Thursday, March 13, 2014

Teargas sunset (unfinished)

If you're keeping an eye on the news, you'd see that shit got pretty hectic last night in Istanbul. I wrote a rough little poem about what I observed as an outsider over the last day and a half:

Teargas sunset (unfinished)
by Omar Musa 


Having narrowly escaped jetlag,
I ate a mushroom omelette
in Galata Square,
with wrinkled black olives
on the side
like little black eyes.
I washed it all down 
with coffee strong enough to wake the dead.

As I looked upon the ancient tower,
the city came to life around me:
tourists and cats and drunkards
made their way across the square.

Over the next few hours,
I did edits on my novel,
listened to an American family talk too loudly,
heard the cafe’s Gypsy Kings CD
mix with the call to prayer.

I updated my Facebook:
“Hello Istanbul. What a city!
I love this place sooo much.
It is rainy & muddy & musical & full of life.”

When I got back to the hotel,
the man at reception
asked me what I was doing tonight.
I grinned and mimed drinking - rakia.
He smiled sadly, shook his head,
and said, “be careful.”

The police killed a little boy.
He died yesterday.
He was hit in the head by a police teargas canister
nearly a year ago.
The government does what it wants.
The police do what they want.
They do not care.
I am a Nationalist. I am supposed to be on the Right.
The Communists are supposed to be on the Left.
But we have both joined against this government.
The government is fundamentalist.
Do not go up Istiklal Street tonight,
my friend.
Last night, it was like a war. 
Tonight again.
There will be nearly a million people 
Taksim Square will be like a war.”

His eyes were green and steady.

My hotel room smelled 
of the cleaning woman’s cigarettes.
I looked across
the rooftops and satellites with their faces to the sun,
and saw two minarets 
and the dome of a Mosque
across the Bosphorus.
As the city readied itself for 
protest and mourning,
I burned my lips
on the sunset.


I got lost looking for a trendy cafe,
ended up near Karakoy Port, 
drank homemade lemonade in a side street,
climbed through an aristocratic neighbourhood
and found myself in Taksim Square.

There were students with pictures
of a young boy,
Berkin Elvan,
pinned to their lapels.
People in beanies and ballies
dressed mostly in black.
Shellfish and chestnuts
were roasting 
on portable braziers.

There were choppers in the sky
and so many sirens,
and the whole place seethed
with thousands of legs in fast forward.

Istanbul wasn’t this cold last time.

I turned a corner and came 
face to face with riot police,
close enough to see the scratches on their
semi-automatic weapons.

Close enough for one to blow smoke in my face.


When I got back to the hotel,
there was a new guy behind the desk.

He told me that he had worked in Taksim Square 
a year ago.
“You should’ve seen it.
How exciting it was.”

His eyes shone.

“I like the smell of teargas.
Sometimes, it is necessary.”


20 minutes later,
cops swarmed out
from every side street
like termites,
and opened onto civilians 
with water cannons and tear gas.


Something drew me back to Taksim Square.

As I walked up Istiklal,
life seemed to carry on as usual:
Men sipped Efes from the can,
women with high cheek bones were smoked by cigarettes,
lamb cutlets smoked on grills, 
mint tea steamed,
trinkets winked in the market.

Shops were still open, full of bored faces.
(I swear, the look of someone who hates their job
is universal.) 

I started to see wet footprints,
becoming denser and denser on the concrete.

Then I heard a stamping, a chanting,
a banging on roller doors,
the voice of a mob
like the bunching and unbunching of a fist.
It was up near Galatasaray High School,
where everything always kicks off (supposedly),
a square that leads north,

I have smelled tear gas twice before -
once in Malaysia, once in Guatemala -
and I recognised it straight away.

Then there was something 
like fireworks
a phosphorescent scatter,
the clatter of riot shields,
the twack of baton on flesh,
then a cheer,
and the stampede of feet,
and I was running with the crowd,
unsure of where I was going,
and there was danger, and fear,
but also some laughter and people 
with their arms around each others’ shoulders.

Istiklal had turned into a river,
but there were people
swimming upstream,
towards the maelstrom,
camera phones held aloft,
shining beams,
like little lighthouses
above the crowd.


On the way home,
a kid tried to sell me a mask
to protect me from the teargas.

Just a few blocks away,
things were quiet.
I passed wall upon wall of graffiti, thinking
“Whoever DSK is,
they run shit around here.”

The guy behind the counter
was more sombre now.

“I do not like protests.
I voted.
My best protest was at the election.”


The news tells me 
that two people are dead.

I lean out the window
and the wind is cold and fleet-footed,

as if it is being chased.