3 Jan. 2016 : İzmir
Today begins my forth day in Turkey, my third day in Izmir, and my first moment to myself. Every day has been a series of meeting many new people and seeing new parts of the city. So far the Turks have been extremely hospitable. Our days have mostly consisted of getting in a car of someone we barely know, having no idea what is happening, going somewhere for reasons we don’t quite understand, walking around, and then going to another destination.
Yesterday we decided to meet Ahmet, the cousin of someone Mo and I met on the internet. Ahmet was offering a room for us to rent. Mustafa, our current couchsurfing host, was kind enough to drive us to the metro station so we could meet Ahmet. After driving for a few blocks Mustafa pointed out the station he was going to take us to, told us where he was going to park and how to get to the station from there, then he drove for another kilometer where we parked and ate a huge breakfast, which he insisted that he pay for. Then he drove us to a different metro station, which was a lot easier for Mo and I to access.
A couple hours later, after meeting Ahmet, the three of us ate and drank at a cafe and then got into his car. For some reason, probably a misunderstanding on our part, Ahmet drove us to an outdoor mall in Bornova, an area somewhat far from where we were. Then we looked for parking in a parking lot gone mad. It was a big shopping day for Turkey, and the lack of spaces allowed for a variety of very creative parking spaces. When we found a spot, we walked around the mall for a while, then we went back into his car and he drove us to his apartment. After looking at the room in his apartment he graciously drove us to our next destination.
This kind of thing has become a frequent occurrence in Izmir and at this point, it would be surprising to go directly to any destination.
Apart from generous detours, we have drunk an immense amount of tea, almost none of which we have paid for. Drinking tea in Turkey is synonymous with saying hello, or breathing. I know that the British are famous for liking tea, and have “tea times.” But in Turkey every time is tea time. Surprisingly, despite my huge uptake in caffeine, I have been sleeping very well.
Music is almost as prevalent as tea in Izmir, and much sadder and better. Both male and female singers usually sing in deep, low voices and are backed by a chorus and a stringed instrument that I am used to hearing from traditional Arabic music. Barış Manço, a captivating discovery, is perfect example of this style. In edition to new discoveries, I am fortunate that Mabel Matiz, a Turkish singer I discovered back in San Francisco, is as much a favorite here as I hoped for, because I get to hear him all the time.
As for a downside, the biggest one personally has been the pollution. I do not think of Izmir as a heavily polluted city, but it is definitely more polluted than other places I’ve lived, which includes Los Angeles. When I wake up and open the window of the little room I’ve been staying in, the plastic smell of burning trash flows into the room and everywhere the crisp Winter air is tainted with a lingering smell of car exhaust. I’ve learned that the tap water, which I’ve already drank gallons of, had a dangerously high concentration of arsenic in it a couple years ago. Also, most rooms in Izmir smell like cigarette smoke, which I actually enjoy, but does not help the sore throat I’ve acquired from talking for most of my waking hours. Overall, the pollution is not too acute for a city of this size, but still always present.
Last, as for the reason I moved here, I have not seen as many Syrian refugees as I expected. I have seen some Arabic writing, mostly advertising money changers or things like that, but this is far too little to reflect the immense population of Syrians that live here. Perhaps the contrast between Arab culture and Turkish culture is not as obvious to me here in Izmir as it was in Stockholm, where wide eyed Syrians carrying their IKEA bags, wandered and darted around the cold magical streets. More likely, I have just not found the main areas where the refugees congregate. Izmir is a big city, and there is still a lot of layers to discover.