Coronavirus Turkey What community looks like in daily life

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I’m an Australian living in Istanbul and like many people here in Coronavirus Turkey, daily life is very different. I haven’t been out other than to buy food since March 14. Every day I read the contradictory medical reports about the Coronavirus on the news, see the rise in infections and deaths and like everyone, wonder when this will end. However I know I’m lucky. I have a safe comfortable house to live in, enough money coming in to buy the things I need and the company of a person who is my friend as well as my husband.

On a rare bus ride in Coronavirus Turkey

Most of all, I feel lucky to be going through this in Turkey. I’m a yabancı, a foreigner, but I’ve never felt lonely or alone here. No matter what’s going on, it’s normal for people to help one another in Turkey, even if they’re strangers. Whether it’s the woman on the bus letting you use their transport card for free or the teenage boy helping you when you’re lost by walking you all the way to your destination, I’ve always felt included. Here, community is more than a concept. It’s an everyday practice intrinsic to Turkish society, even in the largest of cities.

Here are some examples of the care, thoughtfulness, generosity and joyous creativity of people living in different parts of Turkey as we all work together to get through these difficult days.

Nevşehir Council in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey, along with those in many cities, towns and villages across Turkey, has set up dedicated teams to disinfect streets, park benches and statues to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus. They even made a wonderful morale boosting music clip style video to show their constituents what they’re doing.

In the Samsun district of Turkey’s Black Sea region, 88 year old Necmi Hopaç has collected around 3000 bottles of cologne over 50 years, including the much loved lemon cologne. They take up one whole room in his house. In the last one and a half months he’s given away 500 of them to relatives, due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

In Gaziantep four university students took to the streets wearing cartoon character costumes to entertain children stuck at home. Anyone under 20 years of age has to stay inside their homes, and I’m sure after watching these performances the little ones felt rewarded for being good.

In the eastern province of Malatya, Turkish healthcare workers devised a cheerful way to not succumb to despair. Dressed in full protective gear they filmed themselves performing the “Penguin Dance” in their effort to keep up morale.

The Penguin dance has proved so popular that medical teams around the country have chosen to perform it to celebrate when a coronavirus patient recovers and leaves hospital.

In Antalya Spiderman comes to the rescue of self-isolating elders who can’t go out to shop. Spidey aka local man Burak Soylu decided to bring a bit of joy and fun to the task by dressing up in full regalia and spinning a web of delight wherever he goes.

Young imam Abdulsamet Çakır living the spirit of generosity in Coronavirus Turkey

In Sariyer, on the European side of Istanbul, young imam Abdulsamet Çakır has set up a food bank in the entrance of his mosque. Shelves where worshippers usually leave their shoes are now stocked with donations of food. Calling it a free market, he’s taped two signs to the door reading, “Take What You Need” and “Give What You Can”. This allows donors and recipients to remain anonymous to one another  as required by zakat, one of the five Muslim pillars of faith.

Take what you can, give what you can
Have you seen home deliveries like this before?

In Goztepe on the Asian side of Istanbul where I live, I saw one of the women from my local chemist delivering medication to a neighbour across the street on the first weekend of total lockdown. They used the traditional basket/bucket on a string method to make the transaction safely and efficiently. Elsewhere people are hanging baskets of food items from their balconies so people who’ve lost their income can take food for free.

Turkish municipality and local councils around the country have also done a lot to help people, Turkish residents and foreigners alike. Here in Istanbul they’ve set up shelters where the homeless can clean up, eat, sleep and get health checks, are distributing free hygiene packs containing the now world famous Turkish cologne, disinfectant and masks, are handing out food parcels to families in need, providing shopping, hot meals and other services to people aged over 65 who are forbidden to go out at all, with no family to help them, and ensured the production and delivery of bread and water during weekend lockdowns. They even delivered a cake to a couple celebrating 43 years of marriage.

Have you ever seen the tulips bloom in Istanbul?

And because April is traditionally the month when the world famous Tulip Festival is held in Emirgan Park, the Istanbul Municipality Council made a video using a drone camera, so we didn’t have to miss seeing all the wonderful blooms. Sadly it’s no longer available online but seeing such beauty helped me stay resolute and stay at home, in the belief that the more we support each other in this way, the sooner we can all go out again. To learn more about the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul why not subscribe to my blog? It costs you nothing and you’ll get my latest post delivered straight to your inbox.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you and yours stay safe and well.

Read all about my personal journey to come and live in Turkey in my memoir
Istanbul Dreams: Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom.

