Four little monkeys and a trunk full of gas: Finding life in Istanbul

What do you get when you take east, west and somewhere in between, add a kangaroo and put them in the middle of Istanbul on a rainy weekend? No, the answer is not a kebab. That would be a stereotype. An epiphany, that’s what.

I had big expectations of Istanbul. A place I could gain a new perspective, through a different culture and an array of history. It’s not all about the hunt for a good kebab, though that’s an essential activity. I expected the sight of ancient mosques with gold domes that took my breath away, strange men following me down the streets and lots of haggling. A place of aladdin-type mystery, with magic flying carpets and the smell of exotic spices floating through the air. I also expected chaos and stress.

Stuck in stagnant traffic en route to the city from the airport, I didn’t expect to see the very roots of entrepreneurialism. First, following the smell of hot bread wafting through the window, a guy walked down the middle of two solid lanes of traffic with a local speciality on sale. Next, a tissue seller. Then, phone chargers – what a great idea, how many times have you been stuck without one in a traffic jam? We were a little confused by the mining lamps, but I’m sure there’s solid reason behind it.

It started raining – out popped the umbrella man. In the middle of the city bars, up popped the mussels men. Along came the police, off ran the mussels men.

Life is harder in Istanbul, but with that hardship comes life. People aren’t spending time planning or worrying about the future. They don’t appear so self-absorbed, in themselves or their egos. There are few drunken brawls to be seen in one of the most populated cities in the world, because they don’t have the luxury to become so self-important, that they believe in the right to do whatever they want. As my friend said when yet another car cut in front of us on the transit-way, people don’t worry about tomorrow because they don’t what is going to happen.

For me, something significant clicked whilst driving over the Bosphorus Bridge at a notable speed, with four of us squeezed into the back of a taxi and the distinctive smell of petrol in the air. I didn’t care that I couldn’t move or wear my seatbelt. I didn’t panic when I found out the smell was coming from the boot, which was full of fuel (cheaper than buying on the go) or about the small Fiat slaloming in and out of the wet lanes. It was an unfamiliar feeling in my world full of anxiety about the unknown. I was enjoying it.

You see, human beings are designed to live day to day. To survive. My heart lifted when I realised I didn’t need to worry about what happened next, because I had no control over it and that my intense desire to control everything was borne from too much. Too much structure, too much expectation and too much planning. How easy it is to create a science out of everything, with our persistent overuse of the rational mind.

From Istanbul I expected to see beauty and chaos. Two days and a goat kebab later, what I saw was life.

Real Life in Istanbul – including said journey across the bridge!

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