The Turkish Life

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Lycian Way mini-adventure, day 2: Karaöz to Adrasan

Trail marker in flower-filled meadow
Re-scrutinizing our maps over breakfast this morning, we realized we had spent a good chunk of yesterday's walk near, but not actually on, the Lycian Way, which would apparently have taken us over a long stretch of beach rather than through the town of Mavikent and its outskirts. So it wasn't until today that we were really able to get into the swing of one of the key elements of this long-distance hike: spotting little red-and-white stripes of paint on tree trunks, electric poles, and rocks large and small, high and low, and sometimes nearly covered by the flowers gloriously blooming all over the trail.

Field of cairns
"There's one!" became a frequent cry between us as we peered down two paths after a junction, trying to figure out which one to take. After a while it became almost second nature to scan the landscape for these trail markers as we picked our way up the steep, hot climb after the Gelidonya Feneri (lighthouse) or strolled through shaded woods. At some points, there was extra navigational help from rock cairns perched on the side of the path or on top of a larger rock. In one rather spectacularly odd case, we crossed a rock field dappled with dozens of cairns, giving the area an eerie, almost funereal feel.

Korsan Koyu ("Pirates' Cove")
Early on in today's hike we came across a group of sleepy backpackers breaking camp in a gorgeous cove, the turquoise water lapping gently at the shore. The sight gave me a bit of a pang about not sleeping under the stars, but given the dire state of Turkey's tourism industry lately, I'm happy this time around to be putting some money in the pockets of the families running the pensions we're staying at instead. Nothing like a socially conscious excuse to enjoy a few creature comforts.

Tomorrow, onward to Çıralı!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Lycian Way mini-adventure, day 1: Kumluca to Karaöz

When you've been trying for nine years to find a friend or two who wants to tackle part of Turkey's most famous long-distance hiking route with you, the last thing you want to hear before you finally set out on the trail is pouring rain. But pour it did as Katrinka Abroad and I lay in our beds in our pension in Finike last night, the rumble of thunder adding to our trepidation about what the morning would bring.
Amidst the holiday homes and hotels
of Kumluca

But with the skies clearing as we ate our breakfast, we set off in high spirits from Finike, hopping a minibus (as suggested by our guidebook) to skip 10 kilometers of plodding down the flat and scruffy shoreline that ran alongside the road and start our on-foot adventure in Kumluca. Frankly, we should have followed the book's recommendation to the letter and minibused it all the way to Mavikent, sparing ourselves an outskirts-of-Istanbul-esque ramble through half-built housing developments and around greenhouses and water-treatment plants.

Old beach house in Mavikent
Things got better as we passed through the small town of Mavikent, where there was a beautifully overgrown cemetery, a sweet old lady growing gorgeous roses all around her house, dilapidated wooden houses on stilts along the beach, and a big rock to clamber up on and eat our packed lunch.

It was there, by the rock, about 10 kilometers into our walk, that we found our first official signage for the Lycian Way, the 540-kilometer route stretching along Turkey's Mediterranean Coast from Fethiye to Antalya. (We picked the trail up well into its second half, and will hike for less than a week -- this time around!)

From there, though the path largely continued following a road, it became a much more scenic and dramatic one, undulating above the coast with picture-worthy views of the turquoise sea around nearly every bend.

En route to Karaöz
By late afternoon, we'd reached Karaöz, a small farming village near the water, and found accommodations at a simple pension run by a friendly couple with a dog, two ducks, and at least one green thumb for gardening. Though it was a fairly easy day hiking-wise, our dinner of yayla çorbaşı and grilled çipura still felt well-earned -- and tasted delicious.

Tomorrow, onward to Adrasan!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When politics intrudes on paradise

This time of year, the Mediterranean village of Adrasan used to be bustling with backpackers, spending a night or two in town as part of their trek along the Lycian Way. But this week, I seem to be the only tourist for miles.

"We would be on full staff in March," the owner of the otherwise empty hotel where I'm staying tells me. "As you can see, the weather is so good for hiking, but with the terrorism and the politics..."

Such cares couldn't feel further away while walking alongside Adrasan's serene beach, looking out over its glimmering bay from the tree-dappled mountains that rise up from the shoreline, or eating a hearty home-cooked meal alongside its lazy river. Yet for those who depend on tourism for their livelihood, the effects of distant disasters and decisions are felt especially keenly in places like this.

