Malaytia to Nemrut Dagi 1982

Nemrut Dagi

Sitting on an ancient statue on the top of Nemrut Dagi – Turkey

I was in Eastern Turkey sitting in a large truck riding past a wide vista of wheat fields that stretched to the horizon.

My eyes swept over undulating land and I noticed that the wind could be seen moving over this ocean of wheat fields.

The swirling air blew soft grey shadows through the wheat so that it reminded me that all of the earth is alive.

The wheat, the wind, the earth, me. I then had a deep knowing that humans are a small part of all of life. We all experience birth, then life and death, this is the way it is for minerals, plants and animals.

This sense that everything; be it earth, air, plant or animal is alive and doing it’s thing made me aware that my life was just a pin-prick in the fabric of time.

I felt in that moment that the air was speaking to me in it’s own particular way, showing me that there is something more to life than sweat, flies and the discomfort of the packed bus.

We four Westerners were packed in with the locals and stock, going upwards to the remote mountain called Nemrut Dagi.

It all started when my photograph had dropped off my passport after I threw it into the bath with my clothing because of a severe state of stress and discombobulation. This state of fear followed a day of  culturally inappropriate behavior from both myself and the Turkish people.

As a Western woman I was lucky enough to realize that my role was not as an adjunct to men. I was free to explore a life as my heart desired. This was often seen as selfish and inappropriate in Australia. I was regularly questioned about my lack of desire to marry. Turkey was even more traditional than Australia and this was the source of much confusion.

Of course mainly I was oblivious to this I was simply following my heart. Such is the nature of a soul journey and youth.

The day after the “passport without photo” situation I found the only  stationery shop in Malaytia. It was stacked with what looked like hand made books that looked ancient. I purchased a Turkish/English dictionary, however, they didn’t sell glue. I then went to a Tourist office of Malatya where I  asked to use their glue to stick my photograph back on to my passport.

The Turkish tour guide snatched my passport out of my hands and with clumsy fingers attempted to do the job himself.

Every cell of my body strained to help him with this task. He was completely unschooled at “cut and paste”. There were great slathers of glue all over the place and he didn’t seem to have the hand-eye co-ordination to actually get the picture on top of the glue and straight. After a few apprehensive minutes I took the passport back dabbed off the globules of excess glue from the front of the photograph and quickly adjusted the photo so that it was straight and official looking again. Relief was mine, as I realized that my passport was probably valid again.

I had intended to go straight back to Istabul after the previous evenings stress yet, I had seen photographs of Nemrut Dagi and it intrigued me.

Just as I was about to leave the tourist shop three Western men come in. We were probably the only four tourists in the whole town. This is the way it was back then, if you saw another traveler you bonded and spoke.

I asked these men if they were interested in going with me to Nemrut Dagi. They looked at the photographs and maps of Nemrut Dagi and finally said “yes”.  In this way I was now traveling with three men, two Danes, and a Canadian.

The three men were Peder and Claus — the Danes who were in their early twenties, open naïve, quiet and yet travel wise.

Ron was a 25 year old brash Canadian who was an Engineer in “real life”. He understood that he already knew everything and kindly wanted to share his knowledge with us. He was most happy to openly and loudly express his beliefs so that we could all become as enlightened as him.

We had no plan about going to Nemrut Dagi, we just got on a bus and went, little did we know that at it was not a “tourist” destination. It didn’t have a road to the statues and there were only statures on top, no food, no accomodation. Just stone statues.

We had to “make our way” there by hitching and working it out as we went along.

Our first hitch was in a large truck that took us past the wheat fields and finally dropped us off at the Euphrates River in the late afternoon.

I don’t remember that we had any food or even water. That whole part of this side of the journey simply escapes my mind.

I do remember that we were alone on the side of this wide river with this vast sky above us, and the wheat fields all around us, the sounds of the water moving and the soft feeling on my skin.

At dusk as the sun cast shadows on the land, a herd of goats came down to drink on the other side of the river and the dust and sound of them was mellow.

