Istanbul’s baskets become a lifeline for older people under COVID-19 curfew

Istanbul’s tradition of dangling baskets from windows to collect groceries has become a lifeline for older people during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jenna Scatena writing in Conde Nast Traveler.

Scatena first learned about about the custom when she was accidentally hit on the head by a basket dangled on the end of long rope by an elderly lady from an upper storey window. A grocery store clerk nudged her aside and placed groceries in the basket, before the lady hoisted it back up.

“Along with Istanbul's street cats, these baskets, often ad-hoc creations made of colourful plastic wash bins or woven picnic baskets on a long rope, are one of the city's endearing anomalies - and a regular fixture, just like the elders who use them,” said Scatena.

The basket tradition has taken on a more important role than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Scatena.

Turkey has imposed a strict curfew on people aged 65 and over, as they are particularly at risk from the coronavirus. This has posed a problem for elderly people living alone - which is where the basket custom comes in handy. Typically, they will leave a grocery list and money in the basket, then ask children in the neighbourhood, passing street vendor, or local grocery store to collect and fill the basket. 

Barkın Laçin Özdemir, an Istanbul native, told Scatena that the tradition relies on two important local customs - a bakkal (grocery store) culture and a strong sense of neighbourliness. 

“Neighbour relationships are very important in Turkey - when you make food, you share it with your neighbours,” he said. “The basket is a more hygienic way to deliver things than at the front door, and in this new reality, it means you don't need to go outside to get your food.”