By Thais Reis-Henrie
Turkey has had a big year. The media explosion on the refugee crisis, mining disaster, several bombings in major cities, an all but complete silencing of free speech, and two elections over a highly polarizing president along with the recent stepping down of the puppet prime minister have made the last several months a series of shocks and disappointments. They’re the reason it’s taken me so long to write something for the BFP: I have a hard time talking about my experience studying abroad without mentioning that it’s not all great food, fascinating people and exploring beautiful, unique neighborhoods.
As I write this though, I’m taking a passenger ferry from the Anatolian side of Istanbul back to the European side as three guys in the center of the boat play nationalist tunes, and recognizing that I live in a postcard. Istanbul is huge, and separating its two sides is a narrow straight where, if you’re paying attention and lucky, you can spot wild dolphins. From the Bosphorus, any of the seven hills of Istanbul look picture perfect. Vendors in Istanbul are almost as likely to try to trick you into paying three times as much as whatever small thing you’re buying is worth as they are likely to give it to you for free because making the change just isn’t worth it. Every mosque is stunning and alluring, painstakingly covered in hand painted tiles. The food here never disappoints. People are so generous with their time and expertise and have a resilient spirit that inspires me to do more.
Those beautiful, inspiring parts of Istanbul are what make the country’s downward spiral so much more sad for me, and for the Turks I talk to. Even still, hope is the last to die and I can’t imagine a place I would have learned so much this past year.