Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Trip To The Park

Parks in Istanbul are few and far between. Nice parks, I mean. There are lots of places called 'parks,' which are in fact miserly patches of hard dirt which may or may not have had grass on it at one time. There may or may not be some sort of play structure, new-ish or in a state of increasing neglect, and this 'park' will invariably be crowded with about 8,000 children, and the ground will be strewn with spit-out sunflower seed shells, cigarette butts, popsicle wrappers and sticks, and other things LE really wants to eat but probably shouldn't. As often as not, a creepy man will be leaned up against something in or near the park. You're never sure if he's there checking out the kids or their mothers.

For our playgroup though, we finally found a decent park. It's huge, clean, and well-maintained. We'd driven by it a bunch of times, but never realized it was a public park because from the outside, it looked much too nice. Real, green grass. Flowers. Relatively empty, at least on weekdays. We figured it was some sort of posh holiday village.

So yesterday we packed up our little ones in a caravan of strollers laden with snacks, and went off to this park. We found a play structure that wasn't too crowded, and let the kids go. The play structure had limited appeal for toddlers because after a few minutes on the swings and a couple of trips down the slide, they lost interest, not being able to climb around on everything. So they started running off. Naturally this pleased us. Running means tired kids who sleep better. LE doesn't even like me when we're outside, since all I seem to do is spoil his fun by not letting him eat things he finds on the ground, and because I keep him off of roadways and away from jagged metal and out of prickly bushes. So I tail him at a polite distance, only there to hold his hand and help him up and down curbs or up and down hills. It's so nice how he stands with his little hand up waiting for me.

Near the play structure was the go-cart course. Both LE and his little friend love watching cars pass by, so that got their attention and, squealing with their arms in the air, they both hurried over to have a look. The mommies followed, and we stayed over near the go-carts and started wrestling in the grass. LE played 'knock Mommy over' while his friend played 'throw grass at Mommy.' Everyone was delighted on this balmy May afternoon.

A security guard approached us. She said, 'Çimler... No! (çimler means 'grass')' We all stared at her. I thought she was talking about LE's friend throwing grass. So I asked her to clarify. It turned out she was telling us we weren't allowed to be on the grass. Miles of clean, green grass as far as you can see, but you're not allowed to be on it. Naturally there are no signs to this effect. My friend told her this and the security guard just shrugged and pointed to the play structure. I said, 'But these are just babies, what are we supposed to do, trap them in there and have them cry all day?' All around us people were walking on the grass, and I pointed out a few of them. Again she just shrugged and started back to her security guard place, where I couldn't help but notice another ten male guards were standing around smoking and drinking tea. Typical. It's just like when you go to the police to get your residence permit renewed-- eight working computers, twelve male cops having tea, and one female cop with a foot-high stack of passports feverishly entering data with one finger while a three-hour line sits outside.

So we decided to leave the grass until she went away. Back in the play structure, there was a little girl about four running around while her mother and two other women made tea and ate. LE headed over to the swings and the girl ran towards him and knocked him over, causing him to bang his head on a metal bar. I said (in English), 'You stupid girl!' and picked up a crying LE to comfort him. The previously over-attentive women had suddenly found something very interesting to stare at in other directions, as they did later on when their girl pushed, hit, and hurt two other toddlers. This is another thing that happens here that drives me mad, when mothers won't discipline their kids, or even apologise when their kids hurt other ones. They just look away and act like they didn't notice. They sure as hell notice, though, if you bawl out one of their kids for hurting yours.

Partway into our picnic a horde of about 200 big kids (perhaps eight or nine years old), probably from some school field trip came swarming up from the seaside road, covering in seconds the play structure, the two neighboring ones, and all of the nearby grass, so we gathered up our food and our little ones and moved on. We noticed a bunch of the kids playing football on the forbidden grass (ironically in front of signs that said 'Please don't play with balls on the grass') while the hapless security guards looked on. The woman guard wasn't among them so it was easy to see why they were unable to do anything about this. We found another play structure that was empty of big kids. LE and his friend found some freshly dug up dirt, so all seemed well.

But then another group of ten or so kids, these ones about twelve or thirteen, came running to the play structure and started going down the slides all at once, ignoring the little kids at the bottom. Fortunately, the park's ample signage was in our favor with a sign that said, 'This park is for children under 10.' One of the mothers went to the big kids' minder and asked if he could please take the kids away because it was too much for the little ones. He said 'They're all nine.' Yeah, nine with breasts and changing voices. Remember my previous post about lying? Anyway. After a few minutes a few minutes he and his rowdy group were driven off by the glares from the mothers and grandmothers holding onto squirming, screeching toddlers who just wanted to play.

