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There is a group of idyllic islands a short hour-long ferry ride from Istanbul. Turkish citizens and foreign tourists go there for fresh air, sea water and a retreat from the grime of 15 million people.

They are the Princes’ Islands, or Adalar. No cars are allowed there, just horses, buggies and bicycles. It’s a place to relax, swim, eat at restaurants and sip tea by the harbor.

One day, after getting off the ferry, there was a commotion on the normally quiet island.

Several swimmers wearing their street clothes were out in the Sea of Marmara. They were frantically looking for someone.

The boy they were looking for had been on a break from his job. He was a waiter at one of the seaside restaurants. I could imagine the impromptu laughter, the “let’s go for a ride!” as his friend picked him up. The boy probably couldn’t swim well. He had fallen into the sea when a rented yacht accidentally rammed his little silver motor boat. Now, he was still underwater and swimmers had been looking for him for 20 minutes.

“You’re a strong swimmer – you should jump in and also look for him,” my friend said. I hesitated. The sea was green and frothy. I had swum in it many times but now couldn’t see deeper than the first foot of the stormy water. Sometimes very calm, today it was fierce. How could anybody find him in that?

Miraculously, they did. They pulled him into a small motor boat and rapidly brought him onshore. A doctor was waiting. The body was limp, and probably dead. I noticed a little girl in front of me, watching, a finger in her mouth. She was probably only 5 years old. We distracted her away from the front of the circle where perhaps 20 people gathered around the body and to the back where she couldn’t see. We watched for several minutes while the doctor and two men tried to revive him. I could feel that we all hoped he would be OK.

A man was yelling and pointing at the big boat out in the harbor, maybe 50 feet away from us. Several people were crying. I kept quiet and gave room to the grieving and angry.

The yacht that caused the boy’s death was rented by American tourists.

The Americans in the yacht had not jumped in to try to save him. They had thrown him a lifesaver. But the boy, probably around 19 years old, had not been able to grab the lifesaver. He went underwater and did not come back up. Or maybe he simply hit his head on the boat as he fell out and was immediately unconscious.

I started to understand why the angry man was yelling and pointing.

“Jumping into the Sea of Marmara to save a drowning man could likely wind up in an additional drowning”– I imagined that’s what the Americans thought. But the folks screaming from dry land were in misery, looking up at the yacht bobbing in the harbor for an explanation. It looked like an explanation was not going to happen.

Another man was screaming in Turkish. I glanced up at the Americans standing in the towering safety of the yacht’s bow, looking confused and immobile. A girl in a bikini. A tanned man in shorts holding something. All eyes were on the boy now lying on the paved shore, just alongside the restaurant tables.

One man was massaging the boy’s back. Another was holding up his arms. The doctor started to administer CPR. But we could see that he would not be revived.

I could picture the boy there, not 30 minutes earlier, waiting on tourists just like the ones in the yacht. I wondered what would happen to them. I wondered what would happen to me if the angry crowd knew I was another American.

What I noticed most was that the boy seemed very peaceful. He was still in his waiter uniform – black pants, white button-down shirt. There was no suffering on his face. He was gone. All the suffering was now left to his family and friends on the shore.


Recently some friends were having a conversation on Facebook about Free Range Kids.

Not being a parent, I didn’t feel qualified to comment. But instantly I thought of Kurdish kids — now those are Free Range.

I am awake at 7 in the morning. One of the smaller children I’ve met is playing outside in the street. I think he is about four. There are no adults around, no other children, he is banging a stick against the ground. We’re in a tiny village. The houses are made of mud. I can feel the sun just starting to warm the air. What is he doing all alone out there?

The answer is, there is no reason for him not to be all alone out there.

Kids in this part of the world are independent. There are about a hundred adults in the village to watch out for them. And virtually no dangers. No one is going to kidnap him, no sexual predators, just miles and miles of farmland dotted with small villages like this one.

Kids who don’t live in the village have already made a career for themselves.

In Diyarbakır, the historical capital of what would be “Kurdistan” in Eastern Turkey (just that simple statement is politically loaded; the historical Kurdish name for this city is Amed) I met this boy. He wanted to give us a tour of the mosque. Actually, his English and knowledge of history were pretty good. I imagine he makes a fair amount of tips each day.

This little spitfire (pictured below, with his sister) is only three years old. He roams freely, playing amongst the goats and chickens and wandering around practically on his own, to and from the playground, with minimal supervision from his older sisters. We’re in the suburbs now.

Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned. –Lenore Skenazy, Free Range Kids

Although Lenore Skenazy is a New York City parent who allows her 9-year old to ride solo on the subway, I see some similarities. Whatever the “range” of your living area clearly a child needs some freedom to roam inside it. Whether your area is New York City or a village in Eastern Turkey, kids need room to explore.

Kurdish boys, at least, must grow up to be independent. Girls may stay closer to home, but some go to university and leave their families. Much about their lives is both very traditional and very uncertain. That’s because of the ‘politics’ I mentioned earlier — war could be in their future, or peace. That’s not something a kid on the NYC subway deals with every day. Or is it?

A few weeks ago on the Today show, editors from Self magazine and Lonely Planet (LP, what happened?) gave some of the lamest “tips” for solo women travelers I have ever heard.

The gal from Self said, “Leave your itinerary with someone at home. Then check in with them at cybercafes along the way.” That’s it? That’s your advice?

So here are some detailed tips for solo women travelers (some for men, too) based on my own wacky trials and errors:

1. Go Alone, but don’t Stay Alone

According to Self, 85% of women polled want to meet people on their trip. And 63% are worried that they’ll be alone. Traveling alone doesn’t mean that you’ll be alone — quite the contrary. A solo woman traveler is likely to get more attention (oftentimes unwanted). But all smuttiness aside, you can use your solo-status to your advantage. Depending on where you are, people may be more willing to help you, host you, or invite you (just use your discretion! For example, families can be great to hang out with). Unless you’re traveling alone to focus on writing your novel or attend a silent meditation retreat, a little company will make things more fun. Follow the tips below, and you will meet some cool travel companions. The best part? You won’t be tied to their itinerary – you can go your own way anytime you please.

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