I am sitting on the rooftop of my hostel, where Dishana and I have booked a bed each in a six-person dorm. The view is beautiful. Well, everything is beautiful at this time of the day. It must be dinner time, because I can smell all the grills in Istanbul firing up. To my right, I can see Asia over the Bosphorus Strait. To my left, an islamic skyline reminisces it’s colourful byzantine past.
There’s only one thing wrong with this scene. Silence. A waiter, two buildings away, re-adjusts the table setting for the fifth time this evening. On another rooftop, a couple has reserved a table for two—they look like the kind of couple who would make a reservation—at an empty restaurant. In the shadow of the recent terrorist attack (which of the last five are you talking about?), Istanbul’s tourism has slowed to a standstill. I didn’t read a statistic to know this. The line into the Hagia Sophia was non-existent, and we’ve had the six-person dorm to ourselves all week.
Turkey has been a pleasant surprise for my media-minded-misconception of anything bordering Iraq. And with Istanbul so far from that border, it is easy to forget the instability in the east. Perhaps it was because we spent the last two months in less developed countries, but I was surprised at how—how do I put this?—’delicate’ Istanbul was. Colourful laneways wind around magnificent mosques, dessert shops, and through bazaars built centuries ago. The city is like a turkish coffee: a small portion so rich in flavour that one must pause, and slowly savour it.
I can’t help but feel saddened by the sight of empty restaurants. A live band plays at one. A lone whirling dervish is spinning gracefully in time, but no one is watching. Half the businesses are vying for our attention as we pass; half can no longer be bothered. Subtle defeat in their voice betrays their jovial demeanour. I am reminded that someone’s family depends on this.
Hopefully the situation changes soon. When tastebuds can no longer resist the temptation of lahmacun and köfte in one of the most historically significant cities in the world. When fear no longer dictates action.
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