Before opening the hotel, its owner had operated a pair of restaurants on the nearby beach. All told, he's been in the tourism business in Adrasan for 25 years, but is originally from Diyarbakır, in southeast Turkey. I asked him why he left his hometown. He shrugged. "Same as you moving to Istanbul..."

I hadn't said anything about my reasons for relocating, but it was a more than fair point. I don't have a ready answer as to why I uprooted myself from everything I knew nine years ago. In some ways, it doesn't really matter what someone is seeking, or escaping; we end up somewhere, we may struggle a bit (or a lot), but eventually we build new lives. And then the bombs come -- or the tourists don't -- and we may feel like we're too invested to leave.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

10 yıldır

A soft rain fell as people gathered in Istanbul this afternoon to once again mark the anniversary of the death of Hrant Dink. The Armenian-Turkish journalist was assassinated in front of the office of his newspaper, Agos, 10 years ago today. His family is still seeking justice for the murder.

Where the outcry over Dink's killing in 2007 spurred hope that some old wounds in Turkey might yet be healed, the country today seems more divided and damaged, as Dink's widow, Rakel, reminded in her speech with a wrenching rundown of the past decade's pain:
What has happened in the last 10 years? Oh my darling. The Malatya massacre, İskenderun, Sevag Balıkçı, Roboski, Gezi, Suruç, Diyarbakır, Sur, Mardin, Nusaybin, Cizre, Şırnak, Tahir Elçi, Ankara, July 15th, Maçka, İzmir, Gaziantep, Ortaköy, Airport attack and the war in the Middle East. Operations, terror...
The always-poignant commemoration was a bit subdued this year; under the "state of emergency" imposed since last summer's failed coup, there was no march from Taksim Square to the Agos offices in Harbiye. With Istanbul having suffered yet another horrific terror attack less than three weeks previously, security was high, with bag checks to enter the cordoned-off area in front of Agos, and both visibly armed and plainclothes police mingling amidst the crowd.

But none of this could diminish the power of the words spoken there, both those by Rakel Dink, and those earlier in the remembrance:
"We are all Turks, Armenians, Kurds, Laz, Circassian, Alevi... 
"We are in front of Agos today in these difficult times... 
"We are sustaining your voice and your struggle, but we miss you."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A death in the mahalle

The steadily falling snow that has blanketed Istanbul over the last 36 hours has brought a welcome hush to the city's noisy, jostling streets and a momentary sense of peace that has lately been in far too short of supply. But the edginess created by recent months' terrorist attacks was quick to grip my heart once again at the sound of a loud voice on the street outside my apartment building.

Cautiously looking out the window, I felt the tension in my chest immediately ease, replaced with a warm sadness at the sight of dozens of people lined up in the snow-covered street, holding their gloved hands up in prayer as an imam in a long cloak and red-and-white cap recited verses over a green coffin.

Bundled up for the minus-zero temperatures, the mourners listened quietly and still as the ruhuna fatiha was read. Afterwards, some consoled each other, touching the sides of their heads together in greeting, while others reached out to lay a hand on the coffin as the open-bed truck belonging to the municipal funeral services department slowly pulled away down the street to transport the body to its final resting place for burial. Başınız sağolsun.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

A thank-you letter to my fundraising supporters

Dear friends,

Thank you so much for your support for my fundraising campaign last month! I know everyone has many, many good causes competing for their attention and funds so I really appreciate your devoting some of yours to mine.

Children should be playing and learning, not working!
Thanks to your generosity, I concluded my campaign with a total of 6,454 Turkish Lira ($1,833 US) — more than twice my original fundraising goal! I also surpassed my goal of successfully reaching out to more than 40 individual donors. And I'm quite pleased to report that among the 70 runners raising money for the Turkish NGO Hayata Destek Derneği (Support to Life Association), I raised the 2nd-highest total number of donations, and brought in the 3rd-highest number of individual donors :)

Your donations will provide more than 25 migrant farmworker children with school supplies, educational materials, and the hygiene items they need in their tent homes. Overall, 324 children will be assisted by Hayata Destek's fundraising campaign!

In a country where neither running nor individual charitable giving are common pursuits, I'm also proud to be among nearly 5,000 runners who raised more than 6.7 million Turkish Lira for 29 worthy NGOs by running the 10k, 15k, or full 42k race in the Istanbul Marathon and fundraising through the wonderful organization Adım Adım ('Step by Step').

