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Currents of Bosphorus

On a ferry ride from Kadıköy to Karaköy in İstanbul

From the W1555 Neighbourhood newsletter of March 2024, by Merve.

It’s been two weeks since I returned home for a six months stay. Since I left 6 years ago I come back to visit my family and friends about twice a year. Every time I come back I find everything has changed. I spent a few weeks to readapt, catch up and then leave again to the Netherlands. Many other people have left, places we used to hang out have shut down, some of my friendships have ended.

Time flows everywhere….but in Istanbul, it feels like everything is dragged by it…like a rock rolling down a hill and dragging everything it touches. The Bosphorus runs through the middle of the city, etching deeper the divide between Asian and European continents. Today I decided to take the ferry from Kadıköy to Karaköy. I was late so I tried to run, but it was too crowded to make way. With some arrhythmic effort I made it on time, paid for my passage and boarded. It’s a sunny day right before the rush hour, so it’s not very crowded. The sea has a sweet blue color, the wind is pleasantly fresh. Seagulls in flight accompany the boat as they catch pieces of Simit thrown in the air.

The Bosphorus is not a river but it flows like one. From Black Sea to Marmara Sea and from

Marmara Sea to the Black Sea, the Bosphorus flows in two separate directions at the same time. Since the salty waters from the two seas can’t mix, the surface current flows from Black Sea to Marmara Sea while 20 meters below the surface, heavier salty waters flows in the opposite direction. As we continue traveling between the two sides of the divide, the ferry splits the flow sideways giving us a passage. Along with its waters, Istanbul flows without staring back or forward. But if you would stop and look, you’d find yourself staring in all directions in time.

When a friend visited Istanbul last year, he asked me, ‘How did you even leave this place?’ -

meaning how incredibly inspiring it is to be here.

‘Well, it was getting difficult to live here’ - I said.

Today in conversation with a minibus driver, I was asked ‘Why are you back from abroad?’

meaning why would you ever come back if you had the privilege to leave.

‘Well, I have everything here, my family, friends and memories.’

Like the currents of the Bosphorus, these two questions linger in my head and create a double edged state of nostalgia. The word nostalgia is rooted in Greek language and is created from nostos meaning ‘return home’ and algos meaning ‘pain’.

People escaping poverty, wars, oppression, genocide, floods, droughts, earthquakes, pillagers, slavery, starvation. People being forced to leave because of their political views or by government agreements. People in pain at home, in pain escaping home. Who has the privilege to leave, to liberate? Can you actually be free in escape? If one’s liberation means the oppression of another, could it be called freedom? Can I feel safe when my loved ones are in a constant state of precarity? Would I have left if I knew that I would be stuck between currents of nostalgia?

You can uproot, you can create a new home, you can have an easier life, you can adapt and

survive in your new environment. While trying to blend in with a current where you don’t belong, you might find yourself being pulled back into the densities of your original land. This at times feels like a curse because even if you escape thousands of kilometers away, you can still feel the grief that you have inherited with its history. Then, despite it all, when you are on a ferry crossing continents, smelling the salt, staring at the shiny waves and red skies at the sundown, you catch yourself thinking, ‘How did I ever leave this place?’.

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