It has taken me 6 months to begin writing this and now more than ever I stop giving a hang to AA Gill’s words, “Never write with a view, face a blank wall, the world is a distraction”. I have had the hankering to speak to you each day these two months. To see Nzisa comment pop up within the first hours of me posting. I appreciate it. Don will whatsapp me relentlessly demanding that I post or our friendship will go to the dogs. Here’s what, threats work. Judy is always on the verge of sending me an inbox. Mercie, Ruby, Kent, Nyela, Evans, Kamau Wanyoike, Tabitha, Mugendi, Shem, Grace, Nadia, Anna and all those other ghost readers, Happy New Year. What I’m trying to say is, I missed you and for that reason, this post is longer than average. Now that we are done with the touchy-feely, let’s move on, ey?
When I fly somewhere far, I sleep. I am usually late to pack and get organized and 12 hours before my flight, I might still be trying to get my Visa. However disorganized my life might seem, I have never missed a flight due to my own unhinged disarray. I have only once missed a flight at Chicago O Hare airport after a cute little mutt sniffed out the criminal inside me. I was trying to smuggle in Farmers Choice Kenyan sausages. The mutt persistently pressed its nose on my ankle, not barking, just staying there until the officer smiling, asked me to kindly open my laptop bag for inspection. As soon as they took away my two packs of delicious ‘I-can-risk-my-life-in-prison-for-you’ sausages, the little mutt swished its butt away so chesty I had to close my eyes to stop myself from flinging myself at him and make sausages out of him
June last year on a warm night after dinner at Onami Westgate with loved ones and ex-loved ones, we drove to the airport. The weekend had been pretty dynamic and debauchery-laden my friends. I was still mad about being about to turn 24 and trying hard to ‘act youngish’. Thus we had driven from Tafaria lodge to Nairobi in 2 hours that Friday to try get to the Embassy before noon to collect my Visa, organized for new couches to be delivered to my place, spent 6 hours at the salon (because first rule of woman is to always be vain), had three back to back meetings in town, attended one of those expatriate parties in Runda, ended up in Brew bistro and broke my S3’s screen for the first time. (I’m on the 3rd one and it is cracked). On Sunday morning after 3hrs of sleep, I broke down. I’ll be honest; it’s the 20 gees I had to part with to get the phone fixed that scorched my Okuyo heart.
After acquainting myself with 7 other colleagues to represent Kenya at the Global Power Shift campaign in Turkey for climate change and a brief tete a tete, I just couldn’t wait to board and sleep. So I boarded and slept. 5 hours later, I opened my window. Lo and behold the sight down below! Layers of rock, like caramel and vanilla icecream cascaded for miles ahead of us, as the Mediterranean’s grin sparkled with the morning sun behind us, fast vanishing. I did not know anything about Turkey other than they were in the middle of a revolution of some sort and that most of the country was dominantly Islam.
To tell you the truth, my expectations of Turkey were magma low. Firstly, the bird that’s named Turkey is among my least favorite things, at least when alive. Something that resembles raw meat dangles from its throat hence it ends up looking like a victim escaping from a murder scene and not caring to clean up. Like a diseased, obese vulture that is persistently angry and will apparently poison its meat if it senses its death (mythical). It does not give a damn about the natural cycle, even in death, it’s still angry and will try to kill you.
Constantly, I’m amazed by how different and similar people and places are especially restaurants and market places. I do not read about places before I visit them, nor do I form stereotypes of nationalities. I like the shock of culture, religion, people and climate. So despite going to Turkey for work and for only 9 days, I was determined to have my senses perked and get lost.
So we landed with the hot midday sun and got ourselves to the conference center where we were all assembling at 4pm. We were told to present a welcome dance as East Africa is known for dense culture and lively music and I do not kid you, a Rwandan somewhere immediately produced a bag with ‘Mushananas’ for about 20 of us E.As, complete with ‘Agacekyes’ (baskets normally placed on the head during a Rwandan cultural dance). Only about 4 of the group were Rwandans and the bulk majority being Kenyan, we ended up perfoming a rendition of ‘hatutaki nyenyenye’ only in Rwandan cultural outfits. I still remember one of them yelling, ‘respect the basket’ after a colleague threw it to the ground during the performance. Sorry GPS Rwandans, next time, we will mollycoddle the basket.
We were staying in the Northern part of Istanbul in Istinye, across town from Atartuk airport. Monday afternoon while going up the 1 mile from the plenary rooms to our rooms I met this really cool dad. He was quad biking with his kid after shopping from the Istinye Park Mall right across us. The quad bike stopped right in front of me and he asked me where I was from. We chat and he told me to glance to my right. I had seen it before. Second Bridge. Apparently the authentic name was Second Bosphorus bridge. “Why? Is it a metal from the periodic table?” “No” he said, “It connects Europe to Asia by bridging the Bosphorus Strait (a natural, narrow, typically navigable waterway that connects two larger, bodies of water) that connects Black sea to the Sea of Marmara and by extension the Mediterranean Sea.” Baam! Knowledge served. So for the next 8 days, that was my view. The marriage of the European and Asian tectonic plates.