Running on the Galata Bridge, crossing the finish line, showing
off my finisher's medal, and enjoying a post-race beer.
Last but not least, I had a fantastic race too :) It was my fourth time running the 15k in Istanbul, and I smashed my previous personal best by nearly seven minutes, completing the course in 1:32:58 (one hour, 32 minutes and 58 seconds). Despite rain overnight and a tumultuous sky in the early morning, we ended up with a gorgeous day for running. After finishing my 15k, I met up with runner friends to cheer on the marathoners at the finish line and then enjoy a couple of well-deserved beers by the water.

This year, I've overcome my intimidation about running with other people thanks to an excellent small group of runner pals who challenge and encourage me on early Sunday morning trail runs in and around the Belgrad Forest north of the city. I know pushing myself with them was a big factor in my success at the race — as was knowing you were all cheering me on from near and far!

I encourage you all to learn more about the excellent work of Hayata Destek and their ongoing efforts to combat child labor in Turkey and help provide relief aid and psycho-social support to some of the more than 3 million refugees now in this country. You can read more about them in English at http://www.hayatadestek.org/en/ and follow along (mostly in Turkish, but also with photos!) at https://www.facebook.com/HayataDestek/?fref=ts.

Thank you again so much for your support!

With love and solidarity,

Jen

Friday, November 11, 2016

America voted. Now what?

Eight years ago this month, I took a nap late in the evening and then awoke again in the wee hours, packed up some bottles of champagne and walked through Istanbul's for-once quiet streets to a fellow expat's house. There a group of Americans and their friends held a vigil through the night, drinking, eating, and goofing around, but mostly glued to the TV and our laptop screens as we watched the election results roll in back home. We got to pop those champagne corks around sunrise, which seemed utterly fitting, and as I made my sleepy but thrilled way back home, it felt like the world outside shone just a bit brighter.

There was a little déjà vu, if a lot more anxiety, Tuesday evening in heading out around midnight, already sleepy but determined to watch this year's returns until the bitter end. And bitter it was. There's already so much armchair analysis and so many emotional outpourings online, I don't really feel like opining further here. But if you, like me, believe in progressive ideals and are concerned about the effect the U.S. presidential election might have in terms of racial/gender/LGBTQ equality, the environment, human rights, global peace, and much more, you might, like me, need a little shot in the arm and some ideas about what to do next.

So I'm starting (and will keep updating) a list here of other people's writing that I feel provides one or both of these things; if you have more suggestions, send 'em my way. (Admittedly, this is an American-centric list, and post, but many of the issues we face are global ones, and I'd love it if this inspires anyone to take like-minded action in their own countries.)

Get fired up:
  • Inspiring Down-Ballot Wins That Defy Racism, Sexism -- Short profiles of the nine women of color elected to the U.S. House and Senate this week, including my new California senator, Kamala Harris. (Another article has more on female firsts in this election, including the first Somali-American woman to be elected to public office in the United States.)

  • Don't Mourn, Fight Like Hell -- "Trump appealed to America's worst impulses. Now it's on the rest of us to show, to prove, that this is not all that America is. This is a time when we're called on to do things we may not have done before. To face down bigotry and hate, and to reach beyond our Facebook feeds in trying to do so."

  • Here's what progressives need to do to stop Trump’s insane agenda -- "We need to take back Congress in 2018 like our lives depended on it because they do."

  • Forget Canada. Stay and Fight for American Democracy -- "Fighting for democracy is part of America's heritage, from abolitionists to suffragettes to the progressive reformers. Maybe you thought that fight was confined to history. It will go on."

  • Autocracy: Rules for Survival -- "Believe the autocrat. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Institutions will not save you. Be outraged. Don’t make compromises. Remember the future."

  • The Morning After -- "Let’s get off the floor and get busy." The brilliant Samantha Bee's call to action. Need further convincing that the 2018 midterm election can matter? Watch her trenchant piece from earlier in this campaign season about the 2010 midterm -- you know, the one that only 40.9% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot in -- and then read about some of the voter-suppression laws enacted by people that apathy allowed to sweep into office.

  • We Have To Create A Culture That Won't Vote For Trump -- "We’re going to need every single one of you. Because what we need to do is hard. Very hard. We have to create a culture that won’t vote for Trump, that won’t vote for anyone like Trump ever again. And in order to do that we have to shift our focus from our politicians, our electoral college, our TV pundits—and we have to start focusing on our communities. Because Trump did not elect himself."

