Journal - Napló

Days 50-54. The key word - Ali (Turkey 3.)

Posted on April 19, 2011 at 1:15 AM

Days 50-54. The key word - Ali


Days 50-52.


   We got to Hatay in the early afternoon. Before leaving for the coast, we decided to have a cup of tea in a little coffee house, escaping the blazing Sun. There were no other customers, just the woman managing the place, her sons and friends. With a gesture they invited us over their table so that we eat together. Whereas we were trying the pie, the roasted meat pieces and the mint leafs, they were chatting with each other. However, we didn’t feel uncomfortable. The atmosphere was natural, even without words.

   After a few short rides we reached the town of Samandag and rushed into the water. Parallel with the beach, there was this pedestrianized little street, edged with coffee houses and small stores. For the night, we settled down in a café called Kelebek (’butterfly’;), tempting with its comfy couches and waterpipes. We soon made friends with the owner, Ekrem and in the upcoming 36 hours we would enjoy his and his employees’ hospitality. We ate together, we slept together on the coffee house’s couches, we went to the beach together.

   After two nights –though we wanted to set out early- only in the afternoon could we step on the edge of the road in order to start hitch-hiking towards the big Antakya, the nearby town.


Days 52-54.


   We were sitting on a bench in one of Antakya’s parks. It was already dark when Ali, with his wool pants, red T-shirt and beltcase on his side, showed up and adressed us. He spoke a little English, we exchanged a couple of words and he invited us to his place. We picked up our backpacks and followed him. This is how it all began.

   At the nearby roundabout he hopped on the barrier separating the sidewalk from the road and he balanced on the 50-metre-long, pretty thin iron. ’Every morning, I do 15 kilometres running and this’ – he explained. At the end, from handstand, with a half-somersault he jumped off onto the sidewalk, making noises well-known from Eastern martial art movies; then he said hi in a friendly way to the policemen standing nearby.


   We could say anything, he was in charge. We dropped in a buffet where he ordered us rice and meat. ’I done Ramadan-eating’ – so whereas we were eating, he made one of the waiters take a picture of us, went to the opposite shop, talked to the manager of the buffet and the salesman of the neighbour shop.

   In Antakya, everyone knows Ali, the plumber. It’s a big city, but he made sure people be familiar with him.

   We stopped at a counter selling sweets and the seller already started to put the various delicacies in a nylon bag. ’No problem, no problem!’- and in the meantime, Ali checked the water taps.

   A few blocks far from there we squeezed ourselves into a car and the ’acquaintance’ took us to Ali’s house. ’No problem, no taxi, no money!’ He leant out of the window and made siren noises that made the car ahead of us (which was deemed slow) pull over.

   We threw our bags down and hopped in his car so that we go have a look at one of the world’s most ancient, Christian temple. During the journey he skidded in front of a melon vendor-line where ’Ali’s friends’ were offered melons and watermelons. Handbraking at the curves, cutting in the line at the red light and sirening we were rushing up to the mountain where Ali parked the car right in front of the St. Peter’s temple’s entrance. The screaming, Turkish music to which he was dancing and singing while driving, was left on and he opened all the minivan’s doors.

   ’Up, up! Tunnel, tunnel!’ – and he was already climbing up the rockwall. Being aware of my brains reaction to height, I turned back about 10 metres later. Ali and Kenneth disappeared in the dark and I crawled back to the ’concert-car’. In like 20 minutes they were walking back on the road.

   The mountain is full of narrow tunnels. They climbed up to one of them, crawled through it and descended at the other side. ’Every morning I do 15 kilometres running and this’ – we hopped in the car and went back to his house. By the time we got there, one of the melons cracked and it was leaking on the car’s floor. ’Oh’ – a brief sigh, then ’No problem!’ – and he slammed the door.

   His wife and two children were in the country so there was only three of us in the organised and neat apartment. ’Shower? No problem!’ – and Kenneth was already taking a shower. ’Internet? No problem!’ – and I found myself sitting in front of a computer.

   We joined Ali and his three friends –a cab driver, a limousin chauffeur and a butcher- in the yard. First there was coffee on the table, then sweets and eventually, fruit plate and tea for each of us.

   We slept like babies.


   Ali kept Ramadan, so he had breakfast before dawn. He prepared a feast for us by the time we woke up. We were eating persistently, but in vain – we couldn’t notice much change in the quantity of the food when we were done.

   We went back to the temple, sirening. Ali exchanged a few words with the guards, they laughed and we could get in for free. ’Ali – don’t pay’. We admired this Christian gathering and praying place that was cut into rockwall and strenghtened with vast columns, its stone throne and compact stone table; then Ali and Kenneth climbed the rockwall once again.


   We ’had to’ see an orthodox temple as well but it was closed so we were on our way to conquer the local museum (during our trip he threw his card over the open window of the car standing next to us at the red light). Long arguing with the guards, and Ali, with low spirits, told us that we have to pay if we want to enter. However, he didn’t let us pay. Taken offence, he was inspecting with us the mosaics from the third century, whose athlete-figures, no matter from what direction we were watching them, were looking right in our eyes.

   By the evening, his 11-year-old son has come back and we could enjoy another garden-party, tasting coffee, tea and fruit.


   Next day morning a new food-mass was waiting for us. We wanted to reach the Syrian border as soon as possible because we believed it could take an entire day to get a visa. We packed our staff and Ali took us to the edge of the town. During the journey, once we stopped at a bank where his son ran to an ATM to withdraw some cash; we rushed up to one of the nearby hills where, climbing a tree, Ali ’harvested provisions’ for us; eventually, his son, with great confidence, drove the minivan back to a fountain where we could fill up our flasks.

   During these two days everything happened very fast. But Ali was in control of the situation.

   Early that very afternoon we reached the Syrian border.


translated by Ágoston Galambos

Categories: English, Turkey, by Peter

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