My shirt sticks to my back, the collar is drenched with sweat. It’s a hot Izmir night as the temperature hovers near forty degrees Celsius. I’m far from the city’s picturesque Kordon, the shoreline promenade where Izmir’s famously beautiful girls stroll on summer evenings. No, there are no girls here. Just men, lots of men. The foul smells of body odor mix with the frantic shouts of police officers attempting to organize the chaos as bodies stream at them.

 

This isn’t a political rally. This isn’t a political protest. This is a charity event. For Soma. Galatasaray are facing the reigning Spanish champions Atletico Madrid at Izmir’s sprawling Ataturk Stadium—Turkey’s biggest. Supposedly, the proceeds will go to the families of those affected by the Soma mining disaster in May. I have given 90 Turkish Liras to the cause in the name of football. I just need to find my ticket, which is with a friend somewhere in the stadium.

 

The police are checking people’s tickets in a first line of defense against overcrowding. Those without tickets are not let into the stadium grounds, where lines and lines of sweaty bodies are crowded around the gates. This is what it looks like when 50,000 people are herded into single file lines. The police are refusing me entry time and time again as I desperately plead my case. There is no cell phone service here, the presence of so many people seems to have overloaded the networks.

After being rejected entry three times I get lucky. An older policeman tells me to wait for a few minutes. I wait. Some are let through. Some are sent back. The tension is as thick as the humid summer air. There is more shoving than in a Wal Mart on black Friday. The cop calls me over.

“Go to the other line”, motioning his head. I nod. I push back through the oncoming crowd and pull a U-turn.

“Tickets, tickets—lets see your tickets please!” The two cops in front of me are yelling, pushing people through and stopping others. My man is whispering something to a colleague. He looks at me as he listens. I feel his arm on my shoulder, pushing me through. I feel like a refugee plucked out of a war zone, I feel grateful to have been trusted.

 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. The “lines” are just a mass of people, there is no organization. I walk the perimeter of the stadium, searching desperately for Gate 3A. I’m at Gate 7B. I push through the crowds. Fathers hold their children close, boyfriends hold their girlfriends closer. I watch my pockets, there are too many kids zigzagging through the crowds at random. Some people are lighting flares, giving the proceedings a red glow to match the night’s heat. This is a charity event. For Soma.

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I catch my friend just as he is about to get to the turnstiles and grab my ticket. Just in time. There is no scanning machine, its all manual. They take my ticket and without ripping it (as is customary) throw it into a plastic bag. That ticket could be re-used, to give someone free entry. This is supposed to be a charity event. For Soma. I walk on, headed to the stands.

 

“Please, move out of the way so that we can see”. No answer, no reaction from those in front of us.

“Hey, am I supposed to watch your asses for 90 minutes?” A louder question now, from somewhere behind me. People stream into the stands but all the seats are full. They decide to stand on the concourse, directly in front of our seats. The one usher in our section is overwhelmed, powerless to stop the people coming in. Now I understand how stadium disasters can happen. A dark thought.

“Sir, could you please move? You’re blocking our view.” The man to my left asks an older gentleman who holds his son by the hand.

“My son came to watch this match and he’s going to watch it.”

“That is fine, but please watch somewhere that doesn’t block other people’s views!” The tension rises.

“This isn’t Germany! Das Is Turkei!”

The man to my left looks surprised. Perhaps he was born in Germany, perhaps he lives in Germany, but he’s still a Turk. He’s still a person.

“I claimed these seats three hours ago! What is that supposed to mean?” He asks, still surprised.

“This is Turkey!!” The man is yelling now, his kid is left looking around in confusion, his head spinning, eyes darting left and right. He is young, but he knows tension. He lives in Turkey.

“Please, you said you came with your son so act accordingly. ‘This is Turkey?’ So what, does that mean that in Turkey you can act like an animal? Please, be respectful to us, to yourself, to your son!” Again, a voice from behind me.

“When I come back here and see people standing here, if I don’t attack you all may I be a whore’s son!” The words come spewing out of his mouth with a venom of hatred that belies his years, before he storms off with his son in tow. The younger generation is learning how to behave—at a charity event. For Soma.

 

“What, am I supposed to sit down and watch this match? This match isn’t a match to sit down at, fuck this.” Another man is beyond control. It feels like everything will come crashing down. We ask the usher to help and all he can say is “They won’t listen”.

