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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stories of Magic

The 11th annual Gay Pride march in Istanbul
The 11th annual Gay Pride march in Istanbul/30 June 2013.

When we narrow our focus on a dark speck, we can often forget the light that illuminates it. Gezi Park for many of us has become a distant dream in some ways, because of the upheaval in the world that has quickly followed. When future historians look back to this particular year, filtering our events through their own unique time, I hope that as they spot the dark specks, they also see the stories of magic we lived through.

It is not all doom and gloom. It never is. The first days at Gezi Park were truly magical; all different types of creeds and colours unified peaceably together, alongside the nameless, faceless many that supported the protesters by providing clothing and food. The stalls of books, the poetry readings, the hope that emanated like sunshine through the night was truly spectacular, and I feel so lucky to have experienced that.

It is so easy to become sceptical in a world that might at the moment feel a very intolerable place, but I have discovered that no amount of scepticism will ever make humans put down the belief that things can improve, as long as we work together. Humans are wired as social animals driven by a need to communicate with the world around them. This communication rewards with greater understanding only by working together. The greater the differences we unite to overcome, the more effective the results; it is how stories of magic are made.

The early days of Gezi Park are one such example, but there are many others. To read stories of real magic, however, we must look with the heart at what we see with our eyes. As I have mentioned before, being blessed with the particular readership this blog brings, I have met many people with this gift - who look with their eyes, but see with their heart.

One such individual is a dedicated reader from Poland, Pawel. Although he has struggled and defeated his own dark challenges, he shines in his own particular way, and having beaten illness, he is a magic story in his own right.

In June, when he visited Istanbul, he decided to share with me his experiences of an Istanbul coming to terms with a month of protests. His views may be different to yours or to mine, or they may align perfectly, but it is his view, given from his heart. With his permission, I share his photographs and his thoughts with you below, because it shows the vibrant colours we can create when our differences unite us - or the dark silences when we fail.

More than a week has elapsed since my return from Istanbul but I still find it difficult to sum up my last visit to the City of Lights. So many different thoughts and emotions are involved... It was a magical trip. I am now quite certain that there will always be a very strong and special bond between me and this city.

Sitting inside [a] hurrying metrobus I was filming the whole passage with an excitement of a little kid. The sights were breathtaking... which also included some çapulling at Kadıköy and watching the [Istanbul Pride March] at İstiklal! I was so happy to be part of the latter event too! And even more happy at the reaction of the general public to this march.

Contrary to the stereotypes on how the Turks perceive the LGBT community, the colourful marching crowd was greeted with cheers and applause everywhere! The vendors and shop assistants, the cafe employees all went off their premises to greet the protesters! I just couldn’t believe my eyes! Of course, the LGBT activists were carrying posters referring to the Taksim protests and shouting the flagship motto of those protests “Her yer Taksim, her yer direniş!“ (Every place is Taksim, every place is resistance)

This was one of the most enchanting moments of my entire visit. The most gloomy was a short visit to Taksim itself [later in the evening]. What I saw stood in such powerful contrast to how I remembered the square that I couldn’t believe my eyes. No cars, no buses, no tourist rush - only loose groups of people scattered around the place, either standing calmly or reading books in a silent stand-in protest. The entrance to the park ... and the park area was sealed off with police officers (both in uniforms and plain clothes) sitting on foldable chairs to prevent any entrance. I asked my friend Anita to make a me photo with the building of the Atatürk Cultural Centre, covered with two Turkish flags and the portrait of the Ata himself, as a background. I was holding my tears off, really, and it was so sad to see this lively place in such a solemn and gloomy condition.

Taksim SquareTaksim SquareTaksim SquareTaksim Square
Home of Gezi Park, Taksim Square at night

As we were riding back home I could see the police vehicles armed with water cannons standing in small streets adjacent to one of the main roads leading to the square. This sight reminded me of one of the most painful moments of our own history - the martial law imposed by the communists to crush the Solidarity movement in 1981. Actually right from the beginning of the Taksim protests I had a lot of similar associations hitting my head all the time, eg. the way the official media handled the situation, the various epithets used at the protesters by the Prime Minister, whom I nicknamed “tayyıban“, the arresting of opposing parties’ members across the country, and so on and so forth. This observation was perhaps the saddest thought that has come to my mind [but] it endeared me to Turkey even more!

Parting with İstanbul wasn’t easy (I guess it will never be so!) However on a more optimistic note, let me say I was driven to the airport by a taxi driver who could speak a bit of Polish!

And thank God, [Turkish Airways] still distribute alcohol on their European flights. The glass of rakı on board the plane made me feel slightly better, too! The [support of employees from Turkish Airlines for the] protest, was as brilliant as their service in the air."

As my friend Pawel's email illustrates so well, we have need of a little colour, a little peace, and a little beauty in our lives to chase away the dark. There is a lovely story about a magical friendship between a boy called Owen and dog called Haatchi I came across recently. As someone who grew up with a very special pet dog, I am a soft touch for pet stories, but these two really do have a magical connection. Their bond has been forged through a mutual understanding of what it is like to be different.

