One thing I love about this walk is how unpredictable things are. Yes, I may have planned out the route months before starting the walk, and yes, I may have spent hundreds of hours poring over Google Earth before I even left California.
But as planned as many aspects of this trip are, it is very unpredictable from one minute to the next.
A couple hours into the walk this morning I came upon the day’s main village, Nurdağı. I walked by the town’s Jandarma base (the Jandarma are like the military police).
As I walked by the front gate I waved hello to the guard. I wasn’t planning on stopping, I was just being friendly. We exchanged pleasantries above the din of the passing trucks.
He asked a few followup questions and made a few followup comments (where are you headed, it’s awfully cold out, stuff like that). I felt a little ridiculous opening a conversation with my back to him (remember, I was walking past), so I stopped, turned, and started walking towards him. He got really nervous and told me quite clearly to keep moving (yok yok, devam, devam).
At that point other soldiers started to appear at the gate, eagerly throwing questions out to me over the increasing distance. I wasn’t sure whether to turn around and answer their questions, or heed the advice of the first guard to keep moving. In the end I thought of newsreels showing Iraqi civilian drivers with their brains splattered over the back seat after getting shot in the head by nervous US soldiers at security checkpoints, and I kept moving.
A few minutes later I came upon the local police station. I decided to stop by and see what kind of reception I’d get there.
I walked up to the guard booth at the front gate and said hello to the two policemen inside. The first policeman greeted me with a huge grin and launched right into a conversation. The second policeman, however, was cold as ice. He said hello. When I asked him his name, he said, “My name is hello.” The first policeman said to me, “His name is actually Ali.”
When the first policeman invited me in for tea, the second policeman quickly put a stop to it. “No,” he said, waving his hand dismissively, “keep moving.” I think it was the first time ever in Turkey that someone had said to me no, you can’t drink our tea.
Not wanting to get involved in whatever interpersonal conflict they had going on, I said goodbye and kept walking down the road.
About halfway through the village I figured I would just keep walking and blow right through this one. But then the naughty part of my personality came out, the part that loves being a bull in a china shop. I stopped suddenly, looked over at another collection of government-looking buildings, and said to myself, “No, I’m not done here yet.”
I walked up to the buildings and picked the nearest one, which turned out to be the local Agriculture Administration office. I went through the front door. There was no reception area, so I just stuck my head into the doorway of one of the offices.
Within nanoseconds someone grabbed my hand and pulled me into the office. He told me to put my bag down, rest, sit. Someone brought tea. Within minutes the office was full of curious workers wanting to find out who had just walked in.
It was barely 9:30 in the morning, but they offered me a place to stay for the night. They started debating amongst themselves, one person saying the office was unsatisfactory, how about the belediye (town hall)? No, said another person, they are closed. How about this, how about that? I told them it was too early for me to stop for the day.
Have you eaten, they asked? Take him to the cafeteria, someone suggested. It’s closed, said another. Order him some take-out, said another. Within minutes I was eating tavuk dürüm (chicken wrap) and drinking ayran (a yogurt drink).
We stepped outside for some photos. We came back in and friended each other on Facebook. At that point I felt it was time to go, so I said my goodbyes and took my leave. The town was small, so within a few minutes I was clear of it and back out on the open road.
When I walk up to a Jandarma base, I might be told to move on, or I might be ushered in so the commander can feed me more food than I’ve ever seen. When I walk up to a police station, I might be told to move on, or I might spend the next two hours watching TV and eating and drinking with the cops. When I walk into an Agriculture Administration office, I might be greeted with puzzled silence, or I might be greeted with an overwhelming explosion of hospitality.
And what happens to me in one situation provides almost no indication of what will happen to me in the next one.
I love that about this walk.
At the end of the walk today, out in the middle of what I thought was nowhere, up pulled a car. The driver was none other than the son of the man who fed me breakfast at the gasoline station yesterday. He gave me a huge bag of peanuts, waited with me by the side of the road until my bus came, and then insisted on paying my fare.
By the way, the mountains I was walking through yesterday and today are known by two names, Mountains of Heavenly Radiance (Nurdağları) and Mountains of the Infidel (Gavurdağları). I never know from one moment to the next whether I’ll be treated like a gift from god or a bizarre space alien. I love that about this walk.