We played with the mud of the river covering ourselves with it and bathing in river of my childhood scripture lessons. We slept in our sleeping bags on the banks and the next morning were at the side of the road waiting for another hitch.

During the next day we went by truck and finally mini-bus closer to our destination. At one time we stopped for a meal in a glade of trees and had the most wonderful fresh food. Turkey is a place of gourmet delights in the most primitive places.

Turkey meal

Our last ride was by mini bus up the side of the mountain as far as it would take us.

We traveled in a local mini bus to take us to Nemrut Dagi

We had paid the mini bus driver to take us as far as we could go so we went higher and higher and at some stage we realized that we were unprepared for this trip.

We had no food and there was nowhere to stay on the top. Being young we realized that these problems were mere details and that the world would sort out.

The minibus would not take us further so dropped us off on a dirt road.

To get to the top we had to walk up a dusty track towards the top of the mountain with our backpacks.

We reached the top of Nemrut Dagi in the very late afternoon when the clouds in the distance were soft grey and lined with gold as the sun was setting. The view was crystal clear and the distant hills and mountains seemed so close that we could see small details in the landscape and felt that we could almost touch them.

An icy wind was blowing and whipped through our summer clothing, quickly making us aware of our bones. We played among the ancient statues. Climbing them with little respect for their age and beauty. We would each loudly exclaim that the view was the best from the top of the statue that we were on. Always knowing that the vast clear view could not be better anywhere, it was impossible for it to be any better than it already was.

Nemrut Dagi statue

Just before sun set, it became colder, the wind increased and we huddled together on the stones and wondered how we were going to sleep the night is such a frigid, stony and isolated place. We were also getting hungry and thirsty.

Nemrut dahi sleepingbag

I am on the far left wrapped in my sleeping bag  it was freezing.

Luck was with us, for a group of Turkish road workers came to the top of the mountain for their evening stroll. The offered us the use of a tent for the night. We were so grateful to be saved from the freezing place and walked down road workers camp with them.

We were elated with the anticipation of a windbreak and perhaps a cup of tea.

One of the road workers showed us into a tent and came in with us. He was a Kurdish man with dark liquid, foreboding eyes that were almost completely covered by a ridge of heavy black eyebrows. He was tall, very strong, and dark—the sort of dark that comes from Olive skin that works daily out in the weather.

Kurdish man

The evening started off with tea and biscuits, and then that was followed by the fresh, flat Turkish bread and feta cheese.

During our feasting there was entertainment with the Kurdish man singing haunting lilting songs where the notes were drawn out as in the Moslem mosque calls.

We reciprocated with songs by Janis Joplin and other mostly inappropriate sexually explicit upbeat tunes. It was probably lucky that we didn’t understand the lyrics of his songs and that he didn’t understand ours.

Suddenly the Kurdish man turned to Ron and pointed at me and asked in Turkish if he could have me for the night. Ron the “know all” Canadian didn’t understand a word so nodded and said, “Yes”. Ron had been saying “Yes” to everything all evening and was a little slow when it comes to female safety and Turkish male pride.

I don’t know if you understand the meaning of pride in Turkey.

Pride is the main cultural measure of a man’s worth. It is a major social blunder to injure a man’s pride and we were in the process of doing just that. In Turkey the men kill to maintain their sense of pride.

I asked the Kurdish man to repeat what he said, got out my dictionary interpreted it for Ron and then demanded that retract his deal.

Ron told me to stop making a fuss and to just settle down. I then made is so difficult for Ron he finally in a hesitant and unwilling manner said that I couldn’t stay with the Turkish man. This change of heart by Ron created some confusion, I’m not sure it was really understood.

We were all a little befuddled for a few minutes then settled down to sing, beating the tin cups and clapping for another hour.

