Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | July 18, 2010

molly’s cafe: workers in istanbul

someone posted a great album on facebook that was a collection of photos from the early 1900s to about the 1970s, mostly of people at work.  i was struck by how the people (mostly men) still look the same, except they mostly wear blue jeans now.  they have a pride and stance about them that has not changed. that album inspired this blog.

so…. i will share some photos with you from my archives.

pot mender

this man was a pot mender.  he was not doing it when i took this photo, but i caught him in the little cubbyhole he had worked in.  when pots sprang a leak so to speak, he would heat them over the burner and fix the leaks.  now of course people just throw them out and get new ones.  he worked on yenicarsi caddesi, just down from istiklal caddesi.

hamal on galipdede

a hamal is a man who is available to carry heavy loads.  this man is now over 60 years old and he has been doing this work in galata since he was a teenager.  i have seen him carry small and large loads– a pile of boxes to a washing machine.  the streets around galata were not meant for wheeled traffic and they tend to meander or turn into steps; therefore, hamals are still valued workers.  there are hamals working in most of the old parts of istanbul. many of the older hamals are permanently stooped but still working.  they are amazingly strong and are very good at eyeballing a potential load to see how to load it up and get it through doorways or other congested places.    i liked this photo because he is carrying a sprig of wisteria.  i don’t know his name, i am ashamed to say, but he greets me every time i see him.  another local hamal, beto, is definitely stooped but still strong as an ox.  he drinks beer instead of water and talks constantly, though often incoherently. and, recently i learned that he lives in the jewish home for poor and old people here in galata.

low tech high tech transport

related to the hamals are the people who collect things on carts.  i have written about them in another blog.  often they are asked to carry things that are awkwardly big.  i was struck by the image of this old style cart being used to carry modern technology.

herding sheep and kids

i live fairly locally now but when i lived out in the suburbs i would often see shepherds with their flocks on the green slopes of the freeways.  this man was herding his goats right here in beyoglu.  when i asked him why he was in this part of town, he said he was taking care of his sheep– like why should i ask.  i still don’t know where he went to find greenery for his flock.  he was kind of crabby, it seemed to me, to both sheep and kids.

the man in this photo is wearing the traditional felt cape that shepherds have worn for centuries in anadolu.  many people on isitklal recognized his costume and were bemused by it.

shepherd on istiklal

new and old

these two young men were working in the kantin at my school.  at the time, i was impressed by the carved carrots. especially after seeing the album of old photos, i was struck by how the stance they took in this photo was so much like the old-time ones. turks are really good at making an attractive display of food.  they carve the food or display it in a colourful way.

local colour

the man with the fine beard and moustache used to set up on galipdede street to sell his baubles.  he often went to afghanistan or iran to get them.  i have not seen him for a couple of years, however.  i know he was also an alcoholic, so perhaps he got into some kind of trouble.  he is not a lot different from people in other countries who sell their wares on the street, but he was a local bit of colour for years.

gel, gel, best price

around eminonu there used to be a lot of streetsellers.  they sold everything from plants to vacuum cleaner bags to batteries, socks, and razors.  the square near the new mosque and spice bazaar was almost impassable due to these streetsellers.  however, the city has forbidden them and if a few happen to set up, the zabita (business police) take them away.  it used to be kind of a fun way to shop for random things.

selling fruit from a horse cart

occasionally you still see a man selling his fruit from a horse cart.  this one was in galata, but i have not seen him or any  others in this area  in several years.

kurabiye seller

if you sit in the tea garden in galata, you are likely to see men who sell sandwiches, cookies, simit, or dried fruit bars.  until recently food was not sold at the tea garden, so these men often made good sales as people drank their tea.  i have not seen the kurabiye (cookie) seller in a few years, but this old man is still selling his wares.  a few years ago he had to use a cane, but he was still out.

fruit bar seller

chicken or shoeshine?

then there are the ever-present shoe shiners.  they have a technique to snag tourists– a shoeshine boy may walk in front of a tourist and “accidentally” drop his brush.  the tourist, being nice, picks it up.  the shoeshine boy then insists on shining his shoes but also asks for money, usually way too much– 10 lira for example. i have heard of tourists stupid enough to pay 50 lira!  the ones who are stationary may ask for too much money too, but they don’t pretend to drop their brushes.  it is worth the experience to get your shoes shined if you are wearing the right kind of shoes. there used to be a group of shoeshine boys from agri, near mt ararat, but they have been chased away by the police and are probably old enough now to have real jobs.

shoeshine boys

also, up in taksim near the aga mosque is a very old “lostra salonu” where the men shine shoes to a great shine and you can also get your shoes repaired.

rom flower seller

the flower sellers are mostly concentrated in certain areas.  one of these is on taksim square.  the women (a few men) are mostly gypsies.  i have been buying flowers from this woman for years.  she always gives me a pretty good deal and then puts in extra flowers.  her son (with her in this photo) has finished school and is all grown up now.

here are a few random working photos.


you can see fishing boats like this one at the black sea end of the bosporus.

putting away the wood

the man on the street (you have to make the picture big to see this) has received a load of wood and is packing it into his storage area in his building.  he obviously was still using a woodstove for heating his home.  the wood is like medium size branches, so it does not have to be chopped.  many kebab restaurants use the same kind for their grills.

women collecting wood

i caught these women in beykoz, a forested village on the edge of istanbul.  they got angry with me for taking their photo. picture me shrugging my shoulders…

ok folks, that is it for now.  i have more, but they will have to wait for another day.  i have to go back to work.


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