by Zo Flamenbaum, Israel
As I sipped a glass of sweet Turkish tea on the open aired rooftop of the hostel, I raged inside. The city sparkled before me as my two friends went to sleep, and I immediately let loose in my journal, my pen transmitting the anger boiling up within me.
It was our last night in Istanbul, a city renowned for its nightlife, and I wanted to go out OUT. I wanted to explore, to experience, to drink, to dance on anything I could plant my wedges on.
For the past four days, I had traveled according to the top #20 Lonely Planet recommendations that my friends wanted. We hit bath houses and tea houses, the Grand Bazaar, Aya Sophia, Topkapi Palace, what felt like every single mosque. As a traveler, I preferred wandering the streets and getting lost to uncover a city’s true beauty, but I had succumbed to my friend, a dedicated trip organizer, and her regimented schedule. My only request was one night out in Istanbul.
We had reached the final night in our itinerary, and my friends had pulled the early yawn, opting, once again, for sleep over satisfying my request – and now, I was furious.
I considered exploring on my own but as a single woman, the thought made me nervous. Plus, we were told before arrival that we should, under no circumstances, say we were Jewish or from Israel, likely given the unsturdy past between the two Middle Eastern cousin countries.
I stopped huffing in my journal and turned my gaze back to the distant urban sparkles I wouldn’t get to see up close – when I heard something land beside me. A small pot of gold. Also known as a shot of tequila, connected to the outreached arm of Bhutal, the boy from the hostel who served me eggs with a bright smile every morning. “Chaser?” He asked.
A dash of hope sparked my heart and liver, eyes glistening with joy, affection and hope – possibly the first time ever a tequila shot has inspired this effect in me.
“A few of the boys from the hostel are going out, would you like to join?”
My insides screamed YES and NO simultaneously.
YES I wanted to join. I wanted to go out, explore, have fun, experience it all, down this tequila, and then throw back some more. And then NO. NO I can’t go. I’m a lone Jewish girl in a big, bad, beautiful Muslim country, and while I like Turkey, they don’t like me. The last thing I’m meant to do is go out with a bunch of strange boys to a strange place with no phone, no friends, and no back up.
“Where will you go,” I asked.
“To one of our favorite clubs in Beyoglu, it’s fun. Come with us.”
“I want to, but…”
“But what else are you going to do? Stare at the light and write angry things in your little book?”
It was as if Bhutal had sensed I wanted something more from evening, and he was ready to deliver.
My internal ping pong process of decision making began. So did the tequila chasers.
Do I go against everything I’ve ever heard as a single woman travelling? But when was I ever going to be in Turkey again? Could I go out and actually have fun? But what if I was raped and murdered? Did I want to risk my life for one night in Istanbul?
As I sat on the roof with the hostel boys, I began tuning in to my gut, or more likely the stream of tequila now sloshing towards it. Was I going out OUT in Istanbul? Yes. Absolutely yes.
Off we went. Six of us piled into a car and drove towards Taksim Square, one of Turkey’s major centers. The lights flashed before my eyes, blurring my dizzy brain with all their dazzle, adrenaline pumping through my veins elevated with every light wave. We drove along the black Bosphorus and arrived to a maze of bright alleyways, lit up with madness, and began elbowing our way through buzzing crowds of people clucking in foreign tongue, mayhem at every turn. Neon colored signs of all kinds hit my pupils, matching the wardrobe of the splatters of young people painting the cobblestone sidewalks.
I felt like Pacwoman, following the dotted line of hostel boys, right right left right, until we arrived at a hot-pink cursive colored sign that read Night Club. Perfect. As we journeyed inside to the dark and smoky abyss, Bhutal grabbed my hand, my instinct immediately pulled it back in protection mode, as we locked eyes, mine bewildered, his confused.
We immediately stepped towards the bar, and my nerves rose just as another round of tequila shots did too. As both went up, Bhutal and I caught eyes once again, his deep brown eyes penetrating mine, radiating pure kindness, my eyes telling a story of their own. “Let’s be friends,” he said with a sweet smile. My mind and body eased and breathed for the first time since we had left the hostel. As I cheersed with him and the others, a wide smile spreading on my face, another pot of gold down my yellow brick throat.
The rest of the evening was spent dancing, laughing, drinking gold until early morning hours. At some point, we drizzled out of the Night Club and wandered home, and at some point, Bhutal reached his hand for mine once more, and this time, I securely slipped my hand into his. We zigzagged back to the hostel, following the greasy aromas of fresh grilled kebabs, hostel boys salivating, on the hunt for satisfaction.
We landed back at the hostel as the sun rose, and before crashing in bunk 18 of my 30-person hostel cave, Bhutal and I wandered back up to the rooftop where it all began. Thanks to his outreached arm and his tequila offering, we ended my one night in Istanbul, still holding hands in front of sunrise, the ultimate pot of gold.