  • Citizens, United -- "Despair is a counterproductive response. So is denial — an easy temptation in the wake of the inevitable postelection pleasantries and displays of respect needed to maintain the peaceful transfer of power. The proper response is steely resolve to wage the fight of our lives."

  • Trump changed everything. Now everything counts -- "With due respect for the colored ribbons we’ve worn for various solidarities, our next step is to wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts... There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud."

Get active:

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Running so kids can be kids -- not farmworkers

Runners are often advised to rekindle their love for their sport in tough or unmotivating times by remembering the joy and freedom they felt running as a child. But not all children have the freedom to run and play. In Turkey, at least 1 million young people under the age of 18, including both Turkish children and Syrian and other refugee children, are spending their childhoods working — at least 400,000 of them in grueling seasonal migrant agricultural labor — instead of learning and playing.

Helping some of these children get back to school is the reason why I’m running the 15k race in the Istanbul Marathon on 13 November for Hayata Destek, a Turkish NGO that provides social support to vulnerable communities, and its "This Work is Not Child's Play!" campaign.

For each 250 TL I raise (that’s just $80, €72, or £65), Hayata Destek will be able to provide one migrant farmworker child with school supplies, educational materials, and the hygiene items they need in their tent home.
> DONATE NOW: 
Jennifer Hattam's campaign page
I know there are many, many organizations and causes in need of funding right now. I've chosen this one not only because of the good work they do, but also to help support Turkish civil society, which is both increasingly embattled and woefully underfunded. The group through which I'm carrying out my funding drive, Adım Adım, has done amazing work over the past eight years promoting two things that were once very foreign in Turkey: running and individual charitable giving. I trust their vetting of the organizations they choose to partner with; the founders have even started a new project, Açık Açık ("Openly") to promote transparency among Turkish charities.

Unfortunately, the Adım Adım donation pages are only in Turkish, so if you need a little help navigating them, here's a quick translation:

"We're running so children working in seasonal
agriculture can be children,
because this work is not child's play"
At the top of my campaign page, you'll see my information, including the campaign I've chosen to support and how I'm doing at meeting my goal. Scroll down below the "Neden Koşuyorum" (Why I'm Running) section and underneath "Kampanyamı Destekle" (Support My Campaign"), click on the orange button labeled "Online Bağış Yap" (Make An Online Donation).

From there, type in the amount you want to donate ("Bağış Miktarı") *in Turkish Lira* (Xe.com is a good currency converter); your credit card number ("Kredi Kartı Numarası"), expiration date (“Ay” is month, “Yıl” is year), and card security code ("CVV"); your name (“Adın Soyadın”); and your email address (“E-Posta Adresin”). Then click on the red button marked “Bağışla” to make your donation! 100% of all funds raised go to my selected charity, Hayata Destek.

If you have a Turkish bank account and want to donate via electronic funds transfer, click on “Havale/EFT yapmak istiyorum” to see the recipient bank name (Finansbank / İstanbul Maçka Şubesi), account name (Hayata Destek Derneği / STL), and IBAN numbers for Turkish Lira, US Dollar, and Euro donations. Don’t forget to write the code “CC10138” in the explanation section ("açıklama") so that the donation gets registered to my campaign.

If you have any questions or difficulties making a donation, please PM me. If you have trouble donating from abroad, I'd be happy to accept donations to my personal PayPal account and then send them through to Hayata Destek myself.

Please help me meet my fundraising goal of 3000 TL ($961 / €865 / £779), which will support 12 children in going back to school. All it takes to meet that goal is for 40 of you to donate 75 TL ($24 / 22 Euro / 19 GBP) each! Thank you for your support!

UPDATE: Thanks to the generosity of my supporters, I concluded my campaign with a total of 6,454 Turkish Lira ($1,833 US) — more than twice my original fundraising goal! These donations will provide more than 25 migrant farmworker children with school supplies, educational materials, and the hygiene items they need in their tent homes. Overall, 324 children will be assisted by Hayata Destek's fundraising campaign. Read more in my thank-you letter to my fundraising supporters.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An urban island nocturne

As modern urban dwellers, we're generally out of touch with the world's natural rhythms, waking to alarm clocks instead of the sunrise and going to sleep under the glow of streetlights that obscure our view of the stars. A friend confessed
Ready to hike through the night.
Photo by Nick Hobbs/Hiking Istanbul.
recently that while newly living in an Istanbul apartment with a Bosphorus view, there were some nights that the water was so brightly illuminated she thought there must be floodlights on at a nearby stadium or construction site. "And then," she said with a laugh, "I realized it was the full moon!"

