Sunday, 16 December
The next day, Sunday, I woke up at my normal time, 6:30am, and knocked on Melih’s door to ask him if he wanted to join me again. He called out good morning through the door, but he sounded like he was in pain. Probably sore from yesterday, I thought. I let him go back to sleep as I laced up my shoes and headed out the door.
I hopped the bus and rode back to the flagpole in Arpaçbahşiş where we’d finished walking the day before and began my walk back into Mersin. It wasn’t a pretty walk-by-the-seaside day. Most of the time that day I walked past tall buildings and heavy traffic. It was a day to knock out the smelly, exhaust-filled kilometers. Nothing more, nothing less.
Mid-morning, as I was standing on the side of the road struggling to open a particularly reluctant roll of sandwich cream cookies, up rode five Turkish cyclists decked out in lycra and helmets. They pulled up next to me and stopped. I had not met them before, but they greeted me by name in English.
“Where are you headed?” the lead cyclist asked.
“Back into Mersin,” I responded. The roll of cookies popped open, and a few of them dropped onto the ground.
“Looks like you lost part of your lunch,” the lead cyclist smiled. She continued, “We’re going to Kız Kalesi to greet some Germans who are cycling to China. Have you been to Kız Kalesi before?”
“Yeah, I was there yesterday.”
“Of course you were. Well, good luck with your cookies. We’ve got to go, it was nice to meet you,” she said, as she clipped back into her pedal and started away.
As the line of cyclists pulled away, I thought, Wow, they knew my name. For thousands of years people have been crossing this country, and now I’m one of them. It’s quite a club, and now I’m in it.
When I got back home Melih was out of bed, but said he had been too sore and stiff to walk across the apartment, much less leave the house that day. I showered and rested, and then attended a potluck dinner hosted by one of the faculty members I had met at Tarsus American College. I was loving my new Couchsurfing travel method. People had been feeding me all the way across the country, but now they were friends I had met a week before, and here I was getting to see them again. What a treat!
Monday, 17 December
Since I had now finished walking towards Mersin, it was time for a day or two off before I started the walk away from it. As I rolled out of bed Monday morning, I decided that my first act of my first day off under my new Couchsurfing regime would be to walk across the street to a bakery I had seen, and buy a bunch of stuff.
The bakery attendant asked me how many people I was buying for.
“Two,” I said.
He took out a small bag and shook it open.
“I’m going to buy a lot,” I told him, “You might need a bigger box for this.”
He got a box and followed me around the shop while I pointed at things I wanted to buy. When the box was full, I told him, “There’s more. We’re going to need another box.”
I carried my haul back to Melih’s apartment, brushed away the cigarette ashes on the desk of Melih’s home office, and dropped the boxes down.
“Breakfast is served,” I said to Melih with a flourish.
I ate my half of the pastries in about three minutes, eyed Melih’s half and decided not to eat it. Instead, I went back to bed and slipped into a happy carbohydrate coma. This place is starting to feel like home, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
Though I was close to half way through the walk, I had yet to meet any of the “dangerous” people I had been warned about. Instead, I met a young man, a 17-year-old kid from Croatia who was staying with Melih for a few days while I was there too. He was hitchhiking to Iran. He told me that during school breaks while the rest of his friends were hanging out at the mall, he would walk to the edge of town, stick out his thumb, and hitchhike. A couple of months before this trip he had hitchhiked through Ukraine, Siberia, Mongolia, and into China. He had gotten to Shanghai and he looked at the calendar and thought, Oh, I better get back home—school’s starting again. So he hitchhiked back to Croatia from Shanghai.
This guy is young enough to be my son, I thought. If my son were doing this I would be much more relaxed if I knew somebody was taking care of him.
So as few resources as I had myself, I said, “You haven’t eaten yet so let’s go out to dinner.” So the three of us–the Croatian kid, Melih, and I–went out to dinner and had some tantuni.
Melih and I had arranged a small party that evening so we could get better-acquainted with the local Couchsurfing community. After dinner with the Croatian kid, Melih and I went to a nearby restaurant famous for the local dessert specialty, künefe, to meet some of the community members. There were ten of us: Stew, from Ireland, Ziad, a refugee from Syria, Milad, a refugee from Iran, Milad’s Turkish girlfriend, three other Turks, Anisa, a refugee from Afghanistan, and Melih and me.
Thirty percent of the people at that table were refugees, and none of them fit what I imagined a refugee to be: someone running across the border carrying blankets and then sleeping on the streets begging for money. Ziad, Milad, and Anisa weren’t carrying blankets, and they slept in their beds at home. They were more educated than I, and their English was quite fluent.
As the group broke up for the evening, a voice at the back of my head told me I needed to learn more about Anisa’s story. While the rest of the group had been chatty that evening, she had been fairly reticent, and the few words that she did say suggested she had a very unusual background.
So I asked her if we could meet again so she could tell me her story. She nodded yes, and we agreed to meet a few days later, on one of my next days off.