World Half Full
The Robin Hood of Istanbul
A mystery benefactor is visiting Istanbul’s impoverished neighbourhoods to pay off people’s debts in food stores and drop cash-filled envelopes on doorsteps. Residents of Tuzla, a working-class shipbuilding district, were perplexed but overjoyed to learn that their shopping bills in several grocery stores had been settled by an anonymous donor.
Tuncay Yaşar, a grocer in Tuzla, told a Turkish news outlet: “[The man] told me he was there to pay the debts of those who cannot afford it. I have been here for 30 years and it was the first time I came across such a deed. My customers were very happy and wanted to see him but I don’t know who he is,” he said.
After the crash of the Turkish lira last year, food prices have soared, as have utility prices (electricity costs are ten times what they were 12 months ago), and the unemployment rate continues to rise. The steep increase of the cost of living has been hard for many people to keep up with, leading to a spate of suicides across Istanbul in recent months. However, Turkey's pro-government officials deny that the rising incidents of suicide are linked to the high level of poverty in the country.
When food costs hit their peak, the mystery benefactor is believed to have been slipping envelopes containing 1,000 lira under the doors of families in working-class neighbourhoods across the city. Then, as an Eid present, he reportedly paid off 25,000 lira in grocery store debts.
“Someone came and asked me to show him the notebook where I record customers’ debts,” said shop owner Coşkun Yılmaz. “There were four people with large amounts outstanding and I told him where they lived. He came back again after talking to them and paid all the debts. I also learned he gave extra cash to those families. I asked him his name and he told me: ‘Just call me Robin Hood’.”