One Sunday in Istanbul, I visited an orphanage, tagging along with a group of students visiting from a Christian university in the States. Our meeting place was in front of a plain brick building in a busy square in Besikas. One upper apartment housed the unmarked church I regularly attended, but this afternoon we didn’t climb the stairs. Together we crossed the busy street and made our way to the bus terminal where we caught a public bus destined for the outskirts of the city. We rode for quite some time. The further we traveled, the emptier the streets became. Compared with the lively city center to which I’d grown accustomed, the stark emptiness was almost haunting. We eventually stopped, stepped off the bus, strolled down several empty streets, turned a few corners, and came upon a modest building with a fence around it.
Our tour of the small house-sized establishment only took a few moments. The rooms were tidy, clean and very simply furnished. They held the bare necessities and not much more. Back outside, we were introduced to the boys. They were clearly curious, but understandably a bit standoffish. The language barrier and cultural divide felt painfully apparent. A game of soccer, the great lingual equalizer, was proposed by the appearance of a tattered, well-worn plastic orb, and a lively match soon started. The visitors, easily twice the stature of the home team, didn’t stand a chance.
After our crushing defeat, we sat panting on the little ledge beside the cement slab turned soccer field. The young orphan boys congregated around a communal cup. Filling it with water from a dirty plastic two-liter bottle, they shared the single glass, each drinking deeply. Clearly concerned about his visitors, one boy silently filled the cup and passed it towards our group. Most quickly declined the gift with a smile and shake of the head. But as the cup was passed along, I couldn’t bear the thought of turning down all this child could offer his guests. I drank and so did the young man seated after me.
“Whatever’s in it, I’m sure I’ve had worse,” he said under his breath to me as he lifted the glass to his lips.
I can’t speak for the young man beside me, but I never got a bit sick.
Years have passed. Somewhere across the seas, the young child is now a man. I hope he weathered all the storms life sent his way and never lost his kind and generous spirit. He may not even remember the moment when he offered the gift of water, but I, for one, will never forget it.
(Originally posted on my old blog, Interim Arts, on June 17, 2013)