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Southeastern Turkey

I spent the past week exploring Southeastern Turkey with Amy and a group of Turkish tourists. The tourists were all based in Istanbul and Ankara; however, some have been living in Germany and Holland, so it was an interesting experience. There were four non-Turks total: myself, Amy, and two men (one Australian and one American) - so we represented four/five different English speaking countries between the four of us.
I found that because of my foreignness and my desire to speak Turkish the group appreciated me like a toy or a pet. This affection increased even moreso when I fell ill. Basically, I'm not going to bother with chronological order; I just want to document some of the highlights for me.

Going East I had heard stories from my Turkish friends and colleagues about the dangers and the poverty, but what I found amusing was that most of them had never been. Regardless of this, I'm sure that in some way their comments had an impact on my perceptions. It's inevitable.
There is no question that the food is unparalleled. We spent part of Tuesday in Gaziantep, which is well-known for their dessert, specifically baklava, but there's a lot more to it too. In the city, we wandered through the market, where I've never been offered so much free food before. Everyone was kind and extremely generous, even when I repeatedly purchased nothing. Generosity is key, but gluttony is a massive vice.


I ate a considerable amount. Amidst my eating, I visited an extremely well designed museum, which had a history of Gaziantep as well as British and French occupation. There were signs in both English and Turkish, as well as nicely designed art. They chose to incorporate different forms of media like video, text and images. However, the lighting was quite dim and it was only one corridor, which isn't the best for circulation. Anyway, I found the text regarding Armenians particularly interesting - how the situation in the early 1900s was framed. In North America we hear it one way, here (obviously) it's written differently. In any case, the view from the top was pleasing to the eyes. One of the funniest parts of the tour was that it was all in Turkish; a language in which I am far from fluent, when it concerns ancient mythology, history in general or anecdotes - all of which are far too abstract for my functional abilities. I found it amusing half the time trying to listen and piece bits together, or ask the bilingual people for snippets; however, by the end I didn't bother and chose to wander freely instead. It's a bit of a shame as I didn't learn nearly as much as I could have, but on the other hand I had the experiences that I chose and wanted. I'm content with this taste test of the east and I know now where to return.


The highlights for me were: Gaziantep, Nemrut, Hasankeyf and Diyarbakir.

Gaziantep I've briefly described, and in addition to all of this I found it clean, which I like. Many of the places we went to, and the roads along the way were covered in litter. The roads themselves were often in awful condition, particularly as we got further east like toward Batman. It was quite comical as on numerous occasions the bus was held up in traffic jams caused by goats or cows. Far from the life I lead here in Ankara. We also saw far more beggars and street vendors than I see here; in Mardin, for example, I was followed by children who wanted money from me. The experience was unsettling. In Mexico Dave and I had experienced an attempted robbery by children, and it's awful. You feel angry with them, but pity them at the same time and then feel stupid for having those emotions. Anyway, this happened on Thursday, and I was extremely hungry, tired and dehydrated - compounded with the feeling that children were going to rob me I returned to chat with bus drivers, not entirely impressed with Mardin. I had walked the streets in the main area of old town, seen the buildings all made from the same material, and some beautiful views, but it didn't feel like it had much character to me. The conversation with the bus drivers centered around people coming from all different backgrounds in the east (Arab, Kurd, Turk and "foreign"), and how this affected their job-finding ability. The trip was filled with many interesting conversations actually. I feel really lucky that I went on it with Turkish people, as I was able to hear their opinions and stereotypes.


The day after Gaziantep (Wednesday), we spent the late morning in a tiny town where I was the only person to opt out of taking a boat cruise around a lake to a completely submerged mosque. I get motion sick. I, instead, chose to rent a bike and ride around town in my purple dress. I went up and down the same streets and hills (yes, the town was that small). In my wanderings I discovered my own mosque, which was half-submerged under water - I'm not sure why. It was eerily beautiful. I asked permission to enter and walked along the makeshift platform. Not such a bad idea, a half under water prayer area; almost seems more natural. I also met with some locals, with whom I discussed the dangers of children climbing on roofs. A hot topic of conversation, clearly. After returning to the bus, I ate a tiny bun. This infuriated the parasite, which had been squatting in my stomach and about half an hour to an hour after leaving the tiny town we had to make an emergency stop. The time had come. After a tedious afternoon, I ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance. This is where they determined that I had a parasite (which I hope by now is no longer the case). My stomach still didn't let up, and it caused some pretty serious shakiness. I felt cold as ice, shaky and dizzy. They searched for my veins, found them and took blood. I was terrified that she had done something wrong, as it's never taken as long to draw blood; it wouldn't come. The surroundings weren't comforting. I've never been in a hospital, which looked like that one or a hospital toilet that looked quite as abandoned. The positive experience I can draw from this is that now I've seen a glimpse into public health care in one of the more developed eastern towns. They did the tests, and hooked me up to an IV in the meantime. Intermittently people walked up to look at me, due to me foreign appearance. Fortunately one of the tour guides was with me, so I didn't feel quite as bizarre as I'm sure I would have otherwise. The novelty factor for me was the age of all of the employees. The nurses and doctors all looked younger than me. Overall, I think that they were effective, but at the time I was deeply concerned. Maybe appearance isn't everything, after all? ;)

