So you’re watching #OccupyGezi from your laptop on the couch and want to do something about it? Here’s a novel idea: Come to Istanbul.
I know. I know. That sounds insane. There’s tear gas (It’s not everywhere, and it’s not that bad) and they won’t let you through customs (You’re a tourist, wink wink) and this is Turkey’s battle to fight (That’s not what McDonald’s, Mango, Burger King, or Caribou Coffee — yes, Caribou Coffee — thought when they came).
I’m telling you now that one of the best guards against a repeat of that nasty police brutality of last week is to stuff the park with internationals of every color and creed. We’re not soldiers of our governments: Most of us can’t stand our own governments right now, anyway, right? We’re peaceful media activists trying to help the Turkish people transmit their stories and struggles to the rest of th world waiting anxiously at their TV’s and keybards for updates. And we’re growing: at least two more of us arrived today, from NYC and Italy!
So, you’re coming to Istanbul. Great. Heres some information you’ll need. (See the bottom for that pesky money question…)
Istanbul has two main airports, one on the European side (Ataturk) and one on the Asian side (Sabiha Gokcen Airport). The country spans both continents and has benefitted immensely from the influx of culture from both sides — it’s a 21st-century stateless global tribal gypsy paradise just waiting for you! Whichever airport you arrive at, show ’em your passport, tell them the name of the random hotel that you conveniently googled before leaving your home country, and welcome yourself to Turkey! Change some money to the local currency: Turkish Lira (TL).
Come to Taksim Square
Of course you’re free to go wherever you’d like, but this zone is the most foreign-friendly and peaceful since the water-cannons and tear gas gun-weilding police left late last week. You can come by metro for cheap, or you can hop a cab and pay about 45TL (about $30). Either way, they’ll drop you right at the makeshift barricades and you can snap a photo of your cabbie waiving you off. (If he/she speaks any English, or you any Turkish, tell them you’re going to support Gezi and they’ll probably cut your rate.)
Get a phone and get connected!
Turkey runs on SIM cards, so if you’re phone supports ’em buy one and load it up with some credits. (If you’re on Sprint, Credo mobile, etc. and your phone doesn’t have a SIM slot, make like me and buy a dinky Nokia phone.) A good, reliable, and cheap technique if you use Twitter is to load up with an SMS package (usually about 10TL for 500 messages) and then get to an internet cafe and use www.twitter.com to set up tweet-by-SMS. This also has the benefit of keeping you tweeting even with massive protest cellphone network congestion.
There’s a great internet cafe, by the way, called Bonus Cafe on LaMartin St just off the main square. Yousef, the owner, speaks lovely English
Where to Stay
Downtown Taksim is full of cheap hostels – like Simurg Hostel Huseyinağa Mh., Büyük Bayram Sokak, 34435 Istambul (0212) 249 3059 – that will bunk you up for like 20TL a night. In case of tear gas, just keep a gas mask near you at night – and really always – and you should be fine. In Gezi Park anyone you talk to will cheerfully give you 40 different home remedies for tear gas, and if you’re a photographer or journalist they’ll hook you up with a young Turk to guard you if you want to go into battle in the neighborhoods surrounding the park that are more active. If you stay in Taksim, chances are you’ll be absolutely fine as there’s currently a grand total of zero (uniformed) police here.
And about 50,000 cheerful protesters waiting to greet you with a hug and an invitation to some delicious Turkish coffee.
PS -The money thing. Yes, it’s a bit expensive. Start an Indiegogo or a WePay (they don’t discriminate), and send me the link at @justinwedes. I’ll RT it. And you can send it to your friends and networks and make it happen. Or blog for a local online magazine or newspaper. Or front the money and just dive in. YOLO, right? 😉
(Photos: Justin Wedes)