"Israel 2008" story # 4

Istanbul, Turkey           July 31, 2008

"Where are the Russians?" was among the first questions I need answered, upon coming to Turkey.
     Unfortunately, it was difficult to understand the local people. Their speech could best be described as a worry-filled gobbling, they bob their heads back-and-forth and flap their arms about ostentatiously, and their necks and Adam's apples sag and are wrinkly. Hence the name: Turkey.
     Ha ha ha ha ha! No, but seriously, in a related matter - wait, hold on ... there is no matter related to the matter of people behaving like turkeys. But ... I wanted to say that my younger brother is an ornithologist currently doing research on "turkey vultures" in the Falkland Islands. Recently, I asked him, "Brandon, why are they called turkey vultures? Is it because they look like turkeys, they eat turkeys, or they're from Turkey?" He still hasn't answered my question. He's too busy counting how many times they flap their wings while soaring. (It's the vultures who are soaring, not him. I'm not sure if he agrees with my theory that people can achieve flight through meditation, or not. But, he and I are both, against our mom's Catholic hopes, somewhat Buddhist.)
     Okay. Back to Turkey. I woke up, in the midst of twelve straight nights of sleeping outside, in my tent near the noisy Turkish-Bulgarian border.
     I felt, actually, the same way one often feels after arriving in a new culture, but before realizing that, with a little experience, he can get around just as easily there as anywhere else. I felt assauged by problems. I needed a moment to relax.
     The night before, I'd treated myself to a lamb kebap in a Turkish restaurant. The waiter brought me: big craters of pita bread, that rose and fluffed up in parts; soft meat on sticks; sprouts of parsnip; tomatoes; and green beans with seeds inside that were actually hot peppers. It was delicious, very fresh food. And also, in the restaurant, I met another foreigner: Finjid.
     Let me take a minute here to say that, when I write by hand, I like to practice good calligraphy. When I'm not rushed, my printing is pleasing to the eye. My letters have full curves and slashes with attitude. My j's and i's aren't dotted, but have open-ended swirls. Contradictorily, the j's' swirls open to the right, while the i's' open to the left. And the j's' wild loops sometimes resemble Arabic calligraphy. What's the point of all of this? Simply that Finjid's name was one of my all-time favorite words to write, with its swirling disharmony. (I'm sorry; did I say last time I'm a practical person? I guess that only applies to overcoming difficult travels.)
     Finjid, a Dutch truck driver, said he could drive me to Istanbul, if only I could wait twenty-four hours. I waited. And the wait helped. My mind simplified its problems. Unfortunately, however, (sniff, sniff) Finjid is not a major character, and I may never write his name again. ... Actually - one more time, at this story's end.
     Once I got to Istanbul (two Swiss girls and I hitchhiked the last ten kilometers to the historic center together, from a toll booth), I wrote in my journal in a park. Near me, one of the hitchhiking sisters took a nap, and the other played my Altaian flute. Pools ran through the park, with fountains, and soft trees provided shade on the grass. Like other Muslim courtyards I've seen, it resembled the Koran's repetative rendering of "paradise" - except this one didn't have any fruit trees. And I didn't see a plethora of virgins. A fortress-like wall surrounded it, making it feel like we were low and safe from the wars outside.
     Not far from the park, the red-but-worn-pink-from-age Aghia Sofia rose like a turtle shell in the desert, and near its dome stood four minarets. The whitish Blue Mosque flexed its royal, rectangular muscle, looking like an exclusive tomb/sarcophagus. And one of Istanbul's blue channels blew cool water on spectators gazing across at an orange part of the city that climbed in a mosque-like shape up to its highest towers.
     In the park, on the same lawn where my companions and I were now resting, a local family of women and children picnicked. The light-skinned women, including a ripe girl whose body seemed more sexual because it was enchained, wore heardresses concealing their hair and long skirts and shirts. The children wore shorts and t-shirts, and they happily played a game that resembled dodgeball. We watched them.
     Soon, a twelve-year-old girl came over and invited one of the sisters to join their picnic. She went. I was unsure whether it was appropriate for me to speak with women here, so I unwantingly stayed back. Soon enough, the girl returned to invite me over.
     The women gave us rice, with a red sauce, wrapped in leaves. Then, they gave us the same rice cooked inside hollow peppers. We couldn't talk to them. But, for a while, we sat near their blanket, enjoying their company, enjoying their food, one of the Swiss girls and probably me with red sauce sticking to our top teeth.
     The dark eyes of the youngest women, beneath her white head-scarf, looked past her bent nose and wandered around the figures of the Swiss girls. I wondered if she also wanted to be freer in her clothing options. Nevertheless, she seemed happy. And she also played, sometimes, with the younger children.
     The younger children enjoyed a game where they thought up strange ways to walk, then all six of them as a group walked like that and giggled. I came near them and squatted. This reminded them of a frog, and they all started leapfrogging around and laughing. Ha ha; cute kids.
     This was one of my and the Swiss girls' first impressions of Turkey.

The following day, by myself, I set off to hitchhike six-hundred more kilometers to Turkey's southern coast. Luckily, I had a very large map of Turkey made by a helpful company called Hema. But, if what you want is a DRAWING of a turkey, you must simply trace your hand on a piece of paper, put an eye and a turkey beak on the thumb, and color the other fingers brown and orange to represent feathers. Turkey's southern coast is where the Russians vacation.
     I wore jeans, because I wasn't sure if knee-exposing shorts were frowned upon. My average wait while hitchhiking was only three minutes. Great hitchhiking!
     We passed "golu", lakes. In the hot and high interior, these sparkling lakes shriveled up, were surrounded by hard mud, and lay in big basins beneath white-sand cliffs.
     Most of the people who picked me up and with whom I couldn't talk were nice. But, one mud-skinned and one white-skinned trucker each seemed to hint they wanted sex. Eww, bad hitchhiking!
     When I got to the southern coast, I started looking for a job working with Russian tourists. Some Turkish restaurant owners felt bad they couldn't offer me a job, so they offered me food.

"Show kindness to ... near and distant neighbors ... to the traveler in need." - the Koran

Some even offered me food AND a job.
     And thus, I began my latest work, in a friendly restaurant whose owner likes reggae music.

peace, Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Finjid; Abdullah; Choksan, Sarved, Umad, & Ahmad; Itmer; Bulent; Mustum; Egrem; Ismael; Hussein; Sahin; a guy; Dawud; and Vanessa for rides!

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