I was in awe of being alive and not maimed after spending a night at the end of a shot gun. Nothing could break my mood of incredulous joy as I arrived at a small hamlet at the base of Nemrut Dagi.
For me there is nothing like fear — a time where I didn’t know if I was going to be raped or shot or both — to make me grateful and exuberant to be alive.
We arrived by tractor, bouncing down the mountain with five people and four packs balancing precariously on the wheel hubs and I on the toe bar. We were all wearing our backpacks because there was not room to put them. To stay on I had to grip the the back of the drivers seat with all my might.
As we moved down the mountain we started to see women attending the fields. The large wheels of the tractor created a bouncing motion as we traveled down. We were singing songs and beating out the rhythm on the wheel hubs joyously feeling the warming air as the altitude decreased.
Finally we arrived at a hamlet , there were two or three buildings in the “town”. There was no restaurant or place to stay so we had to move on.
The tiny hamlet with an ancient Roman Bridge. In the background you can see the red tractor that we came down the mountain on, and also the red truck that we “hitched” to the next town.
The people of this tiny place were nervously quiet, closed and they silently looked at us travelers with dark shady eyes. They felt suspicious and wary.
It was as though they were afraid of us and fear is always palpable even when it is unspoken. The sudden appearance of four Western people with our different clothing, greater size, different habits and chemical smells were a bit of a stretch for this minuscule Turkish place.
The tractor driver lead us in to the small home/shop and ordered sweet black tea in tiny cups as we waited for a lift to the next town.
I was desperate for the “ladies room” so was shown outside into a hut that was perched on the side of a very steep hill. The floor was flat but the hill was steep so under the floor the ground dropped away.
Under the roughly hand-hewn wobbly floor boards was the pig pen. One of the boards had a hole in it — this being the toilet. The whole rickety structure was made from bush poles covered over with mud. Here and there were gaps so that you could see the pigs below and the people outside. It was most disconcerting to use the facilities with the pigs snuffling and fighting below for any “offerings.” Squatting precariously over the hole in the floor I did wonder about the safety of the pigs, with my different gut biome. There was nothing I could do about that random thought — so I did what I needed to do. I was not used to pigs below me looking up at my most treasured place to see what I had for them.
I started to feel unhinged, it all seemed a little too odd and my mind started to become unstuck and drift a little. The world took an unearthly feel, the light became more diffuse and I felt a gap between myself and reality — whatever, reality was.
After a night of being on the wrong side of dangerous macho stupidity and now having my modesty challenged.
I stayed above the pig pen in the limited privacy to give myself some time to pull myself back together enough for the next step of this day.
I decided that movement would help so we all walked out of the village over an ancient Roman bridge and waited for a hitch by playing frizby by the side of the road.
Playing frizby with the locals
We finally caught a hitch to the next town in the back of a truck half filled with large stones and rubble that shook and released cloudy wafts of dust as we trundled and bumped along balancing precariously on the shifting load.
All the way to the next town we had a police escort. The policeman looked like he came from a movie. He had chiseled features and was super good looking in his immaculate uniform with lots of badges and buttons. To complete his look he had the most modern mirror sunglasses.
This was juxtaposed with the minuscule bike and the beautiful hand made donkey bags on each side for panniers that were filled with green straw. He escorted us all the way to the next town and peeled off into a side street as we entered the first few houses of that place.
We were dusty tired and hungry so went directly to a restaurant for a feed.
In Turkey the restaurants are immaculately clean, and they ring with the sounds of metal cutlery and crashing crockery bouncing off the tiles, laminex tables, hard chairs and concrete floor. We found such a place and ordered our food. As we were waiting young boys came to our table and asked us for money and sweets. They were about eight years old with all the cheekiness of that age, eyes sparkling with the idea of Western money and goods. They joked around and jostled as they asked for this and that, and we joked back.
Suddenly the boys scattered. The restaurant owner charged after the boys and caught one. He threw this child to the ground then repeatedly kicked him. The child curled into the foetal position to protect his vital organs and had his arms clasped over his skull to shield his brain. We were all catatonic with surprise, and by the time our brains switched on again, the abuse stopped as suddenly as it started. We were all still sitting with our mouths hanging open—stunned into immobility.
The restaurateur walked back into the restaurant and apologized about the boys harassing us and we just sat there in our stunned silence.
The Turkish at the time had one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world, and yet they were rich in the ways that I believe matter. Their food was always fresh and wholesome, people — well, the men — because the women were hidden away in the houses — were cheerful and frequently laughed as they whiled time away in the coffee shops, smoking cigarettes and drinking pungent coffee.
