Wednesday, 6 March

Today’s walk is 32 km (20 miles), starting at the provincial border between Urfa and Diyarbakır, and ending at the village of Tokaçlı.

The temperature is 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), and the crosswind so strong the bus is shuddering and the bus door won’t open until the attendant rams his shoulder into it.

When I step out of the bus into the freezing wind, all I can hear is my brain yelling at me to “go! go! go!”, not “stop and take a photo.” I usually take photos of the road signs at provincial borders, but I glance at the sign and decide not to today. To keep from getting blown over while I walk, I lean hard to the side. I gaze out at the windswept plain. It is barren, just like I feel inside.

I’m not bored, though. I only feel bored when I am looking for distraction. If I were looking for distraction I would be tremendously bored, since for the next six hours I will do nothing but walk on this windswept plain. But I’m not looking for distraction. I know from experience that there is nothingover the next hill. There’s only another hill. So I empty my head and bang out the kilometers.

A man who I think is a shepherd waves me over to a small stone shelter next to the road. I eagerly head in his direction.

“Roj baş,” I say as I duck into the door and hide from the wind. Greetings.

“Roj baş,” he smiles and says back.

He motions me further into the shelter and invites me to sit down for tea. I sit down next to the stove and warm my hands.

When my eyes adjust to the darkness I notice there is another man standing near the door. The shepherd introduces him. They are friends. The friend and I greet each other. Roj baş.

The friend is brewing tea. He points to the kettle. “It’s not ready yet,” he says. “Give it a few more minutes.”

A random thought flashes through my mind: Where are the sheep? I didn’t see any sheep outside. Aren’t these guys shepherds?

I take a closer look around the room and see a half-dozen automatic rifles leaning against the wall.

I didn’t know shepherds carry automatic rifles.

I look at the shepherds a little closer. They are wearing camouflage fatigues and headscarves.

Wait a minute, a voice in my head tells me. These aren’t shepherds.

I stand up. I don’t know where their loyalties lie. I don’t want to. I tell them I’d like a rain check on the tea and that I really must be going.

We shake hands, say our goodbyes, and I head back out into the wind.

Thursday, 7 March

Today is the last leg of my walk into Diyarbakir. I hop a bus to where I left off yesterday so I can walk the 30 kilometers back into Diyarbakir.

I climb down off the bus and take out my writing stuff. The clean whiteboard I used to use for my daily dedications is gone now, crushed by the other things in my backpack. I discarded it about 300 miles ago. Now I write my daily dedications on scraps of paper.

A memory has popped into my head and I dedicate the day to Bill Munn, a friend of mine from my teenage days. I stand by the side of the road and write the memory on paper so I can type it into my computer later:

When I was 15 I lived in Visalia, California. On Saturday mornings a bunch of us would ride our bicycles to Rocky Hill, one of the foothills of the Sierras.

One day Bill Munn came with us. He was a patriarch of the Visalia cycling scene at that time, but he wasn’t always a regular at the Saturday morning rides, even though they started in front of his shop.

At that time Bill was about 35, I guess. He was, shall we say, a little bit heavier than the rest of us.

We young bucks got to the top of Rocky Hill way ahead of Bill. While waiting for Bill, some of us rode around idly in circles, while some of us just sat on our bikes, leaned against the bars, and watched him sweat his way up the hill.

At the top he pulled to a stop and gasped out some words I’ll probably laugh at for the rest of my life: “I can’t breathe, I need a cigarette.”

By the time he came to a full stop he had pulled a cigarette out of his pocket, lit it, and started puffing away.

I notice that while I’ve been writing in my notebook I’ve been standing in front of a police station. I figure I have mere seconds before the cops show up to find out what I’m doing. Sure enough, three of them appear as I close my notebook. They greet me and pat me down. They check my documents and rifle through my notebook.

“Who is Bill Munn?” they ask, pointing to his name on the page, perhaps suspecting that he is a spy higher up in the organization.

“An old friend of mine.”

They eye me suspiciously and hand the notebook back to me. I say thanks, turn around, and begin my walk for the day.

Six hours later I walk into Diyarbakir. I stop briefly to take a photo of the city limit sign: Diyarbakır, population 875,000.

