Coming from Estonia, a country of 45 000 square kilometres and 1.3 million people, the change in surroundings for me, a 20-year-old girl used to having a walk in a quiet forest every week, was drastic. Ankara is a big city, I think we can agree on that. More than three times as big in population as my country (!), in fact, and more than 15 times bigger in area than our very own city which never sleeps, Tallinn.
The comparison is baffling, and I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of five million people living in this one unit we call the city. Perhaps it is so because I’m an Estonian, I come from a small patch of forest and field in the half-North, but maybe also because I myself have not seen the “city lights” in the vast metropols of the urbanised world. My travels have been limited to school trips to Stockholm, family vacations in some warmer countries, and youth exchanges in a few Southern European countries, but apart from that I have not travelled much. What I’ve been saying to people, when they ask why I don’t fancy the commonly liked passion of travel, is that I don’t like travelling, I like hiking. Both in the literal sense (moving in nature for a longer period of time) and the non-traditional sense of discovering some certain place by walking around.
I like to go and discover something myself rather than to be taken ‒ that means also walking to most places inside a new city, because the trip there is a possibility to see and learn as well ‒ and I really like to dig down and observe the bustling life around me on a micro level. I “eat with my eyes”: the streets, people, parks, sculptures… I guess I appreciate the visual side of things more than the generic “meeting lots of different people and discovering different cultures” when it comes to travelling. This is what I’ve been doing also in my first weeks in Ankara. So what have I discovered so far? What are my first impressions?
“Who let the dogs out?!” 🐶🐱
There are a lot of cats and dogs on the street comparing to Estonia. Many cats are frightful and shy when you approach them, but some are so used to people that they don’t even care when you kiss-kiss or pet them. And people put their leftover food in small plastic boxes on the streets for them to eat! 😮 How nice is that?! Although more nice would be to come up with a plan to get them out of the streets, but still. My co-volunteer Yana tells me that there are even more of them in Istanbul, and that there they are simply fat from the food the locals give them. Of the life of Istanbul cats I do know a little bit through the wholesome film “Kedi” which screened a few years ago in Estonia, too. I recommend 😉.
It’s a good thing we have health insurance…
… because the traffic here is hectic. People want to get to where they’re going as fast as they can, so the drivers drive even in the first seconds of the red light and the pedestrians cross when there are no cars coming, be it green or red. And so do we 😀. Because “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, right? Also some daredevils (veterans of living in Ankara) cross any place, often waiting for a gap between the line of cars but sometimes just calmly walking onto the road and manoeuvring between moving cars. Also the drivers really don’t know what is “a neat turn”, meaning that they cut corners like there’s no tomorrow! When walking home from work we have several intersections to cross, and one time when we were waiting for the green light at one and cars were coming from the left and turning right to the street we were on, Yana nearly got her toes run over, as the driver chose to start turning the wheel early and thus resulting in a looong arch to the right. Ugh. 😕
Where can I buy a fire extinguisher?
Just wanted to show you this because I found it hilarious that there is a store full of only fire extinguishers and this sweet fellow inviting you in. 😆 (I later noticed that it says on the sign “electrical appliances” too, but still it’s cool.) There are many shops for certain appliances and other specific items actually, and of course hilarious and/or creepy mannequins for advertisement, which is again something we don’t have in Estonia. Until now I’ve seen also stores for only medical clothes, medical equipment and organic honey.
“Can I help you?”
Already within the first three weeks of my stay I have had a couple of experiences with the Turkish peoples’ openness and helpful character. Five days after I’d arrived we went to a cafe with the girls. There we tasted the local cuisine and talked when a man sitting next to us suddenly asked in good English: “Where are you from?” We started talking and learned that he was from Turkey but had worked in Los Angeles for 15 years in construction business, and then quit and travelled the world. He gladly gave us insights into the life in Ankara and in the end of our conversation handed us his visit card with the offer of helping us out in any way he can if we should need it.
Another instance was a week ago when I decided to check out the National Library. It was 3 and a half kilometres away, but taking advantage of the novel ways of navigating, it took me exactly 45 minutes as my Google Maps had predicted. When at the entrance, I was surprised to see security gates such as in the metro. Students beeped cards (which I figured were library entrance cards) at machines similar to ATMs by the wall and then beeped again at small gates like in the metro with metal barbs that would move only when it recognised the card. Before the gates there was also a man in a glass cubicle who I deduced was the person solving problems related to the cards and entering. With the help of an offline translator app I managed to have a simple conversation with him (he was very kind btw) and understood that I can’t borrow books without the card and I can’t apply for the card unless I’m an university student. He agreed to let me in, though, if I gave him my id (I had only my old Estonian high-school student card so I wasn’t worried about it getting lost or anything). Okay sure, I only wanted to see the books anyway and maybe find one from an Estonian author, I thought to myself. Big was my confusion when I walked through the three floors of the library and found only big study rooms, a photocopy cubicle, an area for computers, and some vending machines. Just when I was about to leave, a girl passing by asked me to see over her tea while she quickly would go and get some food. I agreed, and after she had come back I asked her: “This is a library right. So where are all the books?!” She spoke very bad English unfortunately, but stopped a passerby and very enthusiastically started explaining something to him in Turkish. He, fortunately, spoke very good English and walked me back down to the first floor to the man in the glass cubicle and started to speak to him about making me a library card. I decided to go along and see what would come of it. After discussing a lot with the student to try and figure out a way to help me and asking me information about my stay here, the librarian took a piece of paper and wrote down his own name and phone number and told me to show this to the other guy working there when he wouldn’t be on duty, and I would be let in. By that moment I had forgotten that I actually wanted to find the books and was just so amazed and grateful that he would go to this length to help me out with something like that. He didn’t even know me, I was a foreign (!) stranger and he gave me his phone number and name. And I know that when I would return, he would recognise me and welcome me with a smile.
Even though I knew I wouldn’t be going there again as I didn’t have a possibility to borrow books, I thanked him generously. Both the girl’s, the student’s and the librarian’s utter willingness to help me warmed my heart, and this is the nicest discovery I’ve made while being in Turkey ‒ the people are much more open and kind to a stranger than in Estonia. I look forward to new “adventures” like this.
By the way, I stayed talking with the student and found out that you actually can’t access books just like that by yourself. The area with the computers was for students to search the book they needed to read from the system, write down the title, reference number and I-don’t-know-what-else on a piece of paper and then go to a kiosk nearby where another librarian resided and then he or she would be the one who would go to the library’s Secret Chamber and get the book (in 20 minutes). Ugghhhhhh. 😒
And as a treat here’s a picture of a mesmerizing evening reflection of Kocatepe, the biggest mosque in Ankara. We walk past it every day, when going to work but still haven’t been able to bring ourselves to visit it. Let’s just hope that we manage to before we leave. On the last day maybe…
Her şey güzel ✌
By Mirjam-Meerit Mets