The day before was so peaceful in Gezi, yours truly decided to take the night off and chill on the porch with her perrenial favorites, TJ, Hannah and beer. We had a lovely time, talking about all kinds of mundane things like politics in other countries, and family gossip, and work tips, and books. Suddenly TJ looked up from her tablet and said,
“Holy shit. Do you hear what happened in Gezi? The police came in and totally destroyed the place!”
What followed was a frantic 15 minutes or so of twittering while we amassed as much information as we could. Hannah spent another ten minutes phoning everyone she knew to be in Taksim- Bad Boy confirmed they’d gassed children in the park, had chased the wounded into a hotel, gassed the hotel, and were arresting injured people. Y confirmed people where suffering from third degree burns after being hit by water cannons.
“Fuck no,” I said. “Fuck no. I gotta go. Kids? Acid in a water cannon? Uh-uh. Where the fuck are my pants? WHERE THE FUCK ARE MY- oh. there they are. WHERE ARE MY KEYS?”
I called Secret Agent Nick and told him on no uncertain terms I was dragging him with me, in no small part because my phone was nearly out of batteries and I needed to use his. I pulled on pants, flipped my contacts out in such a hurry I lost one, and, shaking with angry adrenaline, flew out the door, TJ and Hannah screaming after me to be careful and keep in touch.
“Live blog this!” I screamed. “Write to my mother if anything happens!”
So, they fell down on the live blogging, so you missed the updates you, as the public, deserved in such a crisis, such as
“Found Nick and Pete!”
“On the bridge!”
I know you would have stayed glued to your monitors for such up-to-date coverage of what was going on with Agent L.
Plan A was metrobus, but the gov’t had shut down the metrobus by then.
Plan B had been to take a cab to catch up with the protesters who were marching across the first Bosporus Bridge, but either they went before us or came after us, and we found ourselves speeding across the bridge to Beşiktaş. We disembarked, and found a small protest underway.
But we were itchy for Taksim, and walked past and almost immediately found a dolmuş, bizarrely, waiting to take us to Taksim. Well, not to Taksim but to a dim corner on a tiny street behind the German embassy that was about as close as the dolmuş driver wanted to get. We disembarked into eerie calm.
We still thought, at that point, that we had a shot at getting back into Gezi, and wandered around, trying to find a street that wasn’t blocked by cops. On our first attempt we tacitly agreed to pretend to be tourists as we approached a gaggle of achingly young boys holding big old scary guns. I really got into it,
“Um, isn’t our hostel that way? Are you sure this is the right direction? I think we’re going the wrong way… that’s 45 and that’s 33…”
“This is the right way,” S.A. Nick assured me, deadpan. “I’m positive.”
“I just want to go home and go to bed!”
“We’re almost there, I think.”
Then the cops started screaming at us and I looked at them, bewildered, and made my lip quiver.
“World Hostel Ner-uh-day?” I asked in a small voice. And then louder, “Do you speak… ENGLISH? World Hostel?!”
“No English,” one of the kids said. I sniffed and conjured confused and lost as best I could while the kid-cops conferred with one another. “We don’t know,” one finally said, shrugging apologetically. “But can’t go-” he added, pointing roughly behind him to where the square was.
I smiled bravely.
“Thank you,” I said clearly, loudly. The kid grinned back at me and shrugged again, seemingly genuinely sorry. As he probably wouldn’t have been had he known I had a knife stuck in my waist band, pepper spray in my bra, and revolution in my heart. (Don’t freak out about knife, ma. Pondfrogsplash gave me a folding knife before we trotted off towards the metrobus. I got it unfolded but couldn’t get it folded again and spent the rest of the night trying to conceal it while not stabbing myself. For the most part it worked.)
We walked away and the boys clapped me on the back, and that’s when I realized how scared I had just been.
We wandered around back alleys, thinking we could perhaps get onto Istiklal at least, but every road had half a dozen cops standing at the top of it, and we were forced further and further away from our goal. The streets were mostly empty. Finally we decided to get a beer at a Tekel and drink it and maybe make some new friends while we decided the best course of action. While we waited a tiny girl with dreads came up and informed us, wearily, that there was food for protesters around the corner. By the time I went to take a picture, though, they were cleaning up the plates.
