Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | November 19, 2011

Last Week’s Disaster, This Week’s Forgotten Suffering: Real People in Van

On Oct. 23, as we were returning from a relaxing weekend at the hotsprings, the ferryboat’s television screens were full of images from a 7.2 earthquake that had occurred in the eastern city of Van. Once again we saw horrifying scenes of buildings that had fallen into rubble with people crushed underneath. I recalled the same scenes from the big earthquake that hit the areas around Istanbul in 1999 and was chilled. Van was less populated, but the suffering was similar– except that this was the fall, not the summer.

For days there were news reports, telethons, and calls for donations. Then there was another 5.2 earthquake, which killed more people who had stayed in buildings that were supposedly safe, including a couple of hotels housing aid workers and journalists. More people died.

At first the Turkish government did not accept offers of help from other countries, but soon it was clear that they could not deal with the disaster themselves. At one point the government was accused of not accepting aid from Israel because of the recent political conflicts, but the government denied this, as at that moment they were not accepting aid from any countries. Finally the government accepted tents and prefab buildings, among other kinds of help. People who had been staying on the streets at least had some shelter. Individuals sent clothing and blankets, but even this turned out to be controversial, as some sent sticks to signal their nationalistic prejudices against the Kurds. Much of the clothing was too old to be usable.

Then it started to snow. This has been the coldest November in years and now the people staying in the summer tents are literally freezing. At least one child has died. Others have suffered from poisoning from the coal or kerosene heaters. Those who have money have started to leave Van for other cities, especially Diyarbakir, where many have relatives. However, one person reported that the rents there had gone up 30%, with landlords taking advantage of the demand.

I watched all this wondering how I could help. I don’t send clothing, as years ago I donated clothing after a hurricane hit Florida and then saw on the news a huge mountain of clothing being bulldozed because the people in charge could not deal with it.

Then an old friend sent me a message. He had worked here in Istanbul for several years as a waiter to save money to buy a home for him and his family. In the earthquake they had lost their home and everything in it and of course he had no work. He asked me for help. I sent him some money and when I messaged him to check that it got there, he wrote back to say that yet another earthquake had happened and he was in the hospital. He wants to get his family out of Van, to Ankara or Gaziantep.

I posted on Facebook that people could come to the café to make donations to this real family. At a dinner the other night, the donation box grew by a total of 10 lira and change. Very few people have donated and I am very disappointed. Even my refugee cleaner donated a little something. I have some ideas for making the donation pot grow, but I am sorry that people have sort of forgotten the people who are still suffering from this disaster.

If I have guilted you into giving, please stop by the café and donate!

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