Finally it was time to go to bed. The Kurd took Peder and Claus to a stone cottage nearby and they settled in. He then told Ron that he could stay in the tent where we had been eating. Finally he took me to a tent where there were two wire beds with frames of the type used in Australia during the 1950’s. The beds were neatly made up with very fresh hospital grade, ironed white sheets, they looked most out of place in a tent.  I asked him “Where are you sleeping?” and he pointed to the other bed in “my” tent.

I realized that being alone in the same tent with this man was not my idea of a safe and restful night, so rushed back to the food tent.

I went inside without a word, opened my sleeping bag and got in fully clothed next to the startled Ron.

The Kurdish man rushed after me and stood in the doorway staring at us both cocooned on the wooden floor in our sleeping bags. He was really angry—I guess it was either at Ron’s betrayal or my disobedience. Who knows what goes through the minds of men when women don’t do as they expect?

I threatened Ron with death if he uttered a word. I got out of my sleeping bag and became totally ballistic in my negotiating technique.

I was hoping that this style of arbitration would cause a general shrinking of penises in the near vicinity.

The Kurdish man became loud and demanding, until he realized that I would not be forced. The fear of the situation had caused my adrenaline response to kick in so my power could be palpated in the air and I eyeballed him in a way that made him look away.

This look was useful with Ron for whenever I sensed that he was going to say something  probably stupid — or even worse dangerous to me. I would look at him and he would visibly shrink back and remain silent. After what seemed an endless time the Kurdish man left, leaving me shaking with fear.

I was relieved that he had gone but also knew a man in his state of hurt pride does not give up that easily particularly when his testosterone levels were raised.

I was right, he returned.

He returned with a gun and  stood in the doorway with his gun pointing directly at us. He didn’t say a word. He just stood there. I was too afraid to move.

I lay there trying not to annoy him further by even breathing. I held my breath and when I needed to breathe again I would slowly expire so that there was no perceptible sound or movement. I would then just as slowly breathe in. A sort of self suffocation technique due to extreme fear.

He stood straight and powerfully in the tent doorway with his gun.

Time became irrelevant — it could have been 10 minutes — half an hour more — my terror made time become as the Physicists explain it — simply a theoretical concept.

When he was satisfied that he would get no further reaction he left.

When he left I was left with another problem — Ron.

Ron would snuggle close to me with his “gun” loaded rubbing it against me.

I was incredulous that he could even think of sex in that situation. From our first meeting his total ineptitude had already dried up any desire that I could have felt.

Besides I was not particularly interested in catching intimate diseases off strangers while I was traveling.

Additionally I sensed that  if we even slept close to each other the Kurdish man’s pride would be further injured.

Penis’s and guns. A small sector of the male population use them interchangeably, rape, war, pride etc.

I forever thank the stars for my Aussie education that had taught me that I didn’t have to tolerate that game I was highly attuned to the threat of that type of male personality.

I quietly moved away from Ron only to have him sidle up to me again. Eventually after about 30 minutes he realized that I was not going to get out of my sleeping bag and ravage him so he kept away.

All night long the Kurdish man returned with his steel gun standing in the entrance of the tent watching and waiting for us to show signs of life. When he tired of this, he sat in the moonlight outside the door so that we could see his shadow against the tent wall, and the shadow of his gun pointing skyward. I kept repeating a rather negative mantra;

“If you shoot, shoot to kill. Please do not injure me. Please shoot to kill.”

This is probably from my childhood farming background. Injuring an animal was not allowed. You either kill it cleanly or leave it alone.

I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be injured so far from anywhere medically useful.

Hours passed, it seemed that time had expanded so that every minute took an hour and every hour an eternity.

Finally dawn shone faint rays onto the side of the tent and yet I still lay there not moving, not speaking and still fearing deep breathing.

My time was not yet ripe to die and so at dawn the Kurd entered the tent without his gun and offered to show us the view on top of Nemrut Dagi.

Morning tent further way

Turkey morning tent

Peder and Claus went with him to the summit and Ron and I snatched half an hour of sleep before rising to the freezing dawn for a hot breakfast and a ride down the mountain on a very small tractor.

