It’s almost six years ago that I first moved to Istanbul and despite the first couple of years being lived in an entirely parallel universe to the Istanbul I now walk through, I’ve probably spent 5 1/2 of those six years telling people how much I love living here. Recently, though I still voice that same phrase, it’s become harder to back up the sentiment with tangible reasons why. Do I mean it when I speak those simple words?
I used to love the hustle and bustle, the lego-like quality of the too-many cramped houses and the diversity that each area holds. Catching the bus between one district and the next was an adventure and it was always possible to spot something which had never caught your eye before, to glimpse another aspect of a culture unfolding before you or realise a faux pas you were making unaware of it before. I used to love the diversity that I truly believed the city embraced, spending Sundays walking through Tarlabasi’s pazaar hearing a multitude of languages mingle as one, crossing into Fatih, seeing the bright coloured scarves of Muslim women; returning to Beyoglu for a wine soaked dinner in a trendy new bar. The simplicity of life in Istanbul was attractive and new; ideals behind this, old-fashionedly quaint. And what I loved even more was the speed the city was changing, right before my opening eyes, from transport to opinions to opportunities to foreign food, Istanbul was jumping forward and I was clinging on for the ride. As I fell in love, settled down, I saw a country with values I longed to show to our children, for them to immerse as they grew up, I saw a city full of respectful diverseness to echo the religion I was starting to embrace.
Now sadly I see things are rather different. And I’m stuck in a parallel place. The city I once fell in love with isn’t the one I see now; the Istanbul that I see now, I see it’s flaws and it’s conflicts in pace.
Now I view the city as a mother, and a head-scarved mother at that. In a multitude of ways, the Muslim city we live in impairs my ability to be both more than many other countries would do. And as a Mum who can see so many flaws in her theory, I can’t help but question what impact my choice to stay here to raise our family will have upon our sons.
Then I strip back the thinking, return to the things I loved: Are these really not there now, or just somewhere different to where I originally thought?
The simplicity is still here; it’s in the shopping in bazaars and appreciation of a simple plate of rice, it’s in the gratitude you hear continually for basic yearnings for health and home.
The diverseness I once witnessed, as a tourist calling a city here home, is still around us, still exists, I just can’t immerse as easily.
Change keeps spinning ahead; transport links improve every day.
Opportunities are narrower, though. The religion that freed me confines me in this place. Diverseness hasn’t spread to everything, behind the veneer the city has built. I can’t work in many schools in my profession; no administration post would put me out front.
The values I was so enchanted under exist within our narrow world, throughout the city, but they’re being eroded and corrupted, slowly but surely. With every push forward something takes a step back: for every action a reaction not in kind. And the old fashionedness I once found so quaint? A baine in relations, constant frustration and discontent.
The changes, forward thinking is all very well, but it’s all driven by money leaving many by the wayside. Kindergartens, music schools, swimming clubs for babies, so many opportunities for the modern thinking Mum; if you have the money and the look to enter in. Opportunities available but unobtainable are worse than no options at all.
The grass is always greener, and for all the negatives living here seems to bring, societal morals trump any other advantage moving to the UK could possibly bring in the raising of our sons, yet I can’t shake this feeling of discontent, of sadness, frustration and guilt; sadness at feeling these feelings, frustration at being restricted and guilt that my sons may be missing out unnecessarily, that a different path could benefit them.
Yet that phrase still spills from my mouth. Because I do still love living here. Right?