Saturday/Sunday, 12, 13, January
I spent most of my three days at the Osmaniye Ogretmen evi catching up on administrative stuff, doing laundry and taking care of personal needs, and visiting with friends.
One of the first things I did during my long weekend off was to get some new shoes. It’s not easy to find my size here in Turkey, but I walked into a store in Osmaniye and lo and behold, they had not just a few shoes in my size 12 ½, but a bunch of them, and at great prices! I usually had to buy my shoes from a website called giantman.com.
I took an evening and went to dinner with İlgi, Dilara, and Mutlu. What I love about the typical Turkish dinner table is that before the main course even arrives, the table is filled with food, and that evening the array included two salads of lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes; bread; a mound of yogurt made from buffalo milk with walnuts and honey on top; a plate of greens; a plate of four toppings—hummus, yogurt, a carrot salad, and an “American salad” (something I’m not a big fan of because of its high mayonnaise content); a plate of chopped onions with parsley and balsamic vinegar; and some plates of things I could not identify.
For the main course we had two different kinds of kebap: Adana kebap and beyti kebap. It was another food orgy.
Then after dinner we watched a football (soccer) game on TV, Mutlu and I bonding over the fact we were both Fenerbahçe fans. Well, anyway, Mutlu was a Fenerbahce fan. I couldn’t care less, but had fun bonding.
Monday, 14 January
The next day I packed up my stuff, checked out of the Ogretmen evi, and grabbed a bus to Gaziantep to meet my new couch surfing host, Mustafa, a tax inspector for Gaziantep province.
I found his office and waited next to his desk for about an hour while he finished up some work. When it was time to go we walked out to the parking lot. Mustafa picked up my backpack and grimaced at its weight, commenting on how much I was carrying. He tried to shove it into the trunk of his car but it was a tight fit. Eventually, together we got it crammed into the trunk. Then we loaded into the car and took off towards his home.
Mustafa and his wife lived on the outskirts of town. My room was not in his apartment but was in a nearby apartment occasionally occupied by his in-laws who were out of town. He told me he didn’t want to have any sign that anyone had stayed there. So I was a surreptitious guest in this very nice apartment with a big kitchen and a couple of big bathrooms with a couple of big showers but I could leave no trace that I had been in the apartment—no water rings in the kitchen or anything.
Still, Mustafa was a very gracious host. After he made sure I got settled in okay, he went across the street to his home to greet his his two young sons. Then he came back to find me and we went out for döner and rice at a nearby restaurant.
Before bed I looked at the map to see where in Gaziantep I was, and how I would get out to the highway the next morning to continue my walk. I discovered that the road I needed to walk on the next day was at the northern edge of the city and Mustafa’s place was on the southern edge, so I would have to commute about an hour on public transportation to get to the beginning of my walk.
Tuesday, 15 January
I got up about 5:30 a.m. so I could commute and then begin my walk by 8. Mustafa came by to say hello before I hopped a minibus for my commute back to work.
Shortly after boarding the bus to the northern edge of the city, a truck driver from Syria tried to board. He was heading back to the border and had only Syrian currency with him. The driver would not accept it, and he told the Syrian guy to get off the bus and find a currency exchange. I called out to the Syrian guy to get back on the bus, I would cover his fare. People do me favors on the road all the time. I was happy for the opportunity to help out a fellow traveler. It was the least I could do.
I got off the minibus where I had finished walking before the weekend, and started walking back towards Gaziantep. Within a few minutes my cell phone rang. A journalist from Sabah, one of the national papers in Turkey, was on the line. He was doing some fact checking for an article he was writing about me. I was happy to help him check his facts, so I stood by the side of the road and answered his questions, speaking loudly into the phone so he could hear me over the din of truck traffic.
But my main job for the day was not to pay Syrians’ bus fares or talk to journalists. It was to get a particular climb out of the way, from a valley floor to a village called Atalar a couple thousand feet above.
Midway through the climb, I stopped for a late-morning breather. I perched on a highway turnout bench and took in the scenery. This was a beautiful climb, offering a panoramic view of the fertile green valley below, sprinkled with tiny villages and farmhouses. I squinted and could make out the ribbon of road leading back to where I had begun the walk that day.
At my elevation there were still traces of snow along the sides of the road, and rocks, so many rocks. Rocks everywhere. This was the rockiest place I’d ever seen. The mountains were covered with baseball-sized rocks. Rocks had been piled along the sides of the road to get them out of the way, and they lined the green fields where it looked like attempts were being made to farm inside walls made of the rocks. I wondered how the farmers got any farming done with all the rocks around.
After resting for about 15 minutes, I stood up from the bench and walked back out to the road to continue my day’s work. I thanked god, and knocked on wood, that I could walk for hours and not stop. I realized that many people are not able to walk that much.
By mid-afternoon I reached Atalar. The hill had been climbed, my kilometers for the day had been walked, and I was ready to go home. I flagged down a passing bus and rode it back to Gaziantep. Mustafa had a delicious dinner of köfte and pilav waiting for me. After dinner we had tea while I uploaded photos onto the web and he studied for a tax law exam. I smiled at the “odd couple” image: a tax accountant cooking dinner for a cross-country walker, in an apartment the walker wasn’t supposed to be in, the two of them quietly drinking tea while one played with his computer and the other read a thick book on tax law.