I can’t believe so much time has passed since last I wrote something here, and the truth is that I think I’ve forgotten how to do this thing properly. Squeezing the last few months into a single post that doesn’t bore my remaining gentle readers to tears is going to be a little tricky…
Last I wrote I hadn’t yet stepped foot in this extraordinary place…and now it’s been 3 months. Man, that went fast.
And of course there are lots of good reasons – I was finishing a translation and had started a very challenging and inspiring new job (more on that later), and was negotiating moving to a new country sans my best friend and partner in crime for the first time ever (more on that too…).
All excuses aside, let this serve as a humble collection of my first impressions of this newish chapter of my life.
So there’s a fair amount of cats here. More, actually, than I’ve ever seen in one place in my life. They’re everywhere. And while some of the street cats are a bit feral, they are all well accustomed to human generosity. Some women carry cat food in their purses. Grown men will stop on the sidewalk to tease or pet a particularly cute kitten. Old ladies throw chicken out of their apartment windows to gangs of expectant felines. Cats here have it good.
Incidentally, I’ve yet to see a rat.
My newish job
I feel like I’m endlessly trying to explain just what it is exactly that I do, which isn’t very surprising, because it’s a very jargony job title as job titles go, and even if “capacity building” is in your vocabulary, it doesn’t exactly spell out what I do. Our organization is a donor partner. That means we fund projects, but we don’t directly implement projects. We have implementing partners – local NGOs – in countries all over the region (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan), and we of course have a responsibility to make sure that they’re able to do what we agree they’ll do if we fund them. Some of my colleagues are specifically responsible for working with those partners, but they’re too bogged down with a million other responsibilities to manage the capacity building aspect of the work on their own. So my job is to develop a system whereby I can gather information on each of the different partners’ gaps in know-how (organizational stuff, like finance or HR, or technical stuff, especially if they’re faced with a new problem, which is often the case in emergency relief, which is what we do). Once I get that information together in a really transparent and participatory way (so it doesn’t feel like we’re just randomly suggesting training for them that isn’t useful to their situation, and so it doesn’t come across as direction, since they’re doing the field work and need to be as autonomous as possible), I present the partners with a plan for bridging those gaps. It’s tricky, and I have to have the support and buy-in of so many people, from the project officers to the implementing partners to consultants and trainers, not to mention our own organisation’s HQ in Berlin…and with 16 implementing partners, I’ve got my work cut out for me.
Yesterday was the going away party for 2 of my colleagues. By nature of the fact that we’re all far from home – though that word has very mixed connotations for most of us – and the fact that we’re working in what can often be a very challenging field with lots of ups and downs (and downs and downs these days), I’ve never worked with such a close-knit team. It is both wonderful and awful; saying goodbye to colleagues is the norm, but it stings nevertheless. I’m a bit older than everyone else…they think I’m ridiculous because I feel so old when we’re not in the office. But I guess those goodbyes were easier for me 10 years ago. Or maybe I’ve always had a hard time with it.
Our team is very diverse – my colleagues are from Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Hungary, and England. We should have a couple of Turkish colleagues soon, as well, which will be so nice, not least because we’re always struggling to make sense of the whys and wherefores of Turkish bureaucracy.
The climate’s more than a little complicated in Turkey. Right now estimates are that there are 2.7 million Syrian refugees in the country. The Turkish government’s been at loggerheads with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, struggling for self-determination for Kurds in eastern and southeastern “Kurdistan” region of Turkey) for over 30 years, which has led to a lot of suffering on both sides, but particularly for Kurds, though I’d be remiss not to note that the PKK carry out armed attacks against Turkish police. And Turkey gives much better than it gets, as it’s far better equipped to do so. And on and on…this is a familiar story. Further complicating the matter, as often happens in cases like this, a more radical group called TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons) split off from the PKK as they don’t like the PKK’s willingness to negotiate with the government. Obviously that is a hugely oversimplified explanation, but this ain’t the place, and I ain’t the person to deliver that lesson. Suffice it to say that all these things, combined with the very…ahem…interesting Erdoğan, Turkey’s president since 2014 (and prime minister for 11 years before that), I could imagine people would be pretty pissed off much of the time.
But it’s not the case at all.
As has been already mentioned, these folks feed street cats and take time out of their busy day (it’s a big city, after all) to give a few of them a scratch behind the ears. They feed the birds. They spay and neuter the street dogs, and I’ve never seen an underfed dog roaming around, either. And they’re super nice to humans, too (well, I guess that depends on who and to whom, but for all intents and purposes, I’ll just talk about my personal experience).
You know, in France, if someone didn’t understand me, I would be met with a sneer at worst, and a shrug at best. And while it wasn’t so bad in Ecuador, people didn’t go out of their way to understand and be understood. Here, people gladly stop what they’re doing, take out their own phones to try and translate between you, even if they’ll get nothing out of it in return beyond gratitude. When I moved here, the number of perfect strangers I met whilst trying to sort out one thing or another, and who then gave me their number in case I needed anything absolutely astounded me. People are often smiling and friendly, but not to the extent it feels false.
The thing is, in Istanbul, just because you’re a foreigner doesn’t mean you’re a tourist. This is a city crammed with foreigners – perhaps more so recently, but it’s always been this way. And anyway, Turks are fiercely proud of their culture, so Turkish tourists contend well for Istanbul sightseeing with their foreign counterparts. In our largely main-land European circle of friends in London, people were always coming and going, even if many people stuck around for years. In Istanbul it feels that way everywhere – people are more than willing to forge a meaningful friendship with you, even if they don’t know how long you – or they – will be around. This is not the case in our lovely semi-rural small French town…in three months, I see more people regularly here than I did in Le Puy after nearly 3 years.
Well, if you’re getting sleepy, you’re in luck. Because I have simply been too busy to get to know this magical place, so my post is nearing its end. With the exception of a couple of day trips when C was here for a week, I’ve stayed in Kadiköy (the district of Istanbul on the Asian side of the city, where I live and work) since I got here. It’s also so very lovely, that when I’m knackered from the week, it’s hard to find the strength to go anyplace else…frankly, there’s nowhere I’d rather be! I absolutely love where I live. But Istanbul is a big, beautiful city, and I’ll have to make my way around it as time permits.
Life without C
There’s certainly not been anything harder to handle in all this than the absence of my man. We talk every day, but I still miss him more than words could ever express. Being crazy busy is a profound blessing, because I don’t know how I’d cope with the distance otherwise. I can’t write too much more on this because it really just makes me too sad. We know why we’re doing this, and it’s not forever, but it hurts.
…is that the world seems to be in a very sad state at the moment, and the joy of working toward a better future is hard to get a grasp on these days. Some things are massively uplifting (feel the Bern!), but I know I’m not just speaking for people in my field, or in this part of the world, when I say that the general state of human affairs on Earth feels resolutely worse than ever before, and that’s been hard. There have been some points in my life where I can’t not write, but when my energy’s all used up elsewhere, I tend to let the words fall by the wayside. So I guess I’m just saying if you’re still reading me, thank you so much…I know I kinda suck at this lately.