Tuesday, 16 October
Waking in the morning with a gentle breeze on my face, I lay in my sleeping bag for a long time watching pear leaves shimmer in the early light. All was quiet except for the breeze and an occasional roar of a truck passing on the road. However, I did not like waking up with the feeling that I needed to get out of there before I was discovered.
I reluctantly crawled out of my sleeping bag and took a photo of my tent in the pear orchard. Then I broke camp and walked out to the road where I snapped my daily dedication photo and wrote: “Today is for the village of Horsunlu—a place I never lacked for a place to stay, food to eat, and people to watch over me.”
I reflected as I walked on what had happened to me in the pear orchard between going to bed feeling fearful the night before and waking up not wanting to get out of bed the next morning—in fact, lying nestled in my bag thinking, Oh my God! This place is so beautiful and comfortable I’d like to come back here and stay awhile!
Absolutely nothing had happened, except that eight hours had passed and I had survived. Is that what home is? I wondered. A place where you can be for eight hours without dying or being harmed? Can you start feeling that way anywhere if you are there for eight hours and survive?
I walked the couple of kilometers into Kireli and ate breakfast. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before except for a few rolls of gasoline station cookies, so I relished a breakfast of sucuklu yumurta, a typical Turkish breakfast of eggs fried over easy with sausage mixed in, sopped up with slices of bread. It felt good to get some food in my stomach.
The area where I was walking was still sparsely populated and there was very little road traffic. Today I was walking through another cultivation area–wheat, barley, turnips–and off in the distance there were large tractors, columbines, and equipment out rototilling the land getting it ready for next year’s crops. But there was no one around to say hello to. The farmers off in the distance were too far away to even wave at.
Usually on the highways I saw minibuses running between the villages and cars. And often along the way when someone did pass they would call out to me and ask if I needed a ride somewhere. (Of course, I always said no.) But here I was walking for 30 minutes at a time without seeing a car which was pretty unusual for me.
After a while I came upon a rest stop/cafe where I stopped for a bowl of soup. (Oh, such a bounty of food today!)
There was only one patron there besides myself. I saw row after row of stainless steel chafing dishes, but no food. I asked the lone attendant if they were open. He looked at me with surprise, perhaps not expecting any patrons that day.
“I think there’s some soup in back, let me check,” he said.
He found some soup, heated it up for me, and brought some bread to go with it.
As I sat out on the patio eating the bread and soup and drinking my tea, a retired turnip farmer walked up to my table.
“May I sit down?” he asked.
“Yes, of course.” I motioned to the empty chair across from me.
We made the usual small talk: Hi, how’s it going? Do you live around here? What are you doing? Where are you going?
Then, as casually as he had commented on the weather and had asked me where I was from, he said, “Are you Muslim?”
“No, I am not.”
“Too bad,” he said. “If you were, you could stay here.”
I thought, First, it’s barely noon, and I didn’t ask. Second, if you were a good Muslim, you wouldn’t apply that test.
But instead, I just took the last sip of my tea and said, “Ah.”
My lunch finished, I stood up, wished the farmer a good day, pulled on my pack, and walked back out to the road.
As I walked, I scanned the terrain in front of me. There were very few trees and even fewer bushes, just mile after mile of turnip fields. Dirt and more dirt, on and on. Even the farmers driving faraway combines were gone.
My spirits felt as barren as the land in front of me. Negative thoughts rushed in to fill the void. Since the beginning of the walk, Turks had been telling me that I would find people less welcoming as I moved east. At the moment they seemed to be right.
I thought of the retired turnip farmer, and how he had rejected me.
The self doubt dug deeper. I started wondering, Why am I doing this? It’s pretty pointless. I have only one or two significant experiences each week. Why am I spending three days walking on the side of the road, sleeping in gas stations and pear orchards, to get each one?
I began rebelling against my own golden rule for the walk: Do not judge. Just observe. Stay present.
No, I thought, I don’t want to be present, I don’t want to come out of this. It’s nice and comfortable here in my own mind. I’ll just stay here for a while.
