The salvagers

They’re as essential a part of the community as the fish monger or the green grocer, but they’re seldom greeted by residents with anything but disdain and sometimes hostility. Even the street dogs will sometimes let loose and kick up a fuss, bark at them and chase them in packs. Yet in a city like Istanbul these people provide an essential service, one of many that keeps this city moving  They take our discarded papers, boxes, cans and beer bottles to recycle depots, saving taxpayers the feel-good service of a recycling service. They also unburden city sanitation workers of a great deal of waste, and somehow salvage a living, digging through smelly and possibly dangerous bins, combing society’s junk piles for today’s treasures.

I couldn’t help but notice the man above as he paused in his recovery efforts this morning and sat down with a perfectly folded intact copy of Hürriyet to read the headline page. So I decided to cross the street and ask him for a portrait. I was somewhat nervous that he might tell me where to go and how to get there in no uncertain terms, but he was very generous and didn’t seem slightly fazed. After thanking him, I crossed the street and resumed my morning coffee and email. Twenty minutes later, the man below showed up and started rummaging and found a whole new range of treasures, including plastic produce carts. He also gamely allowed me to take his portrait, though he seemed a little less confident. I particularly like the fact that the battered hat he’s wearing has a City of Istanbul logo on it.

I only have one regret. Usually when I take someone’s portrait, I remember to ask his or her name. This morning I didn’t do that and I’m not quite sure why, only that I’m sorry that I forgot.