Life in Istanbul these Days

Sorry for the long absence – it was, I promise, one that would have counted as “motivated” by even the nitpickiest of my high school teachers. I’m working full-time, I’ve had some minor but time-consuming health problems, I did a bit of travelling, and I got married. I’ve neglected a few projects because of the craziness of it all, and this blog is one of them.

Here are some notes from life in Istanbul as of late.

Turkey is going to have a referendum in early April about some proposed constitutional changes. These, if accepted, would give the presidential office and Erdogan a great deal of power. I’m beyond caring about it because whether Erdogan wants to maintain the veneer of democracy or not changes little about what is actually going on. The only thing to do is to choose battles we can fight in our corner. To that end, Adem and I have a laundry list of products we no longer buy and stores we no longer frequent because of their links to the government. Ülker and Godiva products are out, we’ve stopped shopping at Şok, Bim, and A101, and we try to shop at the bazaars and neighbourhood shops and to buy local so that our money goes towards providing livelihoods for local merchants instead of big companies that tend to funnel money upward.

Although I don’t feel any anxiety about the referendum, it is hard to ignore the campaigning. As my neighbourhood tends conservative, huge posters encouraging people to vote yes to the constitutional changes are prominently displayed all over the place. Under one of these posters, another poster has been hung advertising “psychological consulting.” Although I’m reasonably sure that said “psychological consulting” would also be coming from a conservative perspective, it still makes me laugh every time I pass by.

Along with the posters everywhere, campaigners are handing out flyers in the street and mobile propaganda trucks play jaunty patriotic tunes. The ones against the constitutional changes all play the Izmir March, whose lyrics translate roughly to “Long live Mustafa Kemal Pasha! May his name be a jewel in our crown.” Like many marches, the Izmir March is a major earworm and I find myself whistling it frequently, even if my feelings towards Atatürk are not particularly worshipful.

In other news from this month, my eyes have been opened to the meaning of my status in Turkish society as unmarried lady living with her boyfriend. I’ve never felt exactly uncomfortable in my neighbourhood or apartment building, but it did make me laugh ruefully this past month when the neighbours started speaking to me all at once. Before I had assumed that their not speaking to me was just because we live in a huge city, but I now suspect it was because Adem and I were living in sin.

It all started when, a week after the wedding, I said hello to the opposite neighbour and mentioned “my husband.”

“Your husband?!” she said. “Adem is your husband?”

“Yes,” I said, “we just got married.

“Congratulations!” she said. “Why don’t you come in for tea?”

She has never invited either of us for tea before.

A few days later, our downstairs neighbour caught us as we were heading out and admonished us for not inviting her to the wedding.

“We’re neighbours!” she said. “You should invite us!”

“It was just a small civil wedding,” Adem said. “We’ll have a bigger wedding and invite you.”

“Congratulations, congratulations,” she said. “Yes, let us know when you have the big wedding.”

Now she too always greets me whenever we cross paths in the hallway and asks me how I’m doing. I appreciate the attention but do find is amusing (and disturbing?) to see how shut out I was until I made an honest woman of myself. On the other hand, it’s not exactly surprising and they were never rude to me, so I suppose I’ll accept the friendliness and reserve my personal misgivings for bigger problems than their tacit judgement of our choices.

More to come, I promise.

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