The tractor had the Kurdish man in the drivers seat, Claus and Peder each on a wheel hub. Ron propped behind the seat and I was standing on the tow ball. We each had to wear our heavy backpacks, as there was no room for them on the tractor. We slowly moved down the mountain into the warmth of the day, bouncing along as the large tractor wheels hit ruts and dips in the newly formed road.

We sang songs and beat the rhythm on the tin wheel hubs, at the same time watching the early morning chores of the locals, tending to animals and the fields.

Finally we reached a small town of three dwellings next to a dry riverbed. Crossing the river was a bridge from Roman times, a traveler’s gem, an ancient structure unmarked on a map and unknown except to the locals.

Random Roman Bridge in Turkey

History pervaded every part of Turkey and yet the country still retained the freshness of youth.

The people were inquiring and open, forests and birds were around in abundance all flanking aqueducts, roman roads and pre-Roman tombs—it had none of the neat ordered urbanity of the rest of Europe.

We stopped there for our next hitch, thanked the Kurdish “gun man” and walked towards the largest building.

 

Rhodes to Malatya – Turkey 1982

In Greece

In my youth I was a tad adventurous so I traveled the world alone…

When I was twenty-six I went to Europe for six months. I started in Denmark, moved onto Italy, then sailed over to Greece.

I then went to Turkey on a whim and this is the story.

Greek street me

Italian Street Scene

In 1983 I found myself traveling  through Greece for a month jumping boats, eating heavenly Greek Yogurt and stopping off at different islands along the way.

Greek stairs me

Greek Stairway

Greece wendy 1983Greek Antiquities

Finally I ended up in Rhodes.

Waterfronts are always interesting places in my opinion so on my first day I walked to the harbour and happily made time to chat with the locals.

Greek harbour towersThis is the waterfront at Rhodes. The boat I went on is the one on the right of this photo.

One boat owner I met said; “I’m leaving for Turkey in a few hours. Would you like to come along?” and being the spontaneous soul that I am; in that moment I decided that I would go. I had no thought of a visa or anything like that. I quickly went back to my room, packed my tiny bag and so on a whim I was on very small boat going to Ismir thinking I would stay a few days and then return to Rhodes.

Little did I realize that in six weeks I would emerge from Turkey a changed human. Exhausted, exhilarated, with a world view profoundly switched. So much so, that I probably would not have recognized myself.

The boat  was a tiny fishing vessel and its only cargo was four tourists. There was a very naïve young English couple, a nervous woman of about 50 years of age of indeterminate Western culture and myself. We all sat on the edge of the boat and chugged down the Ismir Korjezi enthralled by the scenery. The sea was smooth and glassy — barely a swell and the many islands were covered by a dark green healthy forest that rose steeply out of the water.

I don’t remember seeing any villages or signs of civilization along the Korjezi — just the earth in her glory.

On that boat trip, I effortlessly enticed myself to stay longer in Turkey.

After a few days I knew that I had found the best travel that I had experienced on my holiday so far.

After spending time in India, Nepal and South East Asia, Italy and Greece seemed tamed and civilized and the culture not too different from home with our many Greek and Italian immigrants.

Turkey was the East and it oozed a sense of adventure, the thrill of not knowing what the next moment would bring and sheer physical beauty—a combination not to be rejected. I knew little about Turkey except that it was the gateway to the east at Istanbul.

As a child I had always looked at Turkey on the large world map in our farmhouse kitchen in a remote corner of the world called Wubin in Western Australia. I have always been intrigued by the name.  I had wrongly assumed that the country was named after a huge clumsy bird. However, it is probably around the other way?

The port of Ismir was quaint. There were empty sparkling clean restaurants at the water’s edge, the tables were covered in pristine white damak table cloths and the waiters were formally dressed in black pants and white shirts. The very few tourists ate fresh, healthy food that had maintained the organic life force that could be seen, tasted and felt.

