TDA Reports From The Field: Life In Istanbul Under Confinement
Esen Küçüktütüncü has worked with TDA Global Cycling as a Videographer on the 2018 West Africa en Vélo & 2019 Bamboo Road .
About two years ago I was fortunate enough to be part of a team of great people from all around the world. Our mission was to cycle from Casablanca, Morocco to Cape Coast, Ghana. The inaugural West Africa en Vélo Bicycle Expedition included so many “firsts” for me, but there is one that has become more relevant now than ever before. I distinctly remember Lezinda (aka Lulu, our Namibian lunch truck driver and laughter chain initiator) going “Wow wow, Essie did you see that?!” She pulled out a book titled ‘The Birds of West Africa’ from her glove box and asked me to turn to a certain page. There it was, the bird that had flown over our van, printed in colour on the page.
This wasn’t a one time situation. Lulu, along with Colleen (our South African chef with an equally talented way of making you laugh) would spot birds along the way and try to guess the species. I would see the pure excitement in her eyes, the joyous laughter she made whenever she spotted one. The sheer sight of the bird brought cheer to our van as we crossed the windy, wiggly roads of Guinea and Sierra Leone. I was always entertained to see her thrilled about a bird, but to be honest I didn’t understand why. Maybe I wasn’t a bird person. I liked seeing them around and waking up to their chirping sound from time to time, but that was about it.
I gazed through that book many times on that trip, like an illiterate little child looking through an encyclopedia. It was big and thick, intimidating. Its weight pushed my belly in, making it hard to even breath. Flash forward to now (early May 2020) and looking at the sky has been the main activity of my day. It all started with having the seagulls pay a visit while I was having breakfast on our terrace. Then came the crows, the guardians of the city. As weeks passed, adding more days under confinement, the weather got warmer, thus new pals joined: sparrows and pigeons. I watched a flock of seagulls dance in the sky. At first, this made me feel like I was in the movie The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock, giving me a sense of awe. And then suddenly fear, as the possibility of raining bird poo dawned on me (funny enough, it’s good luck in Turkish culture, but I can’t leave the house and get a lottery ticket so I wouldn’t try…).
I’ve learned many things: like some sparrows I saw were not actually swallows. Great Cormorants are truly majestic creatures but pygmy Cormorants are more friendly when it comes to having a closer look. Shearwaters fly perfectly parallel to the sea, defying gravity and proving perfect symmetry. Little Sterns love sunflower seeds, maybe even more than me. I can now spot different types of seagulls: black headed, black blacked or even Caspian. I learned how birds listen to us more than we listen to them. They have a certain pattern when it comes to diving down to hunt some food. They usually meet around the dock before sunset and scatter through the seaside at exactly the same time every day. This has become my new open-air class. Every afternoon as I pour myself a fresh cup of coffee, get my treats ready and pull up a chair to have my daily bird watching session, I finally understand Lulu and Colleen: birds are pretty amazing. Not only that they give me a sense of freedom in the days of confinement, but also the hope that eventually, we’ll be alright.
Side note: Jer Thorp, a Brooklyn based artist and writer just released a website where you can find birds in your area and test your knowledge on how they sound. It’s pretty great!
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