My opposition voice began the self-talk:
You cannot stay in your mind. You have to come out and be present.
In the past few days you have been turned down exactly once for your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), but have been offered places to stay four times.
Yes, people told you it would be dangerous here, that the locals would not be welcoming. But that is not what is happening. So snap to. Stay present.
If that guy had been listening to what God told him, and not to what others had told him God told him, he wouldn’t have considered your religious background relevant to your need for shelter.
I laughed out loud, relieved to see the opposition winning. I was not about to find myself in the middle of a foreign land, engaged in a wrong-headed and fruitless pursuit.
Still, a nagging sense of discomfort had begun to settle in, and I felt the drive to walk further and faster than necessary, to hurry through this area as much as possible.
About two hours after my encounter with the retired turnip farmer, I walked by a family harvesting turnips in a field about 50 meters from the roadside. Feeling the unexplained push to make good time, I kept my head down and tried to walk past. But the father was jumping up and down, waving at me as if meeting me was the single most important thing in his life at that moment. I begrudgingly raised my head to make eye contact and wave back.
The father motioned me over and eagerly introduced himself. His name was Mustafa. He introduced me to his wife, their grown son, and his grandsons Selcuk, whom he was holding in his arms, and Mustafa. The whole family was taking a break from the harvest and having tea as I walked by. They motioned to me to take a break with them.
I pulled off my pack and, since there were no shade trees for miles, took a seat in the sun. I drank the first cup of tea, and then rose to leave, but they insisted I stay for another one. After the second one I rose to leave again, but they insisted I stay for a third. After the third glass of tea, I rose again and insisted that I really must go. They relented, but asked if we could take some photos together before I left. After a couple photos I pulled on my pack and walked back out to the road to continue my walk, leaving the family behind to return to their harvest.
While drinking tea with the family, I had started having a premonition that I should go all the way to Beysehir that day. Beysehir was at the southern edge of the lake, and hadn’t begun to appear in front of me yet. But by the time I got back out to the road, the casual, fleeting thought of “I should go to Beysehir today” had turned into a driving premonition I could not explain nor ignore, so I sped up.
It wasn’t easy trying to speed along this section as the road surface was rough and the rocks in the pavement were sharp. I mused that when you are driving in a car, the shape of the road’s rocks is almost insignificant, but it is very relevant when you are walking.
After two more hours of walking, I noticed that the sun was hanging low in the sky, and my feet were hurting from hours of walking on the sharp rocks. I saw Beysehir in the distance and estimated that it was an hour away. An hour later it still looked an hour away. Is it possible, I asked myself, for a whole city to pick up and recede into the distance? I thought back to my first days on the plateau, when I was still getting used to the new scale of things. This was even worse!
Shortly after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, I reached the edge of Beysehir. The city’s population was only about 40,000, but with my new standards a city like that seemed large and sprawling like New York used to seem. Walking through the industrial suburbs seemed to take hours. I grew nervous as the sky grew darker, and my hips and back, unaccustomed to the day’s extra miles, began to cramp. My feet ached from the afternoon of walking on sharp rocks, and more and more of the cars were using their headlights.
A large truck pulled to a stop alongside me. Four crew members, apparently construction workers just off their shift, sat crammed into the cab. They seemed really excited to see me. They opened the door and one of the crew hurried over to me with a bag of red apples. He handed me the bag, gave me a quick handshake, and then hurried back to the truck.
I continued into the city, eating apples in the dark.
I walked up to the first relatively cheap motel I saw and asked if they had any rooms available. They were closed for renovation, but the owner began to call around to find a place for me. Because of the upcoming holiday, Kurban bayram, most of the hotels were already full.
Finally he found one with an available room, the Ogretmen Evi (Teacher’s House). I told him I wasn’t a teacher, would that be a problem? He shook his head and said he didn’t think so, but it was across town, would I like a ride over there? I could barely stand, and wanted to cry, my hips and back still cramping from the day’s double walk.
“Yes, thank you,” I said to the offer.