Inside my simple but clean hotel, the Turkish women held meetings in the stairwell, where they smoked large fragrant cheroots. Being in the stair well was like being in a place of worship. Shafts of light from the stairwell windows would catch the “incense” of the cigar smoke that curled slowly upwards. Light from the high windows cast shadows on the women whose heads were covered by beautifully crafted muslin scarves with intricately beaded trims. When I entered the stairwell they would stop their muttering and quietly watch me with large liquid eyes that appeared to have a silent mind behind them.

The men met in the aromatic coffee shops filling them with the smoke of small thin cigarettes. In Turkey at the time it seemed that men and women had completely different lives.

The first morning after my stair experience I went to breakfast by the ocean. I chose a table next to the water and after a few moment the young English couple joined my table. They ordered “Standard Breakfast” from the menu and sat back waiting for what they imagined was bacon, eggs, chips, sugary cereals or what ever the English eat for breakfast. They were given a Turkish breakfast of the freshest warm Turkish flat bread, feta cheese, olives and zinging tomatoes accompanied by strong black coffee. As many inexperienced tourists do, they reacted as though slapped on the face by the waiter and complained bitterly at the fare. I sat back feeling amused as I watched the waiter, gently whisk the offending meal away and take the order for a bland cardboard beige colored “English breakfast”.

There were so few tourists here that the waiters were not jaded by this experience yet, they were easy going and light about the nonsense. It made me love being in the country, it was such a contrast to Greece where the people appeared exhausted by the unreasonable demands of the tourists.

The older female tourist from the boat joined us and the three of them spoke about their escalating fears. There had been a movie Midnight Express that I had not seen, and they discussed this at length.

They decided to take a bus straight to Istanbul and then leave Turkey.

Of course; I decided to travel south alone.

Me inside a raided tomb in Fethiye Southern Turkey

The bus service in Turkey is excellent, clean, and efficient with little extras such as the provision of fresh water. The local custom is for the driver to look after any stray women. As a stray I was given the seat behind the driver. At rest stops the driver made sure that I was served and would order for me. All very confronting for my independent nature however, rather pleasant as well. When I arrived at my destination the drivers gave me instructions of where to find accommodation and generally acted as unpaid tour guides.

The Turkish gypsies find the bus service so good that they have thrown away their previous mode of transport and could be seen at the bus stations with all of their possessions wrapped up in huge cloth bundles waiting for a bus to their next destination.

I traveled south and then east finding Turkey a dream travel destination. The people were friendly without being overbearing, the scenery, the food, cleanliness, culture, antiquities, buildings — just magnificent.

Tomb FeteyeInside a Tomb in Fethiye — a place where many people have red hair from some long ago Scottish ancestor

Because I traveled alone I had many little things that I did to make myself feel safe. After all, I was in Turkey alone and none of my friends or family knew where I was. I had forgotten to tell them what country I was in. Besides at the time the only communication I thought to use with my parents was by post and this took a few weeks to get there.

If anything happened to me — well — that was not to be thought about. I would always make sure that my bus arrived at its destination during the day so that I had plenty of time to find accommodation when it is light and therefore safer.

After a few days of travel I arrived in the Cappidoccia region; a place where the past residents carved out cave homes from the soft rock of fairy mushroom or —  depending upon your Freudian analysis — penis shaped weathered sculptures.

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Soft stone structures that past people carved homes from.

Each home had very small tunnel entrance where you had to crawl on your hands and knees to get in or out. In the past this kept them safe from invaders.

In many of the homes there were rock carved church rooms with wonderful artworks in them weathering away as the soft rock buildings fell to the ravages of time, vandalism and weather. This area was originally a  Christian area.

Me weathered chruch turkeyThis is a church room where the side walls have eroded away, the paintings of the saints can still be seen.

Me on a Church Alter – What was I NOT THINKING?

The hotel I chose was really just someone’s home with a few spare rooms. I put my pack down and went to wash. There was one other guest, an English female traveler called Sharon.

