Nazim Hikmet, a renowned Turkish poet says something about never forgetting your mother’s and your town’s face. This is very true for London, go out of Waterloo Station and turn right, the small market and book store will be there. They were there when I went to London 25 years ago, they are still there. The little balcony with white summer chairs a second before entering Leeds Station is there too. Ankara, my grey, concrete, state official building Ankara does not fit in Nazim’s poetic view (believe me, the only poetic view of Ankara in my youth was prison songs, nothing else.)The Ankara I remember had Kizilay roundabout and the city revolved around that. If you went up there was the rich area, go right the residential area with Anit Kabir and low rise apartment blocks, go down there will be the old part- probably the only part of Ankara with a little bit of character with an old mosque and the citadel and small shabby streets selling stuff like proper real fat Ramadan drums, prayer shoes, natural chewing gum and circumcision gowns for boys. Finally towards the left of the roundabout was where I lived. I had my high school next to my flat on 6th floor, and I occasionally went beyond my comfort zone towards the semi green Kurtulus Park (Freedom Park) with a smelly pool but no freedom to walk on grass.
This has changed. I cannot recognise Ankara any more. I look out of the window of my room and I can see the distant hills where I would see the first snow of the year or the flickering lights of the lonesome minaret for Ramadan dinners. Alas! There are radio towers on that hill and a massive Ferris wheel. The street below is even more difficult to recognise. There are two tunnel mouths on each side of the street. Until midnight people disappear in to the abyss of the stairs to catch the only underground of the Capital city. I shouldn’t be surprised about this, considering my husband was involved in its construction. Almost 15 years ago when the noise and the chaos of the tunnels were almost unbearable my mother used to threaten me not to give permission to marry him. ‘Tell him to do something about this dust, how many times am I supposed to wash these net curtains?!’ was not translated at all to the man sipping his hearty Turkish tea watching ads he did not make sense on television, wiggling his toes on heavily carpeted living room.
The dust is gone now; Ankara is a termite hill with lots of overpasses underpasses, one and a half completed light rail and couple of new ones being built. My mum informs us about all the new Municipality incentives, the new bids for the underground all over Turkey and my husband and I feel guilty that we should feel guilty he is not involved in any of them, that we are in a small town in the UK or in India but not here in Turkey.
Ankara people have changed too. There used to be a great push and shove getting on the red busses which would cough and sneeze all the way and you would have to rely on other passengers passing your little crumbled ticket to the box near the driver. Now, they wait patiently for the Metro to come, they do not cross the yellow line, they know which exit to go out of and where to buy tickets, go out comfortably at the turnstiles. Kitty and I are new to this and we look at the route map on the train. - Two lines meeting up at Kizilay. Not very complicated but we manage to get lost in the tunnels in Kizilay probably because we stop to look at numerous shoe shops, pudding shops,t shirt shops and if it is a Friday masses of men praying. Metro is not a novelty for Ankorians; they have the glassy look in their eyes of people who are so used to taking the same route every day and have stopped looking around. They leave their body to the sway of the journey and either fiddle with their prayer beads or fix their eyes on their shoes. Pretty young girls with headphones sit next to the dirtiest bearded men, head scarfed log skirted youth with their scarf pins, open toed high wedged shoes giggle to each other next to hard rock boys.
They look comfortable but not happy. They like moaning. Just mention the heat, the conversation ends up with the right of abortion. The new debate of the government is something they have not thought about before and I think they feel a bit uneasy talking about a female oriented subject. On the other hand I see in the newspapers a mumsy aunty with an ample bosom carrying a placard ‘will flirt but not marry; will get pregnant but not give birth’. My mother has happily accepted this political debate and she is pro abortionist! Ask about a very good place to eat doner, they start moaning about how the quality of white bread has changed and now there will be less salt added to it. Apparently they did not realise how much salt was in their daily bread and they feel cheated. They get annoyed and agitated about little things, the Anatolian fire in them ready to flame up. While they discuss bread and abortion a fire in an overcrowded prison kills lots of inmates; no one questions that, they kind of do not want to hear about it and the news dies in the papers after a day or two. A neighbouring country shoots down two of our fighter planes, the pilots cannot be found even after a week, they listen to the news with ‘vah, vah’, ‘tuh, tuh, tuh’ exclamations almost knowing that they are not told the whole story. They read the papers with serious faces, making sure the ink does not stain their hands. They have ‘pocket wet wipes’ they use quite often to clean their hands and mouth after eating shaved doner with onions in bread. The clothes they wear have changed too. Since there are lots of factory outlets, you see the most unlikely ‘teyzes’ wearing M&S skirts, Burberry bags, ‘amcas’ A&F t shirts. The little ones have supersonic voices and the tone of their child conversation often sounds as annoying as a mosquito vizz. There are not a lot of push chairs, the children walk holding hands of a grown up, being pulled and pushed, sat on knees, always in very close proximity of someone.
I walk around the places I remember with my daughter; the streets I used to take for the University service bus, the pubs I spent most of my hazy cigarette smoke and Efes filled evenings, I dilute my stories for her. We come home bags in our hands full of earrings, t shirts, little things we have bought from the cheap street markets next to the Hunger Strike Stand and a Red Star Stand. I know the names of the young ones who were killed years ago. Kitty meets up an avatar of mummy she has not seen before. On the way back to mum’s flat we come across a demonstration for a massacre 20 years ago. They still ask for justice their fists up in the air, the same shrieking female voice from a bad megaphone.
I have seen Ankara again after so many years. There are new streets, new shopping centres, new areas I have not heard of. I do not want to add new memories to an old city. I will read one of the books of Nazim I kept in my room once more and it will be time leave.