Europe is on the left, Asia on the right.
Tuesday and we finally ventured out to town. Ruth, my Kenyan colleague, Ayesha, our charming Jamaican counterpart both hilarious and intelligent and I formed a pack. This is how we were going to graze in Turkey. In a trio. We got to the subway and got to Taksim. Taksim was too crowded and too noisy. Not by youths from the ‘Arab Spring’ (this goes to show how mainstream media likes sensationalism) but by tourists and normal old Joe shoppers and party goers. Taksim has a line of bars great for Karaoke and any decadence related to bars, music and alcohol. We got on the tram and went across the Galata bridge to the other side where Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and the market place, the Baazar reside.
We were in no hurry and we soaked in the last of the summer evening rays at 8pm. Ruth wanted an authentic Turkish Shawarma (equivalent of a Mexican burrito), so we walked across the tram rails opposite the Sultanahmet park where a line of restaurants were. I sensed a myopic interest in us, the trio. Some people gazed at us, obliquely or otherwise. A group of three kids walked up to us as we are buying ice cream and begged us for food. Hazel and grey eyes, hair falling to their waists, these were certainly the most beautiful hungry kids I’d ever seen. Then others kept coming until we were surrounded by a troupe of grinning kids. No, we were not sharing our shawarmas and icecreams. They wanted to touch our hair!
I did not understand the fascination with us, les noirs. Surely, Turkish TV never shone light to the billions of us that traverse the earth? Dozens of boutique owners I know shop and import their merchandize from Turkey, and they do not shop online. I got irritable after one guy, from whom Ayesha bought roasted nuts, asked her if we were from JAPAN!
Friday midday and we quietly sneaked out of the plenary rooms and off to town. Oh we would pay for that sin. In the tram on our way to the Blue Mosque while standing in the overcrowded tram, I felt something hard pressing on to my butt, once, twice. We all know this form of abuse. Where there’s no introduction or salutations exchanged, no meal or sauvignon blanc, free for service trade where your body is used as a tool for pleasure without a brief to consent. I thought to fart at him and hopefully poison his weapon of sin. Nope, save yourself first Wambui. So I shifted to lean on the tram’s rails and told Ayesha and Ruth who proceeded to help me stare down the culprit to death. He didn’t die, but got embarrassed when Ayesha made catty remarks on how he would get us all sick or pregnant in a tram ride. He got off (pun) on the next stop.
At the Blue Mosque the tortuous fascination with les femmes noir continued. At the entrance people kept asking to take pictures with us. I was confused. Was the conference that famous or did we just remind them of something in space or time? Hassan sat watching next to the entrance of the Mosque in quiet enthrallment. We heard someone say to start charging 5Lira for every person who’d ask for a picture. Either that or a quiet and exclusive place to take pictures without the constant disturbance. A man with choices.
So instead of the cliché taxi guy who tells you about a city, we met an actual guide, Hassan, who offered his services in return of our company, coughAyeshacough. So like disciples with a whetted desire to learn the city we followed him to his uncle’s shop behind the mosque and up to the rooftop. The Blue Mosque gazed at the sea of Marmara as it was swallowed by the Mediterranean speaking quietly in their blue international language of seas.
The bazaar just like all markets of the world was notoriously honest about the culture of the Turks. Here we met the Turkish delights, a variety of candy made from a honey, nuts, dried fruit, grated coconut or sugar powder. They offered us so many samples we only purred sweetness afterwards. Turkish tea cups, gorgeous but too little for any African tea party thus I have only used my set once. Stunning lamp shades done in mosaic glass in every colour imaginable and unimaginable, clothes, fabric, bags. Magic carpets that let off delicious scents of shisha from decades of hosting smokers behinds.
Four seasons is where people pay ridiculous amounts to be jailed for a night. Not the randy dominants and subs kind. The kind where you sleep in a refurbished former jail room of Sultanahmet. The fancy to bring in tools of play is all yours. We dined next to the Four seasons at Palatium, with a once-loquacious-now-turned-pensive Hassan and his randy cousin Murats. I do not kid Okuyos, the man carried the name of our traditional brew.
Four Seasons and the Palatium (All rights reserved to Ruth’s Instagram) (Placing these side to side has proven undoable)
Hassan was mostly taciturn with thoughts of how he would win Ayesha as she in turn acted obtuse to his advances. He showed us the caves underneath the restaurant as romantically as he could and begged me to go upstairs as he hoped to close the deal. As much as I hated to, Ayesha mouthed sinister threats to me and since my loyalty first lay with her, I had to be the cock-blocker and remove all hope of wanton after-midnight activities.
Caves underneath the Palatium
Last I remember of Istanbul is Ayesha’s voice as she called out my name from the hallway at 6 am as she sped to catch her flight. “Caroline I’ll come to Kinya, a dey dey pon mi eyelash”. That’s Jamaican for; she’d give all her effort.