Sharon was short and large and twenty-three years old. The previous day she had been brutally raped. Before I had time to learn her name,  she pulled down her shirt to her waist and and showed me her bare breasts and the strangle marks around her neck and the many dark fingertip bruises on her breasts, and upper arms. She was overwhelmed with what had happened to her and in desperate need.

A part of me went numb to her experience — I couldn’t imagine it, and I intrinsically knew that if I let myself feel her fear and pain that I would not be of any use to her.

I had a deep knowing that she very much needed someone safe to take over her life and stay strong for her as she recovered.

We happily bonded and became friends. I enjoyed her zany sense of English humor and was also feeling alone after traveling for a two months by myself. Sharon and I traveled again together in Egypt the following year, but that is another story.

Learning how to spin wool in the kitchen of the home stay

In my travels I have found that many men in third world countries can fall in love and want to marry single Western women within a few moments of seeing them. The Turkish men were no different. It is amazing how the hope of a Western passport can make a woman so desirable. Remarkably on my latest trip to Ethiopia when I was sixty-three, I had the same experience.

My travel diary. A photo of one of the many men who wanted to marry me.

Turkish women were not to be seen much on the streets so most of my interactions were through the men. My desirability as a potential passport was an advantage and the men would show me around sites, and introduce me to the customs of the culture.

I handled these interactions so that I became a sort of “token” male, a kind of female that you would not want to marry. I did this by being forthright, in their face and  “male” in mannerism. I sat as they did, drank coffee with them and used worry beads.

Having fun with the soldiers

If they made any sexual references I would tell them that although lewd talk is OK in Turkey between men and women and that in Australia a woman would slap them on the face for saying such things.

At the same time I would go to slap them on the face and just miss them by centimetres. This would shock them and they would assure me that it was not a Turkish custom.

After that they would treat me with the utmost respect trying to make up for their social blunder.

The men would then do everything to convince me that the Turkish people were really honourable. This worked for me at the time because there was no internet and the men were less worldly.

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Inside the underground city

An underground city in the Cappidoccia area — life was fraught with terror in the past so people had to hide.

From the Cappidoccia region I traveled to Kaiseri, where the dry dusty desert plain abruptly turns to huge snow covered mountains that appear to have no foothills.

Kaiseri

Kaiseri

The town of Kaiseri is in the wind shadow of a range of snow covered mountains. It is in a sandy colored desert and has a huge Turkish carpet bazaar where people from the world over come to purchase intricately hand knotted rugs.

It was Ramadan so not the time of the year when the carpet buyers were there, and Ramadan was sheer confusion for me I couldn’t get my head around this custom. I was hungry and the restaurants although open, mostly wouldn’t serve me. I was young, and it didn’t gel in my mind, it was so foreign to me as a concept. The whole idea of fasting just was not on my radar.

The Turkish people in the odd restaurant that was open would be kind enough to make me a cup of tea and sometimes even prepare some food.

I was only in my twenties.  As I have become older I realize thinking in this way is common at that age,  younger people view things as they are and don’t get too caught up in the details if they seem weird.

I just embraced the differences that made sense to me and the rest? Well… I just sort of didn’t give them any brain space.

Travel over time, gently opened my mind to both cultural wisdom or lack there of. Not just for other cultures but for my own.

At the carpet market I wandered around the tiny dark stalls looking at the carpets and inquiring about the manufacture and symbolism of the designs. I had no inclination to add a carpet to the weight of my back pack however, have a passion for beauty.

After a few days I decided to travel further east to a place called Malatya. I wanted to go to Mt Ararat where the Noah’s Arc in the Bible had (presumably) landed.

I checked the timetable to see what time the bus would arrive in Malatya. It said that the arrival time was one o’clock in the afternoon as this was a safe time, I bought a ticket and got on the bus.

The bus drove through the desert where the soil was blandly tan, seemingly infertile and parched.

