Waiting for the metro train, Karakoy, Istanbul

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Karakoy stop, metro train. In the distance is the New Mosque, completed in 1663. Construction had begun in 1597 but suffered a serious setback as a fire and near complete structural collapse delayed completion. The metro crosses the Galata Bridge which was originally built by Justinian the Great in the 6th century.

Any visitor to Istanbul who has a day or two to burn should spend it riding these metro and tramvay lines. Get off on random spots that strike you as particularly beautiful or horrible. There are hidden treasure everywhere. Buy a refillable plastic metro card and go sip tea or raki in random alleyways. You will make interesting friends.

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Protests on Istiklal Street

Protests on Istiklal Street

Protestors occupy buildings on Istiklal Street, Istanbul’s famous car-less promenade that leads to Taksim Square. At the time this photo was taken, many of the businesses had shut down as the street was claustrophobically crowded with chanting and singing protesters, day and night.

This particular building is not too far from the Greek embassy and a school I taught at early on in my time in Turkey. Sadly, the corrupt school was not broken into and occupied by crowds of frustrated young men. “There are more of us than there are them” is something that you would hear and it became jarringly obvious. No matter how many police the Turkish government pulled out there always seemed to be at least ten times more protestors pouring in, with fists raised or arms linked. Regardless of how things will continue in Turkey, it was obvious I was witnessing something extraordinary. The atmosphere and general public mood changes when temporarily the masses have the upper hand on a corrupt police force protecting a government that is mainly interested in keeping people in place.

Asia to Europe

Asia to Europe

Anti-Erdogan protesters load onto ferryboats that will take them across the Bosphorus to the European side of Istanbul.

Nearly a week after the police had tear gassed the non-violent protesters enthusiasm was just gaining momentum among the protesters. Towards the late afternoon, crowds would gather, singing and chanting as they prepared to load the boats from Kadikoy on the Asian side to Taksim on the European side. The aging ferryboats only hold so many, so most would sit through a number of boats going by to finally load on. The people on the arriving boats would greet the crowds waiting to embark with applause, cheers and chants of their own. When the ferryboat hits the side of the dock, there is a minute where the dockworkers must secure the boat to the solid poles. During this delay, each side just applauded each other, in a kind of emotional solidarity I had never encountered from people from so many varied walks of life. Within the secular parts of Istanbul, basically everyone was willing to show their support for the protest movement and their distaste of President Erdogan. Boat after boat would depart fully loaded with singing crowds, old people waving their hats and teenage boys practically beating each other up out of love and excitement as they held onto each other, as is a Turkish custom.

It’s very difficult to describe these types of moments to someone who hasn’t experienced it. To sound gushingly overly romantic, for just a second, suddenly you’re not alone. You’re not a single entity, fighting against the waves and the crowd. For just a second, you and all of these strangers see truth; these strangers are your brothers and sisters, they’re the same as you, they have the same wants and fears, needs, insecurities, frustrations and hopes. Suddenly you’re together in this momentary congealing and so many of those problems you’ve been told your whole life are misfires and chemical imbalances in your own brain to a world that’s the best it can be just slip away. Temporarily, you’re part of a huge varied mass of ┬ádetermined and passionate people who are sick of a government telling them what to do, what to believe, what is acceptable and you know you’re on the side of something right and admirable. It’s hard to define exactly what it is in those temporary moments of wholeness but it has something to do with thousands of humans momentarily not expending their energy against each other, but with each other against a powerful authoritative force that claims omnipotence. For a little while, you’re sort of free.

Fires at Dawn

Fires at Dawn

Protesters keep warm in the early morning hours in Taksim Square, Istanbul.

Like thousands of other protesters, I had spent the night sleeping in the square. I had lost my tribe of tattooed Spartans somewhere in the great mass and due to lack of cell phone, I was unable to find them. I was on my own at that point. I slept on a board for a few hours at some point, face into the wood to keep out the light. At dawn I woke up, found some hot tea and simit bread, and watched the young men dance the horon and others keep warm around makeshift fires which dotted the encampments. As I warmed myself by this fire, others lying the in bushes started chatting with me, as humans do in most places under these kinds of circumstances. They were students which was a relief. University students who spoke some English were easier to handle at first light with just one cup of tea down than friendly but enthused Kurdish gangsters looking to compare hand tats and tell me their kill stories in Turkish, assuming I had the faintest idea about their world.