This will be the third and final entry of my “Istanbul, Again” series. Enough, already–I’ve been back nearly three weeks.
Before I wrap it up, though, another mention of my six-month stint in Alanya. This summer, I went from an on-again, off-again yoga practitioner to a full-out dedicated daily yogini. In Alanya, I practiced #yogaeverywhere. At home, at the park, on the beach, by the pool, in the garden, at work, at historical ruins, on this fountain:
While of course, a few people gave me odd looks, most people smiled at me or gave me “thumbs up”, many were curious about yoga, and several people, on different occasions, joined in.
Life in Alanya is sunny and carefree–the levels of stress, crowding, traffic, pollution, judgement of others, and agitation are far higher in Istanbul. I often find myself feeling defensive, even aggressive, when walking the streets of Istanbul en route to work, home, or market. Yesterday was different. I was feeling incredibly cheerful and relaxed. My housekeeper (an angel slid down from heaven on a rainbow) had met me at home to prepare my apartment for an impending visit from a fellow dancer from Cairo, the weather was crisp and bright, I was on time, but not early on my commute to my appointment, and I was listening to two beautiful songs on repeat. It was all I could do to keep from dancing on the metro. In fact, I’m sure I swayed a bit.
When I exited the metro, I headed to the minibus stop. It looked like I would have to wait a bit, so I glanced around and spotted a place along a wall, near the bottom of a ramp, away from both street and most pedestrian traffic. I treated myself to a brief round of yogic sun salutations: Reach up, touch the ground, single plank and push up, gentle backbend, push all the up and back, repeat.
People walking by glanced at me as they went on their way. An middle aged woman and her companion stopped so she could give me a big smile. A teenage boy walking by with his friends said to me encouraging, “Kolay gelsin, abla.” “Abla” meaning sister, and “Kolay gelsin”–literally “May it come easily”–an empathetic nicety used upon coming into contact with a person who is working on something.
Just as I was coming out of dancer pose and had stopped to adjust my headphones, a girl of about 18 approached me.
“Napiyorsun?” she asked me. What are you doing?
“I’m waiting for the minibus.” Wasn’t it obvious?
“No, I mean what are you doing?” she asked again.
“Yoga yapiyorum,” I responded. I’m doing yoga. I gave her a smile.
“But everyone is looking at you,” she said.
“It’s okay. They can look.”
“No, we don’t do that here.” Oh? You mean here in Turkey? Where I’ve lived for five years?
I raised my eyebrows and said nothing.
“People can misunderstand you,” she explained.
“It’s you who misunderstands,” I said to her.
She sputtered some other words, but I’d decided to stop listening. I adjusted the headphones and took a few breaths. A lady and her daughter waved at me from a departing minibus, but I couldn’t smile back or enjoy my music or yoga anymore. I looked down at my phone instead.
Of all the busy-body older ladies and all the perverted men and all the religious freaks that could have passed by me, it was an 18-year-old female student who shamed me out of my wonderful mood and movement with her “well-meaning” commentary.
As a person whose look is fairly uncommon here in Turkey, and as a woman of child-bearing age, some people are going to stare at me, or possibly make remarks to me regardless of what I do, whether I demurely sit and wait for the bus, meekly keeping my eyes on the ground, or gracefully and unobtrusively do a few calisthenics. I was neither vulgar nor inappropriate. The seemingly most unlikely individual to criticize me was the one person who I offended, and it surprised me how deeply and thoroughly she negatively affected my mood.
Once I reached my destination, after replaying the event over and over in my mind on the way, I recounted the story to my client, a writer, translator, and the father of an eight year old girl. I even shed a single (and slightly embarrassing) tear of frustration over the fact that I’d let her spoil my mood and also out of relief of having expressed myself and being understood. As I wiped it away, my client’s daughter Defne appeared, carrying a tray with a cup of tea for each of us.
Pleasant mood restored.