"Rest of the World 2013-14" story # 16

Childir, Turkey           November 5, 2013

After more than a month in the former Soviet Union, I resumed my three-month stay ("thrump") in Turkey.
     I traveled a small road to Childir Lake, in Turkey's northeast corner. Its name meant, "Go Mad" Lake. Crazy winds blew across a grassy plateau, at 6500 ft. above sea-level. The lake's cloudy waters tossed and writhed.
     I entered a village. It was a mixture of: fences that were piles of rock; flocks of domestic geese; stone-pile houses with white adobe facades; busy clotheslines flapping and swinging in the breeze; women brown with age wrapped up in different fabrics; gathered hay bales; neatly stacked ovals of horse or cow poop.
     I knew that mid-October would be the last time I could visit this area, if I wanted to sleep in my tent. I carried cardboard everywhere, so I could lay it flat beneath my tent to stay warm. The cardboard was awkward and painful to carry. I needed a donkey, so I could comfortably explore Childir Lake's villages and mountains.
     "Kac gun burdan Amerikaya esekle?" a man would ask me. (How many days does it take to get from here to America with a donkey?)
     I didn't know the answer to that. But, I did know that if I were to buy a donkey here, the two of us would likely freeze to death in a month. Maybe I could've rented a donkey?
     Instead, I hitchhiked down to the Black Sea coast.
     The road to the coast reached its highest point at 8600 ft. above sea-level. Here, the unfortunate brown earth was being invaded by fat snowflakes. A gathering of two-story houses, made simply and therefore beautifully out of wood, appeared on this dark and snowy day. They'd been abandoned by their owners to spend the winter buried.
     The earth then separated, as if cut by a cake knife. The road corkscrewed downward. I would've wanted to live here, if it were summer. But, the huge dark pine trees - steep and tall like the land - would've made it hard for me to ever know if a bear or wolf were stalking me.
     Later, a broad river opened up the mountainous land. I wanted to sleep on the flat islands that interrupted the river, and feel like I was in the football stadium where Allah played God. But, it was raining hard here. And so, I traveled on to lower ground.
     Soon, the road was traveling along the sides of very steep mountains. The low parts of these mountains had been drowned by the silvery-blue water of a dam; this artificial fjord stretched for miles and miles. Orange or white earth rose up, becoming bright green deciduous trees at higher elevations, and this turned to dark and evil coniferous forest near the mountains' saddle tops.
     Approaching the coast, my driver and I passed villages hidden in steep hills. A rainy climate caused delicious streams to race through the villages. Elderly inhabitants cultivated tea plants, chestnut trees, and honey bees. Outside of the villages, a yellow forest filled the hills. I would walk in this nature one day. It reminded me of the wild land my Grandpa Bott had owned in Barryton, Michigan, and his cabin where I'd opened my presents on autumn birthdays.
     Finally, I reached Hopa on the Black Sea. I would spend my October 26th birthday in this town, trying unsuccessfully to hitchhike out of it, and getting rained on.
     A man named Adem Topaloglu invited me to stay with him. This hazel-haired man in his forties was smart and successful. We walked around the narrow, old streets of the town. He was proud to say the extended Topaloglu family owned most of central Hopa.
     But, he was disappointed to say it was a dirty place where men loved alcohol and gambling. In the bars and hotels, horny men met Georgian prostitutes. Sometimes, married men got in fights because they wanted the same prostitute!
     "Prostitutes are dirty. You can get diseases. Sex is dirty," he said.
     "Making love; that's beautiful."

I was happy that someone besides me was disgusted by Turkey's obsession with sex and prostitution.
     It was always present. But, I would witness something new on the day I left Hopa.
     I traveled inland to Artvin, a town that climbed a steep mountainside near to the silvery-blue fjord I'd seen a week earlier.
     At the edge of town, a family invited me into their home. They gave me bowl after bowl of "mercimek" (lentil soup). At first, I liked everyone in the family.
     But then, an older brother arrived. He had a big, macho belly. His face wore a brutish scowl.
     A Georgian woman with long, black hair arrived. She spoke excellent Russian, and I liked her. She and the brute were married, apparently. She told me she wanted a divorce. She seemed smart. The brute called her: "Feminist!"
     She said they'd met when he was visiting Georgia. I was aware that many or most Turks who visited Georgia were doing so for sex tourism.
     They announced that they also had a "Japanese traveler" staying with them. In truth, it was an Asian girl from Kyrgyzstan. They made her join us. Her healthy body was wearing sweats, her face was dull and colorless, and she didn't speak to anyone. The brute wanted her to sit by him. She wanted to leave.
     A battle ensued. The brute pushed and harshly kicked the girl to make her sit down. She got up and hurried away. He grabbed the back of her sweatshirt, which caught and choked her, and he pulled her to the couch. Her eyes grew wide with surprise and anger. "Otur!" he said. (Sit!)

