In Conversation with Sinem and Murat of The Hobbit House

I think as often as we get caught up in the never-ending hustle and bustle of Istanbul that we sometimes forget to break outside our natural rhythms or routines. We are all unfortunately reminded of the disparity in wealth around us. As foreigners here I’m sure we all have the question of how can we give back or make a difference in some way. Well, there is the perfect place to help make a difference in Balat. The place is called The Hobbit House. The two owners, Sinem and Murat, are the most selfless, kindest people you could ever meet. I have had the opportunity to go the house twice. One of the little girls wanted to paint my face while I was there. I asked her if she was going to be an artist when she grows up, then she looked at me directly in the face and said “no way, I’m going to be a doctor.” I believe this kind of hope and confidence is instilled in them because of Sinem and Murat’s love and giving nature that they have created in this house. They have truly created their own world of love and generosity. You can help out in lots of different ways like having an amazing breakfast, having a tea or ten, playing with the children, bringing money or anything that you want to donate, and don’t forget to feel and spread some love while you are there.

I spoke with Sinem and Murat about their story, future events at the Hobbit House, their goals, their inspiration to create this project, and how it’s possible to help out.

The Hobbit House
Sinem and Murat

What is the Hobbit House?
This is the only house where the children own the house. We are the world’s smallest favor house in the world, only 28 square meters and three floors. The children can take everything for free. We support children up to 15 years old. They don’t need to know about money. If they grow up sharing, they won’t do bad things in the world. They will be able to understand and have empathy and especially rich children can share and connect with the other children and share their different lives and love. This is a real experience house. This is a life house. Always bringing, sharing and connecting with each other and talking with each other and especially with children.

What is your story? How did you get here?
At the beginning of this project we wanted to create our world. We wanted to create our world because we wanted to be happy. We wanted to leave this world so we created our own world because our characters or souls couldn’t live in a another system. For example, I graduated from the Film and Television department at Bilgi University and I didn’t do anything related to this field. I didn’t work for a company. Murat is a painter but he hasn’t done it a long time because making art in Turkey is a big problem. This house used to be destroyed and no one was using this house. We asked the realtors to rent the cheapest house because we didn’t have any money. We don’t own a home or car. We have nothing. We only have a phone. People don’t believe us. People say you are crazy. How can you do this? You don’t have anything. How can you recycle these things? We said don’t worry. We said we can fix it. Our friends lent us some money. People can give one percent of their income. You can see the miracle of life here. Maybe they don’t know how they can use their things. We say this is a life culture, not just recycling. We changed the meaning of recycling. Not only plastic but everything. People think of recycling in a very basic way. Turkey is far away from understanding this. Even the government doesn’t have a recycling system. You can see so much trash around, so how can we even begin to recycle it? We want to explain this. Look at this house. We created this from nothing. Most things aren’t trash. Some parts of the world have many things and some don’t. This is like a bridge. They say we are the modern Robin Hood. We see the children most happy here. At first they don’t believe us and ask if they can take the toys for free? Only hobbits give free things to children like books, clothes, food, toys and love. There is no cost for love. Anyone can come and experience this. Also, we play games in front of our building. We all used to play when we were children.

Hobbit House

Do you have any events coming up?
Last year, we hosted the first Balat Children’s Festival. We will do the second one this year for national children’s day on April 23rd. We want to give this house as a gift to the children. The Hobbit House will become an open air museum. We will put old children’s toys on display. They can take what they need. They can join some workshops if they like because there will be events going on all day. 500 people came last year for children’s day. Some people brought some food or baked goods. Some people did a puppet show. Our motto is that another life is possible without money. Bring what you can bring. If you have an ability come and teach the children. Come and make the children happy. This is the goal.

What inspired you to do this?
Many things. Not only one thing. The free world. The feeling of freedom. We can think of good things. I am a good person, for example. You have a good dream for the world but there are those who always doubt your dreams. People always say the world is dangerous and makes us angry. We disagree with this, we say you should build places to do good things and you mustn’t feel jealous because the system created these privileged feelings and we don’t believe in this. If you don’t want to feel this way then you can make another world for yourself. But you should care about something in this world. We faced a very hard road. Even locals gave us a hard time. When we built this place, people said that we were anarchists and fascists. They can think like this but when they came and saw us and met us and touched our world, they understood that we are good people. We think in the world there are two people, good people and bad people. This is a human feeling. A favor is a kind feeling. It belongs to humanity. It doesn’t belong to some company but it belongs to us for all humanity and for all civilizations. Sharing should be a social activity and we don’t say you need be here one time or one hour or teaching something. You can see our children are so different than other children. Maybe they have nothing or they are poor or have empty feelings so they need love or maybe they have problems with everything.

What are your future plans for the hobbit house?
Another goal is that we want to be on the road for the PaylaşKurtul. We want to go to different cities like Ankara and call them and tell them the hobbits are coming. Characters are important because when they see us, they know what we do and who we are. We want to go to Ankara with a caravan and anyone who wants to can join us. We will go to rich areas and collect some donations and go to the poorer areas and show every city and even villages how to recycle and help each other. Maybe we can create a place there or maybe the government can take over or give us a place and we can design it and people with means can donate and poorer people can come utilize it. This is like a portal. We want to go and explain this project. Sharing is important because our energy comes from sharing. If people share their possessions and even their food, then no one can feel hunger. Just the feeling of sharing is so important. The Daily News says “sharing is the new reselling,” this is a good title, I like this. I always give this example. This is a new name of recycling.

How can people help?
They can invite their friends to have breakfast. [All the proceeds from breakfast go to the house and children.] They can donate to our bank account. They can donate their second hand stuff. This is very important. They can share our Instagram or our website to spread awareness about the Hobbit House. If someone wants to know us, come and drink tea with us. You should feel the soul of this place. You cannot understand what’s happening here. Come and drink something here, then we can truly meet each other. Come and drink tea. Drinking tea is important in Turkey. It’s like a cultural tradition of talking, understanding and gossiping.

Hobbit House

If someone wants to donate, how can they donate?
Anyone can donate anything. You can send whatever you have to the hobbit house. They can send anything. Nothing is too big or small. They can pay our car payments. They can send money to our bank account. We are now a legal association so they can send it to our bank or bring it to us directly. They can bring literally anything. We can recycle everything. We can find a use for anything or sell it for money or take it to an auction and use the money afterwards. Send everything because we can recycle or sell it because we need the money.

Anything else you want to add?
Come and drink a tea. The rough translation of PaylaşKurtul means to share and be happy. Kurtul means save like save your soul. We can share your feelings. Just sharing is such an important thing. Our saying is bring the stuff you don’t use, send money and give some help to the less fortunate.

You can follow them on Instagram and Facebook, or contact them directly at +90 544 544 43 42.

Images courtesy of the author.

Balat Mahallesi, Yıldırım Caddesi No:119

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Alex Mitchell
Alex is from Orlando, Florida. He has just completed his 4th year with Istanbul and is currently teaching at Istanbul University. He is addicted to çiğ köfte and pilav. An intervention has long been overdue but he's happy with the current situation. You can find him trying to find the most delicious food in the city or drinking copious amounts of Turkish tea.

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