In contrast to Greece and Italy where the buildings are bright white and the clothing is dull.

Me corfu 1083Corfu with the white buildings of Italy in the background.

Turkish rural buildings were dull, mud houses that blended in with the soil and the people were dressed in primary colors, with flowing scarves and long flapping coats. The clothing providing the only color in the desert landscape.

There were horse-riders galloping, pounding over the hard surface with streams of dust flying from the hooves. Children played by the road with simple toys and women worked at fetching water, hoeing and tending to goats. All of them dressed in primary colors.

In the middle of the day we drove by a river that cut a bright green gorge through the sandy  brown landscape, the source was from the snow on the distant mountains.

I found myself sitting next to a young Turkish man who was in Army fatigues. After half an hour he politely started a conversation, it escalated slowly and gently in this way;

What is your name?”

“Are you married?”

Please write to me.

“Here is my picture—you may keep it.”

“Will you marry me?”

“I love you”

At this point he went to touch me on the very upper thigh. He must have been watching too much Dallas on TV as he assumed that his verbal marriage proposal immediately gave him rights.

I jumped up and said aloud in Turkish. “Bad Man!”. 

My Turkish was limited but straight to the point. This caused a furor on the bus and I was safely placed in the seat behind the driver.

Dallas the soap opera was on TV in Turkey at the time, so it was no wonder that the Turkish men had such a weird impression of Western women. I used this to my advantage and reminded the men that I was from Australia and not America. I felt slightly guilty saying this because I was sort of suggesting the American women were like the characters in Dallas.

By mid afternoon we were driving through a grassed and lightly treed area and the bus broke down. The driver and conductor tinkered way and the men and I got off the bus.

It was peaceful, with bees and other insects buzzing, a gentle breeze was caressing the pale green bushes and the whole ambience was of absolute serenity. The men wandered away to pick flowers.

The women stayed and sat quietly on the bus, not even speaking among themselves. It appeared to me that they were conditioned to stay and forfeit the experience of movement, picking flowers or the simple pleasure of walking after sitting for hours.

After many hours the bus was repaired and the men and I got back on. The men had bunches of wildflowers that they exchanged among themselves. Each floral gift was accepted after a ritual of bending forward, smelling the fragrance and eye contact.

Due to the break down we arrived in Malatya at dusk. By the time the luggage was unloaded it was dark. The moon was covered by the earths shadow and there was no street lighting.

The driver was preoccupied with the broken bus and I didn’t know which way to go to a hotel.

All these years later I can feel and smell that bus station. In my minds eye I can clearly see the men in the coffee shops, the dim golden light of the low wattage light bulbs. The whole scene lights up in my mind — the smell of the coffee and cigarettes and the sounds of murmuring as they drank thimbles full of brown tar like coffee. The air was warm and still.

Plus I can also feel the angst that was slowly rising in my chest because I knew I had to find the safety of a hotel room in the growing darkness.

Within minutes of getting off the bus I was surrounded by a group of men—perhaps about 15 to 20 of them. They followed me as I looked for a hotel. I asked them to leave and I was ignored, so I walked down the road in the direction I hoped would lead to a safe room with my entourage.

The first hotel was painted pale green; the paint had a polished sheen and had gone brown around the doors and at the counter where people placed their hands. The group of men who had followed me waited at the door as three of them showed me to the desk. I asked for a room and the price. It seemed reasonable, so I asked to see the room. In the 1980’s this is how it was when traveling. No online bookings just a trudge from place to place assessing the rooms and price.

The manager and a small group of men showed me up three flights of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a roof. On the roof were two very separate rooms, like cells. One room was open and I could see a dirty iron bed. There were no windows—a bare light bulb accentuated the cell like appearance. Outside the door was a long bench and the excess men sat there as I perused the room, it was obvious that they are showing me a prostitute’s room. I declined this offer and asked to see another hotel.