A nice young man with perfect English offered us a place to stay that night if we were stuck, and then insisted on showing us the apartment and bell number, so we could come back and find it. On the way he confided that we probably wouldn’t like him very much.
“I am a provacateur,” he said matter-of-factly. “I have thrown rocks at the police. You do not know- when they beat you and water cannon you and gas bomb you again and again- you become so angry you cannot help it.”
“I suppose not,” I said, mildly.
He bought us all a round and we promised to find him if we needed him, and we moved on.
S.A. Nick teaches in Osmanbey, where we had ascertained there were protests going on. So we wandered through quiet, too quiet, streets until we heard noise and saw protesters gathered at a rather large intersection. We joined them. Two guys on motorcycles roared up and led sort of a charge towards what I presume were the cops.
A hundred meters on we heard the distinctive pop pop of gas guns and everyone yelled “KOŞ!!!!”
I’ve said before and I’ll say again, when someone in one of these situations yells run, you run. Tis not yours to wonder why, tis but yours to do and hopefully avoid physical injury.
Of course it didn’t matter, we were immediately and debilitatingly enveloped in tear gas which seemed to me to be stronger than the last stuff I tasted. I lost Nick and Pete, and am grateful they didn’t lose me. We collapsed into a weird alcove under a house and I fell to the floor, choking so hard I started wretching.
“Abla, abla!” a voice said, and a gently hand lifted my chin and squirted andti-gas solution on my face. I sucked a lemon (to soothe my throat) and sat wheezing on the floor.
“You okay there?” SA Nick asked.
“Yeah. No big. Didn’t mean to be such a pussy.”
“Abla!” the same voice shouted, “We have to go! NOW!” And we were back on our feet stumbling into the air, which hurt. We ran and rounded a corner, and then another, and came to a corner where people were just beginning to erect barricades on three sides of an intersection. We gamely dug up bricks and bolstered the framework. (A country that’s construction mad, it turns out, has no shortage of blockade building materials, and after three weeks I find myself reflexively sizing up objects based on their worth in a barricade.) Then we just sat around and watched, and took pictures, and tried not to talk to men in twos, who we agreed were more likely to be policemen.
At 4:30 we wandered away, around a maze of barricaded streets, until we found a street that looked familiar, where we caught a cab to Beşiktaş. We picked the driver’s brain about how to get home, if possible. He told us the first bridge was closed, the ferries cancelled for the morning, the metrobus closed, no dolmuşes. We thanked him and wandered listlessly around the park in Beşiktaş and tiredly strategized.
It was 4:30 in the morning. I’d spent the whole night on my feet, much of it running or walking quickly, much of it in a cloud of tear gas of relative strength and density. I was toast.
“I just- it’s just I need to get my paycheck tomorrow,” I said, “Or I’d totally call out now. I have a good excuse- we are stranded on the Asian side. But I need fucking money.”
“Yeah. ” Sigh. “Cab over second bridge?”
“God, that’s gonna be expensive.”
It wasn’t, really. It was about 65 TL, split among three people.
The taxi driver asked how Taksim was and I said,
“Çok, çok, çok kutu,” before balling my gas-and-lemon soaked sweater up and resting my head against the window. The taxi driver clucked, got out, and fetched me a pillow from the trunk. I dozed until we got home.
Today the news has been bad- Erdoğan is holding his own rallies, that he’s had to bus people into. Transit is shut between Kadiköy and Europe. Anyone who tries to enter Taksim Square or Gezi Park will be considered a terrorist, says the Turkish minister to the EU. No one can determine the whereabouts of the people arrested last night, but there are rumors circulating that they’re being held in one of the closed metro stations. The government denies having custody of them.
It is a sad, sad day for Turkey.
Soon, he promises, I’ll be able to post some of Agent Nick’s photos from last night. They are much better than mine.