It was my penultimate day in Istanbul when I returned to Sulukule to say my final farewell to the community and play a game of football with the children as I had promised them. I arrived to meet Gokce, my friend and anthropology student working in the neighbourhood, and Murat my own Sulukule guide. He had a habit of taking me and my colleagues on walks in the area. That day was no different and shortly after my arrival we went for a walk.
During this walk, we passed a fruit shop where I spotted watermelons. Now, my colleague, Natalia and I love watermelons and had been obsessing about them ever since we spotted some in a market during a walk in Beyoglu, however our heavy work schedule meant that we never had time to buy one to take to the hotel. So when I saw the watermelon, I immediately indicated to Murat that we had to come back later to buy a watermelon (I say indicated as Murat didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Turkish). Soon after this, we returned to the café to start our football game.
We played for a while until the men came along to play their weekly game. It was at this point that Murat reminded me about buying the watermelon. We were joined by another eight kids from the neighbourhood who wanted to come along for the walk. When we got the fruit shop, I picked a big watermelon and asked the owner to cut the watermelon in half and slice one half in smaller pieces to share with the kids. The kids in appreciation to the gesture indicated we would eat the watermelon at a “good” place nearby. They took me to a park with benches where we sat down and enjoyed the very sweet watermelon.
A few moments later we were approached by an elderly gypsy woman who started speaking to me in Turkish. Murat quickly told her to speak to him (he clearly assumed leadership of the group). The woman spoke to him in Turkish and Murat in turn would repeat what she said, but only louder (this was Murat method of translating, which after three weeks, I’d grown used to). In the end the powers of deduction and hand gestures led me to understand that she was hungry and didn’t have much food. So me being the gentle soul I am, attempted to gesture that she could have a piece.
She seemed very happy with the offer and then called a kid playing nearby over. Then she took the other half of the watermelon and handed it to the kid who ran off with the watermelon while she slowly toddled away leaving me slightly confused and the children laughing. Bilal, another one of the kids, gestured whether he should go after her. Even though I had just had my watermelon stolen, it was clear she needed it more than me, so let her keep the watermelon. The kids just carried on laughing and I in the end joined them in laughing at my ill-fortune.
So after we finished ‘our’ watermelon I told Murat to take me back to the fruit shop where I asked the man for another one. It was not watermelon season, so the first one was expensive and really didn’t want to pay the same price for the second watermelon. The language barrier meant that I couldn’t explain that I wanted a discount for buying two watermelons in the space of an hour. I suddenly remember a word our lecturer taught us. Indirim or in English, sale. So I said “Karpuz Indirim?” (Watermelon sale?). The man and the kids burst out laughing at my attempts to get a discount. The man, clearly pitying the stupid foreigner (the kids explained what had happened to the other watermelon half) sold me the watermelon for half the price.
I returned to Sulukule with my watermelon and bid my farewells to everyone, before heading to the bus stop. I got on to the bus and sat with the watermelon initially on the floor. As soon as the bus moved, the watermelon rolled to the front of the bus. I ran to the front of the bus and gathered my melon and went back to my seat. I sat there suspiciously looking around for other watermelon thieves whilst clutching the melon with the zeal of a deranged man. The other passengers looked at me with curious (and slightly concerned) eyes.
I finally got back to the hotel with the watermelon and waited for my colleagues to tell them of my watermelon ordeal.