Monday, September 20, 2010


On the weekends we explore the city. On Saturday we spent a beautiful afternoon in Ortaköy, strolling leisurely among the locals and tourists, browsing the endless stands of handicrafts and secondhand books. We ate kumpir at one of the dozens of kumpir stands, and I was reminded of the way vendors in Turkey are not afraid of competition the way they are in Canada -- whereas one would be ill-advised to open a pizzeria in a neighbourhood that already has one in Toronto, I'm not sure one can get this baked potato stuffed with every topping imaginable anywhere else in Istanbul!

We strolled and stopped for tea, strolled some more and stopped to let Baby watch the pigeons, strolled some more and stopped to watch the Cunard's Queen Victoria pass by, not believing what a coincidence it was for us to be there at that moment. We watched a boat called "C. Sweeper" suck up garbage floating in the water. We eavesdropped on a tour guide explain something to a group of German tourists. We people watched. It was one of those afternoons where we just let ourselves be guided by whatever came up. Which is why, I believe, we were able to take notice of the following scene:

two little tartici, young boys who sit with a beat-up and no doubt unreliable bathroom scale and allow you to weigh yourself for a fee, were stripping down to their underwear and leaving their clothes on their scales in preparation for an icy swim in the Bosphorus. Onlookers whispered to each other in horror when they saw the filth the boys were about to dive into. The two boys teased and cajoled each other, as if they were aware of the suspense they were creating, until the smaller one finally jumped in. As he splashed and flapped his way back to the wall, we realized he couldn't swim! He hoisted himself back up onto land, sputtering and looking quite pitiful; but when an onlooker remarked that he'd surely swallowed quite a bit of water, the boy replied he'd been thirsty anyway.

He rearranged a thick rope that was tied to a post so that it reached out from shore; the boys would jump onto the rope, which they would then use to pull themselves back to land. In addition to the potential for drowning, there were jellyfish in the water, and the boys would hastily pull them off themselves once back on land and throw them to the ground. As a new mother and as a Canadian, I admit I am perhaps a little too safety-conscious, to the extent that I sometimes tell myself to just relax and let something go once in a while; I couldn't help but notice that these boys were having fun nobody should spoil.

Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing Turkey's urchins plying their trade with the confidence of adults. I usually look away and keep walking, trying to put them out of my mind. But seeing these two boys shed their professional faces and follow their boyish instincts was beautiful. This was by far the highlight of my day. My husband and I each had our own reasons for lingering at the scene for as long as we did; he was worried one of the boys might need rescuing, and I was basking in their happiness. At that moment, they didn't have a care in the world.

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