Rain brushed my cheeks in the soft darkness of this nearly Eastern city.
Strange sights and sounds assailed my ears. Scents of roasted meats, unknown herbs and spices, even different cleaning fluids, gave the night air a delicious fragrance.
I laughed delightedly. Clung to my husband’s arm. Stared wide eyed at the demonstration marching ahead of us up the İstiklâl Caddesi. Participants cheered and shouted, banged their drums, waved the banners high. A large group of young people, determined and vociferous, trying to make some point known to the rest of the world.
We dived down a side passage, unable to find space for our feet among the demonstrators. Unexpectedly found an old flower market, now full of restaurants. Were virtually dragged inside one by the persistent doorman, delighted to share his knowledge of England with us.
Turkish lira from our pockets were carefully counted. Just enough left for fresh grilled fish, baked aubergines, glasses of white wine.
What is the demonstration, we asked. He chortled at our ignorance. International Women’s Day. I raised my glass.
We laughed aloud at the adventure as the gypsy musicians loudly played over us. Commented on the dancing at a nearby bar. Savoured the flavours assaulting our senses.
Then back into the night air. Saw a tiny passage full of bars and locals. Turned into this one, twisted into that one, followed the sounds and the smells and the sights.
Emerged into a large modern square, full of police cars and deflated demonstrators. Realised we were lost, pulled out the map. Old eyes dimly perceived very little in the darkness. This square? That one?
Demonstrators dispersing. A home made white banner, pronouncing in large black wobbly letters: Women are not for decoration, coming nearer, wavering over us, suddenly folded away.
Are you lost? asked its polite bearer, a young good looking Turk. He smiled at our ignorance, showed us our bearings, informed us it was too dangerous to walk back to the hotel, several miles away across the Golden Horn. Did we look uncertain?
Come, he said. I show you the bus. My friend live in Plymouth. Nice city.
We followed him, high on the sense of adventure. He dodged the cars, stopped the traffic, waved us over, gestured to the waiting buses. This, he said. But wait, I get you ticket, I pay. We remonstrated, showed our remaining lira. He laughed, waved a card at a machine, ushered us on the bus. Enjoy your ride, please I help. Good riding. Like to help. Good night.
The bus lurched away, dimly lit. Ancient eyes peered again at the map, wondering how would we know which stop was the one he’d underlined. What did it say? The lettering was too small.
Please. A pretty young woman leaned forward. What you want? Where you go? She counted stops, waved us off the bus. An old man stepped off too, waved again. That way, he said as we deliberated in the traffic.
The kindness of strangers, young and old. Their politeness to foreigners. He PAID for us, we said. HE PAID.
I thought of the song my father loved: It’s being so foreign that makes them so bad - The English, the English, the English are best, I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest. (Flanders & Swann)
And thought again of the verses I have read in the mornings so recently.
You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.*
Those young people were probably Muslim. If anything. They were certainly Turkish. And we must have seemed so old and crazy to them.
But they have taught me so much.