Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | November 11, 2011

Molly’s Cafe: Random thoughts Nov. 2011

Today is 11/11/11. Apparently that is a significant number, though I am not sure why. Next year we will have 12/12/12. I suppose that will be significant too, again not sure why except it is kind of fun to play with numbers.

I was also thinking how inconvenient it is these years. If I write Nov. 11, is that the day or the year? We will not get out of this until we run out of day numbers, so there are quite a few years to go.


Yesterday marked the anniversary of Ataturk’s death. I was walking to work and was on the uphill stretch, so I kept going until I got to the square. It was rather eerie, as the sirens were going, the ferryboats were moaning their horns, and a few cars were beeping. Most people stopped until it was over, though a few kept walking. People did not express disapproval of them openly, but it seemed strange when everyone else was stopped. Even very religious people stopped and I was struck by that, as there is a fear among staunch secularists that the current government wants to set up a much more religious administration, with some fundamentalist secularists saying the the AKP wants to set up sharia law, which is just plain silly. Many strong secularists are as fundamental about their beliefs as the strongly religious people are. I think that Turkey would be a very different country if Ataturk had not come along. Looking at the turmoil in the neighbouring countries, you get a sense of what could have been or indeed what could be.

The PKK is more active these days, which I think is shameful. Do they really think that killing and abducting people will really accomplish anything except a backlash? Do they thikn they are tagging along with the Arab Spring? At the same time, I see a strong nationalism coming out as many Turks come out against the traitors, the PKK. Unfortunately they tar all Kurds with the same brush, which is absolutely unfair and totally ignorant. Many Turks do not know they own country and have not see the conditions that Kurds in the east live in– under educated and underemployed, for the most part. Of course there are very educated Kurds and even rich ones, but as a rule the Kurds have been oppressed for many years. When I first came to turkey 14 years ago, I rarely heard people speaking Kurdish on the streets and most Kurdish music was banned. If someone were to speak Kurdish, they risked being beaten or arrested. Now you hear people speaking Kurdish, usually with Turkish sprinkled in with it and Kurdish music is easily accessible. Coming from Canada, where we have had to deal with the rights issues of the French-speaking minority, I am concerned about the issues of minority rights here. Turks see minorities as divisive, which they can be, but the variety of cultures and languages gives a richness to this country that many Turks do not see.

Because of the Feast of the Sacrifice holiday, some students who are studying in nearby countries such as Jordan and Israel have been coming into the café. They like it because they can sit around on couches and armchairs and feel at home.

I had an interesting interaction with a youngish woman who is teaching here but had been teaching in Gaziantep. She was here with some friends who were still teaching there. I think they were teaching with a Fulbright program that plops under-trained teachers into random places across Turkey. At any rate, I asked this woman where she was teaching. She literally turned her head away from me and I had to ask her again. Then she told me that she was sorry but she did not know me and did not answer questions about her personal life. I found it very offensive, actually, and told her she was quite sensitive and I was not a spy. Having been a teacher for 25 years, 10 of them here, I think I am a good resource for people like that, but she knew it all– she thought. I heard her telling her friends quite knowledgeably about the culture here and I was quite sceptical, because she has been here less than a year and such a closed person would not learn much about any culture in that time.

That said, most of the other customers who come here are open to ideas and welcome the support and information. Many people ask how to get to places, where they should go, etc. Many students come here to study, teachers come to work, and others to hang out in a quiet an comfortable place. Most people like the kitties, though sometimes a person will come in who is afraid of them, at which point I have to put the kitties outside. I joke that the kitties are my portable heating system, as the little ones and Mr. Black like to curl up in people’s laps. Suzy Q is pregnant again and is cranky, so she jumps up in one cabinet and hangs out there.

A Canadian journalist, Mitch Potter, was here recently, brought in by another Canadian friend, Martin, who lives here. Mitch was very interesting and had amazing stories to tell, as his beat is the Middle East. He was in Libya as the rebels got going and his stories made me feel more connected to all that. It also made me think about the Libyans who had stayed in the rooms above my old café. I wonder if they had joined the rebels and if they were still alive. The world is close. Mitch asked me a lot of questions and in fact interviewed me, as he is doing a series on Canadians he meets abroad. He will let me know when it gets printed in the Toronto Star and I will paste it in here.

I am on the trail of a permit for my café, which is totally frustrating. The last time I went to the city, they asked why I hadn’t asked them first before moving the café. I told them I didn’t know I had to ask them. I got the permit for my second café because my helper at the time told them that I wrote a column for the newspaper. They are waiting for money. The mayor defends this pay-off as a kind of service charge, but as far as I am concerned, it is bribery. Transparency in government here is a joke. At the last visit I was told that the federal government is in the process of rezoning this area and in the meantime they are not giving out any permits. I am sure that if I had handed over 10,000 lira, which I don’t have, a permit would have been forthcoming. Inshallah they will leave me alone, as they certainly know I am here. I have done everything else and Molly’s Café has a name for itself, so I hope the rezoning includes nice cafés. Certainly it is an improvement over the nasty dirty plexiglass sign shop that was here.

So life in the café continues to be interesting. See you here soon.


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