Saturday, 29 December
After my day of walking with Baris on my birthday, I still had one leg I needed to do to reach Adana. I decided to wait with that because life was so active in Mersin, and I had invitations and social calls I needed to make before I moved on. So I took few days to do that.
Ayse and Rustu had invited me to spend some time at their home in the country. On Saturday they had a dinner party and I got to meet some of their friends. I also got to meet their dog Bugday who became my close buddy for the next couple of days.
While I was with Ayse and Rustu, I visited a children’s chorus that Ayse was involved with. The group, Umut Isigi, or Light of Hope chorus, were kids of about 8-10 years old. I enjoyed being their audience of one while they serenaded me with Turkish songs in clear, enthusiastic voices.
Sunday, 30 December
I stayed the night with Rustu and Ayse, and the next morning I got up and spent a little time out on the porch swing basking in the sun and enjoying the view of the green expanse of countryside. Then Rustu, Elida (their 15 year old daughter), and I dug into a huge breakfast Ayse had prepared for us.
After breakfast I spent more time lolling on the porch swing, this time joined by Bugday who shared his sloppy tennis ball with me.
Tuesday, 1 January 2013
I passed New Year’s Day back at Melih’s house doing emails, an update on the walk so far for my sponsors, and various other administrative tasks.
I’d been on the road for four months and had walked across 53% of the country. I’d walked a total of 1109 kilometers (689 miles). That’s an average of 277 kilometers (172 miles) per month. Months before the trip I planned on 300 kilometers per month, so I was pretty close to my target.
These were the numbers broken down by month:
Sep: 399 kilometers (247 miles)
Oct: 238 kilometers (148 miles)
Nov: 165 kilometers (102 miles)
Dec: 302 kilometers (187 miles)
As is obvious in the numbers, I’d hit it pretty hard in September. November, the month with two trips to Istanbul, was very light. December was actually right on plan, even with large changes in my traveling style and more social activity than in the three preceding months combined.
Money spent so far in all four months was over-budget. My total was US $3979, an average of US$995 per month.)
Those numbers included everything I’d spent including warmer clothing, internet data plan, new cell phone, two trips to Istanbul, food, lodging, health insurance, and residence permit. Everything.
All the months were over budget. December was pretty close to budget, but even it was too high.
I was liking the Couchsurfing method I’d started in early December. Physically, it was more comfortable, since I slept in a bed or on a couch. I could take showers and do laundry on a regular basis.
I commuted to work in the mornings, and returned to the same home in the evenings. Since I was based out of a given place instead of moving to a new location each day, I made much closer friendships. Emotionally it was much richer.
The conversations were more substantive, too. Traveling old-style (pre-December), I had the same conversation over and over (What is your name? Where are you from? What are you doing? Where are you going? Why?) With Couchsurfing, since we had more time to get to know each other, we talked about other things too. Politics, history, professions, money, life, philosophy, girls.
I’ve always kept close track of my weight. I wondered how walking 20 kilometers per day and not being able to always control my diet would affect my weight. For 10 years my weight had never gone far from 84 kilos (185 pounds). I regularly went 5 kilos (10 pounds) over or under that, depending on what I’d been eating and how much exercise I was getting. But my weight wasn’t changing much on this trip. It was staying at 84 kilos, +/- 5 kilos.
Language-wise, the Couchsurfing community was heavily oriented towards English. In December I spoke way more English than I did Turkish. But I wasn’t out here to learn Turkish, I reminded myself. I was out here to walk across the country and show it to people.
Still, the question stuck in my mind, still unresolved. So I asked my online followers: What were their thoughts? Some people said I should dive deeper into Turkish, some people said don’t worry about it. Others said, “Whatever feels right.” It was inconclusive, so I decided only time would tell.
Another question that gnawed at me during the couch surfing experience was “Am I experiencing the country or not? Is my experience couch surfing an authentic experience?” It wasn’t what I had set out to do. It wasn’t what I had pictured as an authentic experience.
I decided that in traveling you only get to experience a very small slice of the population in front of you. That slice might be farming based peasants or economically upscale students at an expensive private school or it might be the Couchsurfing community. If you want to have an authentic Turkish experience, any experience you have inside the national borders of Turkey will be a completely authentic Turkey experience. Even if you are sitting eating a waffle with American tourists while sipping a coffee from Starbucks, it’s completely authentic because it’s happening in Turkey. If a foreigner decides what is authentic and what isn’t, he is asking Turkey to be something it is not. I stopped my thinking and analysis there, and walked the couple blocks to Burger King for dinner.
The next day, Thursday, I traveled by bus from Mersin to Osmaniye, my next Couchsurfing stop. On the way into Osmaniye, I spied through the bus window a highway sign for Halep, the Turkish spelling for Aleppo, which was exciting for me because it reminded me that the trip was shifting into another gear. Osmaniye, with a population of about 200,000 people, is about 28 miles from the Syrian border, closer to the border than it is to any major Turkish city. For a few days I would be staying at a college student bachelor pad. I was not expecting an elegant place, but it did have a lot of rooms, so I would have one to myself.
As the bus pulled into Osmaniye, I realized my attention was about to become focused on Osmaniye, and before it did, I had a thought I wanted to commit to paper before I forgot Mersin. So I pulled out my notebook and penned:
Occasionally someone asks why I don’t mention his or her name in my website. Now people may wonder why I don’t mention them in this book.
There’s a scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan where Matt Damon and Tom Hanks are swapping stories about loved ones.
Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon about his wife back home. Matt Damon asks Tom Hanks to tell him his most special memory.
Tom Hanks declines, saying, “No, that one’s just for me.”
If I don’t mention your name, or the times we shared, in my website or in my book, it might be because some memories are just for me.
Sunday, 6 January
Sunday morning was gray and drizzly as I took the bus to Mustafabeyli where I’d ended the day before. On this stretch I would be completing my walk into Osmaniye.
When I got off the bus in Mustafabeyli I stopped in at a market near my starting point to pick up some bread and cheese for the road and began a conversation with the store owner, Cevdet Aksu. I downed three cups of tea and chatted with Cevdet while he took care of the Sunday morning rush of people buying bread and newspapers. I took comfort in the fact that Sunday mornings are pretty much the same whether you’re in Manhattan or a small village in southern Turkey — carbohydrates and newspapers.
Cevdet Bey had three children: a 23-year old daughter, a 20-year old son, and a 12-year old daughter. The son was a student at Korkut Ata University in Osmaniye, the same university my Couchsurfing hosts went to.
Between customers Cevdet bey pulled up Facebook on the computer near the cash register and asked me for my profile. I typed my username into the search box, and Cevdet sent me a friend request right there on the spot.
I was starting to find something quite comical, now on the last few days while entering the eastern, Kurdish half of Turkey. The population here were crazy, almost maniacal Facebook users. Even before Cevdet, when I would walk into a market to buy water and a bag of chips, attendants at the counter would have Facebook open while they worked.
The view on the walk that day was spectacular, even though it was a bit cloudy. Osmaniye is the extreme edge of the Cukurova plain, and the mountains, visible since Ceyhan, were closer now and in clearer view. I was happy to be entering the rolling, mountainous territory that I loved.