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  1. So interesting to read what’s happening in Turkey with the pandemic. Your blog gives a good idea of the community together with the pictures. We have been on lock down since March 18. Keeping spirits up.

    1. Great to get feedback from people outside of Turkey. I think it’s really important to feel part of a community, wherever we are in the world.

  2. The Turkish Nation is Noble, the Turkish Nation is Hardworking … It is present in the noble blood in the mighty veins you need.
    Mustafa Kemal ATATÜRK

  3. Wonderful articulate piece on Turkey, all of its wonders especially its people and after 15 years of living permanently here their hospitality is one of key proponents to my affection for the Turkish way of life.

    1. I’m pleased you enjoyed this article. It made me smile as I put it together and can see it would have done the same for you. Stay well!

  4. Thanks for sharing these Lisa! I will pass it along to friends and family who have been concerned about me living here – like you, I feel happy with my decision to live here and to remain during the pandemic.

    I also love how they have videos of workers in every belediye feeding the stray animals so that people won’t be worried about them too. Cats and dogs of course, but perhaps you’ve also seen the ones of them feeding the pidgeons in Taksim Meydani? Here’s hoping for better days soon, so we can all get out to enjoy these things in person. =)

    1. Hi Malia,
      Nice to hear from you. I hope your family won’t worry so much after reading my post. Yes, I’ve seen the posts about the councils feeding stray cats and dogs and also the pigeons. It’s heartwarming to see. When we can get out again, we MUST finally meet up. I think we must only live 3-4kms away from each other!

  5. Hi Lisa,
    we’re in Dalyan and over 65 so firmly in the property, but lucky because although it’s a shared complex we are alone. each week a friend brings us lovely vegetables from his mother’s garden. Normally the use it for catering on their boat, not so this year. Last Friday evening there as a loud knock at our door and my friend I normally meet with to practise my Turkish appeared with a huge bag or oranges, fresh spring onions, jam , two apples and jars of sacla. We have been overwhelmed by generosity not just form Turkish friend,s but also the local yabanci community who organise shopping for us. At the same time we try to help by donating to a fund for families with no income because they are hard hit by the on start to the tourism season. We believe we better off here for may reasons. #Staysafe

    1. Hi Rosie,
      I’m pleased to hear you are well and not alone even though you can’t go out. It’s lovely to hear from people living in Turkey, both Turks and foreigners, who are not being forgotten in these difficult times. And it’s great to hear you’re looking after families with no income. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and to leave a comment.
      All the best,

  6. Lisa, thanks for sharing these wonderful Turkish acts of kindness! The Turkish are the most hospitable and caring people. I live in the southern part of the United States where we are known for our hospitality, but I think the Turks have us beat. I would like to share some of your post with my 6th grade students if you don’t mine. Unfortunately, this will be remotely because we are not returning to the classroom for the remainder of the school year.

    1. Hi Claire,
      Thank you so much for your kind words about Turkish people. I would love you to share my post with your 6th grade students. I am a former university English language teacher and currently have friends teaching remotely at many different age levels. My thoughts are with you.

  7. I’m secretly doing the Penguin dance every hour or so, it’s good exercise and a change from my usual routine and as it’s a simple melody I can hum it. Lovely post and it brought back to me the many kindnesses we had in Turkey when we used to visit, including one farmer who insisted on giving us a sackful of oranges which my poor husband had to carry back to the hotel and the time when I was a bit short of money for a vase I wanted and the shopkeeper insisted I take it and bring the money next time I was passing. Then there was the day my husband gave up his seat on the bus to an elderly woman only to have her burst into tears. As a thank- you, one of the other passengers gave him some roses from the flowers she had just bought!

    1. Hi Marie, I can picture you doing the Penguin dance and it makes me smile! Thank you for sharing your lovely memories of Turkey. Lisa

  8. Wonderfully written. Thoughrolly enjoyed reading this. Just reinforces how helpful and kind the Turkish people are.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for letting me what you thought of my post. I’m glad I was able to bring a little brightness to your day and that you also know how helpful and kind Turkish people are. Stay well.

    1. Hi Christa, Thank you so much for letting me know you enjoyed my post so much. I hope your tears brought you what you needed.

  9. Absolutely love this blog. Thank you for sharing all the “sharing and caring’ stories from Turkey as we mostly get the negative news of Turkey in Australia. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it.

    1. Hi Serap, I’m so pleased you like my blog. You’re more than welcome to share my post. I hope it brings comfort to people in Australia and elsewhere. Cheers, Lisa

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