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Interact. Learn. Make friends out of strangers.

I arrived in Istanbul on the day that Turkey was celebrating Mustafa Kemal ‘Atatürk’, revolutionary and founder of the Republic of Turkey. Think about that for a second, the little voice in my head is saying it, ‘founder of the Republic of Turkey’. While reading up on this, the work I found to be most impressive was that during his leadership and before Atatürks’ death in 1938, thousands of schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced.

How are you feeling about the actions and vision of your chosen leaders in 2016, 78 years since the time of Atatürk?

This got me thinking. Living in Sweden, I feel good about the now, but wonder how the people with silent voices will vote in the future. Perhaps it’s time to talk with the people who are not always in our circles or feeds. Our circles or feeds only represent the views and opinions of people we probably agree with, it’s like running on a treadmill infinitely and expecting to arrive somewhere we need to be. Make friends out of strangers, understand that an emoji will never be the worth of 1000 words. My mission begins with sparking up conversations at the local supermarket. I see the people working there almost every day but don’t know anything about them. If I can make what’s uncomfortable for me, comfortable, I believe the result will be a better understanding of the community I live in. Supermarket now, who knows what next? One thing is for sure, the time is now for good people to do great things.

Interact. Learn. Make friends out of strangers.

I was driven from an airport in Asia to the heart of the European side of Istanbul (Thank you Öykü) to be reunited with the Rebel Runners, a crew that made the trip to Stockholm for BTGSTO (Bridge The Gap Stockholm). The night was late and short but not over before ‘Marmaris’ for an Islak Hamburger, a hard to describe ‘wet burger’, definitely great after a few beers. Sleep.

It was probably around 05:30-06:00 when I heard the first prayer of the day. I woke up in a country with a very different culture to the one I am used to. Almost 15 million people all trying to get along.

Breakfast is important in Istanbul, multiple dishes side by side make up a diverse spread of sweet, spicy, hot and cold options. Lucky enough to be in town for 4 of them. I almost forgot, Tea, always tea on the table and when the food is done, coffee.

My first time running in Istanbul was with the Rebel Runners at an NRC Istanbul session and shake out run for the Istanbul Marathon. The format very much the same as any other run with NRC, the difference being that in Istanbul the running culture is many moons behind say, Paris, London or Stockholm. It was as if we were on show, people staring with smiles as if they hadn’t seen someone running before while we snaked the streets and alleys of a suburb filled with bars, restaurants and cafe’s. After run was extra special on this night, Rebel Runners in co-operation with NRC Istanbul threw a party for the run scene featuring a live set from Rebel Band. I asked the band if they had any pre-gig rituals and they replied Strawberries and a Zebra.. Still no clue what this means haha! 200+ runners showed up and I have to mention that I tried ‘Tantuni’, some kind of spicy meat in a roll, damn those things are good, I had to order a second serve. Lots of meat in Istanbul.

Invited into the homes of the Rebel Runners, I got to try home cooked food and of course Raki. Raki is similar to Greek ouzo or French pastis, you mix it with water and to say ‘şerefe’ (cheers), you first circle your glass around your head and then tap it on the table before sipping. The saying goes ‘Raki is the answer, I don’t remember the question?’ and all of this while listening to traditional folk music. Turkish coffee was served at the end of this night, which means having your fortune told. My fortune is for me to keep!

Race day was here and I was pacing for 10km of the Vodafone Istanbul Maratonu. The route included a crossing of the famous Bosphorus Bridge, which connects Asia to Europe, something I highly recommend and will never forget. This race was like no other I have been a part of, very political in the way that many runners were provided Turkish Flag t-shirts to wear and the government decided at the last minute to ban music along the route. On top of this there were police armed with huge guns, journalists standing in the middle of the route stopping runners for interviews and even a couple of expensive cars allowed to drive despite the roads being closed. What I was experiencing was a message from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan current leader/dictator to the rest of the world that Turkey is still a free country. The Rebel runners / NRC Istanbul cheer zone at 9km was massive and I respect that despite the ban on music, it was pumping nice and loud! Full credit due to the decision makers for this. 📷

It’s interesting to me that Running was used to exemplify freedom by a dictator. Clearly this shows the power of the worlds most accessible sport and people putting one foot in front of the other. As the founder and co-captain of Ssideline City, a crew part of the all planet Bridge The Gap movement, I believe it’s up to us to band together and bridge the gap between your free city and Istanbul. Running or Freedom belongs to no dictator, our voices need to be heard. I hope you’re with me in support of a BTGIST (Bridge The Gap Istanbul)?

After being hosted and treated like family (Some now call me Uncle), my final night with the Rebel Runners was spent swapping ideas and eating the best Chicken Wings in the world by the banks of the Bosphorous.

Thank you to Memduh, Barış, Esra, Öykü, Kemal (Nephew), Yasin, Hasan (Ozzie) and the Rebel Runners. Also to Leyla, Mehmet, Haneen and Niels from Nike Running Istanbul.

Ps: Hey Istanbul, benzemez kimse san 📷

Kristian Hell Founder/Co-Captain – Ssideline City Instagram: @kristianhell


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