We arrived in Istanbul 4 days before the lockdown was lifted. So, our entire time in Istanbul was during the lockdown. I questioned how the locals felt that us tourist could wander their city while they must remain in their homes except to perform essential tasks or seek medical care. Some vendors we talked to were grateful we were there spending money in illegally open places, and others were just frustrated with the entire situation.
Our taxi driver told us from the airport to our hotel that shopkeeper pulled their steel shutters down near the Bosporus to comply with the lockdown but that it was setting off soaring economic anxiety, arguments, and general irritation. “When the economy is bad, it affects psychology,” said our driver.
I met a few restaurant owners, which I will not mention by name because it could get them in trouble. They are terribly upset that the government was taking away the livelihood they had built to take care of their families. So many were worried about how they would be able to stay open after all this mess was over. Yet, they were always glad to serve us and have in-depth conversations with us.
We saw Istanbul in a different light than most people do. Generally, we were told Istanbul was a hustle and bustle city, but it was quiet and at times felt like a ghost town. We have been happy to travel during the pandemic helping a few earn money to keep food on the table for their families at least for a month. We are planning to come back after a few other countries we visit to see the authentic feel of Istanbul and support more vendors giving them hope that things will someday come back to normal.
Sadly, some people who were sequestered in their homes were outraged when watching the news shown tourists enjoying their country, such as walking the Holy Mosque of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque or sunning on beaches along the Mediterranean. At the same time, Turks remain locked up in their homes.
It was such a catch twenty-two for the people in Turkey; they loved and hated the tourist all in one breath. They felt in prison as the tourist roamed their streets. But they loved that a few came to spend money in their country. Our heart broke when we heard owners say, “the tourism season is finished for this year,” with eyes filled with water like they were ready to cry.
I know we had to take precautions to slow down the virus globally but was it necessary to destroy people’s lives in the meantime. We have traveled the entire time through the pandemic, and this feeling of lockdowns and control are mutual in every country we have visited. Is the price for a life worth the loss of years of hard work and a family’s livelihood? Only time will tell.