Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - No comments

Mundane Terror, Roaring Calm

photo from

There is a strange sort of calm in my village these days.  It’s not any calmer than it usually is, but the fact that there is so much unrest around the country makes the quiet in my own backyard all the more disquieting.  For the past fifteen days, in nearly every city in the nation, hundreds of thousands of people have been staging anti-government protests, often resulting in violent clashes with the police.  I watch the rallies and the resulting “skirmishes” on the news each day, but if it weren’t for the fact that all the placards and graffiti are in Turkish, I might as well be watching events unfolding in Aleppo or Tahrir Square.  It feels that far away.

Last week, turning to Facebook and YouTube for current events when the local stations were downplaying things, I watched in disbelief as protestors set fire to vehicles in front of the ruling party’s headquarters just a few miles from my house.  Social media was alive with information on which streets were “controlled” by the police, which pharmacies were open ‘round the clock to take in wounded protestors and home remedies to combat the effects of tear gas.  The whole nation was on fire, it seemed.  

Still, in my municipality, a stronghold of the party in power, the only signs that anything has been going on at all are the quiet removal of a few flags from balconies (lest they be mistaken for support) and the clucking of tongues of a few teyzes who disapproved of “the mischief of those young people.”

In my city, for the most part, the TOMAs (riot control vehicles) are back in their garages and the battle has shifted back into a mainly ideological one.  A large plaza downtown - like so many around the country - has been “occupied” by protestors staging what is now largely a peaceful sit in.  Students chant slogans, people browse through an open-air library, tea is distributed with generous smiles. But this isn’t the case everywhere and things are far from settled.  It may well be a long, turbulent road to next year’s elections.

I read an article recently by a journalist who lives in Istanbul, just off Taksim Square, the epicentre of the uprising.  She detailed the sights and sounds - the “mundane terror” - that, whether she chooses to take part in the protests or not, have invaded the most minute aspects of her daily life since this season of unrest began - tear gas wafting through her windows, the banging of pots and pans in opposition to the status quo, and riot police stationed on her street.  

We may live in the same country, but her experience is the polar opposite of mine.  With the events of the last two weeks at the forefront of my mind, the very absence of that “mundane terror” feels all the more pronounced.  The “revolution” is all around me - in my newsfeed and in the recently tear-gassed eyes of the friend I sit across from at Starbucks - and yet nowhere to be seen.  The contrasting normalcy of my immediate surroundings makes it all feel like a dream, the silence shouting back in counterpoint.

Outside my window, I hear the gardener spraying the grapevine with a hose, and I can’t help but wonder how many people are being knocked off their feet by water cannons at this very moment.   In the apartment building across the olive grove from me, an old woman hangs her laundry out to dry in the sun.  Downtown, her secular counterparts hang flags and pictures of Atatürk on their balconies, wishing they were young enough to join in the marches.  A child playing on my street calls out excitedly, “Mom!  The watermelon truck’s coming!”  while somewhere in Adana a university student screams to her friend, “Look out!  A TOMA is coming!”

At the pazar, sellers cry out, “Peaches, two lira a kilo!”  In İzmir, a mob cries out, “Hükümet istifa!  Hükümet istifa!”  (“Government resign!”)  A hurdacı (junk collector) rolls through my neighbourhood gathering broken furniture and old washing machines, while in Beşiktaş, residents grab their brooms and clean up the debris after another night of rioting.  At the bus stop, a woman pulls the corner of her headscarf over her mouth to block the dust.  In Taksim, a professor pulls a gas mask over his face and stands his ground.

When I arrive home in the evening, I inhale the sweet smell of honeysuckle and akşam sefası.  In Kızılay Square in Ankara, a woman gasps for air as she is bombarded with tear gas.  The clatter of silverware on plates gives way to laughter and the sound of tiny spoons in tea glasses as my neighbours settle in for a night of balcony chatting.  Downtown, the clanging of the nightly “pots and pans protest” begins promptly at the stroke of nine.  I run excitedly to my window, trying to catch a glimpse of the wedding fireworks I hear exploding in the sky.  An old man in Istanbul tosses and turns, unable to sleep for the sounds of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets bursting in the street below.  

And so, with my eyes glued to the evening news and my knees glued to the floor, I continue to live in the tension between “here” and “there”.....