Tuesday, 23 October
After four days at the hotel in Beysehir I was eager to get moving again. I felt the familiar pang of leaving what had become comfortable and familiar behind, but I was starting to realize that the feeling was not going to go away, and that my aim should not be to make it go away, but to find it within myself to keep moving forward anyway. I pulled on my pack, said goodbye to the hotel staff, and hit the road.
The walk to Sarikoy went pretty pretty quickly as there were no places along the way to stop and rest, have a cup of tea or chat with the locals. So I rolled into Sarikoy more than an hour earlier than usual and looked forward to a relaxed search for a place to stay that night.
The village was set back from the road a few hundred meters, so I asked a family down at the road if the village had a bakkal. I asked in part because I was looking for food and water, but also because I preferred to let the locals direct me into a village that was off the main road, rather than entering the village on my own without permission.
The answer to my question was “No, there is no bakkal. We buy everything at the carsi.” Carsi is a broad word meaning market, or bazaar, or sometimes even the commercial center of a town. It’s one of those words that means a great deal to the locals, and absolutely nothing to everyone else. So “we buy everything at the carsi” was not helpful information for me.
This was a pretty small village, maybe only a few hundred people. So I thought maybe there really was no bakkal, but I asked again: Is there a bakkal? I added that I was just looking for water (I held up my empty water bottle) and a little food, thinking maybe they’d offer to fill my bottle or hand me a piece of fruit or something.
No such luck, but this time the older woman in the group spoke up and said that there was, in fact, a bakkal but it was closed and would not open for another hour and a half.
This was unusual. There were times I’d walked into a particularly small village in which the one bakkal was not open all day. But whenever that had happened, another villager, usually a young boy, ran over to pull the bakkal owner back to work.
The woman pointed to the center of the village, off the main road and up the hill a few blocks, so I started walking up that way. I stopped at the mosque to rest up a bit and wait a half-hour until the bakkal opened. After only 20 minutes hanging out at the mosque, I decided to walk up to the bakkal anyway.
I shouldered my pack and walked out onto the street, almost getting knocked over by a small boy and girl chasing each other around the village. They stopped dead in their tracks, mouths wide open, staring up at the giant humpbacked stranger walking through their village. Some older boys nearby laughed at the little kids’ shocked expressions. I greeted the older boys and asked if there was a bakkal nearby. They said, “Of course, there’s one just up the street, follow us.”
We got to the bakkal, which was open and had been all day. It was attended by a 35-year-old man named Fatih. I asked Fatih bey if there was any water, a softball question if ever there was one — I have never seen a bakkal that did not sell water. However, Fatih bey said no, we don’t sell any water, we all get our water from the town’s fountains.
I bought a loaf of bread and a small carton of yogurt and asked Fatih bey if there was a place I could sit and eat. He pulled a carton of sugar cubes out from under one of the shelves, dusted it off, and indicated I could sit on it. I did so, and, after offering Fatih bey some of my white bread and yogurt (which he declined), I dug into my lunch.
While I ate I talked to Fatih bey about life in the village. He was from the village, the only child of his family left after all the other brothers and sisters had moved away to the nearby cities. He was married, had a couple kids, and was looking forward to celebrating the upcoming holiday, Kurban bayrami, with friends and family. I asked him some questions about slaughtering the sheep but I couldn’t understand his accent very well and so had no idea what he said when we talked about anything but the most familiar and well-worn subjects.
Fatih told me numerous times he liked village life, that it was quiet and relaxed, not noisy and stressful like life in the cities. I asked him how business was at the bakkal. He said the bakkal wasn’t doing very well. I was not surprised, given that some of his fellow villagers were barely acknowledging it existed, and when they did they thought it was closed when actually it wasn’t.
When I finished my loaf of bread and carton of yogurt, Fatih bey cut off a piece of homemade helva stored in the glass counter and gave it to me. I savored it and wished for more but didn’t want to be greedy.
At this point I usually went for “the ask,” that time in the conversation when I directly asked if there was a place in town where I could camp for the night. Everything was in my pack, I said. Tent, sleeping bag, everything. All I needed was a place to lay it out — a mosque garden, an empty room, whatever.
Fatih bey said, “No, unfortunately, probably not here in this village. We are too small. Our mosque does not have a garden, and there is no school or park.” Fatih bey suggested I walk up the road a few kilometers, where I would find a gas station and a rest area to camp in. When people said no to me, the most common thing they cited was their village’s lack of facilities. I wanted to counter that if they had seen some of the places I had considered acceptable places to sleep, they’d be amazed. A hard tile floor in the corner of a gas station’s office. A spare, unlit storage room. A dirty orchard on the side of the road.
But by now I realized that none of this information would change what they had to say. They were not saying no because of the reasons they gave, they were saying no because of something else, and that something else quite likely had absolutely nothing to do with me.
In the earlier days of this trip I thought the results of my requests for a place to stay were driven by my approach: in the way I asked, in who I asked. When I began to realize the results had little to do with me, I thought maybe they had to do with the venue — was there a patch of grass somewhere, for example? But for every place that had turned me away for not having a patch of grass, a place without a patch of grass had welcomed me warmly.
So then I thought maybe it was the size of the village. Maybe a village that couldn’t support a bakkal couldn’t support visitors. But for every tiny village that couldn’t support a bakkal and had turned me away, another tiny village that couldn’t support a bakkal had taken me in.
Every time I thought I was starting to see a pattern, I realized there was also data to refute it.
At the beginning of each day, I didn’t know what the end of the day would hold in store for me. In fact, at 3 p.m., when I typically walked into that day’s intended destination village, I had no idea what kind of reception I would get. I had been shown to the imam’s living room. I had been shown to the town’s vehicle maintenance yard. I had been shown to the mayor’s office. I had been shown to the mosque garden. I had been shown to the hard-tiled floor of a gas station’s office. I had been shown to a cheap hotel. And sometimes, once or twice a week, I was kindly shown the exit. And almost none of it had anything to do with me.
I stood up, thanked Fatih Bey for the chat, pulled on my pack, and walked back out to the main road so I could cover those next few kilometers before dark. When I arrived at the station Fatih Bey had mentioned, I looked around, decided I didn’t like it, saw that I had about 45 minutes left before the sun sank behind the trees, and continued around the bend where I could look for a campsite off the side of the road. I wanted to breathe the crisp air and look at the stars as I fell asleep.