minute bolts and hooks.

Then, as you were beginning to suspect that you were in completely the wrong place, your friend points out Galata Tower, just visible over the satellite dishes cluttering up the roofs.

You reach it in some discomfort. Someone had put out a tray of milk for the stray cats which you had accidentally stepped in, and you have not had such a vigorous workout since the time you had to chase your dog down the street after a chugger left the front gate open.

Street in Galata
This was unfortunately the only photo I took of the gradient. When people took ten paces forward, they’d disappear.

The return to the main part of Istanbul was equally fraught with difficulty.

“Are we even walking in the right direction?”

“Well, there’s the water. We need to be on the other side of it.”

“Yes but how?”

Traffic is going at almost a hundred miles an hour as you cling to the chain-link fence and step along the foot-wide pavement beside the highway. You had to go through a urine-stained concrete alley and past a disused freighter port to get there, but you can see the tram line and you’re feeling hopeful again.

A little way ahead of you, there are two boys around the age of twelve sitting on the crash barrier. As you get closer, you begin to smell the glue vapours, and then you notice the yellowish plastic bag gripped in their filthy sunburnt hands.

One of them makes eye contact with you for a moment, and then his eyes trail back to the ground, and he takes another huff from the bag.

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