Friday, August 31, 2012

Button Box Buskers

We have rarely seen any panhandling in Turkey.

In Baltimore, as in many cities, it has become common for people to beg at intersections. The perfunctory cardboard signs, always tattered, are fun to read, just to see what particular note the beggars are playing.

Is it a religious one with “God Bless?” Or is a socio-political one with “Unemployed?” Particularly disingenuous, I find the ones that state, “Hard worker. Please help.” In Baltimore, we saw the hard workers looking for day labor. They mingled on the corner of a convenience store right next to the entrance of Home Depot.

We saw one guy who hobbled down the row of stopped cars at the red light. Then once traffic flowing again, he walked normally back to the light again.

Not in Turkey. Not that begging doesn’t happen. It’s just not the plain “gimme” request. It’s cloaked in more honorable decorums.

The most common form of asking for alms comes in the guise of selling packages of tissues. Men and women wander the streets or sit on the sidewalk, always with no more than one or two packages in hand. They will work the outdoor restaurant tables – a practice that is tolerated by waiters. I find a certain humanity to this form of begging in a country that, although doing well financially, is still poorer than most western countries and has high unemployment.

I am surprised by the number of people who buy tissues. And the cultural spread. Many young people buy tissues and hand over the one Lira coin. About 55 cents.

Another form of eking out a desperate living is busking. I don’t know why, but in Izmir there seems to be a disproportionately high number of accordion buskers.

Accordion player on the streets of Izmir.
Usually they are kids. I feel doubly for them, as is intended in the whole scheme. I feel for them because they are already assigned to the streets at that age, but more so because they must surely have to hand over the money at home.

This is the only busker who didn't get a Lira from me, because he was too far away. I shot this from a pedestrian bridge.
I am torn between wondering if they are being exploited by their parents or if this indeed the best means of income. What if the answer to my cynicism is worse than I have thought: What if they have no parents and are homeless?

This kid had such an earnest expression.
Here's a close up of his sad little accordion.
Some of the explanation of their plight lies in discerning their heritage. Most buskers are not of western Turkey. The lines around their eyes, their facial features hint at a heritage of the eastern mountains. Kurdish, Armenian, perhaps from bordering eastern block countries. They are the least likely to find work in areas where they have few family members and possibly even less employable skills.

Busking with the family. She's having fun. So is the boy with his fat smile.
This was supposed to be a light-hearted entry of a few photographs as a tribute to my friend, Doc, who is a button box sailor but, as is typical with me, I can’t keep the commentary to myself.

Doc, by the way, has a great blog. He is a wonderful writer. He is wry, witty and humble. He writes about more than just the latest anchoring fiasco. It's a true tavel journal. A delight to read.

I've added him to my list of favorite blogs, but you can just click here: Loafing Aboard.

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