Over the past 7 days I have walked from Şanlıurfa to Diyarbakır. 185 kilometers, or 115 miles. I suspect I am tired, but I also suspect that if I were tired I would not know it. So now that 77% of the walk is done, I will be taking 3 days off.I will be visiting a school, and I’ll also have two days of napping and eating. I might try to catch a movie too. I don’t watch too many movies these days.

Friday, 8 March

I spend the day at Rekabet Kurumu Cumhuriyet Fen Lisesi, a science-focused high school in Diyarbakır. I am a guest of Nazile Çelik, one of the school’s English teachers. She is a friend of my hosts in Diyarbakır.

This particular school is pretty competitive. The students have to pass a special exam to enter, and then once they’re in, they not only go to school during the week, they also take 4 hours of additional classes at private study schools on Saturdays AND on Sundays. Chess, table tennis, and volleyball seem to be the most popular extra-curricular activities. Almost half of the students want to be doctors.

Visiting schools is exhausting for me, but it is, hands down, my favorite activity on the trip. If I had the invitations, and the endurance, I would spend every single spare moment of this trip visiting schools. I don’t care if they are primary schools, middle schools, high schools, or universities. I LOVE visiting schools.
The students get excited, and I get confused and overwhelmed, and in the hallways a million people talk to me at once and I don’t know who to focus on. But once I get in front of a class and start talking with the students the rest of the world falls away. It’s just me and the students in front of me.

Saturday, 9 March, and Sunday, 10 March

I spend one of the days touring Diyarbakır with four students of Nazile Çelik: a young man named Diyar, and three young women named Esgi, Esra, and Aysel. We climb around on the city walls, visit the city’s four-footed minaret, and relax with a hot cup of menengiç, a hot drink made with terebinth berries, in one of the old town squares.

I spend part of the other rest day helping my host with the ironing. Some people, like my host, hate ironing. I love it. It brings me peace.

I spend the rest of the time sleeping and eating. My host asks me if I want to go out and explore. I say no, I do enough of that these days. I just want to rest, thank you.

Monday, 11 March

On the walk today a man asks me, “What’s this region was called?”

There are a couple possible answers to that question, and for those answers wars have been fought, and are still being fought, and people give, and take, lives.

I don’t want to get involved. It’s not my fight. I just want to finish walking across the country. So I answer the best I can: I smile and say, “I don’t know, you tell me.”

He smiles back and declines to answer, too.

The day is sunny and warm with big blue skies. There is no wind. Rolling hills as far as the eye can see, with a change in the ground cover now. West of Diyarbakir the land was covered with rocks and was used only for grazing. East of Diyarbakir it’s the opposite: no rocks, and all farming. Mostly wheat, barley, and lentils. Fresh green sprouting grasses cover the rolling hills. Last time I saw a wheat field was in December and it was brown.

I stop for lunch at the Ortaçlar Petrol in the village of Köprübaşı (“Bridge Head”). Lunch is two ice creams, a bag of nacho cheese Doritos, and some water. Doritos enjoy a large distribution network in eastern Turkey; you can find them almost anywhere.

İsmail and İshak, the owners of Ortaçlar, ask me to make sure I mention their gasoline station in particular. So the next time you find yourself in need of fuel in Köprübaşı, 20 kilometers east of Diyarbakır, be sure to stop by Ortaçlar Petrol. Ask for the fill-up special, and tell them Matt sent you.

My walk’s 1,000th mile matches exactly with the middle of the Tigris river. I stop briefly to note that to someone in a less utilitarian, more poetic mood, the combination of rolling the odometer to 1,000 miles while crossing a river considered by many to be the cradle of human civilization would probably be more significant. I resume walking across the bridge. Two more days of this and I’ll be ready to move on to the next town, Silvan.

Tuesday, 12 March, and Wednesday, 13 March

I can see a few mountains have started to appear in the distance. In about a week I’ll start the climb up onto a higher plateau, and I’ll finish the walk on that plateau.

On one of my breaks I stop at a gasoline station for some tea. They ask me about federalism in the USA. In my Tarzan Turkish I try to answer questions like, “In America, are the state governors appointed by the President, or are they elected by the people?”

