Merhaba: a blog, of sorts

Zia Weise - freelance journalist based in Istanbul (via London and Munich) // all images and words, unless noted otherwise, are subject to copyright.

I’d heard the horror stories: no appointments for three months; then a three-month wait for the postman; a bewildering number of required documents, impossible to get. Still, I was convinced that getting a Turkish residence permit couldn’t be that hard. 

After all, I was brought up in the world’s second-worst bureaucracy. Turkey, I figured, couldn’t be much worse than Germany. 

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Blue Mosque

Galata bridge

As I’m writing, a boyish-looking accordion player is striking up a version of the Greek Zorba’s Dance on my street. He’ll have to hurry - in a few minutes, his music will be drowned out by the ezan, the call to prayer, blaring from the minaret loudspeakers of the two mosques nearby. 

On Sunday mornings, the muezzins are joined by the bells and choir of the church across the street, creating an oddly beautiful cacophony that’s sure to wake you up. 

Now, my neighbourhood is full of children playing football. A girl fell and hurt herself, and her cries of ‘anne! anneeee!’ echo down the street. 

At night, after Isha - which currently is at around half eight - the area falls quiet, even though the upper part of my street is full of bars that stay open till late. Occasionally a screeching cat or the horns of the Karakoy ferries will break the silence. 

In the morning, roosters’ crows announce dawn even before the muezzins, and slowly, the streets fill up with the noise of motorcycles, schoolchildren, lost tourists, and simit-sellers. 

View from Kadikoy across the Golden Horn, Istabul

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One week ago I moved to Istanbul, but I’ve yet to do all the touristy things you do when moving to a new country.

When I arrived in London three years ago, I was in holiday-mode for the first few days: braving a tsunami of tourists to catch a glimpse of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, trying to find the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park, eating soggy chips in Camden. 

But Turkey’s infamous bureaucracy has so far kept me busy. From Monday to Friday I found myself in various tax offices, police stations, banks, phone shops and so on.

Finally, I ventured out to Fener with my airbnb-mates yesterday. Skipping the bus, we decided to walk alongside the Golden Horn through Fatih and Balat, but the jungle of streets and stairways drew us away from the sea. 

A few steps away from the towering Yeni Cami, or New Mosque, the small Rustem Pasha mosque is hidden away in the middle of a bazaar. I’m not sure I would be able to find it again: we reached it by following countless stairs and tiny alleyways made even narrower by sacks of spices and nuts. Only a few tourists were there, admiring the blue-tiled walls and arches inside. 

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Onwards into Fatih, we left all tourists behind. Fatih is said to be one of Istanbul’s most conservative districts. Though in some streets, women wore strapless tops and couples walked hand in hand, we also stumbled into the Çarşamba neighbourhood, full of men with long beards and women in chador-like black gowns. In most places (outside mosques) I was comfortable in my jeans and loose-fitting t-shirt, but in Çarşamba and a few other places I threw a shawl over my shoulders to cover my arms. 

Yet Fatih is a beautiful place to wander around in. It’s full of history, home to the Byzantine city walls and Greek houses.

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Towards Balat, which once was the Jewish quarter, the cobbled streets became steeper and steeper; we stumbled upon a small bird fair, where old men bartered for pigeons and songbirds. Old wooden houses, most in a state of disrepair, lean onto newer buildings around all of Fatih. 

We walked for hours, all within the same district without going in circles. If that doesn’t tell you how big this city is, go climb the ancient walls; even from the top of the tallest tower, you cannot see where Istanbul ends. 

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Cats & kittens of Fatih, Istanbul

Yeni Cami / New Mosque, Istanbul 

Some terribly sad statistics for World Refugee Day:

For the first time since WWII, the global number of refugees has passed 50m. Half of them are children. 

If displaced people had their own country it would be the 24th-largest, population-wise, in the world. That’s a 6m increase from 2012, largely due to the Syrian civil war. 

2.8m Syrians are refugees, with an additional 6.5m internally displaced (that’s about 40% of the total population). 

There are about 1m (registered; the real number is much higher) Syrian refugees in Lebanon, making up a quarter of that country’s population; 760,000 in Turkey; 600,000 in Jordan, and 200,000 in Iraq (never mind the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that have become IDPs in the last week alone). 

The UK has only taken in 24 Syrian refugees under its relocation scheme. And no, that’s not a typo.

Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images