“Isn’t It Dangerous?”

Posted on Jul 12, 2017 in Personal, Turkey | 11 Comments

Istanbul is safe

When I was in Tunisia in May, my friend Danielle and I went to a small island called Djerba to do stories about an annual Jewish pilgrimage. We were staying in a very nice, very beautiful hotel in the town of Erriadh, walking distance from the oldest synagogue in Africa and the central location for the pilgrimage. One day we came back to the hotel to find an armed guard out front, slinging his big gun over his shoulder and standing unmoving with his eyes trained on the door.

It turns out an illustrious guest had arrived: the French ambassador and his entourage, also in town for the festival. Because this hotel was very small, we found ourselves chatting with his wife in the lobby one morning as we all lingered around, drinking coffee, planning our days. She actually lived in Tel Aviv, working for the French mission there, and was radiant and friendly, the perfect sort of person to chat with in the lobby of a hotel.

She told us about herself and then starting asking about us.

“Where are you from?”

We’re American, we explained, but we both live in Istanbul.

“But isn’t it dangerous?”

Istanbul is safe

These days, this seems to always be the response to the fact that I continue to live in Istanbul. I expect it now from most people I encounter. But there was something about hearing it from this lovely woman that was so jarring. She lives in Israel! Her husband is the ambassador to TUNISIA! Surely she must realize that the reality of a place so often veers away from the way it appears in the news.

We told her about the romance of ferry rides across the Bosphorus at sunset, the thrill of a relentlessly energetic city, the awesome variety of fascinating people who cross our paths. All the things that are real and present and make up the day-to-day of actually living in Turkey. I don’t know if we changed her mind. We tried.

I get frustrated quickly these days with that knee-jerk reaction of “isn’t it dangerous”. Come on! I want to shout. Do you really think I’d keep living here if I was really concerned for my safety? Do you think Istanbul is inherently less safe than anywhere else? Look at Paris, look at London. Anything can happen anywhere. It is never normal and it is never not scary, but it’s also a reality of our lives– we live in an age of terror.

Then I remember what it felt like to live through everything awful in 2016. I remember weeping on the phone for two hours after the Istiklal bombing. I remember sleepwalking through the week after the coup, writing these blog posts because I couldn’t focus on work, staring at a hummingbird flitting about a flower in a trance and nearly crying at how mundane and beautiful it was after such an awful melancholy week. I remember drinking and dancing in a friend’s apartment the day after the attack at the airport because all I wanted to feel was pleasure and laughter and sweat, and no more worry.

So okay, I get it. I understand why all that cumulative awfulness can make Istanbul stick in someone’s mind as a place that is scary. I’d probably feel the same way if I didn’t live there.

Istanbul is safe

But I do live there. Still! I live there and I don’t constantly fear for my life. Friends visited recently from San Francisco, and I had the chance to show them a perfect summer life in Istanbul: long warm nights at a meyhane drinking raki and eating sea bass wrapped in grape leaves, aimless strolls on the seaside, wine on rooftops at sunset with the entire old city glittering under a rose-colored sky. We snuggled street cats in trendy cafes and explored tiny boutiques and devoured a sprawling Turkish breakfast. They were giddy over all of it. And best of all, they weren’t expecting it. Partway through, they admitted they’d only come to Turkey because I’d been so excited about it, and were worried about whether or not the place was really safe. We all agreed we felt safer walking at night through Istanbul than we would be walking at night around Civic Center in the middle of San Francisco.

Istanbul is safe

At the wedding I recently attended in Boston, I had the conversation over and over again– it’s unavoidable, once people find out where I live. I try to tell stories that show how special Turkey is– how my inexpensive summer vacation will be on the turquoise Mediterranean, how the family who runs the patisserie on the corner wave at me as I walk by, how the call to prayer echoes off the Bosphorus. I get more frustrated with the people who tell me straight up that Turkey is dangerous (hi, you don’t live there) than those who ask– at least they are asking.