“Its your job to make them listen!” I say.

“What can I do? They just wont listen!” he shrugs and walks away, sticking out in his reflective orange vest. I want to rip it off his back and start doing his job for him. But I don’t. The match is starting. For charity. For Soma. In fact, so far the only sign of Soma comes after the minute of silence. Slowly, steadily, the chant rises from the opposite side of the stadium before it is 50,000 voices—“Everywhere is Soma, Everywhere is Darkness!”

 

After about ten minutes I stop paying attention to the match for reminding new comers that they are blocking people’s views. After twenty minutes everyone is forced to stand up. There is no use. Normally, the closed stand—“kapali”—is where people watch sitting down. That is not the case tonight, except in the lower level of the stand.

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If only we had been there. But we aren’t. So I engage in people watching and flare watching. A Pyro show, for charity. For Soma.

 

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At halftime I look for a ticket stub, one to add to my collection. I look for the plastic bag I saw when entering but cannot find it. I find a cop sitting on the dirty steps watching the gate. He has a cardboard box under him—the hardships of game day duty. He says that all the tickets at his gate where ripped, and tells me to go to the other gate, the one I came in through. There the policeman on duty asks me to take one from the ground. I find one. I can almost make out the writing “Nike” in the grime, an imprint of a shoeprint. It is like holding the sole of a shoe, not the most appetizing. Just as I turn to go I discover the bag. I reach in and grab a pristine ticket, not ripped. Then is a hard grip on my wrist, spinning me around as if in a ballroom dance routine.

“What do you think you’re doing!” The cop is enraged, as enraged as the fans.

Before I can say anything the ticket man stops him.

“Its ok, ok.” He rips a ticket and gives it to me. I hurry away up the stairs, feeling the stone cold gaze of the police officer imprinting my image in his mind.

 

I’m back with the original police officer, the one who had sent me to the other gate in the first place. I want to apologize for upsetting his co-worker, but he waves me off. He says I did the right thing. I ask him what is going to happen to this country, what we can do with the lack of respect for fellow humans. So palpable is the lack of respect that it comes to the fore at a charity event. I think about the opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu who was interviewing on CNN Turk’s “Ne Oluyor” program the previous night, answering questions about the presidential election coming up on August 10. He had said that this country needs a “morality reform”. He isn’t wrong.

 

“They said education would solve this,” begins the cop. “But we see university educated citizens being disrespectful. Islam is a religion that teaches respect. Feed others before you, share your food if they have none. That’s how it is supposed to be.”

“But it doesn’t work out that way.” I interject. He nods.

“They say the hope is in the youth, but there is a serious divide in the youth. Half the youth see a lot and see the world in one way. The other half of young people see nothing and see the world completely differently. I’ve visited a few countries in Western Europe, but their lives are more relaxed. There are less people. Here, I see foreigners I know. Eventually they have to become Turkish, and act Turkish. They have to change their manners, they cannot act the same way in Turkey that they do in their own countries. It might happen to you, you are different in the United States than you are in Turkey.”

I nod. If you don’t act a certain way, people won’t respect you. They will step on you, take advantage of you. But that isn’t how it should be.

“The other day I was glancing at the celebrity news in the paper. So many rich people, but they are savages. People try to mask all their disrespectful qualities with money.” The policeman is continuing, on a roll. “They can mask themselves in certain environments. They can’t hide it from you, they can’t hide it from me, but they can from others. In places where money is all that matters, where the kind of car you drive and the clothes you wear matter.”

I nod. Such places are indeed many in Turkey.

 

If you’re rich you could give some of that to charity, for instance. If I ever got rich, I’d like to think that I could remember where I came from and give back.

Like I would like some of the football fans at the Izmir Ataturk Stadium to remember what happened in Soma. To remember those families, who lost their breadwinners; to remember how hard it is for them to go on. To remember why we are here tonight, why we spent more than ten percent of the country’s minimum wage on a ticket for a soccer match. We did it to give back to those who lost so much. Now why would we, as human beings, make it harder on one another by fighting over seats? Its not their fault completely, the organization is admittedly bad but it would be nice to, at least for once, organize ourselves. Or at least try to. Some of the fans could. Others couldn’t. I write to thank those who could, and remind those who couldn’t.

 

By the way, the match ended 0-0.

 

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