Tuesday, August 30, 2005

When I was walking in Istanbul's poor neighborhoods on July 1, I realized that if it hadn't been for the kids there, I'd have been walking somewhere else. Without the kids, it would've been too depressing.

The kids are everywhere there, playing football, obviously having fun, posing for photographs. And only sometimes asking for money. Very rarely.

In May, two boys led us to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy that we wouldn't have bothered to look for on our own - and we gave them some cash in the end, even though they didn't ask for it. They must've expected us to give them something, but somehow it seemed that they were as interested in practicing their English on us as they were in our money. When we told them we were from Ukraine, they immediately responded: "Andriy Shevchenko!"

This time, when I was back at the hotel, I suddenly remembered myself as a kid: how much I loved it when foreigners smiled at me or gave me chewing gum. That didn't happen often, as foreigners didn't walk around Kyiv just like that then. There were too few of them. (In Yalta, there were plenty, though, and we used to go there twice a year, to play tennis, so I did have some exposure...)

Their smiles probably made me feel more special somehow - it's a nice memory, blurry but nice.

Chewing gum I remember much better - we were told at school to never take it from the evil foreigners because they put needles inside to kill the innocent Soviet kids. But we gladly took gum and candies and little souvenirs - and survived.

(Actually, I shouldn't speak for anyone but myself: I loved the foreigners' attention, but Mishah, for example, says he never really cared.)

Back at our Istanbul hotel, I promised myself that I'd buy a kilo of candies and take them with me next time I went for a walk to the ugly neighborhoods full of wonderful kids. Then I thought about the needles-in-chewing-gum Soviet paranoia, and asked our dear Istanbul friend if he thought it'd be okay if I gave the kids some candies every time I took a picture of them: would their parents get mad at me or something?

No, don't worry, everyone would be happy, he said.

And I myself was so happy for a while, imagining how some sweet little kid from Istanbul would vaguely remember me years later, just as I still remember one or two of those foreigners from my own childhood. And this was one of the reasons I couldn't wait for September, when we thought we'd go to Istanbul. But now we aren't going anywhere, and, if all goes well, there won't be Istanbul for us for at least another year... And even though I shouldn't, I do feel sad about it...


A selection of kids pictures from our spring trip to Istanbul is here.

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