The neighborhood had been without water for two days, the result of a brown-out. The sewage pipes were all blocked, and the belidiye had brought in workers to tear up the streets and do the necessary maintenance.
Such problems were typical in the megacity, and the locals were used to it. Still, it was mid July, very hot and humid, especially since the neighborhood was in one of the city’s far-flung districts. Unlike Beşiktaş or Üsküdar or Kadıköy, the Bosphorus and sea were too far away to offer any sort of breezy respite from the heat and general mugginess.
As a result, all the shops were busy selling bottled water. The streets were choked with mid-summer dust blowing up from the construction holes. People used the bottled water to wash the dust off themselves in the mornings, and to cool off after returning home from work in the evening. They used it for cooking and for washing the dishes. In the barbershop, the kuaför heated up loads of the stuff and used it to wash the hair of his customers. Laundry was either postponed or else done in big plastic bowls, and the clothes hung out on the balconies to dry overnight. As with everything else, matters concerning the toilet also involved clever, necessary improvisations.
The locals may well have borne the outage with typical Turkish fortitude, if not in the evening of the second day, the Internet went out as well. All over the neighborhood, people had just finished their meals, their bottled-water showers, and were relaxing in living rooms watching the news or else TV shows on Netflix, when suddenly they had no Internet.
Talk about an outage. People can live, or get by, without running water. But the Internet? I mean, come on, man.
People wandered out onto their balconies, or into the streets, stood in anxious conferences. They looked bewildered, some angry. “Do you have Internet, abi? No? You? Ne oldu, ya? What is happening?”
Some of the workers were approached and berated by the citizens. They were berated for their carelessness, their incompetence. The workers argued back, or else shrugged, indicating it was not their fault, but rather some of the other workers.
It was unclear how many people were affected by the outage. A guess-timate would be several thousand, the approximate size of the neighborhood. Taking initiative, the residents inundated the belidiye with phone calls and emails.
“Allah, Allah! What is this? We are living in Istanbul not some village!” most of the reponses went. The belidiye officials gave vague indications as to when the water would be back on. “What can I do?” asked one particularly exasperated public official. Most of his colleagues had already göne home that day. It was his misfortune to have worked late that day. On top of that, municipal elections were just around the corner.
“Tell me, what can I do?” this unctious official continued. “There has been some kind of accident. Do I look like a construction worker? Do I? Vatandaşlarım, listen: I can only make the proper inquries.”
Several hours passed, with the workers and residents huddled around the construction site where the problem was said to have occurred. Other residents stood on their balconies, playing balkon teyze, observing and gossiping. The last call to prayer came, and with the darkness came an added urgency. How does one pass a whole entire night without the Internet?
As the situation continued without any resolution in sight, there was talk of marching on the belidiye, of contacting the media. As if on cue, a fleet of election trucks arrived, blaring loud music, chanting support for the various political parties. From the loudspeakers, voices could be heard calling upon the now-Internet-less citizens to register for the coming elections.
In response, the locals said many colorful, less-than-patriotic things. Meanwhile, some local media arrived, the TV stations mostly. They set up a phalanx of cameras, capturing the plight of the unfortunate residents. Reporters did their stand-up reporting, and gathered soundbytes from outraged people who were missing out on the latest episode of “Kadın,” not to mention the new season of “Game of Thrones.” That the water had been out for two days only got passing mention.
One of the reporters, rounding out their story, noticed a young woman sitting on her balcony reading a book. “Look at that!” the reporter mused, intrigued. The reporter grabbed his cameraman and approached the girl, who was wearing a bright purple headscarf and a striped blouse. She had the bone structure and movements of a young bird.
“Can I ask what you are reading?” the reporter asked, after introducing himself.
The girl produced an English grammar and vocabulary book. “I am studying for exams,” she said.
“Ah, I see,” the reporter said. “Yes, it is exam week for you. Which university?
The girl told him, and he asked her a few more general questions. Meanwhile, other reporters, catching on the angle, had also moved in and set up cameras. GİRL READS BOOK (Imagine!) DURİNG INTERNET BLACKOUT” Yes, with that collective pack thinking typical to those in the trade, the journalists surmised a beautiful irony, a way to cap off their stories.
Unfazed, the girl answered the questions matter-of-factly, politely. After a while, she became restless. After all, she had exams coming up.
The reporters congratulated the student on her focus, her dedication. “Too bad more of your generation doesn’t follow your example!” said one.
Others nodded ruefully. Today’s generation —-
The girl said, “You are probably right. But what are you doing? Right now there are more reporters here, and more cameras, than there are people trying to actually fix the problem. Instead of wasting your time complimenting me on my reading abilities, you could try talking to someone a bit more useful.”
What an answer! The reporters were a bit stunned, but then they all laughed. “That’s true, that’s true!” they said. And they all thanked the girl, wished her luck on her exams. Then they packed up, got in their vans, and drove away, back to the city center. They all breathed sighs of relief, glad to be “back in civilization.”
“Can you imagine? No Internet?” they all asked each other. “And how about that girl? Yeah, she’s something … “
Naturally, the Internet was restored to the neighborhood the following day, or thereabouts. The university student, by the way, found herself a bit of a celebrity – not just at the university, but also on social media. People shared her interview clip on YouTube, on Instagram, showing her reading a book on the day the Internet died. Watch dogs took up her comment on the media, showing for example, a line of Syrian refugees waiting for bread, outnumbered and outflanked by the presence of news cameras.
Oh, and just so you know, the water was also restored to the beleaguered neighborhood. A few days after the Internet, yes, but then again it was a complicated procedure. And an election is just around the corner, which always adds extra spice. Above all, we must not forget our priorities, people!
Anyway, that was what happened on the day the Internet died. As a personal aside, reader: this story may be regarded as fiction, but may throw light on other matters regarded as fact.
James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher living in Istanbul.