After taking pills the problem still wasn't solved, and the next morning I was highly afraid of taking the bus. Things worked out ok, and I'm still taking the pills (I will be yet for another week - so let's hope they get the job done). Bad timing is all. The trip itself was culinary based, unfortunately. I watched others eat the most delicious looking foods, while I had to stick with plain biscuits, bread, rice and powerade for the next 4 days. It was fine though; the trip was enjoyable in so many other ways that my biscuits definitely didn't put a damper on it. They just caused slight energy loss. It's surprising how tiring sitting on a bus can be.


One down side to the tour guide/bus tour option is that you don't determine how long you stay in a place for. Hasankeyf is one of the regrets. Ricky had mentioned it to me ages ago, as a must-see due to its future non-existence. The plan is to build a dam, which will cause the destruction of this town. It has an interesting history which includes Romans and Arabs; it was an important stop on the silk route. What I found stunning were the caves and the citadel. It has a massive river running through/beside it too, which also adds to its wondrous appearance. My plan is to go back and explore Hasankeyf, Batman and Diyarbakir - there's too rich a history not to. Diyarbakir I want to spend more time in, particularly talking to locals. It has a very reputation in Ankara. I had watched an interesting documentary prior to this trip about children from that area being arrested for throwing rocks at military; I want to look more into that. There's always something more to look into in this country, as it's so vast with so many different pasts and issues. There were also some entertaining arguments between fellow participants. At one point many of them wanted to change plans to visit the Syrian border, while the couple behind me was intent on visiting another site of ancient ruins. The Syrian border won. We arrived, got out, got back on and left. Slightly pointless, but then again so was my strong desire to take a photo of a sign just because the town is named Batman :)


After Diyarbakir we took a really enjoyable ferry ride across a small lake to our hotel. We slept all of 3.5 hours perhaps before waking up at 2:30 am yesterday to go up Mount Nemrut. Amy wore flats, which was quite a funny sight. It was extremely difficult to breath walking up to the top and I've never felt my heart beat so fast. I think my lack of sleep, food and motion sickness from the minibus combined with the elevation caused the issue. Amy and I both had our disabilities, which meant we sat down and waited for a while while all the old couples hobbled past us smiling as they went. We did eventually make it to the top, and it was worth it.


The sunrise over the mountain tops was gorgeous, and the status were quite a sight as well. It reminded me a lot of Massada in Israel, where I had also braved the early morning to watch the sun in its majesty. It wasn't nearly as cold there though; at Nemrut there was snow all over, and the walk up was actually quite icy at times. Amy in her flats had a time of it, but we made it back safely. The ride afterwards involved some discomfort, but I was fortunate to have a good who didn't mind having me as a companion in the front seat.

There's a lot more to say about this trip, because the more I think about it the more I remember. We visited ancient ruins, monasteries, bridges built by Roman emperors, world-famous mosaic museums and more. Everywhere we went there was a story, which most of the time I couldn't understand, but I tried to appreciate. Even with the language barrier, I was still in awe at times of the sheer distance between the times when these sites were built and their continuing presence.

In May I'll go to Istanbul and Trabzon, perhaps Beypazari as well. In June and July I think I'll try to return to Diyarbakir, Hasankeyf and Adana (which had a much more tropical and peaceful ambiance than expected). This country continues to amaze me. I wish my base wasn't in Ankara sometimes, due to its boring nature; however, it is a blessing for bus travel. I also wish my job wasn't to teach, but rather to travel. I suppose for that all I need is to find myself a Sultan :)


Posted by madrugada 12:35 Archived in Turkey

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