As I walk back out to the road, I reflect that in western Turkey, when I would tell people I was heading east, they would almost invariably pantomime machine gun fire. Now that I’m in the east, I am answering questions about federalism.

When I reach Silvan, my destination for the day, I snack on peynirli kol böreği and çay. While I eat someone explains to me that the Bible is broken. I thank them for the information and hop a bus back to Diyarbakır.

Thursday, 14 March

As the bus leaves Diyarbakır I pull out my notebook and pen this:

There was a squirrel. He was out hunting for nuts. He saw a nice big one down in the well of a tree. He grabbed the nut. He tried to pull it out, but the nut was too big. It, plus his hand, wouldn’t come out together. So he had to make a choice — let go of the nut, or hold onto it and starve.

Today I am leaving Diyarbakır. I have been here for over a week — three days to walk towards the city, one day to visit a school, two days to rest, and then three days to walk away from it.

I am moving on to Silvan, and then Tatvan. In Silvan I’ll be staying with a new friend of mine, Islam. People are waiting for me in those places. I know from experience now that some of them will become great friends, but in order to meet them, I have to say goodbye, at least for now, to my old friends.

It is like breaking up with people every day, day after day, and I don’t like it a whole lot. In fact, it is the single most emotionally exhausting aspect of this trip.

But the soon-to-be-new-friends are waiting for me, and so I’ve got to say goodbye, at least for now, to the old ones. Thank you Diyarbakır, it’s been real.

Tuesday, 5 March

The day after moving to Diyarbakır, I hop a mini-bus back to Siverek to begin the three daylong legs of my walk toward Diyarbakir. The plains now are windswept, the winds high.

As I start my walk out of Siverek, a group of about eight 10-year-old boys runs up to me.

One of the boys jumps up and down, gesturing wildly and pointing at me, his face contorted in anger. He yells, “Syrians are not welcome here. Move on!”

I turn my back on him and face the other boys. I take off my sunglasses.

While the angry boy jumps and screams, I chat with his friends and introduce myself.

“Where are you from?” one of the boys asks.

“I am an American,” I say.

Upon hearing this, the angry boy calms down a bit and pushes to the front of the group. He introduces himself as “Ronaldo.” Ronaldo is a famous Portuguese footballer.

“Nice to meet you, Ronaldo,” I say. I hold out my hand. He shakes it. Then I shake a few more hands before turning around and continuing to walk.

By now the angry boy has calmed down enough such that the expression on his face says, “I should still be angry about something, but I’m not sure what now.” Before I get too far away he catches up to me and reintroduces himself using his real name.

The boys fall away as we pass a soccer field. A group of men is sitting on the sidewalk drinking tea. I say hello to them. They nod at me, and one of them strikes up a conversation:

Man: Where are you going?

Me: Today I am walking towards Diyarbakır.

Man: Are you hitchhiking?

Me: No, I am walking. On foot.

Man: Are you riding a bicycle?

Me: No, I am walking. On foot.

Man: (after a pause) Are you taking a car?

Me: No, I am walking. On foot.

The man looks at me with a surprised look that says, “You’re crazy!”

I smile and wave and resume walking.

At the beginning of the walk, I wanted people to understand what I was doing. But it’s been six months, and even I barely understand what I am doing. All I know is that I have to do it. So I’ve stopped caring what other people think. I just want to bang out the kilometers and be done with it.

A couple hours outside Siverek, two men pull over on the other side of the road. They are driving a rusty old Datsun. The front bumper looks like it’s about to fall off onto the pavement.

“Do you need a ride?” they call out to me.

“Thank you,” I say, “but I am walking.”

The driver jumps out of his car and crosses over to the median strip to say hello.

I too cross over to the median strip. The man and I shake hands.

“Where are you from?” he asks.

“I am an American,” I reply.

“Excellent.” He leans in and looks both ways. “Do you have any information?”

“Information about what?” I ask.

He leans in further, raises his eyebrows, and says cryptically, “You know, information. I am a Turkish agent.”

I look closer into his eyes and notice that they are not connecting with mine. My instinct tells me this man is crazy. I feel my protective shields going up. I tell him in English that I cannot speak any Turkish. The conversation grinds to a halt. I don’t want to talk to crazy paranoiacs, especially not in this area. I just want to walk.