This scenario was repeated twice more. Each time I become more desperate. My body started to react and I could smell my own fear, as the sweat dripped down the sides of body from my arm pits, staining my shirt and dripping all the way to my hips.

Finally, I demanded to see the best hotel in Malatya.

Once again the group of men escorted me to another hotel. It looked better, the paint was clean and the manager was kind. The manager told the men who had been following me to the front desk to go away.

Ahh…  a sense of relief as I started to feel a bit safer. A man at the front desk took the key that was offered to me, picked up my pack and took me to the lift. On finding the room he unlocked a spacious modern hotel room. It had a bathroom, telephone and two large clean single beds. With relief washing over me I accepted the room — I had no care for the price at this stage.

The hotel “porter” put my pack down and started to tell me that he loved me. The universal phrase Turkish men used when they met me. My experience is that it is more of a sexual reference or a plea for freedom than an emotional statement. I was not bowled over by this love at first sight, so walked to the door and said in my best Turkish “OUT!” When he did not seem to understand, I repeated it louder and louder.

The lift opened and the manager arrived.

Instantly the “porter” slunk away so quickly it was almost as if he became a ghost that wafted quietly past me and disappeared into the ether.

The manager walked into the room. He was very business like. Apparently the “porter” was not an employee of the hotel, he was just another guest. I was not to have men in my room, and as I had broken this rule I had to leave immediately.

I was just a business like. I was not going out into the street; nothing was going to influence my decision. I looked up my Turkish dictionary for the phrase “no men”.

dictionary

My trusty dictionary 

Every time he said anything I just repeated this phrase and pointed to him and then the door. He objected and told me to leave, picking up my pack and putting it at the doorway. I picked it up and placed it back on the bed. I stated with more impact; “No Men” Nothing was going to get me out of that room. This rather boring conversation continued for at least 20 minutes until after leafing through the Dictionary I stated “No men, you go too”  Only God knows what I actually said; dictionaries are not a great way to speak a language.

With that; he picked up the keys, left the room, and locked me in.

At this stage I did what I thought was best. I sat down and let my body express itself. It was shaking with fear and exhaustion and then to my relief it burst into tears. My body is like that; it is so honest and pure in expression, it is my key to resilience and survival when I allow it to take over.

I felt a mixture of fear and relief. This focused energy on the present, and allowed my subconscious mind finally have its say.

My body was so focused on the doing of crying that a solution popped into my mind as if by magic.

Of course, there was this wonderful bathroom with a huge lock on the door, hot water, a deep clean bath and lots of time on my hands. I was stinking of fear and I was dirty, I would have a long hot bath and then? Who knows?

I stacked a few chairs and a cupboard against the outer door and then ran a bath until it was deep and steaming.

I traveled with only one change of clothes so washed my clothes every time I washed myself. They dried overnight or as I dirtied the other change. I undressed and threw my clothes in to the water with the idea of getting us all clean at once.

I had invented a great security system for my traveler’s cheques and passport. I had sewn pockets into my skirt on the inside that could be pulled out when I needed them. This left me unstressed about the rest of my possessions. I figured that if I had money and a passport, I could buy the rest.

In my frazzled state I threw my skirt and thus my passport and travelers cheques into the bath. I quickly pulled it all out and as I opened the soggy pages of my passport the photograph fell off.

Australian Passports in those days simply had a photo glued on with what I found to be water based glue. This stopped my crying, and I fell in to a state of shock, got into the water and laid there for about half and hour—numb.Passport 1980

My passport at the time.

Passport photo coming off

As it is now —  the photograph is coming off again.

After the bath, I picked up the telephone and asked to be let out of the room. A young boy arrived, opened the door, handed me the key and I was free again for the evening to go and have dinner.

Little did I realize that this was just the beginning of an adventure that played out over the five very long dangerous days.

I  had innocently blundered my way through the Turkish people’s land as I traveled further east, not realizing that my ignorance was dangerous and that the Turkish culture had no idea of how to kindly treat a young Western woman traveling alone.