The people and this included the women if I was lucky enough to see one, were dignified and graceful, their bodies loose and easy as they walked and held hands with their friends.
So, this culture of refinement and beauty with sudden bursts of unconscious violence lulled me from moments of exquisite enjoyment and over to shock and back again within moments.
Later in the day we hitched a lift in an large old truck and headed East, I was siting in the wide cab looking out at the wheat fields. In the late part of the afternoon we found ourselves at a wide smooth flowing river – the Euphrates. We asked the driver to stop and we all clambered out. Again no restaurants, hotels or anything. Just a beautiful wide river with an endless sky above.
The goats drinking from the Euphrates River
Here was moisture in the bleak dryness of the rolling countryside. Strangely there were no trees on the banks. It was as though the water just poured down from the mountains and somehow prevented the germination of seeds.
From horizon to horizon was a prairie of grasses and undulating hills. A herd of goats bleating on the other bank, with their hooves raising puffs of dust that hovered over them as they jostled around and meandered down from the grasses to drink. We were the only humans the whole time we were there and a vast stillness settled over me.
Hanging out in the late afternoon on the banks of the Euphrates
The Euphrates river spoke to me of a history unimagined as it flowed through a wide sky and gathered the energy of the wind as it softly played with the flaxen grasses on each side of its banks.
Playing near the water.
The banks of the river were a chocolate brown mud so we peeled off our clothes and had our first wash for a couple of days, splashing in the river and savoring the icy coolness.
We then decided to have a mud bath using the mud as soap to grind away our sweat, and romped around in and out of the water getting cleaner as we played.
Having a Euphrates Mud bath. The equivalent to a modern day spa.
The mud was glutinous and dried on our skins to a pale shade of beige. Claus took off his socks and they became a magnet for the little creatures of the earth. When he returned to put them back on they were covered in ants such was our state of personal hygiene before the swim.
The sock situation
The next morning after a sleep on the banks of the Euphrates River we were really hungry and caught another lift to another road workers camp.
Here they provided us with a wonderful fresh breakfast of warm Turkish bread, olives, feta cheese, tomatoes and tea.
Delicious Turkish Breakfast
Peder and Claus wanted to go one way and Ron and I decided to go to Lake Van in Eastern Turkey to see Mt Arafat/Ararat — famous because of the biblical story of the great flood.
I was really keen to see Mt Arafat and Ron also wanted to go so, I made the unwise choice to travel with Ron. I was obviously focused on going where I wanted to go and not on the quality of the company.
We had to hitch as there were no buses in this part of the country.
Quickly, I found myself sitting next to a truck driver and Ron sitting next to the door. All through the three hour trip the driver kept missing the gear stick and “accidentally” groping me on the knee, with his hand getting higher with each grope. I would roughly brush his hand away and scowl. When I mentioned this to Ron he said that I was just being neurotic so he chose to stay where he was.
I was feeling that Ron was an additional difficulty to deal with along with the Turkish men. Although he didn’t try to sexually harass me; his inability to understand that this behavior impacted on my safety was emotionally wearing.
I was in a hyper-vigilant state with every nerve straining and my adrenal glands pumping out adrenaline to keep me alert. Yet, again on this trip, I could smell the pungent smell of fear wafting up from my arm pits, as the adrenaline laced sweat dribbled down my sides to my waist. My face felt like the blood had drained out and there was a heavy cloud over my heart. I was feeling that I wanted to be anywhere but in the present.
Finally we came to a small town and had lunch before getting a lift with three men who were going to Diyarbakir in their sedan car.
They put me in the passenger seat and Ron was in the back with the others. This time the “whoops I missed the gear stick” charade was even more obvious as there was a large distance between the gears and my legs. Again I was rough and rude not knowing another way to deal with this game. Around lunch time the driver pulled off the road and followed a twin rutted track by a stream to a picnic area and stopped.
Opening the door the heat and silence of the place hit me with a vengeance —I stood by the car wondering how this would unfold.
The Turkish men produced some food and a bottle of red wine. They handed me the wine and asked me to drink deeply and did the same with Ron. Immediately I knew what they were trying to achieve as they handed the bottle between the two of us.
I don’t drink when I am feeling unsure so I just pretended to drink, but I noticed Ron taking some large gulps of wine, and realized if Ron became drunk I was on my own.
I was in an out of the the way place with four men and my only chance of safety was the potentially drunk Ron.
At the stage of my relationship with Ron, I didn’t spare any conversation on niceties. I warned him that if he got drunk and I was raped then I would implicate him. This would mean that he would spend time in a Turkish goal. The threat of his trip being ruined got his attention.