He hands me his business card and reminds me that he is a government agent and I should call him if I have any problems. As I cross back to my side of the road, and he to his, I call out thanks in Turkish and assure him that I will do so. As he and his friend pull away in their rusty old car, I turn his card over and take a look. His cover: dried nuts salesman. So that’s what spies are doing these days, I smile, as I crumple up his card and stuff it into my pocket.

Friday, 1 March

I start walking again. I leave Urfa like a bat out of hell. My first thought—Oh shit! I want to finish this up by the middle of April and I still have one-third of the country to cross without injuring myself!

I pull a calculator out of my pocket. How many kilometers will I need to walk each day in order to meet my goal? I punch a few numbers into the calculator, and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s doable, but I’m going to have to walk twice a much as I’ve walked in previous months. There will be a lot of wear and tear on my body and I will be very tired at the end of the month.

Urfa, with a population about 600,000, one of the oldest cities in human history, is considered to be the hometown of Abraham but there is no room in my schedule for visiting historical sites—not even Urfa’s iconic Balıklı Göl (Fish Lake). The story with Fish Lake is that King Nimrod had Abraham burned on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. This pool of sacred fish remains today. No one eats these fish. Legend has it that if you eat one of these fish you will die.

Tourists flock to Urfa for this and other “cradle of civilization” sites. But I have a job to do, and I will not be able to see any of it..

I think of a friend, Yonca from Istanbul, and dedicate the day’s walk to her. On Twitter Yonca goes by @epithetankgirl. March is going to be my busiest walking month yet, so all month I’ll be needing the inspiration of, for example, indestructible tank girls.

I stuff the calculator back into my pocket and resume walking. My goal for the day is the airport about 35 kilometers outside the city.

Around 10am, I stop at a gasoline station for a mid-morning snack of a bag of potato chips and a candy bar. A group of farmers squatting on the pavement, also taking their mid-morning break, invites me to join them for tea. I squat down next to them.

“What are you doing?” they ask me.

“I’m walking across Turkey. I’ve been on the road for six months,” I say.

“Where do you sleep at night?” they ask.

“Sometimes I stay with friends,” I say. “Sometimes I camp on the side of the road.”

“Like a spy,” says one of the farmers.

“Yes,” I reply, “like a spy.”

Further down the road, I come across a young man, a shepherd named Şahin. He walks with me for about a kilometer, which is unusual, because shepherds are usually busy managing their flocks.

“What are you doing out here?” Şahin asks.

“I’m walking across Turkey. I’ve been on the road 6 months. I’m walking towards Diyarbakir.”

Şahin’s face lights up. “That’s great,” he says, “what a grand adventure! I will probably live my entire life right here, just a few kilometers from my village, watching these sheep every day. I wish I could do something like that.”

A few kilometers later, I run into another young man on the side of the road. He asks me, “What are you doing out here?”

“I’m walking across Turkey. I’ve been on the road 6 months. I’m walking towards Diyarbakir.”

“That’s impossible,” he says, “you can’t do that.”

“I have been walking for six months,” I repeat.

“That’s impossible, you can’t do that,” he repeats.

“Okay, thank you,” I say, as I wave goodbye and continue walking.

Life is so much simpler now that I am not trying to respond to everything people say or to defend myself. All I’m thinking is—17 kilometers, 18 kilometers, 19 kilometers, 20 kilometers. Put one foot in front of the other. Put it down. Pick up the other foot. Put it down in front of the first one. Repeat until you’ve crossed the country.

I reach the airport and wait by the side of the road twenty minutes for a minibus to ride back to Urfa.

For the next month or so, I will have no deep philosophical moments of reflection. It will just be wake up, walk, shower, sleep. Repeat each day until I reach the end of the country. The process will have about as much emotion as clearing the table or washing and drying a dish. I will strip things down to the bare minimum I will need for the day and then strip them down again.

This is not a cultural experience. I do not care that I am walking through the cradle of civilization. I have a project, and I need to get it done.

