Journal - Napló
|Posted on September 3, 2009 at 7:00 PM|
Walking the narrow streets of the Balat district in Istanbul while listening to Marcus Miller and pondering the importance of identity I stopped to savor a scene of kids playing at a dimly lit intersection. I bought some ice cream from the shop on the corner, changed the music and walked back home. I call it home because that's what it felt like. This is thanks to our new friend Ibrahim who we had the privilege of staying with for ten days. It is one thing to wander off from the tourist area of a city, find places that are unspoiled by the quest for the money of tourists. It is another to walk around in that same area without feeling like a complete stranger there. Returning to our hosts apartment, walking in through an unmarked entrance, locking myself in through an unmarked door and be welcomed by our friend truly felt great. When I came back with the ice cream, Peter and Ibrahim where hanging out together in the kitchen. I joined them, poured myself some tea and prepared the ice cream. I was looking out the window, mesmerized by the view of the Bosporus and enjoying my ice cream when Ibrahim asked me about China.
He was asking how it was. I told him I liked it there. He asked about the government. I told him that for all of their faults, still they have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in a really short period of time. I proceeded to ramble on about their success in creating jobs. Then I went on to give an example that I am ashamed and embarrassed to have given. I described how they pay by the pound for paper and plastic and how this created “jobs” for Chinese with nothing else to do. That is not a job he corrected me. I started to argue that it gives them something useful to do and at the same time it helps stuff to get recycled. He repeated that it's not a job. It's surviving! I continued to argue and say that they are doing work and it gets paid. Then he told me that he used to do it. - It is not a job. If they had given them jobs, they would have hired them. Where is the social security for someone who relies on finding plastic by rummaging through the trash? He went on to tell me why he had to do this, why he used to play with rats when he was a kid. How his family used to ask for vegetables that were being thrown out so that they could cook soup from them. If a government is doing what it is supposed to do, namely to serve and protect it's citizens, then none of them will will have scavenge in order to sustain themselves.
Besides staying at home in Balat and feeling at home in Balat, we were off course also out to see other parts of Istanbul. On our first Sunday with Ibrahim we went with him to an Alevi engagement ceremony. Sort of like a wedding party, only it is a party to celebrate the engagement. The ceremony was held on a street that had been closed of for the occasion. Listening to folk music, we joined little fingers with the other guests and danced in the traditional way around the musicians. Other nights we spent in good company with Ibrahim and various friends of his. Once at a rooftop cafe, telling jokes the whole evening. Another night we were downtown at a tavern, discussing the importance of identity in general and for Kurds in particular. Yet another we spent at the bank of the Bosporus with his flatmates, there we all engaged in the popular game of playfully insulting each other in creative ways.
Unfortunately, Istanbul was not only for pleasure. We had business and our business was visas. Long story short we spent four days buggering about in Istanbul looking for the embassies or consulates of half a dozen countries. In the end we only successfully applied for one visa, the Iranian. After this experience I have to say that there are two kinds of letters I really despise. One is the “Letter of recommendation” the other is the “Letter of invitation”. What a royal nuisance they are! At the same time there is an abbreviation I have learned to like very much, namely VOA. (Visa On Arrival)
After ten days in Istanbul it was time to move on. There are many places to see. Who ever said that it's small world didn't travel it by hitch hiking. We decided to speed up a bit and travel by highways to the next way point. We thought it would take us three or four days to get to Hatay, but as turned out we got there in a little over 24 hours. A couple of which I spent behind the wheel of a Seat. I had made a joke about switching seats with the driver and half an hour later I think the prospect of a nap became too tempting for him. Going south from Ankara we got picked up by one truck in the company of four others trucks. Every couple of hours they would stop and have some food or some tea. I don't know how many cups of tea I had that night. Riding with trucks is great. They go far, you sit high up in what are usually really comfortable chairs, it feels safe and not to mention, they have beds!
Between them, the drivers in the convoy had been driving all over the place. Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, all over central Asia, Iran, Irak, etc. One of them was telling me how for instance Basra, Mosul and Baghdad were really dangerous places to go, but that it was safe(ish) to travel in the parts of Irak that was predominantly Kurdish. Kirkuk was so so he said. But then again there was another one of the drivers who had been shot on one of his trips in Irak. He told us: Don't go! Promise me you don't go!
We arrived in Hatay and decided to take a short brake, play some cards and have some tea. The people running the cafe were preparing some food. When it was time to eat they invited us over to share in the treat. The table was set with two plates of meat, one big plate with a kind of tortilla, one with lemon soaked mint leaves and off course tea. Everyone gets a fork and voila, “auf vitusen” (Bon apetit) As we were enjoying our meal we hear the sound of sirens and honking horns approaching. It was a funeral procession. In the lead there was a truck with the sirens, which was carrying the deceased. On its trail there must have been about fifty cars, all of them honking their horns. Our hosts stood up to show their respect and we followed their lead. We thanked them, made an unsuccessful attempt at paying for the food and tea, thanked them again and took our leave.
Now we are in the Turkish coastal city of Samandag. This lovely place has also welcomed us with open arms. The beach and the ocean for one, but the people in particular. We sat down at a cafe and were talking a lot with the owner, a very friendly guy in his late twenties. As the night was drawing to a close Peter went around the back to ask them if they had any suggestions as to where would be a good place to sleep. He came back smiling, saying that they were eating and that we were invited. Turkish hospitality can not be overstated.
Tomorrow we plan to head towards the Syrian border. The crossing that we have to use to get VOA is only 40 kilometers from here. But before we go there we intend to visit a truly historic place. The oldest church in the world is in Hatay.