A POSTCARD FROM ISTANBUL
Istanbul is a beautiful, sprawling city packed with people from every continent, and I currently call it home. I have fallen in love with the skyline, full of glowing minarets thrust up elegantly from the mosques; the ferry rides across the Bosphorus, occasionally augmented by the presence of unexpected pods of dolphins; the display cases filled with rainbows of Turkish sweets, woven towels, or ceramic wares painted with swirling blue patterns and punctuated with red flowers; the streams of people flowing between Europe and Asia without a second thought. “Vibrant” is the first word that comes to mind when I try to sum up my life here—full of flavor, tactile, kaleidoscope-bright.
Turkey is the fifth country I have lived in, and although moving away from my friends and family is always sad, it gets a little bit easier every time. I have a phone, a computer, and a habit of sending postcards, so keeping in touch isn’t an issue. But as someone who begged for a different animal every Christmas and cried elated tears when my mother finally brought home a puppy, I can tell you that one part never gets any easier for me: leaving pets behind. My parents have two cats and a dog, and I miss them so much whenever I leave—for me, there is nothing as comforting as a faithful pet.
Luckily for me, Istanbul is crawling with friendly strays, which means that I am able to get a regular fix of puppy love, and, even more often, kitten love. There are cats of all colors, especially on the shores of the Bosphorus and in the graveyard at the museum of the Whirling Dervishes, and big mutts roaming around the parks and monuments with slobbery grins and wagging tails. They are my absolute favorite part of living here. But what I love the most about the abundance of cats and dogs is the way they are treated by the people.
I have seen many well-fed animals, and I have witnessed multiple Turks pull bags of just-in-case cat food out of their purses. I have heard people cooing at the passing dogs and have never seen a single kick or shout to scare them off. In fact, I sometimes see dogs sleeping with piles of leftover food sitting around their bodies, like people wanted to care for them without disturbing them. For such a fast-paced, busy place, I wouldn’t have thought so many people would bother themselves about strays. Sure, there are some less fortunate ones, and in less busy areas they sometimes get less friendly. But overall, people are kind to them, and it is so heartwarming.
I was told by one friend that in Islam, cats are well-respected because there is a story about the prophet Mohammed and a snake. A cat killed the snake before it could bite Mohammed, effectively saving his life and earning the affection of many of his followers. Another friend told me, in regards to the strays, “Well, they’re living here too, so of course we should take care of them.” She said it so simply, like nothing could be more obvious.
There is a reason that people call these animals “the pets of the city.” I, for one, am so happy to live in such a hospitable place—a place where people take the time and effort, amid all the human bustle, to value non-human lives.