Sunday, December 9, 2012

My home for one year

Turkey is a country that captivates with its stark contrasts. It's somewhere between two cultures where Middle-Eastern exotic intermingles with European modernity. On one hand it shocks with strict inhibitions still maintained in rural areas, on the other, it positively surprises with its progressive, sophisticated appearance that can be seen in major cities. So is Kırkkonaklar, my neighborhood located in the south-western part of Ankara and one of the city's most modern districts. To some extent it lives up to its name, which translates as "forty residences." My five house mates (Polish, Italian, Welsh, English and Ukrainian) and I are based in a four-story flat; in a two-level apartment where each one of us has their own, spacious room and access to various amenities. There's also an excellent terrace which is probably going to know many a party in the summertime. The house is in no way different from what all of us are probably used to in Europe. Maybe with the only exception being occasional problems with heating and electricity supply.

Although the streets of Kırkkonaklar are lined with bottom-up, mass-housing blocks and new ones are springing up everywhere, there's also another side to my new neighborhood. Side by side with the flats inhabited by richer people are juxtaposed gecekondular - primitive settlements build hurriedly and occupied by lower income groups. These rickety shacks aren't in short supply and whichever point you look from, you're almost sure to find one. Never before have I had such a close peek at these informal settlements. Looking at some of them, it seems obvious that nobody paid enough attention to make the house safe for its inhabitants. However, considering the fact that their construction took only one night, some gecekondular still look quite well-made.

I take a shortcut, go down the slope, climb another slope. Anybody from my neighborhood in Bydgoszcz who complains about having to walk 100 m up a gentle slope on the way back home should come to  Kırkkonaklar. It's slope after slope after slope.

No supermarkets here, so I buy my food in a corner shop where even without owning up to it, it's obvious I'm a yabanci. The sellers are quite patient with my staggering Turkish (it's still a big compliment).

A half-an-hour bus ride takes me to Kızılay, the bustling heart of Ankara. The time of the journey depends mainly on the time of the day and the number of passengers boarding the bus (they have to validate their ticket and they do while the bus is still on the bus stop and it won't go until all passengers have done this duty). The bus schedule is a mystery, so sometimes I wait for one minute until it comes, sometimes I curse under my breath because I arrived thirty seconds too late and the next one comes maybe in five minutes, maybe twenty. Welcome to Ankara. Have a nice stay.

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