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On the streets of Istanbul today I scanned the crowds, the walls, the galleries, looking for the face of one man, and one man only. Obama. Not here, I realized, walking the broad, trendy expanse of Istiklal Street. Nor here, in the back alleys of Galata.
Striking up conversations about him was no easier. “Yes, Obama. He will be very good, much better than Bush,” noted Barak Kanli, a shopkeeper. “But did you hear about the latest Fenerbahce match?” Other preferred to talk about the Gaza cease-fire, their jobs, their relationship problems.
There were, of course, exceptions to the general Obamapathy.
“Like millions of others around the world, we too celebrate. Our mood will ride high in part on the departure of President George W. Bush, a president whose leadership has been disastrous for our region. But we, too, welcome the change on its own merits, joining in the hope for the more restrained and less arrogant foreign policy that Obama has promised us,” wrote a local columnist known as “From the Bosphorus” in Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
Others, meanwhile, were less optimistic.
“In Turkish stock market, foreign investors and banks take Obama’s new presidency as an advantage to leave Turkey, which causes the dollar/lira exchange rate to sky-rocket. So, should I really care about Obama when I’m losing money, you tell me,” said Idil Akyol, assistant supervisor at Finans Bank.
“I’m still hopeful though, and sure that he’ll do much better than G.W. Bush,” she finished.
Finally, my head down and about to head for home I saw him.
Shaded by what remains of the old city wall an old man sat, copies of today’s papers tossed across a tarp in front of him. “Obama?”, he asked me questioningly. And there he was. Maybe not the largest picture on the page, but there, staring back at me. With a smudged copy of the 44th president of the U.S. in my hands I walked away.