Monday, November 22, 2010

Gazi Antep, Turkey

Friends: Out came my long pants for just the second time in Turkey to gain entrance to the cave where the prophet Abraham was born ın the large city of Sanliurfa. In the bathroom where I put them on there was a long row of water spigots wıth small stools ın front of each for Muslims to wash their hands and feet before enterıng the adjoining prayer room at this holy site, as they likewise do before enterıng a mosque for prayer. The Koran also mandates the washing of genitals before praying, but that is no longer observed.

Before entering the cave, one also had to remove their shoes. There were separate entrances for men and women. The cave was more of a slight hollow in a cliff wall than an actual cave, so it was only a dozen steps or so from the entrance to a Plexiglas window protecting the site. One could take a sip of holy water from a pair of water spigots to the side of the window.

A quite large, shady, peaceful park lay in front of the rocky ridge that was home to the cave. The park was thronged with visitors on this warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. Many lay sprawled ın the grass having a picnic. I plopped down under a tree for a meal myself. I sat facing one of several canals through the park teeming wıth sacred carp, watching young and old tossing them kernels of food sold by vendors along the waterways.

The carp trace their lineage to Biblical times. They were created, the story goes, from burnıng coals by God when He came to the rescue of Abraham as he was about to be immolated on a funeral pyre ın Urfa for destroyıng local pagan gods. It is said that if anyone dares to eat any of the carp, they will go blind.

It was a most tranquil settıng, just what I needed, a rare opportunity to breath a sigh of relief, let my guard down and relax. As I strolled about the park, the only non-Turk, I was occasionally interrupted by people, saying "hello" and asking, "Where are you from?," the extent of their English. They were nicely-mannered and welcoming, in contrast to some of those "hellos" along the road that have been more of a verbal assualt than a welcoming greeting.

I hardly had my bread and tahini and sausage and olives out of my panniers when I was set upon by a handful of young unattended boys, my nıghtmare, barking at me, "What is your name?" and "Where are you from?" in that surly, hostile tone that finally set David off a couple of days ago, responding to such urchins with a "Fuck off." I just ignored this latest plague, pretending I was French and didn't understand.

When one set of boys had had their say, more came around. At least they weren't tormenting me with the "money, money" demand, nor throwing things, as did the more aggressive and hostile adolescents up ın the mountains of Kurdish country. Nonetheless, it was unsettling to still be a target, especially when I thought I had found a safe haven. The hassles of Turkey seem unending.

I've biked ın nearly a hundred countries, many of them ımpoverished in Africa, Asia and South America and never have I encountered anything like this. I was continually swarmed by people ın Indıa, which grew very, very tiresome, but they were just intensely curious and generally respectful, staring and staring, not aggressive or hostile.

I am searching for positives about my Turkish experience to keep me going. I've been here over a month now and could be here several more weeks. The roads are superb and the water ıs plentiful, not only from road sıde springs but tap water that ıs perfectly fine. I haven't needed the water filter my friend Tomas loaned me.

Whenever I see a mosque, I know there are water spigots aplenty. Many of the gas stations have prayıng rooms and mini-mosques wıth supplementary water. Gas statıons also are frequently equipped wıth a refrigerator compartment out front dispensing cold water wıth glasses at the ready. Some of the road sıde springs also have a cup on a string for drinking. In the summer when it can be scorching hot, such springs are a much longed for oasis. There are road sıgns showıng a spigot of water announcing water ahead. Water is a highly valued commodity, always at the ready for one ın need.

Another of the positives of Turkey is its abundance of Internet cafes and at a moderate price, just a lira (67 cents) an hour, cheaper than China or Africa or anywhere else I have traveled. And they are easy to find, especially in the less affluent eastern Turkey where fewer people can afford their own computer. In the downtown distrıcts of larger eastern cities it seems as if there is an Internet cafe on every block. A central plaza might have three or four.

But when I sit down at a computer I am often revisited by that plunging sense of panic I suffered my first week in Turkey when I couldn't access my blog or my email, due to the Turkish dotless "ı", as my password for both had the letter "i" in them and I didn't realize the "I" on the keyboard wasn't the "i" I was looking for and lay elsewhere. No one at any of the Internet cafes could explain to me why I couldn't access my accounts. Even in the large cıty of Konya, that attracts Westerners, when I fınally realized the dıfference in "i's" and wrote out the"i" I was looking for could anyone understand the issue. It wasn't until Göreme, a town that attracts hoards of tourists, did I encounter a proprietor who was well aware of the dueling "i's". He actually hovered over David and I at our computers waiting for us to be stymied, so he could instantly be our hero.

I'm less than one hundred miles from the Mediterranean. I'll follow the coast northward for a spell and see how that agrees with me, whether the boys are more civil or still barbaric, in regions that attract tourists. I could head inland at any time, the more direct route to Istanbul.

Some cyclists I've met over the years have discouraged me from following the coastal route, saying it is cluttered with not particularly attractive condos and resorts. They advised to go inland to see "the real Turkey." I've had plenty of that. Ease of camping will be a determining factor, as well as milder temperatures. Last night trees began popping up again and I was able to semi-disappear into a scraggly olive grove under the full moon. It ıs dark by 4:30, a bit before the last of those out and about have returned home.

Just as the Turkish "ı" on the keyboard haunts me, so does being assaulted in my tent. Its hard to rest easy knowing the countryside abounds with stone-throwers who would find my tent an enticing target. Any sound, even the fall of a leaf or the sudden flap of my rain fly in the wind gives my heart a jump.

I have my beanie at the ready to plop on my head, an emblem of a pilgrim, and my helmet ın hand to thrust forward lıke a beggar's bowl to announce to any intruder "haji, haji" (pilgrim) as they bark at me "money, money." David and I have been asked if we are "hajıs" what with our beards, the emblem of a pilgrim, David especially with his full-length flowing beard.

Later, George


Robert Kennedy said...

Just to cheer you guys up, I assume this is how you guys are cycling across the ancient lands. For bonafide cycling aficionados, it's well worth checking out this 7 minute video. It's guaranteed to put a smile on your faces:

There is a musical soundtrack, which you guys may not be able to listen to properly in an Internet cafe, but the video should still stand on its own.


Yonder Vittles said...

your lunch in the park sounds fantastic. i imagine the tahini to be first rate.

zekeriya said...

Hey George and David,
I enjoy reading your trip in Turkey however I feel very sorry for all the bad incidents happened to you. Stephen forwarded his and your e-mail. I understand you are in Gaziantep which is close to where I live. It is approx. 150 miles to Adana where I live. I will be very happy to meet you and host you here in Adana. Here is my e-mail address: and my cell: 0505 469 40 71. Please let me know if you route goes through Adana. Actually, Adana-Antalya-Izmir route might be nice option. I did Adana-Antalya part a couple years ago. There were lots of steeps but the scenery was incredibly nice. And the people are very friendly in contrast to those you encountered. Wish you guys a safe trip.