Light shed on lives of Africans in Istanbul
Engin Esen - ISTANBUL
An African church choir took stage during the opening event of the exhibition showing works of photographer Yusuf Sayman on May 3.
To such an extent that an exhibition showing photographs from the book, “Çabuk Çabuk,” opened on May 3 at the Bant Mag. Havuz hall in Istanbul’s district of Kadıköy - less than a year after its publication in December 2018. The exhibition runs until May 23.
“I did not anticipate such a great interest. I would write more details if I had estimated it,” Şimşek told Hürriyet Daily News at the launch event of the exhibition.
“Particularly, I wish I had added a separate text on the problems that African women have been facing,” she added.
In the book, a migrant woman from Uganda describes the daily difficulties the majority of African women experience in metropolis, including sexual harassment at the workplace and on the street.
“The majority of employers at textile workshops attempt to rape their African female workers and threaten to fire them if they reject sexual advances. I heard this from a lot of African women,” the Ugandan woman says. “They try to touch us on the street only because we are black women, and they think we are sex workers.”
‘Quick, quick’ bosses shout at them
A common opinion in Turkey is that racism against black people is not a big issue because the country does not have a history of colonialism or segregation as in many Western countries.
Şimşek strongly rejects this point of view, stressing that this misperception resulted from the fact that Africans in Turkey often live in the shadows and Afro-Turks, Turkish citizens with African roots, live mostly in southern and western provinces and make up only tiny communities.
During her two-year field study in Istanbul’s neighborhoods, she heard many stories about passengers refusing to sit next to a black person on public transportation or declining a seat offered by an African migrant.
“The experiences of African migrants are not well known because it is not a debated issue,” she said.
The book gives insight into these African communities, whose exact population unknown, shedding light on their neighborhoods, work-life problems, football trainings and religious gatherings.
The name of the book, “Çabuk Çabuk”, refers to the scoldings African workers hear from their bosses literally saying: “Quick, quick!”
“Some African migrants told us that ‘çabuk’ was the first Turkish word they had learned,” Şimşek wrote in the book.
Underground apartment-churches function both as a place of worship and a rehabilitation center, according to a pastor from Uganda, who has been living in Istanbul since 2013.
“I’ve been the pastor of this church for two years, and it has been attacked many times within this period. These attacks disturb and scare us greatly. We are afraid that they will close down churches in the future,” he said in the book.
Muslim African migrants, meanwhile, usually gather on Thursday nights. “We read prayers, listen to each other’s problems, try to support one another and feel less alone,” a Senegalese migrant said.