After the fear of Nemrut Dagi where I had spent a night with a gun toting Kurdish man and then having to endure the tedium of dealing with “Ron the Canadian” who was trying to be “amorous”.
I arrived that the small hamlet at the base of Nemrut Dagi feeling exuberant because I had survived. Nothing like fear, where I didn’t know if I was going to be raped or shot or both to make me grateful for being alive.
The people of this tiny place were quiet, closed and they silently looked at us travellers with wide dark eyes. They didn’t appear to find our difference interesting they were simply suspicious of us.
It was as though they were afraid that we could contaminate their little dwellings. Perhaps in some way they were right. We Westerners with our different clothing, greater size, different diseases and chemical smells were a bit of a stretch for a minuscule Turkish hamlet.
We went in to the small ‘shop’ and ordered sweet black tea in tiny cups and 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 of the hut was made from rough boards and in one board was a hole – this being the toilet. The toilet floor was the ceiling of the pig pen. 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, would they get sick with our Western excreta with our different germs? Luckily for the pigs we were a few days removed from many Western wonders so they may have survived!
I started to feel unhinged, the world took an unearthly feel, after a night of being on the wrong side of macho stupidity and now having my modesty challenged. Plus I was not used to pigs below me looking up at my most treasured place to see what I had for them. It all seemed a little too odd and my mind started to become unstuck and drift a little. It took some time to pull myself back together before I felt that I was solid again. Walking helped, and as this village had only a few houses therefore no restaurant or place to stay we walked out of town over an ancient Roman bridge and waited for a hitch by playing frizby by the side of the road.
We finally caught a hitch to the next town on the back of a truck half filled with large stones and rubble that shook and released large wafts of dust as we trundled and bumped along balancing precariously on the load. All the way to the next town we had a police escort in the form of a very smooth good looking policeman. He was upright and dressed in an immaculate army green uniform with lots of badges. To complete his look he had the most modern mirror sunglasses.
This was juxtaposed with the miniscule 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 cooking bouncing off the tiles, concrete of the floors, laminex tables and chairs. 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 apologised 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 may ways that I believe matter. Their food was always fresh, organic 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 to stop and got out. Again no restaurants, hotels or anything. Just a beautiful wide river with an endless sky above.
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. We asked the truck driver to leave us there on the stark banks with the huge sky. 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.
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.
The banks of the river were a chocolate brown mud holding the nutrients of a millennia of daily sedimentary history. We peeled off our clothes and had our first wash for a couple of days, splashing in the river and savouring the icy coolness that had surprised us as we moved from the warm water of the banks in to the deeper flowing centre. 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.
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 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.
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.
What was I thinking? Travelling with Ron? However, I was really keen to see Mt Arafat and Ron also wanted to go so…
We had to hitch as there were no buses in this part of the country. I found myself sitting next to the 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 each time and scowl. When I mentioned to Ron to change places he informed me that I was just being neurotic and 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 anymore his inability to understand that this behaviour 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. 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 was drained out and there was a heavy cloud over my heart area as we drove along, 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 lunch would be.
The Turkish men produced some lunch 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. Now, I don’t drink during the day and just pretended to drink, but I noticed Ron taking some large gulps of wine, and realised if Ron became drunk I would be even more vulnerable.
I was in an “out of the the way place” with four men and my only chance of safety was the potentially drunk Ron.
I was now at the stage of my relationship with Ron where I didn’t spare any conversation on niceties. I warned him that if he got drunk and I was raped then I would also implicate him. This would mean that he would spend his time in a Turkish goal waiting for the police to charge him. 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 and it was finally empty, and we observed 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 the food was finished and 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 didm;’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 other side of the car as as the driver approached me, he kept moving around the car to get closer to me and I repositioned myself to stay at the diametrically opposite side.
“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 imagined the haven of Dirabakir for we had heard of its 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 crockery 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 separate rooms for each of us and they would not hire us one together.
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 to go they didn’t take unmarried women.
Finally we told the third hotel that we were married and asked for a room and we were given a huge room with two single beds (thank the stars!). 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 down the hole. Both rooms were clean and painted a light lime green, the ceiling, walls, doors and thankfully they left the floor a concrete grey.
We were off the streets for the night!
The next day I wanted to look 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 people frowned as I walked along alone, I noticed that there were no other 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. The children picked up fist sized stones and threw them at my feet. They stung and hurt, the man who was with them just quietly watched as I flinched at the pain of being stoned.
My first reaction was to I quickly leave the jetty area so that meant no swimming in the Tigris at Dirabakir.
I decided it would be safer to go to a shopping street so walked down a busier street that had shops each side with 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 frowning as I went by. There were no women in the street. A teenage boy of about 17 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 really stung as they hit and sort of veered off due to the spin on them.
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 to stop.
The boys scattered– a shopkeeper then ran after the teenager I 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 from me.
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.