October 19, 2014

Between Heaven And Earth

Syrians. Refugees. On the streets. Begging. Sleeping. Unnoticed.

The sidewalk tables at the cafés, at the tea houses and tea gardens fill with people drinking coffee and tea and smoking cigarettes, always smoking, one after the other, smoking and playing cards, backgammon, dominos and talking and laughing and sometimes just sitting in silence, resting, sipping çay or telling fortunes from the coffee grounds that sometimes lie but mostly don’t. Flip the cup and saucer toward you. Set it on the table. Let it cool. A person you're with or the fortuneteller you hired lifts the cup, looks at the grounds inside the cup, your future life, and there’s nothing you can do but believe the grounds that are stuck to the sides and that are thick like mud.

There are protests in the streets. Small groups of people with masks that cover their noses and mouths. Tear gas in the air, wafting in the air so people can’t see.

Large glass windows, dark oak shelves and marble counters are the tinsel-like shops that make and sell small sugary cubes of lokum in bright colors of green, red, blue, and purple, coated in a breathe of fine white sugar and stacked like the pyramids for all to see. They are dense and chewy but sometimes so light they melt on your tongue. The shops sell thick round cakes dusted with crushed green pistachios and light brown almonds. Shiny glass bowls are filled with chocolate pudding and cream and nuts and baked dough stuffed with even more cream. Steepled brass lids top glass cylinders full of candy and color, hundreds of colors, lining the shelves and countertops next to red and gold boxes of boxed candy tied shut with gold and silver ribbon placed on lacey white doilies. Everything is beautiful in the shops. Everything is brilliant.

Kids play small metal accordions for money you place in a small Pringles-like can with a slit cut in the plastic lid and tied to the accordion’s strap. They walk around and play their accordion, from person to person, café to café, sad music reverberating above the tables and people and into the cobbled streets.

I got my haircut the other day. The man that cut my hair was from Damascus. I asked him how long he’s been in Istanbul and he said he immigrated here five months ago. I asked him how long he’s been cutting hair and he told me since 1993. I asked him how he learned English and he told me he listened to American pop-songs and watched American movies when he was thirteen. I asked him if he had any family and he told me he lives with his wife and 10 year-old son in Istanbul, that he starts work very early and works very late, cutting hair, cutting beards, shampooing and conditioning, seven days a week. He told me he doesn’t like the Turkish food and that maybe he’ll move to Europe. He told me he tried to go to Canada but couldn’t. He told me he doesn’t want to go to the US. I said it’s very sad what’s happening in Syria. I wished him the best. I paid and left.