Home deliveries for Turkey's elderly come in a basket through the window

Istanbul (AFP) –


"One kilo of bananas, please!" 83-year-old Yuksel shouts down from her fourth-floor window to the grocer's shop on the corner of her Istanbul street before lowering her basket on a rope.

Weighing the bananas, the chatty grocer puts them in a bag, loads up the basket taking the money left inside and calls up to his waiting customer: "Pull!"

Yuksel does so, until the basket is back up to her window where she takes the groceries inside.

The age-old practice, still a familiar sight on the streets of Istanbul, has gained new relevance since Turkish authorities announced on Sunday that they were ordering people aged over 65 to stay at home in the battle against the new coronavirus.

"Before, we were receiving maybe 10 orders a day and this number has reached 50 now," grocer Zafer Gundogdu in the Ferikoy neighbourhood of Istanbul's Sisli district, told AFP.

"Whatever they need, we are at the disposal of our old clients, either filling baskets dropped or delivering at their door from 7:00 am until 10:00 pm."

Butcher Zeynel Ozuner, whose business is in the same neighbourhood, says that he is doing what he can to ensure the elderly do not go without.

"They are also our neighbours. We deliver them bread or a newspaper, not just meat," he said.

Turkey as of Wednesday had officially recorded 44 deaths from coronavirus, most of them, according to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, were elderly people.

"I am appealing to our elders. This society needs your life experience... Please do not risk your life and stick to the measures," Koca urged this week.

As well as the order for the elderly to stay home, authorities have taken a raft of measures from shutting schools and universities to banning mass prayers but so far have stopped short of a full lockdown.

- Swinging in parks -

Many elderly had flocked to outdoor areas and filled parks on a sunny Saturday before the ban entered into force despite government pleas to stay home.

In the southern city of Adiyaman, older people could be seen taking a turn on a swing or seesaw in a children's park.

One of the old men even pushed his swinging friend with the help of his walking stick.

Younger people meanwhile took to social media, expressing hopes that the state would declare a "state of emergency" as they were unable to keep their parents at home and were worried.

Some municipalities across Turkey however have taken more drastic measures.

Park benches have been uprooted from the ground by local officials in Uskudar on the Asian side of Istanbul to discourage older people from going out.

The municipality also shared a witty tweet: "We love you but don't force us to do this," it read, showing a picture of an old man about to leave his apartment building who finds his street dug up by a bulldozer.

In the northwestern city of Edirne, parks were circled by a wire fence, while in Ankara, authorities suspended free public bus rides for the elderly.

- 'Not fair'-

Ester Hazan, a 70-year-old woman living in Istanbul, complained that the ban should be in place for everyone, not just the elderly.

She had ventured out in the morning to do food shopping in order to look after her 100-year-old father who is staying with her, she said.

But, she was caught out by a shopkeeper.

"He threatened to call the police and yelled at me to go home.

"I cannot stand this," she said, adding that she could not order things by phone as she worried about being tricked.

"This is not fair. Either everyone is in or everyone is out," Hazan said.

For Yuksel, having her groceries hoisted up through the window does not put paid to all her concerns.

"I am so sad, I am stuck at home," she told AFP from her window, visibly upset.

But not all of those affected are desperate.

"I have been at home for two weeks, I am not bored," 83-year-old Mehmet Ozcan enthusiastically told AFP from his window, wearing a red beanie.

"I have a big garden where I have memories. I also have an interest in pictures.," he said.

"I've been collecting old family photos for 35, 40 years. That's how I am keeping myself busy and spending time."