& Everywhere


I agree with what Jenna wrote, that “too much happens in just one week.” Unfortunately, this is usually what keeps me from writing, rather than motivating me to write more. Thus, rather than relate everything that’s happen in the past who knows how long, let me tell you about the Monday of my spring break, two weeks back.

The night before I had stayed in Savur, a small town in the hills about an hour away down a windy road from Mardin, in the southeast. I was the only guest at a well-appointed konak perched at the top of the hill, and after having a lavish home-cooked meal I went with the owner down to his bookie (for soccer), where we ended up spending a couple of hours talking about Sufism.

At any rate, I woke up and hurried through breakfast to catch the first minibus back to Mardin, from where I was heading to Urfa. Waiting in the office was followed by waiting in the van when the rain and thunder started, at which point we started driving around the (only slightly muddy) road up and down one of the two main hills in town to pick up other passengers, and after an hour or so we finally pulled onto the main road.

Maybe fifteen minutes later we hit a village and are stopped by Jandarma (military police), and—knowing what was coming—I instinctively reached into a pocket for my passport and residence permit. Instead, one of the soldiers went to the back of the van and checked the cargo we were carrying (a rolled-up tarp and about thirty loaves of bread) before sending us along.

Not five minutes later, we were stopped at a second checkpoint, and a soldier came over, opened the side door, and curtly said, “Erkeklerin kimliklerini toplıyım” (I’ll take the men’s IDs). Now, most of the passengers were older men—too old to be of draft age—but the soldier was eyeing me and another boy in the front, but who was probably a couple years too young. (There is a downside to being occasionally mistaken for Turkish). Everyone handed over their laminated Turkish national ID cards.

There is a latent anxiety in Turkey about askerlik, the mandatory military service, and while I had heard of checkpoints (even in big cities like Istanbul), I had never myself been stopped at one. Conscription is mandatory for all men—there is no conscientious objection; critiquing the system (which many do quietly) is imprisonable under the infamous Article 301, a lèse majesté law.

After a couple minutes they came back with my things; a few more minutes and a van-full of click-clicking prayer beads later, they came back with everyone else’s. We kept driving and reached Mardin; after some more waiting, I got on a bigger bus, which also snaked through town before heading toward Urfa. On the highway, we hit another checkpoint; I started reaching for my ID again, but after a short conversation between the bus driver and the soldiers we were waved on. I zipped up my pocket and a middle-aged man who had also come from Savur said, “Bitmedi, yavrum” (It hasn’t ended, my son). It was, however, the last time we were stopped.

We reached Urfa late—much later than I had expected; also, by “reached Urfa,” I really mean that we were dropped off in the geographical equivalent of SoDo when really I wanted to go to Northgate, and my only instruction on how to get there was, “Wait on that corner for a bus.”

…problem being that there was no corner.

So, the one other alighted passenger and I confusedly walked down the street, her cursing under her breath as to why we hadn’t been dropped off at the Otogar, and eventually we waved down a bus. Reaching the city center, I got off and wandered in vain trying to find the hotel I wanted (I swear, after two days of looking it doesn’t exist) and—being way too bundled up (remember how it was raining?) and getting a little too hot—I gave up and stopped at a more expensive and slightly swank hotel on the main drag.

By the time I was available to explore, it was already sundown; I made a B-line for the area around Balıklı Göl, a pond meant to recreate a popular prophetic story in which Abraham, having destroying the idols in Urfa, was thrown into a fire, which God turned into water and the coals into fish. Signs were in four languages (English, Turkish, Arabic, Persian), pilgrims abounded, and there was a vague sense of Disney-groomèdness to the whole thing.

After spending some time wandering into and out of mosques, it had gotten dark, and I was starving—having not had a kebap in months (trying to eat vegetarian whenever possible), I stopped and indulged in a plate of the spicy Adana kebap, served with tons of fresh parsley and mint. There was also a little bakery across from my hotel, so I stopped for some tea and something that resembled a mini apple turnover. (Mükemmel!) I went to bed exhausted.

The next day? More waiting, more bus rides, more heat, more wandering…