Owen and HaatchiThe story of Haatchi and his boy Owen
Seven-year old Owen has a rare genetic condition called Schwartz-Jampel Syndrome. It causes severe muscle stiffness, and it is thought there is only about 25 cases in the world. His mobility is poor. He can't walk unaided. We can only imagine how difficult it would be to face life as an adult in this way. As a child the challenges must seem insurmountable, but Owen says although he was scared for ages and never wanted to go out, he is not afraid to face the world any more. He attributes this to Haatchi, "a great dog that changed his life".

Haatchi is an Anatolian shepherd who has three legs. A previous owner tied him to a railway track and he was hit by a train. Owen knows that Haatchi is different. Haatchi has got a missing leg, after all. By society's standards he is not perfect. He is not a normal dog. To others anyway, but Owen's mother said that as soon as they had seen Haatchi's face there was a connection she could not describe. They had just known that they belonged to him. When I look at pictures of Owen and Haatchi together - of a union working perfectly together to complete each other - I see the most normal thing in the world.

That we, in society today, celebrate this as a "difference" is in one way to our shame. This should be the norm. Watch videos of Owen and Haatchi online, and you will see how inseparable they are as they share private, intimate moments. Every few seconds one makes sure the other is okay, that they are there for each other. And that is the most moving thing about it. If this is difference at work, then I want to celebrate it.

I want to celebrate the magic Owen and Haatchi, despite their challenges, have achieved. I want to celebrate that their story is, again, one amongst many, which highlight that for all the dark corners we are pushed into in life, people can still shine their way out with the love they share. In doing so, such stories illuminate a better world for us.

The third and final story I want to share in this post is one of my own, a recent experience from Gezi Park - more of a conversation really. I was there for the first weekend, and those few, short days at Gezi revealed the beauty of difference.

If you want a visual description, I might surprise you by saying it reminded me of my favourite stew. The poetry of slow cooking is such that it encourages totally strange flavours to come together and compliment each other. The magic of such cooking allows the flavours to come through and mix together, to give to each other and create something extraordinary, both in terms of taste and textures.

You may mock my stew analogy, but a slowly cooked stew of vegetables, beautifully tenderised with ingredients taking on the flavour of each other in tasteful combinations, is visual poetry to me. Even the vegetables have their own unique personalities. You find that tomatoes are willing to take on all flavours in the pot, but potatoes often remain a potato.

When I first arrived at Taksim Square the police had momentarily pulled back; it was peaceful and I was happy to see many Greeks from across the border coming to show their support. The ones I met were excitable, good-natured "fight the power" type people, who were enjoying the kind of hippie commune the park was turning into.

I had some great discussions with a few; one Greek girl in particular was arguing for a civil war against governments. I responded that burning down an entire forest to rid it of a few diseased trees was irrational. She responded if the entire forest was diseased, better to burn it down.

In turn, I told her I did not believe that sudden, violent upheaval was the answer, because where would you stop? What if the soil was diseased, too? And the surrounding lands? And the buildings? Would we have to burn them down as well? What if the disease was in us? It was a philosophy with no conscience.

She began talking about how historians point out that everything we have won has been through violence. I disagreed. We have only ever thought we have won through war. Empires crumble, great nations fall; what they won wasn't winning, what was won through violence yesterday is temporary in comparison to the great expanse of time in which we find ourselves. I told her that life did not begin with us, and it will not end with us. It is not a prize to be won. The trees in Gezi Park were the true owners of the land, not our spoils of war.

We have only ever really won ground in times of stability and peace, because it provides the opportunity to prosper and progress. Gradual, peaceful change is more stable. I explained that throughout the ages it was not social historians, but warring victors that had written history to suit their purposes - to continue the violence by breeding it into the psyche of succeeding generations, to foster the situation we find ourselves in today. Trying to fight fire with fire is not beating the system at its own game, it is becoming the system. You find yourself becoming the thing you were trying to replace.

The revolutionaries of the past, become the dictators of the present. Look at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, I said. He is a potato.

It took some time for me to explain my vegetable stew analogy, but she was smiling, which suddenly reminded me of an old friend. We are all designed to smile, and we should do it more often. As our conversation grew, a large crowd gathered to listen to us. She asked me, then what should we do?

Not allow the dictators of the present to dictate the future of our species. We are allowing a few people to continue a defunct mindset, and we are trying to speak in their language - when we should be creating a new one.

And, she asked, how do we do that?

I pointed around us. Look around you, we are speaking a new language, and yet, you and I understand each other completely. Agreement is not necessary, listening is. That is why I came to Gezi Park. To listen.

Over the weekend we became very close, and she is now back in her home country, getting read to do great things. I will follow her progress through her emails, but she has already become one of my many heroes. And that is what connects Gezi Park, and Pawel's story, and Owen's, and all our stories of magic. Tarkan's, too.

These are our heroes for a new time; those willing to listen, to connect, and to share. These things may often seem insignificant on their own, because they are not the grand, sweeping gestures we have come to expect of historic heroes.

But who said they need to be? Doing the right thing isn't heroic, but it creates heroes out of us all.

Read more about the Gezi Park protests >>

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