Friday, September 07, 2012

Reflections on Turkey - Part 2, Neighbours

Staying with my friend for a week at his apartment in Mudanya showed that neighborhoods in Turkey tend to be close-knit. In Turkish cities owning a house tends to be a luxury, most people live in apartments. People who live in homes are either, (a) rich or, (b) living in a house so old that it looks like it'll fall over any second.

Perhaps because of this apartment living, or perhaps because of Turkish culture, everyone tends to know all of their neighbors. People generally discuss what they have seen recently in the area and neighborhood ladies all meet periodically to share gossip. It quickly became apparent to me that this “network” helps keep the neighborhood close. To a North American it almost became to the extent of your neighbors being overly nosy but here in Turkey no one seemed to mind.

I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing. Years ago Bill Cosby gave a very powerful speech, known by many as the “Pound Cake Speech” where he said that part of what is wrong with black communities today is the loss of this neighbourhood closeness.

. . . In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. In the old days, you couldn't hooky school because every drawn shade was an eye. And before your mother got off the bus and to the house, she knew exactly where you had gone, who had gone into the house, and where you got on whatever you had one and where you got it from. Parents don't know that today. . . .

That closeness still appears to exist in Turkey. When my friend brought his mother to visit (she used to live there but now lives in a retirement community in another city) “the network” had spread the news within an hour. Throughout the week people were coming by to meet her, or stopping by to say hi to my friend, discuss business, give updates on whatever neighborhood crisis was happening, or whatever. I joked with my friend it was like I stepped in as a guest star on Coronation Street, my presence did not dampen people discussing problems with so-and-so’s engagement, who’s recently moved out of the building, us being stopped in the street to discuss the recent fire (see below) and so forth. I'm sure news of my arrival had also spread throughout the neighborhood as no one seemed too phazed by me being around.

So onto a crisis that happened while I was there. Remember in my first post about Turkey there was this picture.

Well the next day it looked like this.

See something different? During the day while my friend and I were out touring around, there was a fire that swept through some old homes!

There was debris all over the place including pieces of roof tile all over the road. The homes were small, old, and side-by-side. And much of the cooking was done with butane, so they each had big butane canisters in the kitchens. Once the fire hit the butane canister it would explode, spreading the fire and scattering pieces of roof. Thankfully no one was killed.

The neighborhood gossip network went into full swing. Unfortunately by the end of my week there I never found out the exact story behind what went on. We briefly spoke to someone who lived next to the homes who told my friend that he kept telling “them” to stop doing “it” but it wasn't clear to my friend what he was talking about. “Them” were Roma, who apparently lived in some or all of the homes and we assume he meant they were doing something reckless with fire or cooking with butane.

We also found out from others that all the homes were on one piece of property recently purchased by a developer, leading to rumors of arson so the developer could clear the land. Not sure how true that would be since the fire did not destroy all the homes on the property. Another rumour was that the developer had already told the occupants their leases would be canceled sometime in the future (Three months? Six months? No one seemed to be sure), so it wouldn’t make much sense for the developer to take such action. This led to speculation that one of the occupants set fire to a house in retaliation for being kicked out, which unfortunately spread to other homes.

Developer arson? Tragic accident? Renter retaliation? Anyway it was of course big news in the neighborhood.

Overall I was surprised at how well people knew each other. In Qatar even now I don't know any of the neighbors in my apartment building and I've lived in this building for over a year. I can't say I've made a huge effort but when you see someone in the hall and say “Hi” and the only response you get is “Hi” as they walk by it's clear they're not that interested either.

When I reflect on it I'm not sure why it is that way. Maybe the transient nature of being an ex-pat in Qatar, where people constantly move in and out of the country, doesn't make people inclined to be neighborly. Maybe it's because people are from so many different countries so they’re inclined to keep to themselves because they don't know how to relate to their foreign neighbors. Who knows?

I like how it was in Turkey. I kind of wish it would be like that here.

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