An urge to overcome that sense of disconnection is part of what drove two dozen nature-starved Istanbul residents to do something a bit mad on a recent Friday night.

The 9 p.m. ferry from Eminönü to Büyükada, the largest of the Princes' Islands off the city's coast, was mostly empty. During the hour-and-a-half ride, those of us traveling alone with backpacks and walking shoes eyed each other curiously, finally working up the nerve to ask, "Are you going on the hike?"

Taking in the view.
Photo by Nick Hobbs/Hiking Istanbul.
After disembarking and assembling as a group around 10:30 p.m., we reviewed the plan: to walk through the night under the full moon around the quiet country roads and sparsely wooded paths encircling the island.

The glow of streetlights dogged us for longer than expected, but once we'd escaped their intrusive glare, it was just us and the night. We strode forward surprisingly assuredly under moonlight strong enough to cast shadows of tree branches as distinct as any you'd see in the daytime. The only sounds at times were crickets chirping, a murmur of wind, and the ground crunching underfoot. (Those moments, unfortunately, were few and far between thanks to the loud and banal chatter of a handful of hikers who ignored repeated requests, first politely and then not-so, to allow others to enjoy a quiet walking meditation.)

The empty streets of Büyükada.
From the top of the island, rocky outcroppings glowed white in the moonlight as the lights of the city sparkled far beyond. Though the islands are far from its heaving crowds and densely packed development, Istanbul in some ways never seems so massive as when viewed from this remote vantage point, its buildings upon buildings sprawling out along the distant horizon as far as the eye can see. Beneath us, the rolling slopes of the islands themselves spilled down to the dark sea. Vain attempts to capture the scene photographically only served to show to how much more the eye can see than an iPhone.

As the night wore on, our feet started to move forward almost mechanically as a dreamlike state began to cloud our tired minds. Creating an 18.5 kilometer hike on this small island meant looping back to some of the same points and starting out anew on a different trail, adding to the disorientation as we wondered amongst ourselves, "Have we been here before or I am just imagining things?"

First light from the ferry.
Notions of a middle-of-the-night swim were thwarted by the high walls erected around the island's privatized beaches, and we ended up finishing our route earlier than expected, with nothing to do but plop down on the sidewalk on the outskirts of town and stare at the sea until the first ferry back to the mainland departed at 5:50 a.m. As we walked to the dock, the streets of Büyükada were still shrouded in darkness and had something of the feel of an abandoned movie set. Scattered lights shone from only a bakery or two, the smell of fresh bread emanating from within.

Back to the city.
The first glimmers of dawn only began to appear in the sky as the ferry made its languid way around the smaller islands, picking up a scant few passengers on each one. Unable any longer to resist the embrace of sleep, we stretched out on the vinyl-covered benches and fell into deep slumbers, rousing periodically to watch and photograph the progress of the sun into the sky until the familiar minarets and skyscrapers and apartment blocks were again in view, all bathed in a warm, welcoming glow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A view from Istanbul during the #TurkeyCoupAttempt

Glancing at the to-do list on my desk that I’d scribbled just hours before, the scrap of paper seemed to have appeared from some alternate universe too banal to be believed.

My story featured on the CityLab homepage.
Set alarm for 6 a.m. Take out the trash when I go out for an early-morning run. Bring some money to buy fruit for breakfast on the way home.

Cowering on the entryway floor at 3 a.m. as jets roared past, their sonic booms shaking the building and threatening to break the windows, hadn’t been part of the plan....

As shots rang out outside my window and concerned messages pinged in from friends and family around the world, my editor at CityLab, The Atlantic's website on urban issues, asked me if I'd like to write something about my personal experience of being in Istanbul during what turned out to be a failed military coup.

Read the rest of that essay, "Istanbul, the Day After," on CityLab.

For more on the politics of the coup attempt, its aftermath, and its possible ramifications, here are some news, analysis, and commentary pieces I think are worth a read:
As it happened: CNN Türk page for "news related to the 
15 July 2016 coup". The main headline reads: "Group of 
soldiers in the TRT building have issued a statement."
{This post has been cross-posted from my professional website.}