Places I’ve Lived #22 – Istanbul, Turkey


Estimates say that there are approximately 20-million people living in Istanbul. No one really knows for sure. I was one of them for about six-months in early 2011. I loved living in Istanbul.

As mentioned previously, my wife had left Manisa and returned to Morocco and the comfort of being around her mother and sisters when we discovered she was pregnant. I went to Izmir to look for a better teaching job but found mostly empty promises. My friend Gaye owned a hotel in Istanbul and when she heard that I was looking for work offered me a position. It was a sort of strange role as IT manager and hotel manager combined. In any event, the pay was good and the position worked for me. I rented a tiny little apartment with a view of the Bosphorus and set about trying to build a life for my wife and our coming baby.

Here’s a funny note – when I was a stock broker in Portland, Oregon – I was chatting with one of my clients about life and travel – we got philosophical and this wealthy and intelligent guy stopped me and said “You know what you need to be doing? You need to be running one of those amazing old guest houses on the shores of the Bosphorus in Istanbul” Nearly a decade later, it was exactly what I was doing.

IstanbulThings went pretty well. My website businesses were taking off and I made a lot of friends quickly. It’s easy to make friends with Turkish people. I drank a lot of black tea, enjoyed a lot of performances and gallery shows, and sometimes drank a bit too much rakia – the anise flavored Turkish liquor that goes hand in hand with delicious fish. I fell completely in love with Turkish cuisine and I took cooking classes, explored ancient parts of the city, and became an active member of the local couch surfing groups. Life was beautiful – the only problem was that my pregnant wife was on another continent. I wasn’t happy about that – Turkey had a far better health care system than Morocco and our plan had been that when I found a new place to live and a job, she would return to Turkey. ┬áIt was her first pregnancy however (and mine) and I understood that being around her family, her mother, her sisters and people who spoke her own language were important for her sense of safety and well-being. As we got closer to the time of birth – with summer in glorious bloom and Istanbul bustling with activity – my friend offered me a better and more permanent position – I was ready to accept – but I needed to have my wife as a part of the decision.

At this point, she informed me that she wanted to stay in Morocco after the baby was born. I could understand wanting to stay for a little while – but that wasn’t what she was talking about. I had to choose between being a father in a country that I loved but didn’t particularly want to live in any longer – or having a great job in a city that I was completely in love with – but not really playing a role in my baby’s early development and life. It wasn’t really a choice at all. I packed up my life, stored what wouldn’t fit into two suitcases in the basement of the hotel, and went back to Morocco.

IstanbulI rented an apartment in Sefrou and dove into the process of getting my wife a green card. I knew one thing for sure, I didn’t want my baby girl to grow up in a world where women were relegated to far less than equal. If we couldn’t live in Turkey – I would take them both back to the USA – even though I never really had any desire to return once I had left. Our daughter was born. I wanted to name her Aya Sophia but my wife asked the Moroccan authorities and they said she couldn’t be named Aya because it meant ‘Saint’ – it turns out it was some clerk who didn’t actually know but simply expressed his opinion as a law – which my wife took it as. So instead we named our beautiful little girl Sophia, meaning ‘wisdom’ in Greek. The Aya Sofia Hotel was where I had been working and the Aya Sofia Mosque was the largest Christian cathedral for 1000 years and the largest Muslim Mosque for almost as long. It had become a secular monument under Ataturk. I felt like it was a beautiful and symbolic name which held where she was born, who her parents were, and our hopes for her future. As to a middle name – I never liked my own – so I decided that we would leave that space blank and let her fill it in on her own someday. I hadn’t really expected to win the naming battle, but it turned out that because Morocco still functions as a patriarchy – it was my decision. For that, I am grateful.

Back in Morocco, I focused on my web and blogging businesses with some success while jumping through the many hoops involved in getting a green card and making sure my daughter got American citizenship from the beginning. When she was 18 months old – we finally had approval for my wife’s green card. It was time for us to emigrate to the USA.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul StreetcarIstanbul has been variously known in history as Byzantium and Constantinople. It sits squarely on the intersection of Asia and Europe with the city having an Asian side and a European side. The Bosphorus Strait runs between. Official estimates put the population at somewhere around 15 million but unofficial estimates are much higher. Officially it is the world’s 4th largest city and the largest in Europe. It was the Roman imperial capital for nine centuries and then the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate for another five centuries. All told it served as an imperial capital for sixteen centuries! There are few cities with as much history as Istanbul. ┬áIstanbul is one of the great cities of all of human history, the art, the architecture, the bridges, the sport, the food, the culture. There is nowhere else like Istanbul.

Cold Turkey – Back in Istanbul Unexpectedly!

Bosphorus CruiseSometimes life is filled with the best kind of surprises. I got a call last week from a friend in Istanbul who needed a bit of help with a tourism project. She asked if I would be willing to leave Morocco for a few weeks to come to Turkey – those of you who know me, know that my answer was most definitely “Yes. When do you want me there?”
I was thinking it would be in a month or a few weeks but instead she answered – can you come this weekend? I checked with my wife and she gave the green light – after all, it is work and not just cheap holidays to Turkey, but in fact it is always a pleasure for me to come to Turkey.
turkey holidaysIn particular, Istanbul in Winter is a magical place. The crowds are smaller, the city is still completely and overwhelmingly exotic and for me – going to Istanbul is like going home to Bellingham, Washington or Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s nice to go home now and then.
And best of all, nobody asks me if I’m Muslim, if I pray, or if I know the shahada. Nobody looks at me like I am a demon as I order a beer. Nobody cares what I do – they are too worried about what they are doing – unless the two merge and I look like I might buy a carpet, but they rarely take me for a buyer.
Turkish HolidaysAs I walk around this city during the time I have off from the tourism projects, I remember why I fell so deeply in love with this place. It’s cold, but I don’t mind in the least. It’s not as cold as the inside of our uninsulated concrete house in Morocco.
Jumping on the ferry and going across the Bosphorus, walking across the Galata Bridge, seeing the crowds marching through the city carrying their football club’s banners in the hopes that their fandom will bring a win, drinking raka with fish (rakabalik!) and struggling to get my Turkish to come back as an amused shopkeeper smiles at me in approval for even trying.
Winter Turkish HolidaysThe smell of the Bosphorus, the smiles of Turks passing by, the sounds of the traffic, the slightly worried looks of tourists as they are herded into souvenir and carpet shops and the sound of wheelie bags being dragged across the cobblestones. All of these things make me love this city. Maybe I can figure out how to stay this time – maybe I can get my wife and daughter here for good. Maybe I can find a place to rent in Kadikoy and a job to supplement my writing income.
Turkish winterI’m working on buying a small house in Morocco to turn into a writer’s residence and that we can stay in when we go to visit my wife’s family. I’m trying to get my wife a resident visa so she can live in the United States – but that’s for her – I want to live in Turkey. Oh, I’m so happy to be back in this, the queen of all cities. The most magnificent city in the world.
Turkey holidaysFrom Sultanahmet to Taksim – the fresh yogurt and cheese, the smit (like pretzels and bagels had a baby), kebab shops, doner, and the wonderful melody of Turkish language. Restaurants galore, coffee shops (even Starbucks and I’m happy to see it), grocery stores you can wander through isles, book shops, cinemas, cafes, and so many language schools because all the Turks want to learn English right now.
If you’d like to visit Turkey or Istanbul, contact me using the form below and I will gladly hook you up with the right people, companies or destinations and any advice I can provide.

%d bloggers like this: