My very first morning in Istanbul, March of 2015, I went walking out of my hostel door with my carefully selected playlist blasting in my ears.
My only mission was to enjoy the music, look around, maybe take some photos and to exchange some dollars for Turkish Lira or “Tee Ells, mate” as one Sydney-sider at my hostel had corrected me. Following only a trail of currency exchange bureaus that seemed to each offer a more favorable rate than the last, I wound up at a side gate of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. I walked around the inside and got tired of it quickly since I didn’t plan on buying anything. Still, I do have to say I was impressed by how much Hindi every random Turk threw my way. Stiller, I was much happier circling the bazaar from the outside and taking photos of the people who worked there running to and fro, people of all ages both male and female. I saw one young boy running through a market street while a shopkeeper chased him angrily until the grey-haired man grew tired and cursed behind him. Where was I – Agrabah? Despite the Artful Dodgers, I also saw plenty of shopkeepers offering prospective customers fresh bread and hot tea. I found a mosque on the edge of the market to one of it’s countless sides and laid back there for a while. Many a man came out to wash his feet. Not a woman did. I thought to wash mine but suddenly noticed a quiet removed stairwell snaking up behind the mosque. If it led me to the roof, I’d be able to peer directly into the market through it’s open roof so I was excited to get up there and take some photos..
The bad news was there was no vantage point. The good news was the “Street Rat” Aladdin-wannabe I had seen being chased earlier was up here now and wrestling some kid older than him. Let’s call him Jafar. When I asked them why they were fighting, after the bigger kid had won, he held up his hand triumphantly with a cigarette in it, and lit it. Everybody smokes in Turkey. Hell, I guess everybody smokes everywhere else. Everywhere European anyway. I did not know they started smoking in Fight Clubs. Travel teaches. “Street Rat” asked me to buy some Tops. Now, I love Tops and have since many schoolboy trips in India to tiny shops without names to get them. I asked Aladdin how much. He offered me 2 for 20, I said 3 for 10, we agreed on 3 for 15 if he let me take a bunch of photos. He agreed to this caveat only if he got Final Cut and I delivered the photos to him via email so he could make them his Facebook profile. This kid was born in 2005. No sooner did I give him the money, the formerly victorious Jafar offered me a much better deal. DUDE, where were you two minutes ago? I took their photos as the familiar sting of regret came over me as I walked away from the mosque curious how much those two jokers had paid for their Tops. They had seemed too pleased with themselves.
I walked past a familiar face on my walk home after the currency exchange. I asked him “How much for a Top?”. He answered “2 Turkish Lira” while his eyes angrily surveyed the busy market streets for the two dodgy kids who kept stealing his Tops.
Gotta steal to eat, gotta eat to live, tell you all about it when I have the time…