And so, I left Bulgaria. I left Bulgarian villages and old white-haired women who wore shawls, whose two-story homes and yards were mixtures of firewood, flowers, plants, different-colored metals making up fences and outdoor staircases and balconies. I went to Turkey.
I hoped to spend three months in Turkey, mostly in the east, and discover something exotic. This would represent my Central Asian thrump.
Definition of "thrump": a three-month stay, for exploring
Some Modern Oddyseus nay-sayers would say, "But, Turkey isn't in Central Asia!" Screw them.
Definition of "nay-sayer": jerk
I would've loved to stay in Iran, instead. I'd recently looked over my Persian/Farsi language notes and was overcome by a sense of adventure at the thought of speaking this difficult language with Iranian peasants. But then, I thought: Wouldn't it be a similar experience if I spoke Turkish with toothless villagers in eastern Turkey? Probably, it would be just as great. And besides, Turkey's government liked Americans more than Iran's did.
Definition of "liked": wouldn't accuse you of being a spy and throw you in jail for no reason
And so, I went to Turkey, hoping for and expecting the best.
Heading east, I passed through Istanbul. There was a lot of traffic. Hmmm, probably just like Tehran. Riding a bus, I befriended a twenty-three-year-old local with European features: light skin, buzzed blond hair on a round head, and hazel eyes. He told me in English his name, Onur, meant "honor". He invited me to stay at his home in the suburbs. I accepted.
First, we visited Taksim Square in central Istanbul. From here, cars and pedestrians could go to main shopping streets, streets specializing in musical instruments, big government buildings, and a park. The park broke up the taller noisier city, with its benches shaded by orange deciduous trees or open to a plaza with a fountain. A dozen police stood beside the park.
A month before my visit, people had crowded the park. They were protesting a government plan to sell the space so more buildings could be built. Taksim Square became a "war zone", Onur said, as the police used gases on the crowd. Although Turkish television didn't show it, protesters came to the streets in cities all over the country. Onur made me happy by saying that, because of the protests, the park would be saved.
We celebrated the protesters' victory by hanging out with Onur's mom. She wore a loose white blouse and, as many women were when home entertaining guests, was radiant. She had welcoming happy eyes and swirling shoulder-length hair dyed a soft orange-blond like her face. I eagerly tried speaking Turkish to this divorced mom. (But, I'd only begun studying the grammar four days earlier.) It was so sexy when she rattled sweetly for Onur to translate. She introduced me to slow rock music by a Turkish female named Sebnem Ferah. For dinner, we ate circular flat bread with bits of meat and onion and tomato coating it.
The following evening, Onur's dad took us to catch dinner.
Dark-bearded Ucan worked as a "quality controler" to support his ex-wife and three kids. He was so tan and smily because he spent all his free time on a twelve-foot boat in the Marmara Sea. He showed me how one fished here. He dropped his line down forty-five feet until a weight on its end hit the bottom. Above this weight, little flashy hooks dangled off the fishing line.
To this point, Onur and I had already discussed the differences between American and European animals. I told him I hated the small European deer, who "yarp!"ed like frogs when surprised by humans; they often woke me up in my tent. "Stupid deer!" I said. Onur laughed uncontrolably. "American mentality," he said. "'Stupid deer', 'stupid dog'."
After a minute of fishing, I pulled up three small fish; each was barely larger than my finger. That was exactly how Onur's dad liked them. "Stupid fish," I said. Onur laughed. "In America, the fish aren't so stupid. We have to at least put a worm on the hook."
We caught about a hundred and fifty fish. The sun went down. The sea grew dark. We returned to shore, where Ucan's girlfriend, Deniz (meaning: "sea"), was waiting for us.
She wore many hemp bracelets and necklaces. She loved fishing, especially in lakes where the fish weren't so stupid. Today, she set up a small table, stove, and frying pan. Minutes later, we were enjoying a candle-lit dinner by the sea. A king's feast.
We ate delicious fried fish; a salad of a dozen types of vegetables; fresh bread dipped in the lemon-juice-and-cumin salad dressing; and a foggy mixture of Turkish "raki" alcohol and water. (The raki smelled great, like licorice, but didn't taste so good.) Over dinner, Deniz asked what I wanted to do once I finished traveling.
Hmm. I wasn't sure. "I want to be happy," I said. I added that I'd like to start a (utopian) community.
For now, I was eagerly hitchhiking eastward.
From Istanbul, I could travel a thousand miles and still be in Turkey. It was a big country, with eighty million people. I figured that hitchhiking across it would give me a good chance to practice the language, which seemed quite easy.
