Kemal. He is a wily old geezer. A Kurd from Ağrı who has been around the block a few times. He owns a tiny tea counter in the marketplace. And he is a very special friend. When the marketplace closed down I heard that he had gone back to Ağrı where he still has a small place. I didn’t call him. I couldn’t bring myself to even do that. I was completely devastated anyway and anything to add to that… Somehow it was too much. I didn’t call a special friend. And for this may I never be forgiven. But then, a couple of days ago, I suddenly picked up the phone. And got a complete blasting!
Was I out of my friggin’ mind? What Ağrı? What leaving? “I have been here since day 1! Didn’t leave for a second! I am here, right where I am supposed to be! I am not allowed to sell tea according to bloody regulations – but WTF? No one can stop me from giving out tea! So, I have been here every day, handing out tea to anyone who wants it! – But, more to the point, where the hell have YOU been madam university professor? Hiding out in your house?!? Afraid the cops will get you? You chicken!”
Now, we have this thing here that people over 65 are not allowed out. And there is a fine. A pretty steep one too. Kemal is 68. And he has come out every day, walked a very long distance (he wouldn’t have been able to use public transportation since he has a “senior” card) and came here. Opened his little counter. Sat here all day, at first totally alone. Giving tea to people who wanted it. For him, the old Kurd from Ağrı who knows a thing or two about “governments”, it was a matter of principle. A matter of maintaining his dignity. His autonomy. I was so ashamed. Soooo ashamed!
Had someone go and buy hair dye. Called in this young hairdresser whose store is closed down and who is sitting at home totally bust. Had him dye my hair. Had him cut, and blow dry and style a whole bunch of other people’s hair in the neighborhood while I was at it. Anything to help. And then I ran out of the house. To Kemal’s tea counter. Which is where I have been every afternoon since then. Sitting with Kemal, in an empty marketplace where now shopkeepers are beginning to reappear in order to resolutely sit in front of their deserted stores. They are destroyed. It will take them years to get out of debt. But they are not letting go. They have returned.
So now, Kemal does have people to give tea to. He sat and waited until the others came back. He knew they would and he waited. There is still life in the street. Even if it looks like as if there isn’t right now. There will be. No matter how hard the return will be, there will be life on the street again. Thanks to the likes of Kemal.
As for me – Kemal has saved me. He has saved me from myself. He has shown me how counterproductive just fretting alone can be. That you need to do something. Even if it is something as insignificant as going out every afternoon to sit together with your neighborhood storekeepers who are desperately waiting to get their livelihoods back.
And I am so very thankful that Kemal has shown me that. He has saved me by setting an example. Just that. So simple.