Saturday, 2 March

I wake up in Urfa. I take the bus to the airport, where I ended my walk the day before.
There is almost no tree farming or agriculture other than ground crops and grasses for sheepherding. So green blankets the rolling hills for as far as the eye can see. There is not a tree in sight. The villages are far apart. From what I understand it is like this from Urfa all the way to Diyarbakır.

I walk 30 kilometers further. I take the bus back to Urfa.

Sunday, 3 March

I wake up in Urfa, board a bus, and ride 60 kilometers to where I left off yesterday. There is nothing in sight but rolling hills covered with green grass, and a blue sky above. At the spot I stopped yesterday I tell the bus driver to let me off the bus. He looks at me, puzzled. His face says, Why in the world would you want to get out here? When he sees my increasing urgency he pulls to a stop and opens the door and I climb off.

Today, if I walk 32 kilometers I’ll end up in Siverek, a small town of less than 10,000 people between Urfa and Diyarbakir.

Before I walk I dedicate the day to Mary Baba. Tomorrow is her birthday. Mary is my aunt (my mother’s sister). Her birthday actually isn’t until tomorrow, but I won’t be walking tomorrow — I’ll be moving on to Diyarbakır.

“Mary,” I write. “I have a photo of me at the Euphrates river the other day. I’ll drop that in the mail to you.”

I am again in the middle of nowhere, but in Turkey, people appear even in the middle of nowhere. I begin walking.

A couple hours later I meet two men on the side of the road. I greet them and ask them if everything is okay. They tell me they are looking for their horse. I wish them the best of luck and continue walking.

A few hours later I come across a truck stop with a cafe. It’s probably the only food place I’ll see today so I stop for lunch.

I order the ground beef with eggs. It looks like it has been around for about 37 years, but I’m hungry, and I LOVE the stuff, so I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

While I am eating it occurs to me I ought to start a travel cuisine blog called I chuckle at myself. After all, there aren’t many people around today to laugh at my jokes. If I don’t laugh at my own jokes, who will?

After lunch I begin walking again, facing traffic as always. Once or twice a day a driver suggests to me that hitchhiking would be so much easier if I would cross the road and walk with traffic, not against it. I thank them for their concern. If I were hitchhiking I would probably have picked up on that idea on my own by now.

I walk for a few more hours and reach Siverek, midway between Urfa and Diyarbakir. I hop a bus back to Urfa, glad that tomorrow I will be moving on to Diyarbakır.

The next day, before resuming my walk, 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. a little bowl of tahini would cost about $20.00. 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 the day 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, and faxed them to another office to make 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.

Arriving home at Mustafa’s each day had meant I ended the day with a warm, home-cooked meal and a hot shower in a spacious bathroom, but all good things must come to an end. Mustafa’s inlaws needed their apartment back. They lived in Kilis, a city adjacent to the Syrian border about 50 kilometers away, were coming for a visit, and I would need to find another place to stay.

So during that day’s walk, a few miles east of Gaziantep, I pulled out my cell phone and called Tomas, an Italian Couchsurfing hitchhiker I had met a couple days before in a cafe.

Tomas answered: “Hello?”

“Hi Tomas, it’s Matt Krause from Couchsurfing, remember me?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“I’m looking for a place to stay tonight. I know it’s kind of short notice. Do you know of anything?”

“Probably. Tonight I’m staying in the attic of a friend of a friend’s place. You might be able to crash there.”

“Have you stayed there before?” I asked Tomas.


“Have you met the host before?”


The connection sounds kind of tentative, I thought. But I sleep in ditches by the side of the road. Beggars can’t be choosers.

“Can I join you?”

“I think so,” Tomas responded. “Meet me in the square downtown at 5pm.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and stuffed my phone back into my pocket. “Good, that’s taken care of.”

I continued walking.

A few kilometers later, a village appeared on the horizon and I spotted, at its edge, a collection of tents with people milling about. Cool, a market, I thought, I’ll drop in and take a look.

I came to the outskirts of the village and began walking towards the market.

I noticed that the women wore bright colors — purples, reds. I generally didn’t see Turkish women wearing robes that colorful.

I noticed lots of children running around unattended. Huh, that’s different, I thought. At most of the Turkish markets I see, there aren’t a lot of children, and the mothers generally hold the ones present close.

