I’m moving tomorrow, but I’ve spent two weeks staying in a hostel near Taksim square, which is, in many ways, the center of this surprisingly vast metropolis.
It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed somewhere quite like this–somewhere that long-time travelers flock to, that fosters such a specific type of camaraderie. And now, traveling during Covid-19, we’ve all gathered here like moths to a flame: Istanbul, the largest city in one of the few countries in the world with open borders.
And it’s in an interesting location–placed just so that it straddles the Bosphorus, joining Europe and Asia into one, huge, cosmopolitain megalopolis. It’s a bit Mediterranean, a bit Middle Eastern, and all together a perfect place for a bunch of scrappy nomads to convene from our far flung countries. And we cling to one another like we’ll never make a friend ever again.
You should meet them.
First, there’s Lovage. She’s a Chinese coder from Guangzhou. One day last year she quit her job and fled, and right before the lockdown she managed to get to Serbia, where she’s spent much of the pandemic until now.
There’s Andrei, a Romanian who hates Romania so much he rarely tells people that’s where he’s actually from. Right before he managed a flight to Istanbul, he deleted all of his social media, even his WhatsApp, got a new phone, and is now determined to stay gone after finding himself stuck in Bucharest for too many weeks.
And there’s Zia, a Jordanian composer who’s trapped here waiting for the border to his home country to open. Of us, he’s the only one actually trying to get home. He misses his family. The rest of us barely understand this concept, but we’re trying our best to empathize.
About a week ago, right around her birthday, Lovage bought a ticket to Kyiv. Her Turkish visa was set to expire today, and without a residency permit she’d be in danger of a ban or a fine. Compared to most places, it’s shockingly easy to get a residency permit in Istanbul, or any part of Turkey for that matter, but the industry surrounding it has become this odd, slightly corrupt system where too much money makes it into the hands of the wrong people.
Basically, this is how it goes.
Most landlords require some sort of residency permit to rent an apartment to you, but you need a rental contract in order to get a residency permit.
Enter: the “entrepreneurs.”
In order to get a residency permit, pretty much everyone literally just buys a rental contract for a place they will never live, and have no intention to. Hundreds of people a week apply for their residency permits from the same handful of addresses–but the location acts as merely a mailbox to use to get your papers that they will send outlining your next steps. Beyond that, as far as where you will live, you’re on your own.
I still have two and a half months on my visa here, so I’m not applying. At least not right now.
I’m still holding onto the idea that Georgia will open its borders soon, and I’ll find myself within the safe arms of Tbilisi where I can stay for up to a year.
And in the meantime, my new cohort and I will wrangle these mean-ass streets together, like I used to with so many other hostel crews I’ve assembled all over the world in my twenties and thirties: the crews I still talk to from Austin and Panama City and Bangkok and San José and Paris that have been my little, brief, rag-tag families in places I hadn’t yet ever been.
And you know–I’m not even sure I want to move. My whole plan since I arrived was to get here, stay at this hostel for a couple of weeks, and figure out exactly where I wanted to stay. But from my vantage, the one where I was trapped completely alone in Johannesburg for nearly five months, the idea of moving into my own apartment sounds a bit…scary.
Some new people arrived yesterday. The Guatemalan Edgardo and Quebecois Florence arrived fresh from the Philippines where Covid has kept them since March. They speak of being trapped–and I totally understand that part–but their stories involve greeting the morning with a swim in a sparkling blue ocean, and lounging about in hammocks in the afternoon reading.
After I met them, I made a note to myself: one about treating every country I go from now on like one I could be trapped in, and making my decisions about where to travel accordingly.
For me, lockdown was literally days in a row within four walls, my weekly trip to the grocery store being my only outing.
And that’s why I’m a bit wary to live alone again, especially when I’m far more lucky than most to have already assembled a crew so tight that I cannot imagine a future where I don’t know them.
But regardless of where I end up, none of the four of us are planning on leaving any time soon, and the four of us are connected in that way that nomads often are: by that place and time that sometimes, somehow, turns into those friendships that last beyond the borders that we’ll all someday cross.
Just as soon as they open.
[up next: Will I move? Who knows.]