(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stray Cats to Phone Cats



Of all the potential dangers of humanitarian work, there is one that is often not discussed. Many think of illness, kidnapping, banditry, etc. but one of the unthinkable risks, often perpetuated by humanitarian worker single life, is that you become compelled to show photos of your cat during breaks in meetings. I know, just the mention of it sends shudders up the spine of even the most hardened of aid workers. I should censor this blog just in case children are reading but I do think it’s fair that people are warned of the risks in case they are considering this line of work.

the old city
I’m in Istanbul. Yet another week of meetings. A while back I was talking to a fellow country director friend of mine and we were commenting about how our jobs sort of train us to not have much of an attention span. Our normal workdays are generally full of a series of interruptions, phone calls, signatures, short conversations, etc. – nothing that lasts any length of time. It’s one of the things that makes the work interesting. The down side and net effect is that I’m unused to concentrating for any length of time. Having two small children when I get home makes it worse. And I didn’t have much of an attention span to begin with. As such, trying to focus in meetings all day for two weeks plus is killing me. 
lots of Roma kids, this one particularly talented

I arrived from NY on Saturday evening via Paris. The evening cab ride to the hotel was long and slow due to traffic. I was exhausted and just wanted to get to the room, shower and go to bed. Fortunately I slept well and quickly adjusted to the time zone. The next morning had breakfast, put on my sneakers and headed out to see the city. I obviously don’t know Istanbul well. I haven’t been here since the early 90s and things have changed considerably. 
the Galata Tower, a wee bit old, built in 1348

I should say that my last trip here was different to say the least. First of all back then I arrived by ship. I was traveling with friends in Bulgaria and we’d made our way to the Black Sea coastal city of Varna. We had intended on going from there to Istanbul but as was the case for most of the trip, we hadn’t really planned out how we were going to get there. In the end we found a cargo ship that was heading to Istanbul and we paid something to climb aboard. The ship left at night and there were no accommodations so we found a place to throw down sleeping bags on the deck someplace. I don’t remember sleeping much and before too long and in the faint light of early dawn we were entering the Bosphorus Strait. Europe was to our right and Asia was to our left. The sound of the call to prayer was quite beautiful and it added to what was one of my favorite (albeit bleary-eyed) travel moments.
Istanbul
Flash forward over twenty years. Instead of a crappy, sweltering hot, no AC, cockroach-infested hotel, I’m in a nice, comfortable room, flat screen TV, wireless internet, gym, etc. I’ve paid my dues.
wonderful fresh-squeeze orange or pomegranate juice everywhere
I had one day to visit the city since my time would be taken up by meetings the rest of the week. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world and I decided to head out on foot with only a pathetic tourist map. Just like the ol’ days – sort of like urban orienteering. I knew where I needed to go in relation to the sun and the slope of the terrain. 

fishing from the bridge
It’s a very photogenic city but the lighting was bad. There was some sort of cloud cover all day long. I worked my way through Taksim Square, past Galata Tower and to the waterfront. The temperature was cool and nice for a walkabout. Three days later, on this same stretch of sidewalk, plain-clothed US sailors would be accosted by some Turkish nationalists.


where 14.1 million people live

policeman enjoying his job
the selfie from a well-positoned garbage can
I crossed the bridge and went into what is called the Old City (though a relative term in a city where there is so much history). The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are amazing but there are so many other beautiful things to see around almost every corner. I milled around in the old city, the ubiquitous stray cats also around every corner as well. Before long I headed to the coastal road, caught a taxi and went back to the hotel. It was an enjoyable afternoon but I had work to do. Time to get this week over with so I can get back to my family.
where 14.1 million cats live

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