I originally started writing this about someone I met in Basmane, but I’ve decided to make that an entirely different article. This one will just be about Basmane. The second article will be about the woman I met.
I live in the city of Izmir, which is on the west coast of Turkey; a giant country that forms a three-way bridge between the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.
I arrived in Izmir on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2015. Shortly afterward I began working with the large population of Syrian refugees that came here with the intention of smuggling themselves to the Greek islands just off the coast of Turkey.
Most of the refugees in Izmir live in a neighborhood called Basmane. It is in an old section of the city, built on the side of a hill. Basmane is made up almost entirely of apartments converted from ancient mansions, abandoned churches, and other structures built a dozen generations ago. The apartments are in a state of arrested repair, or simply falling apart, but their aged beauty still reverberates down every street.
The streets in Basmane are narrow enough to feel like alleyways, although sometimes these alleyways skirt vast undeveloped fields where Roman ruins lay untouched by museums or tourists. At the top of the neighborhood there is an empty castle whose origins change with every person I ask.
I do not know the history of Basmane but I believe the street layout was planned by giving a one year child a crayon and paper and telling them to have a go at it. To complicate things more, all the streets are randomly numbered rather than named. It’s almost impossible to remember addresses and give directions. For example, here are directions for the half-mile walk from the train station to the castle:
Take 1297 street to 967 street. 967 street turns into 1291 street, which turns into 954 street, then turn right at 1021 street, then turn right 1023 street, which becomes 1008 street. Turn right on 5262 street then right 5263 street, then right on 5260 street, then right on 5264 street, then right on 5250 street, which will bring you to the castle 🙂
I’m not complaining. Basmane is my favourite place in Izmir. I spend most of my time there. Packed to the brim with people from every part of Syria and Iraq, I hear languages that haven’t been named and see clothes I cannot describe. The streets are lined with grandmas who look at least 150 and full of packs of playing children. Because I teach the children (and some adults) here, I am always recognized. Most of what I hear when I walk through the streets is, “ ‘ello! ‘ello! ‘ello!” Children shouting from the windows, from the streets above and below me, sometimes even from the cars, “ ‘ello! ‘ello! ‘ello!” It is a neighborhood full of life, action, and laughter.
Of course, it is also a neighborhood of hardship. Only the smugglers, the mafia, and a few volunteers choose to live in Basmane. The rest are here because of other reasons. Recently, I’ve had time to start asking how people how they got here.
Which leads me to the second part…
(which can be read here: https://fromizmirwithlove.wordpress.com/2016/07/12/nour/)