Voices of Istanbul
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Can you recognize Istanbul with your eyes closed? The ezan, the call for prayer, is particularly dramatic when you are awake early in the morning and the background noise of the city is at a low ebb. At times like these, the muezzin and his recorded song dominate the acoustic landscape. Soon the seagulls chime in. They make you realize how close the Bosphorus is — hardly more than a quarter of a mile away. Why do the gulls start up their awful screeching so early on summer mornings, and why do they settle down later on? Are they motivated by mysterious air currents, changes in temperature, or just competition with their fellow birds? More… “Voices of Istanbul”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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Mohammed had a squirrelly look in his eyes, which together with his green-flecked teeth made me wonder whether to trust him. We had met that morning in Jijiga, Ethiopia, and he volunteered to show me — and then devour with me — the bleak town’s one real attraction: qat bushes. Here, near the Somali border, Mohammed cultivated qat and then shipped it all over the world for Horn-of-Africa expatriates who, like him, were utterly addicted to the numbing buzz you get when you chew its leaves for a few hours. They tasted about as bitter as you’d expect a shrub to taste. We were well into our fifth hour of chewing, and the bits of leaf gave his pearlies an emerald cast — the qat equivalent of the grotesque orange teeth one gets after scarfing a whole bag… More…