I was in Eastern Turkey sitting in a mini-bus 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 yellow grass. The wheat was a mellow yellow because it was late afternoon and the light made it’s colour softer. The wind 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 knew 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 fears followed a day of culturally inappropriate behaviour from both myself and the Turkish men.
As a Western woman I was lucky enough to realise 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 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 realised 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. I asked the three Western tourists in the office if they were interested in going with me. They said “yes” so I was now travelling with three men, two Danes, and a Canadian.
Peder and Claus the Danes 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.
As the day passed we stopped in forests and had delicious fresh Turkish food under the trees, and finally at the end of the day the bus started to climb the mountain and the warm air of the lowlands was replaced by a chill.
We had paid the mini bus driver to take us as far as we could go so we went higher and higher and then we realised that we were unprepared for this trip. We had no food and there was nowhere to stay on the top! Being young we realised that these problems were mere details and that the world would sort out!
The last part of the trip was walking 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 amongst 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.
On top of the world
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.
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 saved! The road workers camp was a short walk down from the summit and we were elated with the anticipation of a windbreak and perhaps a cup of tea.
Turkish road workers
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.
The evening started off with tea and biscuits, and then that was followed by the fresh, flat Turkish bread and fetta cheese. During our feasting there was entertainment with the Kurd 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!
Kurdish Road Worker
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 realised 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.
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 realised 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) 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 their testosterone levels are raised.
I was right, he returned.
He returned with a gun and again 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 amazed 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 travelling.
I knew that if we even slept close to each other I would have to face the wrong end of the Kurdish mans gun.
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 and due to feminisim 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 realised 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.”
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.
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 traveller’s gem, an ancient structure unmarked on a map and unknown except to the locals.
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.