Wednesday, 26 December
I had spent a few days leapfrogging ahead and walking east, into and out of the nearby city of Adana. But Melih wanted to walk another leg with me, so the day after Christmas we hopped a bus to Tarsus. We rode to the main intersection in Tarsus and got off at the Nüsret minelayer display. The Nüsret is a ship which mined the Dardanelle Straits in World War I and helped the Turks stop an Allied invasion. From there we began our walk west back to Mersin. But first we dedicated the day to the pink-booted Oya Zaimoğlu, one of my guardian angels in Tarsus.
This time we planned to walk a shorter 20 kilometers rather than the 30 kilometers Melih’d had to walk the last time he walked with me.
Neither pretty nor idyllic, the area we walked from there to Mersin was a semi-populated, heavily industrialized area with lots of smog and narrow shoulders and busy roads filled with trucks rumbling by belching exhaust fumes.
Later, after Melih and I had stopped for lunch and began to enter Mersin, I felt a bit of deja vu when we approached some acres of neatly trained, manicured orchards behind a steel fence, and I thought, Oh wow, they train those trees like they train peach trees in Reedley. As I’ve said, “You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm entirely out of the boy!” Then I saw the huge sign on the fence—”Unifrutti of Turkey.”
I quickly snapped a picture of the sign and the orchards on the other side of the fence and posted it for my dad. I knew this name, Unifrutti, since I had heard my dad speak of it often. Luis, a good friend of my dad’s from Santiago, Chile, worked with Unifrutti in establishing the nursery and these orchards for the Turkish Government, and with the help of the Turks in the area Luis was responsible for planting these trees. My dad knew Luis from working with him on cooperative projects over the years between their respective agricultural companies in Chile and Reedley. Strange the connections we can find with what we know even in the remotest of places.
As we threaded our way through through the various neighborhoods on our route through suburban Mersin Melih said, “Matt, come this way just a bit. I want to show you something.”
I didn’t know what to expect. Melih’s face was expressionless. I followed him down a side street about two kilometers off our route until we came to a walled-off neighborhood. To enter this area we had to go through turnstiles where guards stood waiting to check our I.D.s.
We passed groups of men coming toward us as they exited the turnstiles through which we had entered. The buildings were dark, hollowed out storefronts that had seen better times. None of them seemed to have electricity. Prostitutes stood outside the doors laughing and making loud, crude comments to each other across the street. I realized Melih was showing me a darker side of Mersin.
My skin crawled. We had only been inside the gates for 1 or 2 minutes, but I turned to Melih and said, “Melih, I’m not going to last even ten more seconds. I’ve got to get out of here.” Melih saw how uncomfortable I was. “Sure,” he said, and we left.
That was my first and last foray into the underbelly of the sex trade in Turkey.
It had taken a huge amount of open-mindedness for me to sleep at the side of the road. It had taken a lot of acceptance to be kind to people trying to convert me in the villages when I wanted to make friends.
Mersin was pulling me in with lots of great food, but it was also forcing me to dig deep and take my own advice to see the world as it is, not as you think it is.
You are not of this world, I reminded myself.
Melih and I walked back to the main road and finished the day’s walk into Mersin. That day, plus the sections I had already walked, into and out of Adana, put me at 51% of the total distance walked. I’d walked more than halfway across Turkey! It was an honor to clear the halfway mark with someone who had become such a good friend. And to do it one day after Christmas, and a couple of days before my birthday. A great way to mark the holiday week!!