My constant goal these days is to share bits of Turkey that show how fascinating and glorious this place is, to show that the headlines you read don’t always mean that a country is scary. Maybe I am fighting an uphill battle. But as long as people keep asking me if Istanbul is dangerous, I will keep sharing the joy of my daily life, large and small. I understand if you don’t want to visit Turkey. But you should understand this: it’s your loss.

11 Comments

  1. Shellie
    July 12, 2017

    Great post! You are so right. Isn’t it dangerous is also
    A question I get a lot. Inask, and do you live in a safe place??

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      July 13, 2017

      This is a subject that’s been on my mind for a while!

      Reply
  2. Sally E. Green
    July 12, 2017

    LOVE THIS. PREACH! People have been telling me since I first came to Istanbul in 1978 how dangerous it is… no one who had ever been here, mind you. No, I don’t love what is going on now in Turkish politics, but Istanbul is still safer than any American city its size– and was when I was here a year ago in mid-July, as well.

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      July 13, 2017

      Thank you! I feel the same way. I think it’s especially clear for all of us who were here mid-July 2016… even the worst is different than it seems in the media.

      Reply
  3. Ari
    July 13, 2017

    Just days after I got back from Istanbul, the Pulse nightclub shooting happened. But people said that I was so adventurous to go to Istanbul. I doubt they would have said the same if I had just gotten back from Orlando.

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      July 13, 2017

      I don’t know how to deal with this double standard, because I point it out all the time and it doesn’t seem to make a difference– there’s some sort of emotional, irrational aspect to it, I think. My best friend lives in Chicago and we talk a lot about the way our two cities are perceived, and how we feel walking through them. The Pulse shooting happened half a year before the attack at Reina. It happens everywhere, and yet people react so differently to it when it happens in Istanbul. I think the first step is recognizing that double standard, and rejecting it. I’m glad you came to visit!!

      Reply
  4. Vera Mayer
    July 16, 2017

    I visited Turkey in 2010, alas! for far too short a time – a few days in Cappadocia and a few in Istanbul, and that was it. More than enough, however, to fall in love with the country, which in some ways reminded me of mine (Romania – hey, after all we were under Ottoman rule once!), while in others was different, and most wonderfully so.

    Ever since then I’ve kept wanting to go back, to walk the streets of Istanbul once again, to explore more of the country – to see the statues at Nimrud, to visit Mardin, and the Black Sea coast, and the Aegean coast, and many other things besides (and your blog keeps giving me ideas, for which at this point I’ll express my unending gratitude). And ever since then, any mention of Turkey in the news grabs my attention instantly. Unfortunately, more often than not, the news are bad, and I feel them keenly – but still, I want to go back, and I generally don’t feel Turkey is less safe than any place in the West.

    I tentatively am planning a trip to Istanbul next spring, to catch the tulips again, like I did in 2010, and – should it actually happen, and should you be in town at the time – I’d love to meet you while there, if it’s not asking too much. Either way, though, thank you for this blog, the pictures, the whiff of Istanbul air that comes into my room every time I read your lines.

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      July 18, 2017

      Thank you for your wonderful post! I hope you take your trip back here, there’s really so much to see and tulip season is splendid. Let me know when you’re in town and if I’m around, I would love to meet up.

      Reply
  5. Tarkan
    July 17, 2017

    So well written, thank you for this great post. We have some beautiful holiday apartments just around Galata Tower (www.istanbulplace.com) and we used to receive so many questions related to safety from guests or potential ones (getting less and less luckily!). I always tell them ‘you having a traffic accident in your ‘safe’ country is hundreds of times more likely than being a victim of terrorism in Turkey / Istanbul while visiting, just check the statistics and you’ll see it.’

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      July 18, 2017

      I always tell people I worry more about being hit by a motorcycle on the sidewalk in Istanbul than any kind of terror…

      Reply
  6. Ashley
    August 23, 2017

    Beautifully written! I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have that same conversation over and over again – I had a small taste of those ignorant questions before I visited Istanbul in April. I admire your effort in trying to dispell the negative headlines and portray Istanbul in a positive light! It’s an incredible city.

    Reply

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