THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD: The Cart Driver in Istanbul

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The silent sentinels of history on the Bosphorus

I have seen them often; a large rectangular tall cart made of woven plastic moving down the street, almost like a headless cart, stopping at trash cans. The person driving this cart is almost never visible due to the height of the cart. I usually am in a process of hailing a cab or walking fast to make sure I am not late for class and thus have never stopped to look at the driver, but today I did.

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The young cart driver pauses to eat something that someone threw in the garbage.

Today as I was returning from class, my hands full of umurto or eggs and bread.

I saw him from the front. Thin to the point of being scrawny but obviously all muscle as he was pulling a  wagon that was almost full. He was pulling it uphill. The same hill that makes me short of breath coming up it without any burdens like his.

His thick mop of hair matted with sweat and dust pushed out of his eyes revealed a burn scar. I stopped in my tracks as I came head to head with him. “Aik minat ruko “ (please stop for a moment) I said . He stopped what he was doing, raised his head, his hesitancy and the recognition of the language in his eyes told me he had understood. He stood there, humble and needy in stance.

‘Urdu jantay ho” (Do you understand urdu) I asked, he smiled embarrassedly, his seasoned but young face lit up with a sheepish expression “thoora thoora” ( a little bit) he said in heavy afghan accent. “ Aap kahan say hain?” (where are you from)  I asked “May Afghanistan say hoon” ( I am from Afghanistan) he said, his childish face darkening with memory, and the large scar of multiple burns on his face deepening with hidden emotion.

“How did you get here.”? I asked. He used a term I did not understand. I asked him if he had flown, by plane or bus. He shook his head and said, “many car, lorry like this” he pointed to a passing minibus (a dolmush that carries many individual passengers going the same way) .

“ And your family? “ I asked. “They are all in Afghanistan”, he said, his face stoic wiping out all emotion. How old are you I asked, “ I am fifteen…and then embarrassed at my knowing expression that his stated age was older than he was  “……….or close to fifteen” he said with an embarrassed smile. He was much younger in body and his once handsome face was marred by two deep burn marks. Embarrassed innocence warred with knowledge of things that should neither be seen nor heard by a child, pooled in his eyes.

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Separating the plastic and paper from the wet waste is not pleasant, but occasional good food surprises appear in the trash like an unopened bag of chips.

I stood silent, mentally calculating the hundreds of miles that were between Istanbul and Afghanistan. My medical background in taking care of unaccompanied children and what happens to them when they are unprotected by their families flashed through my eyes. Unbidden came the memory of my patients and I could imaging all the forms of abuse he must have undergone to get here. May Allah protect him and his family. I prayed silently that it was not so for him.

My hands were in my pocket searching for change………the real reason I had stopped him, was that someone had mentioned that give sadaqa to the workers who carry the recycled paper and plastic, they don’t have much.

He looked at me with surprise when I handed him the change, just a few turkish liras. His eyes reflected shame, happiness and sadness all at the same time in acceptance. He thanked me and moved on to the next dumpster to collect the plastic and paper and in doing so ridding the world of toxins and waste.

Little did he know that his job which brought meager money to subsist on, most of which he sent home to his family in Afghanistan, was a job in which he was cleaning up the sins of others. The sins of israaf and pollution of the wealthy and heedless of this world.  He was unaware that with his persevering patience in the face of all odds, he was building a house in Jannah at the tender age of fifteen years far away form his war torn home and country of birth: Afghanistan.

“There is nothing there,……………” he had said waving his hand to indicate faraway, when I had asked him about Afghanistan.

But there is now I thought, a young son of Afghanistan and now Turkey doing hard labor all day, earning an honest living and subsisting on next to nothing, sending money to his family to buy food, to remove the pollution of plastic and to recycle paper in Turkey.

He was truly an angel of peace for both Afghanistan and Turkey. He was wiping out the collective sins of the people with his hasanaat (good deeds) all day long.

May Allah bless him, protect him and his family, his home country and his adopted country, all are beholden to him for the far-reaching effects of his presence and his work.

Ayah 9:60 → Charity is only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise

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A cart man collects cardboard in the city streets of Istanbul for recycling

Addendum: Turkey hosts 2.5 million refugees, and an additional 2 million have passed through it. It is commendable that it does not put them in cages and tries to absorb them in mainstream life. Yet the citizens of those countries who “make” children into refugees by financing wars are silent and so are those from whose taxes these wars are waged…….

900,000 syrian children refugees are in Turkey, they cannot understand turkish and the Turkish teachers cannot understand arabic. Everyone is trying to do their best to help,  you can too, in your own little corner of the world, inshallah.

4 thoughts on “THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD: The Cart Driver in Istanbul

    • Thank you and Ameen! May Allah accept our sadaqa and provide protection and ample rizq for the children and young adults away from home, striving to make a life in a foreign country as their own country has been destroyed by foreigners.

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