Monday, February 2, 2009

Our Parks

I know I've ranted before about the parks here, but due to unseasonable warmth and general cabin fever, LE and I have been spending a lot of time in the playgrounds near our house. After the nice nearby playgrounds in America, I've been finding the ones here quite troubling, a feeling that's tempered only by LE's pure joy in them. LE thinks playgrounds are the greatest places on earth, so he's blissfully unaware of any underlying scariness.

I've given our parks names. The one nearest us is Broken Glass Park. If I take LE to the corner store, we have to stop by Broken Glass Park because he sees it on the way. I try to keep our visits there short, and I surreptitiously gather bits of broken glass and throw them in the trash (I have to be secretive because if LE sees me doing it, he'll want to do it too). I have no idea why there is so much broken glass in this park. I expect the proliferation of empty vodka and beer bottles might have something to do with it, but since the park is right below our bedroom window, I should think I would hear glass breaking all the time, which I don’t. I've toyed with the idea of making a collage of broken glass from the park and posting it in the foyer of our building, explaining where the glass is from and including a big "Çok ayıp!" (shame on you!) or "Neden?" (Why?) to see if it makes anyone feel bad, though I'm afraid it'll just get a kapıcı in trouble.

LE's favorite Park Rusty Crowded Park. This park seems to get the most use, and it also seems the oldest, as the name implies. Rusty, flaking paint galore. Tons of trash and cigarette butts. Several times, LE has nearly been beaned in the head by basketballs flying from the small court that abuts it. This park is full of tots, bigger kids, and a crowd of inattentive mothers and grandmothers lining the bench and intent on their conversations and cigarettes. They become particularly engrossed when one of their kids does something naughty or purposely hurts another kid. Last time we went there, we were pursued by a group of five girls about ten years old. With their arms linked, they followed us around giggling and whispering and daring each other to try to talk to me. One of them finally got the nerve to say "Hello" in English. I said "Hello" back, and they ran away squealing. I thought they'd find something better to do, but no dice. This continued for almost twenty minutes. One of their mothers called out for them to leave the yabancı alone, but she didn't make any effort to enforce this. Figuring that speaking to them in either language would just encourage them further and keep me from paying attention to LE the way he needs when he's climbing in high places, I just packed him up and went to another playground. That's right. I was bested by a gaggle of little girls. I try to convince myself that they were just being sweet and curious, but at the same time I think they're old enough to know it's not nice to follow a person around and stare, and their stupid mothers should have the sense to teach their kids that foreigners aren't monkeys placed on this earth for their amusement. So it'll probably be a very long time before we go to Rusty Crowded Park again.

My preferred playground is alternately called Good Sand Park, Poison Berry Park, or Creepy Man Park. Despite these apparent failings it is the best of the three. The equipment is in decent condition, and it's less crowded. Most the kids there are also small, and generally their minders pay attention to them, though there was an incident about a year ago when a four-year-old girl threw sand in LE's face (he was just over one). Her mother saw it and became very interested in the sky. So far LE hasn't discovered the red berry bush right next to the slides (I can't remember the name of this bush, but I know we were forbidden from eating similar delicious-looking red berries as kids), and he's only had a couple of close brushes with the thorn bush slightly behind the berry bush. The creepy men, however, give me pause. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Aside from the one truly creepy old guy who was trying to lure me back to his place with some handy phrases he'd learned in Russian, English, and German (he was promptly chased off by some other mothers and duly reported to a passing security guard), the other guys who turn up in this park just seem creepy because they're guys standing around in a park with no kids of their own. They're usually between the ages of 16 and 25. Sometimes they just lean against a pole in the play structure and smoke and it's hard to tell if they're checking out the moms or the kids. Other times, they breeze through and swing on the swings a bit or take a couple runs down the slide.

The weird thing in Good Sand Park is the how many of these bottle caps are in there. LE finds every one. The reason it's weird is because I've never seen a bottle of Chat Cola being sold anywhere, or drunk, and in fact Good Sand Park is the only place I've seen these lids.

I know I shouldn’t complain. At least we have all these playgrounds nearby, right? It's certainly better than having no playgrounds, right? I think I get frustrated because these playgrounds are part of what we pay for out here in the suburbs. They built the buildings, popped in some play structures (that have had very little maintenance since), left a lot of open space (which is slowly being chipped away at as they build more and more apartments), then sell them as lüx (luxury). Hardly. If we were in America and I saw a park that looked like any of these, I wouldn't take LE there. I probably wouldn't even be there myself because parks like these would be in some scary ghetto. Just because I haven't found broken hyperdermics and used condoms in these parks doesn't mean they're not there.

I know. I'm American and I'm spoiled and I'm used to relatively well-kept public places funded by all the citizens rather than everything good cloistered off for the wealthy. I'm used to spending a little extra money to buy actual quality rather than a veneer of status. And while I'm glad LE and I can walk to a playground as often as we like, I just wish someone cared about kids enough to make these places worthy of them.

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