Today my housemate and I finally ventured out to the famed Prince Islands, the perfect weekend day-trip in Istanbul. An hour-long ferry ride gets you away from the city – except for the fact you can still see it across the water – and to a rocky beach, hills, and a prohibition of motorised vehicles. We went to island #2 out of four on the ferry route: Burgazada. It’s 1.5 km2, a bit of it filled by an old quaint village and the rest of it filled by a tall idyllic green hill that we climbed. The day was sun-filled and a tad exhausting, but absolutely worth it for the chance to escape the insanity of downtown living in a city of 13+ million.
We caught the ferry back just after 5pm. It was a popular time to catch the ferry and the boat was close to bursting with the volume of humanity stuffed into it. We were lucky enough to get a seat, but it came at the price of sitting indoors on a beautiful day, in a spot where we could barely see the Sea of Marmara out the windows.
As we pulled away from the last island where the ferry collected passengers before heading back into town, I heard a commotion and looked up. A woman of about 40 was obviously very angry at a man who may have been 5 years her senior. She had an adolescent boy with her, her son I imagine, who held a bandage up to his cheek. The man was with his entire family, which included a girl of about 15 or so. The shouting grew louder as the woman threw verbal jibes at the man, and he replied in kind. I didn’t understand a word they were saying in spitfire Turkish, but the sentiment came through loud and clear.
As the argument heated, the boy tried to embrace his mother. She shook him off and kept shouting, standing up and waving her arms grandly. The boy stood up with her and whispered something in her ear, trying to calm her with his free hand. For a moment he let go of the bandage on his cheek and saw that it was still bleeding. Was that related to the fight? Probably not; most likely they were fighting over their coveted seats on the boat.
His mother was inconsolable, though, and took a step towards the man and raised her voice further. Meanwhile, the teenaged girl stood up when her father stood and took his shoulders in her hands, ever so gently. He shook her off and the two adults advanced toward each other. It looked like this might come to blows.
But the boy stood in front of his mother and wouldn’t let her get any closer to the man. The girl stood in front of her father and wouldn’t let him get any closer to the woman. After a few seconds, she grabbed her father’s arm and pulled him away, dragging him to a different section of the boat where he could cool down. The boy pulled his mother back down to her seat and lay his head on her shoulder.
An argument is never pleasant, but I was ecstatic at witnessing two teenagers standing up to their parents for the sake of peace. I spent a fair bit of the rest of the boat ride pondering whether younger people are more peace-loving in general, or whether this new generation that is about to come of age in the Middle East is a remarkably peace-loving generation.
It occurred to me that this was not the first time since I arrived in Turkey that I’d witnessed a fight between gray-haired (or nearly so) people, only to be pulled apart by someone much younger. I recalled that the youthful protestors in Istanbul have, for the most part, insisted on taking a nonviolent approach to their activism. My housemate and I brainstormed a few reasons why it might be that a more peaceful generation may be emerging in this region which seems to set off with any little spark. We wondered if it might be the Internet that has given them a new outlet for communicating their frustrations, or if it might be Globalisation which has broadened their education to include new and different values.
I have no idea whether any such theories are true, but the vision of that boy persuading his mother to be a bit less argumentative, and of that girl urging her father to take the less confrontational route… it will stay with me. Of all the things I’ve seen in recent months, this probably gave me the most hope.