The atmosphere around the country, from the cities to the beaches on the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas, is jubilant. Yet, as one business owner warns, we must not lose ourselves in the joy of the moment, and remain vigilant against the virus.
“Bebek Kahve was established in 1981. We’ve been here for 40 years,” Cigdem Atakan, the current owner, says.
Bebek Kahve, a coffee house by the Bosporus hidden behind Fireroom bistro and Kahve Dunyasi, a stone’s throw from the Bebek Mosque, is a unique, low-key place where regulars frequent.
Atakan has been the owner for 20 years, since 1990, with her brother. Asked how the last year and a half has been for her, initially she had no words as she motioned with her hand to say as if “oh, what hasn’t happened!”
Turkey has been under lockdown for the past year and a half, with varying degrees of openings and closures throughout the year. On July 1, 2021, all establishments were allowed to open and operate within their licencing regulations. This includes restaurants and cafes being open for seated service on Sundays as well, which previously were reserved for local supermarket excursions by foot only. There was also a 10 pm curfew which has been lifted as well.
Gyms and spas are also open, as well as amusement parks, bars, theatres and cinemas, as of July 1, 2021.
“It was a very tough time,” Atakan eventually says. “Everything was out of bounds. Backgammon was not permitted, okey [a Turkish tile game] was not permitted, there were the social distancing rules… We kept opening up and closing down. We opened up for a month, then we were closed down for two,” she continues.
“We shut down in November, then we reopened on March 1st, as you know. It was a very difficult time for us,” she laments. She brightens when she says “Thank God that we don’t pay rent [we own our cafe], but we paid every other expense like clockwork.”
“We paid our personnel, we paid for natural gas, we paid for electricity… It was a tough time,” she sums up. “What will happen now? After the [July 1, 2021] reopening, we will pick up where we left off,” she smiles warmly.
“Of course, we will reinforce social distancing rules and hygiene,” Atakan adds, pointing to the bottle of disinfectant on the table, and indeed, on all tables. “We will keep our masks on, and carry on as usual.”
Atakan says Bebek Kahve has reduced the number of outdoor tables, spreading them around so that there is 1.5 metres between each. “I hope to God that we won’t have to close down again,” she prays.
“For example the Delta variant [of the coronavirus] makes me anxious,” she continues. While she has had both her Covid-19 shots, she is “genuinely worried” that a fourth wave might come and spoil the mood. “It is something else, it’s not like your run-of-the mill coronavirus,” she says timidly. “And yet people are already partying on the sea, without masks on, as if we’re in the clear.”
She believes that masks, social distancing and hygiene rules would and should continue. “Look at what happened in England!” she exclaims. “They were the first to inoculate the masses, now they’re dealing with the Delta variant.” She hopes it doesn’t spread in Turkey, “that will be the end of us,” she says.
“Small business owners, they cannot handle being closed yet again,” she opines. “Even though I didn’t pay rent, all my other expenses continued. I cannot imagine what happened to establishments who are renters, or are on the smaller side.” She says people sold tables and chairs in order to make ends meet. “May God never show us these times again,” she wishes.