The next day, before resuming my walk, I I went downstairs to the hotel’s breakfast buffet. I took a seat next to the window. A cold rain was beating against the glass. I was happy to see on the buffet a big bowl of tahini, an oily spread made from pressed sesame seeds. At most places in the U.S. that little bowl of tahini would cost about $10.00. In this part of Turkey there was so much tahini that it was a complimentary breakfast buffet item.
The TV was playing in the dining room while I ate, and as is usually the case on TV news someone was crying about something. I watched closer. A Turkish mother was crying about her dead son.
Fat drops of rain were beating against the window now. I realized that I had a long, tedious day of walking through deserted areas in the rain ahead of me.
I hunched over my tahini feeling sorry for myself like a poor, old man hunched over crying into his bowl of soup.
Then there was that mother crying on television! “God, life sucks so much!” I said to myself.
“Hold yourself together!” I said back to myself. “Do not start crying into your soup! That’s going to look really bad. Do not go there!”
Once I finished breakfast, though, and got out on the road and started my operation for the day, I got caught up with executing the routine of the day.
On the way out of Gaziantep I passed the stone camel caravan, like me, walking east out of town.
As I walked out of town, breathing exhaust fumes and trying not to get hit by cars, I thought, “Sometimes walking across a country is boring scut work.” I briefly likened it to sitting in a cubicle answering emails. Then I thought, “Yeah, but the difference is I don’t mind this particular variety of scut work.
East of Gaziantep it was mostly rolling hills, green grass, rich but rocky soil, and olive and some other kind of trees I could not identify. I had learned a few weeks ago that southeastern Turkey and Iran supplied more than half of the world’s pistachios. I wondered where they were growing all those pistachios. Duh! I looked around and realized those trees I couldn’t identify were pistachio trees.
At the end of they I took a minibus back to Gaziantep to meet up with Tomas and stay at the hotel another night.
On Friday on the climb into Urfa I ran into what seemed to be road construction. I didn’t see any machinery moving at the moment so I figured the entire crew was on break, and I kept walking. A cop car car came down the hill from the direction of Urfa. It stopped in front of me, and three policemen got out to greet me.
“Is everything okay,” they asked.
“Yes, thanks,” I replied, everything is fine.
They looked at me uncertainly, as if they had something to say, but didn’t want to say it.
“Are you going to Urfa?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“You should get into the car. We will take you there.”
“Thanks,” I replied, “but no, I need to walk.”
One of the officers repeated, “You should get into the car. We will take you to Urfa.”
“No,” I repeated, “thanks, but I will walk.”
The three of them gave up and climbed back into the squad car. They turned around and drove back towards Urfa, driving the wrong way on the highway.
I thought to myself, That’s dangerous. What if someone hits them? Then I noticed there were no cars in either direction. It was normally a busy road, so I thought that a little strange. I hitched up my pack and continued walking up the hill.
I continued walking up the hill toward Urfa another two or three kilometers. I wondered again, Why this uncanny lack of traffic? Then as I entered the city limit I saw a road block about 200 meters ahead and the cops who had greeted me earlier were parked there with a long line of traffic behind them. It slowly dawned on me that they must be waiting for me, and I thought, “This is not going to go well for me. The cops have lost patience with me. They are not going to allow me to continue walking. I’m going to have to do this last part later. As soon as I reach the road block they are going to make me get in the car.”
So I stopped to take a picture of the city limit sign before the cops could stop me.
When I arrived at the roadblock, all the cops said to me was, “Hello! Welcome to Urfa.” One of them got on the radio and I heard him say, “Okay you can blow it up now.” Then came the deafening blast of dynamite behind me where I’d been walking.
Why, I wondered, hadn’t they told me they were dynamiting? I would have gotten in the car immediately and come back later to complete those kilometers. As it was, the cops and that string of cars had had to wait all that time for me to walk to the city limits!
The cop on the radio turned to me and said, “Okay! Now you’ve got to get in the car! We need to take you to the station.”
This time I got into the police car and we rode into the precinct station. I sat in the precinct station for a little while, drinking tea and watching television while the cops took photocopies of my passport and residence permit, andfaxed them to another office tomake sure I wasn’t a terrorist.
I didn’t know whether I was free to go or not, so after about ninety minutes I finally asked them. They said, “Yes, of course, you are free to go.”
So they gave my passport and paperwork back to me. I took my paperwork and shoved it in my back pocket and pulled my backpack on and walked out to the main road and asked them, “Which way do I go toward the city center now?”
They said, “We’ll drive you to the bus station.”
I told them, “No. I need to walk to the bus station.”
They said, “No, no, no, no! We absolutely insist. You must get in the car and we will drive you to the bus station.
I had turned down enough rides from the cops that day, and I figured I would just come back and walk this leg later. So I got into the back of the police car and they drove me to the main bus station.
When we arrived, I said, “No, I need a local bus because I need to go back to Gaziantep tonight.”
They said, “No, we’re taking you to the main bus station because the local buses are not trustworthy.”
I repeated, “I need a local bus back to Gaziantep.”
They insisted, “No!! You need to take one of the main buses here at the main bus station and go on one of the main roads back to Gaziantep.”
So at the main bus station, I opened the car door and entered into a sea of men and women in colorful baggy pants and dresses dancing and banging on drums. However, I had told the cops I would buy a bus ticket right away, so I paid no attention to the festivities and just walked up to the ticket counter and bought a ticket for the next bus to Gaziantep.
Ticket bought, I finally looked around to see what the commotion was about. The dancing men and women had come to the station to see off their young men who were going into the military to do their mandatory military service. Urfa was one of the intake points.
The part of southeastern Turkey that I was entering now–Gaziantep and Urfa—was the area people in the west had been referring to when they pantomimed machine guns and warned me that all the people “over there” were terrorists. But all I was seeing here so far were people who wore more colorful clothes than they wore in the west and, yes, their language was different. But they were here at the bus station seeing off their sons into mandatory service for the same country that the people of the west served. I’d seen no machine guns yet. And the police with the string of cars at the roadblock into town had sat and patiently waited and stopped a dynamiting project for me, a foreigner, while I refused to cooperate with them.
I knew I was entering another world now and in order to survive I had to remember I that I was never going to understand what was going on in any given situation or what the loyalties were. I was just going to walk through and not try to pretend that I understood the world around me.