I noticed lots of men sitting on the ground in small groups. Huh, that’s unusual. I almost never see groups of Turkish men sitting around at a market, especially not on the ground.

I noticed the tents were empty, save for a few bunks and some scattered bags of clothes. Huh, that’s unusual too. Most of the markets I see have tents overflowing with goods for sale.

I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked around closer at the women in robes, at the children running around, at the men sitting on the ground outside empty tents.

I wasn’t standing in a market. I was standing in a refugee camp.

I looked around some more, wondering if it was always this easy to walk into refugee camps.

A truck pulled up on the road a hundred meters away. Some men got out of the cab and began pulling temporary fencing from the back of the truck. I guess this is a new camp, I thought. They haven’t even put up fencing yet.

I resumed walking. Another quarter-mile and I had left the village and its new refugee camp behind. Back out onto the open road. Only mile after mile of gently rolling hills and row after row of pistachio trees. And the occasional Syrian family making its way to the camp I had left behind me.

After the day’s walk I hopped a bus back to Gaziantep. I met Tomas on the square. We picked up my backpack from Mustafa’s office nearby. We went back out onto the square and met Sara, an Italian exchange student who had helped Tomas find the attic where he and I would sleep that night.

“Where is this place,” I asked Sara. “Is it far from here?”

“I don’t think so,” Sara responded, “but I’ve never been there.”

We wandered up and down streets, in and out of blind alleys, and finally found the place. It was behind a locked gate. Sara tried a bunch of keys on a ring full of them, and finally found the key that unlocked the gate. It popped open into a small courtyard. We entered the building and climbed the stairs to the attic. Tomas and I dropped our packs onto the attic floor.

I looked at Tomas. “You hungry?”

“Yeah, I’m starved.”

“Let’s go eat, then,” I said.

We descended the stairs and found a nearby restaurant for dinner.

That night as I fell asleep, I worried about Tomas. It was cold in Gaziantep, and especially cold in that attic. My sleeping bag was toasty warm, having been designed for sleeping on snow and ice. But Tomas had only a summer bag. It was going to be a cold night for him.

The next morning, I woke up to see Tomas sitting next to a glowing space heater, cupping his hands and breathing into them.

“Are you okay?” I asked. Mist came out of my mouth as I spoke. “It was kind of cold last night.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Tomas answered, shivering, “just trying to warm up.”

“Come on,” I said to Tomas, “Let’s get out of here and go get some breakfast.”

It was my day off, and I was looking forward to a leisurely breakfast in a warm restaurant followed by some sightseeing. Besides, back in Osmaniye I had promised İlgi that I would introduce foreigners to şalgam whenever possible.

“Have you tried şalgam?” I asked Tomas as we descended the stairs.

“No, what’s that?”

“It’s a local drink, it’s delicious.”

After breakfast we wandered around the city sightseeing, knowing that we had only a few hours to give to a city that had taken thousands of years to create. Later that day, Tomas’ phone rang. It was Sara. We would need to clear out of the attic later that day. The owner was coming back and would need the space.

“I guess we’ll need to find another place to stay tonight,” I said to Tomas. “Any ideas?”

“No. You?”

“No, none. I guess we’ll have to look for a place. But first, let me introduce you to şalgam. Come on, there’s a shop across the street. They’ll have some.” We crossed the road and entered the shop. I ordered two şalgams.

Tomas grimaced as he took a sip of his. “Is there something wrong with this?”

“No,” I said, “it’s supposed to taste like that. Drink it fast, it’ll be easier that way. Besides, we should start looking for a place to stay.”

After drinking, and grimacing, his way through şalgam, Tomas and I walked around Gaziantep looking for a cheap motel to stay in. The shadows grew longer and longer, and then the sky dimmer and dimmer, and we had inquired at almost a dozen places, but they were all too expensive, or full, or, if they fit into our budget, didn’t have hot water, which was kind of a deal breaker since it was so cold outside.

Finally, we found one which fit our budget AND had hot water. And, to make it even better, the manager took pity on the two homeless strangers wandering around the city looking for a place to stay, and he gave us an especially deep discount. We went up to the room. The water was hot and the sheets were clean.