Together we decided that the safest tack was to get them drunk and then they would be less focused.
From them on we just pretended to drink from the bottle and the Turkish men drank the rest between them. A worry fraught hour of passing the bottle backwards and forwards until it was empty. We then had three very tipsy Turks giggling away as they shared with us the delicious fresh food. Every now and again they would huddle together talking softly. Another hour later and the food was finished. Quite suddenly two of the men came over to Ron and flanked him entwined their arms with his and lead him away from the car through some trees — within a few seconds I was left alone with the driver.
Ron didn’t compute what was happening I believe that he just thought that he was very popular and easily went along with the guys.
I immediately moved to the opposite side of the car to the driver, he kept moving around the car chasing me and I ran around the car keeping myself opposite.
“Cat and mouse” with me as the mouse.
I was screaming for Ron to return and felt that if he could return I was probably safer.
Ron heard me and came back shocked at the sight of our game.
At this stage we had stopped for over two hours and the afternoon was getting late, and we still had to drive to Diyarbakir.
The Turkish men must have decided that it was all too hard and so we all piled back in the car, this time with me in the back next to Ron and a door, away from prying hands.
I took this photograph from the window of this car, it is the only photo I have of that day.
I imagined the haven of Dirabakir for we had heard that it had bus stations, restaurants and hotels. I thought it would be a place where things were a little more Westernised and we could relax.
No more hitching, cadged meals or sleeping on riverbanks or mountain tops. A place big enough where the male harassment would be less due to the worldliness of a large town.
In the later afternoon we arrived with the dusk giving the town a soft presence of dusty streets and the tinkling sounds of the evening meals being prepared of crockery and cutlery and children playing. The three Turks let us out in the main street and wearily went their way.
We were dirty, tired and irritable so with our heavy packs we went looking for a place to sleep for the night. We found that Eastern Turkey was very different from the Western area.
At the first hotel they would not hire us separate rooms and they would not hire us one together. They would not tell us why.
The next hotel we asked for two single rooms and they asked if we were married. We said that we were not married and then they told us that they didn’t take unmarried women.
Ron and I were both tired and feeling a tad stressed about the hotel room hire by this stage so we made a plan to tell the next hotel that we were married.
Finally at the third hotel we were given a huge room with two single beds. The bathroom consisted of an enormous draughty room with a cold water tap in one corner and a dank hole in the concrete floor in the other — that was the toilet.
The furnishing of the bathroom was a small bowl that you filled with the tap and poured either over yourself or down the hole. Both rooms were very clean and painted a light lime green — the ceiling, walls, doors and around the window, thankfully they left the floor a concrete grey.
We were off the streets for the night and the relief was palpable — our tiredness and stressful day was catching up.
The next day went for a walk around town because Diyarbakir is on the edge of the Tigris river and I wanted to go and have a swim in the Tigris. I walked down to the rivers edge onto a wide jetty, it was a relief to get away from Ron. I have always found time alone and exercise a great stress relief.
Although I was dressed modesty with my long pants, arms covered and a pretty beaded muslin head covering, people scowled as I walked along alone. I became aware that there were no women walking alone in the streets, I was one of a kind.
At the edge of the jetty there was a man who was with three young sons between the ages of 5 and 8 and as I stood looking at the Tigris, I saw the children pick up fist sized stones. They started to throw them at my feet. The stones stung and hurt as they hit me, the father silently watched as I flinched at the pain of being stoned.
I quickly left the jetty area — OK, I told myself there will be no swimming in the Tigris at Diyarbakir.
I decided it would be safer to go to a shopping street so walked down a busier street that had shops each side. The shop keepers sitting in the doorways in the morning sun.
As I walked along the men and male children all looked at me suspiciously and frowned at me as I went by.
Suddenly a teenage boy of about seventeen years old picked up a stone and threw it at me and it stung as it hit my upper back. Almost immediately many of the young male children in the street did the same and within a few moments I had large stones hitting me in the upper back, lower back, calves and feet. They put a spin on them so that they veered off in different directions after they hit me.
In retrospect I realise that they could have made brilliant cricketers in India or Australia.
For a moment I didn’t know what to do and the crowd of male children was increasing by the second. I decided to just challenge the biggest one of the group and turned around and ran after him screaming at him like a banshee.
Like a burst of a firework the boys scattered in all directions. A shopkeeper then ran after the teenager I had challenged. He threw him to the ground and repeatedly kicked him in the head.
I just got out of there as fast as I could while the boys were distracted by the latest violence.
That afternoon I got the first bus to Ankara and then a flight to Istanbul.
Seeing Lake Van would have to wait for another time.