SEVGİ ZÜBEYDE GÜRBÜZ / writing

A Drive in Ankara

by Sevgi Zubeyde Gurbuz

Traffic in downtown Ankara is terrible almost any time of the day. Add that to snow, however, and you get streets backed up for blocks with most cars at a stand-still. We were trying to get home after going to a routine eye exam, lulled by starting and stopping perhaps interminably. I was staring out the passenger side window when suddenly I saw a man lying down on the sidewalk.

“Oh my God, why is that man just lying there?” I exclaimed.

But the light had just turned green, and we started to move again. Several people simply walked by the man, not one of the stopping to wonder why he was lying there, let alone if he was ok. Perhaps they all just thought he was a homeless street bum, not worthy of any attention. But I didn’t think so. He wore a suit jacket, and though it looked old, it was not torn or tattered. He had a green woven vest underneath, again, not dirty, just homey. If he’d been walking about, you might have thought him a villager. He had gray hair and a beard. But the beard was not unkempt. It was shaven, giving his beard an even look…and he wasn’t just sleeping on the ground. In this cold and snow, even a street bum would curl up or at least fold his hands under his head. If he was a beggar, there would have been a tin can nearby. But this man was literally sprawled out on the pavement, eyes closed, not even twitching.

No one cared. No one stopped to wonder.

Maybe he was drunk and passed out. Maybe he just had a stroke or heart attack and needed help. Even if he was a street bum, was he not worthy of a poke, of our asking, “Hey, are you ok?”

~

There is a story about Fatih Sultan Mehmet and the time leading up to his decision to conquer Istanbul. Fatih first wondered to himself, “Would he be able to bring goodness to the people of Istanbul? Were the Turkish people ready for such a move? Were they faithful to their religion; was there love, honesty and goodness in the people’s hearts?”

Seeking the answers to these questions, Fatih dressed as a villager and strolled the streets of Edirne. Entering the one of the first stores, he asked for half a container of butter, half a jar of honey, and some cheese. The shop-keeper was cheerful and after giving Fatih some butter, unaware that his customer was in fact the Ottoman Sultan, he then asked him to go across the street and purchase the remaining from another store, so that they took could make their first sale of the day.

Fatih thanked him, and did as was asked. The owner of the store across the street was an elderly gentleman who likewise was grateful for his business, and promptly gave him the honey Fatih asked for, but no cheese. Instead, he asked his customer, again unaware that he was the Sultan, to purchase the cheese from another store down the street, as that store had not yet sold anything that day.

Fatih was so moved by the behavior of these shopkeepers, that after he completed all his shopping, he concluded that with a people of such high morals he could conquer not just Istanbul, but the entire world.

~

This story came to my mind as we inched by the man lying still in the snow on the ice cold concrete. If this were 15th century Edire, there was no way we’d ever see anyone in such a bad position. Someone would have done something for the man. Even if he were just a street bum, a 15th century Ottoman would have opened up their home to him, sat him by the stove and given him a good meal, or a place to stay the night.

If Fatih came to Ankara today, he would be disappointed to see what we have become.

And I was just as guilty as the rest. Oh, I had my excuses: I was in a car, there was traffic; I couldn’t just stop and get out where I was. Besides, there were other people walking by, wasn’t it more of their responsibility than mine? But those were just excuses. I too had just watched and done nothing.

Now I’m not a bad person, and probably neither are the dozens of people who passed by this man. But evidently we’re not good enough to do the right thing either.

We live in a “me” generation, where our own well-being, our own comfort, security, and desires take priority to anyone or anything.

I’m not talking about just helping the poor and the weak. People put themselves on the pedestal in other less noticeable matters as well. What about police who take bribes, government officials were hire their own friends rather than more qualified applicants, or secretaries who bungle their job because they are more concerned with chatting. I can give dozens more examples, but the point is that as long as we keep getting our paycheck and are comfortable in our own lives, we don’t seem to care about what happens to anyone else.

The man freezing on the sidewalk came to my dreams tonight.

Tovbe estagfurullah…