Ceyda Torun’s 2016 documentary, Kedi, follows a community of shopkeepers in Istanbul and the relationships that they have formed with some of the city’s many street cats. Through Torun’s camera aesthetics—shooting parts of the film at ground level so that viewers can experience scenes at the cats’ level, lingering on images of cats and the cityscape, documenting the experiences of both humans and cats in what has become a shared environment—the film manages to capture a symbiotic relationship between cats and humans. For the shopkeepers, feeding and caring for the cats gives them both a sense of purpose and a feeling that they are benefiting the community. Some shopkeepers are shown going out into the places cats live—in the streets and near the sea—with bags of fish and chicken to feed the cats and eyedroppers to feed the kittens milk. The cats, in turn, provide the humans with comfort and practical benefits, like killing mice.
It seems that many of the shopkeepers in the film have lived in Istanbul their whole lives and have grown to see themselves as living in relationship with the cats who are a constant presence in their streets. One person in the film even remarks, “Without the cat, Istanbul would lose part of its soul.”
But what about when we haven’t lived in a particular place our entire lives? What if we’re in the throes of transition? Maybe we’ve uprooted and moved for grad school, a job, to be closer to someone we love. What if we know our move is temporary? This has been my reality for the past four years. I left home for grad school and am working in a city that I don’t think will be my permanent home. This documentary reminded me of the old adage, “bloom where you’re planted.” Though I don’t yet feel settled in this new city, Kedi offers a striking reminder that I can always positively impact the space around me.
01. Get involved.
When it’s come to finding my niche in my new city, I’ve sought out opportunities that have better connected me to myself and to others. Similar to how particular cats in Kedi have chosen their favorite people in the neighborhood and these people choose to welcome these cats, the goodness of community has often developed alongside my involvement. For example, in this new city my love for tea and tea culture has flourished. It was nurtured by a beloved roommate, and together we sought out opportunities like being involved in a local tea festival, visiting a neighborhood tea room, and inviting friends over for evenings of tea and parlor games. In the process, I’ve gotten to know the community around me better. Now I’m more likely to explore the various coffee shops in my city and to compare their London Fogs and chai teas. In this small way, I’ve mapped my community in terms of this interest, and it is often in places like coffee shops and the homes of others with a cup of tea in my hands that friendships have deepened.
02. Give in small ways.
One of the most moving parts of this film was to learn that the shopkeepers help fund trips to the vet for some of the street cats. One shopkeeper donates the money in his tip jar to the neighborhood vet fund. Though the shopkeepers work hard for their living, it is beautiful that they still keep an eye out for the cats in their neighborhood. It was particularly sweet to see how various shopkeepers have been adopted by particular street cats. When these cats stop by, the shopkeepers give the cats their favorite foods and, if the cats allow it, love and attention.
In a similar way, I am learning that I can give back to others in this new city. I used to think that my giving needed to be grand in order to be effective. But the reality I’ve seen in Kedi and in my own life is that the practice of giving back unfolds in the small things. Sometimes, this giving looks like time volunteering at a nonprofit. At other times, it will be the gift of my undivided attention to a friend or co-worker at the end of a difficult work day. The beauty of giving is that it expands my own sense of gratitude for the good that’s been done for me. It helps me notice my environment and community in greater detail.
03. Nurture the environment you live in.
Kedi has reminded me about the non-human elements that make up my environment. Among the shopkeepers in Kedi, there is a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the cats. In the film, one man mentions that humans are “the middlemen [between cats and God],” thus establishing the need for human interaction in the lives of the cats and vice-versa. The shopkeepers have a clear sense that their community is changing with urbanization, and they wonder how their lives and the lives of the cats will be affected by the construction of new highrises and neighborhoods.
What struck me about the shopkeepers’ language surrounding the cats of Istanbul was the respect with which they talked about the cats. Many echoed the belief that cats are similar to humans in that they all have different personalities and they all seek attention and love in some way. Taking my cue from Kedi, I hope to become more attuned to the plant and animal life in my own city. Though there are not many animals in my city center, plants and many fountains make the city beautiful. I can be a good steward of the environment by paying attention to my water usage and spending more time outside, appreciating the green. Something as simple as planting tomatoes, fruit-picking at a local orchard, or pausing to breathe in the sweet smell of trees on a hiking trail offers an opportunity to appreciate the symbiotic relationships we unknowingly live in with other organisms.
Growing, even in those places I find myself in only temporarily, is possible. From Kedi I’ve learned that effecting positive impact is mostly about noticing—to whom, to what, I can give myself. For the shopkeepers in Kedi, that opportunity comes in the form of cats. I’m excited to see what it might be for you and for me. When we give ourselves to the places where we’ve been planted, good things happen.