There was just one problem. During my visit to Turkey in 2008, I'd gotten several rides from men who, in a language I knew nothing of at the time, indicated they wanted to have sex with me. Yuk! I guessed that, living in a conservative Muslim society, men hungered for sex wherever they could get it - as they did in prisons worldwide. But, upon visiting Morocco in 2012, I didn't encounter a similar problem.
This year in Turkey, two of my first six drivers suggested sex. I wondered how any Western hitchhiker was able to travel in this country. One driver told me he'd suggested sex because I had long hair. I decided then to chop off my ponytail.
Of course, I wasn't thinking clearly at that moment. I needed my long hair! I would simply conceal it in my hat when hitchhiking. This move seemed to be effective.
Things went well.
On my fourth day of hitchhiking east, I got picked up by a family. The father, Adem Balli, was a thin architect with a sharp triangular nose. Driving his van, he spoke energetically about loving 80s' music; he slapped imaginary money against the palm of his hand, to express his love of money; and he invited me to stay with them in Istanbul some time.
A small dark-haired girl named Yamor sat beside me in the back. She had her father's big nose, a big smile that loved her father's energy, and intelligent eyes. Although it was Ramadan and they themselves were fasting, Yamor expressed hospitality by pouring me a glass of water. Then, the mother passed me a moist pastry resembling baklava. Mmm. Sugary ...
They dropped me off in Safranbolu, a town famous for old homes. The town was surrounded and interrupted by crumbly cliffs, rocky buttes, spruce trees with fluffy hands, and a narrow canyon.
I walked on bumpy stone lanes beside the crude stone bases of the houses. Above me, the houses became pure white, with two stories of five windows each. The tall rectangular window-frames were made of fine wood, decorated with waves or guarded by banisters, and hinted at the inhabitants' lucky lives. Wooden beams outlined the floors and made them look like separate puzzle pieces. With their square looming shapes, the houses seemed to pop out at you.
Peeking in doors, I found that the houses' insides: were damp; had been filled with red and blue mattresses so you could sit or fall down anywhere; smelled like hay; and contained fine wood staircases.
Some houses weren't white. They had faces of dark, decaying wood, and windows like eyes and mouths that wanted to swallow you into an abyss. Others hadn't bothered to cover their wooden frames nor the plaster and stones that filled them; they seemed infested with ants, and resembled blocks of "halva" (a Turkish sweet made of sesame oil, sugar, and tahini or chocolate).
I got a ride from Safranbolu from a professional soldier named Ersin. As always, I kept my Turkish dictionary near me, and he taught me a few words.
He said the bears in Turkey were "zararsuz" (harmless). There were also "kurt" (wolves).
This twenty-seven-year-old humbly believed in Islam. He would be getting married in a year, and he became very happy when I said, "Tebrikler!" (Congratulations!) He said his girlfriend wasn't traveling with him because her father would become "kizgin" (angry) due to "adet" (the custom).
He dropped me off in Arac, a village of 6000. He said, "Ozleyorum Arac." (I miss Arac.)
Ramadan would be ending today. Ersin and millions of Turks were traveling from their places of work to visit their hometowns and families, for a three-day holiday called Bayram. I considered it very sad that, all over the world, people left wonderful places like Arac to go where there were jobs - only to spend their holidays and extra money always trying to go back.
Even though all I did was walk through Arac, I was going to miss it too. I would never try a pastry from its aromatic bakery ... I'd never play backgammon with the old guys on main street ... I'd never walk among the stout pine trees of Arac's plateau. As I looked for a place to settle down while in Turkey, this village seemed attractive.
But, I moved on eastward. I entered a supermarket in a strange town and was surrounded by the employees. Young guys, a pretty girl with her hair covered, a tan girl with long black hair showing, an old moustachioed guy; all wanted to talk to me, all (maybe) wanted me in their community.
But, I was just passing through ...
I spent the night in Mt. Ilgaz National Park, where steep mountains and towering pine trees dominated the earth. A part of me longed to be with a Turkish family. I hoped little Yamor was enjoying Bayram.
the lonely wolf
Thanks to Sultan Surman & Ur; Erdal Ozkan; Merdan; Mehmet; Gunes; Dua & Junior Ahmed; Fayiq; Omer, Cazimet, Damla, & Yokce; Haya; Moarim; Enver; grumpy guy; Irfan; Murat; Nazef & Milay; Hassan Bayri Aytac; Nezraf; Adem, Emine, & Yamor Balli; Sadik; a bus; Ersin; Ziyeh; Seckin; Nihar Solomon; and Ahmet & Gurkan for rides!
Much thanks to Onur & Ucan for the place to stay!