I was having a weird dream -- loud bangs, the sound of pots and pans, whistles, and flickering lights. When I opened my eyes I realized that I was home in Istanbul, lying in my own bed. I must have passed out after a long flight from NYC that morning. I checked the time and it was exactly 9 p.m. "Oh my God", I thought, "This is really happening." I was finally here and hearing people protesting from their homes, loud and clear.
Just two days earlier, I was at Princeton reunions, surrounded by thousands of alumni who were cheering, drinking, and celebrating the graduating class and our Alma Mater. It was impossible to grasp what was happening in Turkey, let alone telling my foreign friends what was going through my head. Things were happening too fast, and all I could do was to follow what was happening from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Halk TV, the only channel in Turkey that covered and broadcasted the protests against the government. I organized a few Turkish friends to make a sign to put outside Princeton's student center, and tried to post a few things online to raise awareness, but it wasn't enough. What was happening at home was almost surreal: my friends were wearing gas masks and protesting on the streets against the police, my mom, a general surgeon, was helping the injured on site. I never felt so powerless and scared at the same time. I had to go back. I had to be there.
A few days later I was home and went outside for the first time on June 5th. My 20-year-old sister and I left home, masks around our necks. My mom's 75-year-old aunt, a retired and fearless English teacher, joined us on our "journey" to Gezi Park. The first thing I saw as I entered Taksim, where the Park is located, was the graffiti that covered the entire glass ceiling of the subway station. What came after was unbelievable: real-time Gotham City -- combined with some kind of heaven.
The whole area was transformed into Utopia, Turkey. There was street art everywhere. Banners and posters covered the buildings, and the slogans were just so witty and humorous. Cars were turned upside down and streets were closed to traffic. Barricades were left over from previous nights. A public bus with broken windows and flat tires stood in the middle of the street, now used as a "portable public library" where people could sit and read. Hundreds of people set up stands in the park and were handing out free food and drinks. There was a first-aid corner with bottles of vinegar and bicarbonate water, lined up in case of a gas or tear bomb attack. Peddlers were selling goggles, whistles, and Vendetta masks. There was music and drums and trumpets. People were chanting and little kids were dancing. So much laughter, so many colors. You could feel the peace and love in the air. You could feel the Turkish pride. As odd as it sounds, I felt extremely lucky and grateful to be a part of such an extraordinary movement. Something was awakening inside me, inside everyone, and brought us closer as citizens, as friends, as one.
Maybe it's because I haven't been out at night or my eyes never burnt from tear gas -yet-, but I can say that amazing things are happening in Turkey. Personally, I've been craving this much-needed feeling of unity and I am thankful for every single amazing soul in Gezi Park for restoring it in me today. And I will go back for more. Not just for unity, but also for human rights and democracy. Tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after.