Tuesday, 4 December
The next morning, I woke up just before dawn to the howling and yipping of coyotes a few hundred meters away. They either didn’t know I was nearby listening, or they didn’t care.
I stepped out of my tent, put on my boots, and noticed that the soil under my feet, because it was sandy and porous, had dried quickly from the night’s rain. In fact, because a steady, warm breeze had blown almost all night, my tent was dry and only some moist wood laying on the ground indicated that a heavy storm had blown through during the night.
I broke camp and began walking about 7:30 a.m. A few minutes after I began walking it began raining again, but this time it was only a light drizzle. With the mist, the rolling hills and road lined with evergreens reminded me of mountain roads I’ve walked in the Pacific Northwest.
About five kilometers down the road I came upon a Jandarma Komutanligi (a jandarma command post). In Turkey, the jandarma are a branch of the military. Their job is to keep the peace in rural areas and along rural highways, kind of a combination of a sheriff and a highway patrol in the USA, except with a military flavor. The day before, a few people had told me about this jandarma post, so I was expecting it. And, I had heard that as I walk across the country I should keep in touch with the jandarma. So I figured now was as good a time as any to see what it was like to crash a jandarma post.
I walked up to the front gate. The guard was about 20 years old. He was wearing fatigues and a helmet and carrying a machine gun. I didn’t realize machine guns were so large!
I told him I was walking across Turkey, and I asked him if I could come in and rest a bit. He radioed his commanding officer. His commanding officer said he would check with the post commander. (convert this section to dialogue, so there’s more action)
The guard and I made small talk while we waited to hear back from the post commander. I tried not to be intimidated by the gun. The guard tried to keep his cool too. I suspect it’s not every day the monotony of guarding a rural military post is broken by the approach of a foreigner walking across the country alone with a back pack.
Word came back over the radio that the commander had approved my entrance. (turn this into dialogue too) Another guard waved me through the gate and escorted me to the headquarters’ front door. Once inside another I was shown to the commander’s office.
The commander’s first name was Nihat. Nihat bey was about 35 years old. He was a busy man, taking—and making—a number of phone calls and reading reports that were brought to him, but he and I made small talk when he was between tasks.
Nihat put the phone down and looked at me. “Have you eaten breakfast?”
I had not, and the day before I had eaten only one meal. I was ravenous. I tried to act with restraint when I shook my head and started to ask if there was food. (turn this into dialogue too, show the action of the conversation) Before I could get the words out though, Nihat called to one of his soldiers to make me some menemen (a dish of eggs scrambled with tomatoes and peppers) and bring me some tea, and make it snappy.
A few minutes later a soldier came in with the dish of menemen, a basket full of bread, and a cup of tea. I plowed into that menemen with almost no concern for decorum or restraint whatsoever. It was one of the biggest servings of menemen I had ever seen, and I had the entire thing eaten, and all the juice and grease sopped up with bread, in just a few minutes.
After the plates were cleared away, Nihat told me a bit about his personal history. He was single with no kids. He said the itinerant life of a military commander is not conducive to raising a family. He had been working at that particular post for about two months. Before that he was in the special forces in Mardin, Diyarbakir, Tunceli, and Urfa, all cities in east and southeast Turkey.
He asked me what countries I had been to, and I asked him what countries he had been to. He replied that he had been to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all on military assignments. Originally from the town of Osmaniye, Nihat had one sibling, a younger sister, who lived in Osmaniye and ran a grocery store there. I told Nihat I would be walking through Osmaniye in about a month, and he responded that he would tell his sister about me and ask her to show me around.
Nihat asked me about my route. He made some suggestions about tweaks to make to it. I asked him if gasoline stations and mosque gardens would continue to be good places to stay in the eastern half of the country. He recommended that instead I stay at facilities run by the city and town governments, and at the police stations. He said that in the east, almost all of the towns would have one or two spare rooms they kept available for travelers. These were not hotels, they were free places they opened up for people traveling through. “Ask about these,” Nihat told me.
Also, he said, “don’t camp by the side of the road once you get east of Osmaniye.”
Nihat asked me how far I was walking that day. I told him the name of the village I planned to stop in, and he recommended a particular restaurant in that village. “Stop there,” Nihat said, “and ask for a man who goes by Hoca. Tell him I sent you, and he will take good care of you.”
It was time for me to go. I thanked Nihat bey for his hospitality and for welcoming me into his facility. He ordered me up a couple of cheese and tomato sandwiches for the road. The sandwiches were ready a few minutes later. I took my leave and walked back out the front gate, carrying the bag of sandwiches. I waved goodbye to the guard with the machine gun and felt less intimidated by it.
After I left the Jandarma Komutanligi I spent the day walking a two-lane road hewn into the side of the mountains rising above the Goksu river. The road rolled up and down between 500 and 1000 feet above the river. It passed through areas of yellow and red deciduous forest in its fall splendor that alternated with areas of evergreen forest that made me feel again like I was walking through the mountains of the Pacific Northwest near Seattle.