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What sounded like gunfire echoing round the dirty brown walls of the dingy dining hall in the Istanbul holding centre for foreigners was in reality the explosion of the polythene covers of the containers of their dinners being opened by the prisoners with plastic spoons or forks (knives being forbidden.) After lethargically consuming the unappetising contents of lukewarm beans and rice, the three hundred inmates either filled their time before breakfast the next morning by listlessly roaming up and down the narrow hall, smoking and bumming cigarettes, heating up and injecting smuggled-in heroin in the toilets, or lying on their bunks in the crowded dormitories, staring at the ceiling.
Sleep was almost impossible during the night with the mixed babble of shouts in various languages, hysterical laughter and arguments that persisted until dawn. I was the only English detainee, the others being Africans, Iraquis, Iranians, Kosovans, to name but a few. After eight days incarceration in the joint I thanked the stars that I was to be deported the next day, and banned from returning to Turkey for five years.
How did I find myself in such a position, and what was I doing there in that God-forsaken hole? It’s a long story, but basically, on Sunday 20th October I was following my usual method of making enough to pay for the rent and groceries by fortune telling with rune stones in Istanbul’s busy pedestrian Istiklal Street. You can find out how I began my runing career here. A small interested crowd had gathered around, when suddenly a gang of plain-clothes Zabita (street police) muscled their way through and told me to beat it. I was quietly gathering up my stuff and trying to remove a dozing street cat that had curled up on my bag, when one of the zabita said: “I remember you. We told you to move last week from another pitch and you started shouting something.”
I felt a sudden surge of anger at his arrogance and replied: “Oh yes, that’s right. And can you remember what I shouted?” I shouted it again at the top of my voice – “HÜKÜMET İSTİFA!” (“GOVERNMENT RESIGN!” – One of the chants I learned during the Gezi Park protests in the summer.) I shouted it twice before the zabita grabbed me and threw me into the back of their van and drove me off to the police station.
When my passport was examined they found that my tourist visa had expired. I had tried to apply for a residence permit earlier in the year but had been refused because of my conviction for insulting the Turkish Prime Minister in 2010 , and so had continued staying after it’s expiry date, not able to afford a plane ticket, or wishing to experience anything like the horrible experience I had the last time I left the country.
I was fingerprinted and held overnight in a little toiletless cell with 7 other guys, one of whom had been there for 11 days. The only refreshment they were given was a cup of tea in the morning and a stale sandwich at night. Next day I was driven to a hospital where a sample of my blood was taken (and left my arm black and blue for a week), then moved to the crowded hellish holding prison for foreigners in the Kumkapi area of Istanbul. I was told that if I waited there for three weeks the government might consider granting me a year’s residence permit, but it was unlikely. I managed to contact some friends who went to my flat and collected some things that I needed, such as my laptop and radio, some clothes and documents (and my runes of course.) These were stored in the prison luggage office, ready for my departure. I had to leave so many things behind – books and collages and many other personal possessions, a bit like the last time. But this time I won’t be back.
Smearing butter on my breakfast roll with my fingers (no knives) in the dining hall on day nine of my confinement in the prison, I glanced at the TV on top of the locker and saw a brief item on the news before the channel was changed, an article from a British newspaper saying “ Prince Charles fears being King will be ‘like prison’.” Ironic, I thought, but I decided that England would be like a prison for me too if I returned in my present situation. Cold, conservative and expensive, a regular ‘Shutter Island’. So instead of buying a ticket to London from the prison canteen, I decided to buy one for warmer, cheaper Spain, instead. (Unfortunately it still has a monarchy too, though.)
And so last Monday I was driven by police van to Istanbul airport and put on a plane to Barcelona. That’s where I am now. Barcelona is a beautiful city and the weather is clement, but my money situation is dire. I’m staying at a cheap hostel in a Street off Las Ramblas. I might tell fortunes with my runes there, and I hope to find a job teaching English.
Today I see in the news that Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is delighted with the fact that his and President Gül’s Islamic-leaning government has lifted the ban imposed since the early days of the Turkish Republic on women members of Parliament wearing headscarves in Office, claiming that this promotes democracy.
Way to go, Tayyip! In a real democracy you might even wear one yourself, like in this collage picture I made. And in a real democracy I wouldn’t be arrested for ‘Insulting your Dignity’. But hey – I’m out of the country now, just as you wished – and out of your hair!
Michael Dickinson can be contacted via his website.