LE and my friend's daughter L started to play on the two swings. Another little girl came up and asked whiningly, 'What shall I do?' and then pouted. 'You're going to wait,' I told her. 'But I want to swing,' she whined. 'Well, you have to wait,' I told her. 'These kids got here first, and they're small. You're big and you can wait.' She stuck her lower lip out even farther, then started pushing L in the swing, nicely at first, but then rather roughly. L looked nervous and gripped the chains. I told the girl to take it easy and not push so hard, so she gave the swing a good shove and L decided it wasn't fun anymore and ran off. The girl jumped into the swing and looked at me, waiting for me to push her. LE decided he wanted to be under the swing with the girl in it, so I took him to go push a metal donkey he found very fascinating. That all worked out nicely, as there was another boy who wanted to sit on the donkey and he thought it was wonderful that LE wanted to push him. So at least there was one nice kid at the park yesterday.

And the moral of the story? One, is that parks here suck. For all the fuss Turks make over kids, there is very little public policy devoted to making kids' lives better and few public places that are truly kid-friendly. The public places that are good for kids are woefully overcrowded. The other moral is that I, with a few exceptions, just don't like kids very much, particularly spoiled or undisciplined ones, or kids in large numbers. I suppose these are just things I'll have to get used to. But it doesn't mean I have to like it.


Gilbert said...

Stranger, the paucity of grass for children to play on is something that upsets me too. One of my greatest sadnesses about living here is that my sons will not know what it is like to play football on grass, to know the smell of earth, to learn how to fall on a yielding surface. It sounds odd, but playing on grass was such a large part of my childhood that to know that it won't be so for my children almost hurts.
I suppose the lack of public grass is due mainly to the summer climate. To keep the grass in a fit state through the summer months would require more water than can realistically be supplied.

If you are mobile and can get to the asian side there is a nice botanic garden where there are signs which actually say 'Please walk on the grass'. There aren't actually any play structures but there are open grassy places for you to run around. Take a few of LE's toys and I'm sure he'll have a marvellous time. The place is called the Nezahat Gokyigit Botanik Bahcesi and its in a reasonably large area of land bounded by a loop in the road at the Atasehir junction of the TEM. There's a map on the garden's website at
It's never been terribly busy when we've been, go on a Sunday morning and I'm sure you'll find it practically empty.

Stranger said...

A few years ago, I was waiting for the bus at the uni where I had just started working. Since it was a new-ish campus, the grassy bits had only been down and so were still relatively green and fresh. I sat on the grass to wait, and the smell hit me and I nearly cried because it had been so long since I'd smelled actual grass.

Thanks for the tip about the botanical gardens. Out where I live there are grassy places here and there. At times, they're almost empty of 1,000s of kids kicking balls around. LE doesn't get that they don't want to play ball with him, and has had several very narrow misses of a ball to the head, blissfully unaware. It's that kind of wild grass cut short, that's sort of weedy and tough but doesn't need much water or tending. LE was just learning to walk when I started taking him on it, and the lumps and bumps were challenging for him at first, but he's an old pro now, and I guess doesn't really need to know the difference. It's sure better than nothing!

sandyhoney said...

I used to live in an apartment complex in Kanarya - it had tried to erect playgrounds but all the equipment was run into the ground within a matter of months. It was that strange outdoorsy exercise equipment that you see in the apartment complexes next to the kid stuff...usually a swing and a slide.

I used to think it odd to see the covered women using these cross-trainers outside in view of everyone. As far as I know, they used them into the ground. Almost everything has been destroyed (less than 2 years old). Also, the line ups of kids, their craziness, and the danger for the younger kids meant my son saw them as little as possible.

There's a place along the Kanarya seaside with go-karts and stuff and my MIL just about had a cow when she discovered that my then 6 year old had been on with his dad. It really made me miss the parks near where I grew up and the miles of hiking trails on the niagara escarpment that we used to take my son to...

On the other hand, I used to pass all these parks along the sea as we drove from Bakirkoy to Taksim, and these were always under-used - probably because they'd need to be driven to. Also with those outdoor-adult exercise equipment...

Stranger said...

They put up some of that exercise equipment near my house, and I'm surprised how much it's actually used! Still working, as far as I can see.

But yeah, those things are really dangerous for kids, and they're also really tempting for kids. About 3 months after they erected the equipment, they put a sign up saying the machines were dangerous and forbidden for kids under 12. Too late. The kids swarmed them whenever they weren't occupied by covered women, old folks, and people using them as benches. About a month after the sign went up, the '1' in the '12' had been scratched off.

On the other hand, I remember one of our favorite parks as kids was actually an excercise park, and we hurt ourselves there all the time. And the playing equipment of my childhood wasn't this smooth-cornered brightly colored plastic stuff. We usually learned the hard was about how not to fall off the jungle gym and land on our faces. The McDonald's play park we went to had this meal Grimace cage-like thing that you went into and shook, and my brother chipped his tooth in there. Twice. On totally separate occasions. But somehow we all managed to survive.

I'll never forget visiting a farm where they had a three-year-old. He kept dragging out things like picks and axes to play with. We kept going, 'Is he okay with that?' and his parents went, 'Yeah, he's fine. He has to learn somehow because this is where he lives and we can't be chasing after him for every little thing.'

Not that I'm handing LE axes to play with. And of course I'd rather he not get hurt. But I'd sure rather he play on dangerous exercise equipment rather than run around in the middle of the street like the other kids who have nowhere else to play.