Saturday, 1 September 2012 (cont.)
As I arrived I saw Joy Anna already at the docks, playing fetch with a mangy dog while she waited to join me for the first day of the walk. The dog was a stray she’d just befriended. Joy Anna was a 30-year-old American woman from Florida who had moved to Ankara and worked for Turkayfe, a group that promoted Turkey on the internet.
Somehow they became aware of what I was doing and called me when I was in Istanbul to let me know they would like to help sponsor me for the walk. They also wanted one of their people to join me for the first day. This turned out to be Joy Anna.
We greeted each other. Then, while Joy Anna continued playing with the dog, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small scrap of yellow paper on which I had scrawled my pre-walk checklist of things I had to do before the walk. I had made this checklist months before, knowing that I would be too nervous at the start of the walk to remember what I needed to do. On the checklist was:
1. Take whiteboard and marker out of pack and write “This day’s walk is dedicated to the employees at the Starbucks in Reedley.” Put on Fowler Nursery’s mesh cowboy hat with the leather hatband (which I had promised them I’d do as a favor), and take a selfie.
2. Erase the Starbucks message.
3. Write on the whiteboard “this walk is dedicated to Pryor Gibson” (the son of a friend of mine back in Seattle), and take selfie.
When those tasks were done, I relaxed a bit and made some more small talk with Joyanna. Some nearby taxi drivers stood around watching us idly, probably bored by their early morning wait for fares. I smirked to myself, noting that I was about to embark on one of the biggest journeys of my life, and my send-off party consisted of a stray dog, a handful of bored taxi drivers, a bunch of cruiseship passengers sleeping on the cruiseships a few meters away, and Joy Anna.
Next we asked one of the taxi drivers to take our photos. “I’m sure these taxi drivers have no idea of who they are taking a picture of right now” Joy Anna commented under her breath.
I thought, Well yes, that’s probably true.
In order to get this walk done, one of the techniques I used was to convince myself that no one really cared or needed to care because nobody was going to do the walking for me. I had to be motivated to do it by myself. Being known could not be one of the motivations for it.
I handed the camera to one of the drivers. Joyanna and I stood next to the dog, cruiseships behind us, and tried not to squint into the sun while one of the drivers took a few photos.
A local newspaper had also asked if they could be there to start the walk with me. But they hadn’t arrived yet.
“It’s 8 o’clock,” Joy Anna said. “Should we get started without them?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Let’s do it.”
So Joy Anna and I started walking through Kusadasi, negotiating the traffic, the taxi drivers, and the exhaust fumes. The dog stayed behind at the docks.
Once outside Kusadasi to the east, we began climbing the hills which had some very steep grades. This was my first experience climbing hills with my huge backpack, and I immediately began to realize that I wouldn’t be able to move quickly to dodge traffic, so I would probably need to stay on the left shoulder to face oncoming traffic.
Soon, as we were walking up one of the grades, two young men rode up on a motorcycle and stopped. They were the journalists who were going to cover us for the local Kusadasi newspaper. They found us walking past a private rest stop with a restaurant that had shade and a place to sit and drink tea. I asked them if they’d like to interview me sitting in the shade at the rest stop, but they said they preferred to do it by the side of the road for authenticity.
They spoke only Turkish asked us if we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We told them no.
They asked me why I was doing the walk. It was a common question, often the first question people asked me in the months preceding the walk, so I had thought about it plenty of times before, but I still had only a vague idea, and I knew it had something to do with wanting to achieve something bigger than myself, but I didn’t know how to explain that clearly in Turkish, so I hesitated for a moment. They filled in the momentary silence with “You must be walking for peace,” and I said “Yes” and let it go at that.
So, to them, I was the American peace walker with a big backpack and a girl who wasn’t his girlfriend.
After the journalists rode off Joy Anna and I were thirsty so we sat in the garden at the restaurant for a while and shared a bottle of water. Then we started walking again. We walked through a number of small villages of about 1,000 to 2,000 people at the most. One of these villages was called Yenikoy, which literally means new village.
I was sweating like a pig by that time and soaking through my black T-shirt, but Joyanna and I decided that it was time to take a picture, so I stood next to the Yenikoy village sign, hunched underneath my heavy pack, and Joy Anna took the photo.
As we walked through the village we saw a bus full of high school age students out on a field trip. They were parked at the side of the road while the driver ran into a store. I left Joy Anna at the side of the road and walked up to the bus. As soon as the students inside saw me, they got excited and stuck out their hands. I shook some and gave high fives to the others. With the students worked up now, I turned back to the side of the road with a big grin and walked back to Joy Anna.
“Do you know them?” Joy Anna asked me, puzzled.
“No, of course not,” I said.
“Then why did you do that?”
“I don’t know, that’s just what I do. I don’t think about it.”
Joy Anna and I walked together until at 1pm we came to Havutculu, a small village of about 700 or 800 people. Now I would have to find a place to spend the night.
Earlier in the day Joy Anna had taken some of the fear out of that task by telling me that it was perfectly fine for strangers to use the mosques to wash up and to rest. In fact it was expected and welcomed.
I’d once been told of a story about Abraham that is popular in Turkey, and Joy Anna reminded me of the story now.
A stranger comes and pokes his head in Abraham’s tent door and says, “I’m a stranger out walking from point A to point B. Would it be alright if I come in and have some tea with you and your family?” Abraham invites him in and they are sitting around the stove eating their dinner and drinking their tea when this guy says something bad about God. Abraham is famous for being a big devotee of God and Abraham gets really angry and says, “No one can come into my house and badmouth God and be welcome here. You must go now. You are not welcome here anymore.” Abraham throws the guest out and he walks away. Then God appears to Abraham and says, “You know, I’ve been working on that guy for all of his life and he badmouths me and still I’m patient with him, so who do you think you are to decide this for yourself and kick this guy out? It’s your job to welcome him also.”
Turks and Muslims grow up on this story. They refer to any stranger or unknown person as a “guest of God.” I was happy that Joy Anna reminded me.
Before I set up my tent in the garden, I left my backpack at the side of the mosque and walked Joy Anna out to the main road where I waited with her for a dolmus to take her back to Kusadasi. One came along after a few minutes, and I said goodbye to her as she boarded. Then I walked back alone to the mosque to set up my tent.