"Woman is fragile, like glass, and men should therefore treat women with delicacy and tenderness as they would handle articles of glass." - the prophet Mohammed

In hatred, she swung her fists and hairbrush repeatedly at the man. I was proud of her for doing this.

"If he comes near me I will hit him with all the strength in my body. I will not disappear into the earth without leaving my mark on them." - J.M. Coetzee

He hit her to calm her down. As they struggled, I thought I heard him say, "Param!" (My money!), as in ... 'Give me back my money!' Had he paid for her to come here, and then trapped her in debt?
     I suspected she was a sex slave.
     In any case, I was shocked to see her being abused. The other family members seemed used to it.
     She calmed down and sat a while. Then, she got up and disappeared into her room. The brutish guy looked as if his feelings were hurt. "Feminist Japanese!" he said. He left and returned to his adjacent house.
     The girl from Kyrgyzstan returned twice more:
     1. She served us tea, as ordered to do by one of the brothers.
     2. She ate with the family. She ate quickly and silently. Gracefully, almost unnoticeably, she put her hands together in front of her and bowed. Then, she left.
     She couldn't speak Turkish. Because she was with us for such a short time, I missed my opportunity to ask if she spoke Russian. I wanted to help her, but I didn't want to act unless I had a good plan. I failed to confirm my suspicions: that she was held here against her will, far from home, in a living hell.
     I wondered what promises had been made to bring her here? I wondered if the Georgian woman had corresponded with her online, in Russian, to entice her to come? Did she think she'd be getting married? Had she been innocent when she arrived? Or had she been a "working woman" before?
     If she would've given me a sign that she was a tortured prisoner and wanted help, I would've tried to free her and sneak her into Georgia. But, we hadn't communicated at all. All my worries were speculation.
     I couldn't go to the police; a local woman had recently told me she didn't trust them. I'd also been told once in Spain that when sex slaves escaped their brothels and went to the police, the police brought them back to the brothels.
     I couldn't do much for the girl. I knew I no longer felt comfortable in this house, and so I invented an excuse for why I didn't want to stay with the family this night. I stepped outside.
     A drunken peasant was sitting outside with the brute and the Georgian, and he called me to him. He happily told me - if I understood correctly - that the Georgian woman was available until midnight, but the girl from Kyrgyzstan worked all night.
     I slept in my tent on the mountainside, forty feet above the family's house.
     In the night, I heard screams: long, narrow, high-pitched, repeating.
     Where were they coming from?

"Bu kiz Kyrgyzstandan, ne zaman cikecek?" (That girl from Kyrgyzstan, when will she leave?) I ran into the youngest brother in the family the next day, and I asked him some questions.
     "Burada yasayor." (She lives here.)
     "Neden geldi?" (Why did she come?)
     "Musafir." (She's a traveler.)
     "O mutlu mi?" (Is she happy?)
     "Mutlu." (She's happy.) He got into the car he'd been waiting for, and left.
     Walking through town, I came to the man who'd given me a ride to Artvin the day before. He was a sensitive man, who'd suffered from depression in the past and who was saddened by the existence of war. I trusted him.
     I told him about the girl from Kyrgyzstan - how she was being abused, oppressed.
     He basically said, "Yeah. There are a lot of girls like that. From Kazakhstan. From Kyrgyzstan." He didn't show much concern.
     I was disappointed he didn't consider this a more important injustice.

"It's exactly like a state of war." - Henry Miller (on sex? prostitution?)

As long as I didn't have a good plan to help the Kyrgyzstani sex slave, I had to move on with my life.
     I hitchhiked to the south. I traveled through arid, brown land where rocky triangles thrust themselves into the air as mountains crowding the road. I traveled to Erzurum, a conservative city of 384,000 where it was possible to see conservative women covered completely in black. Well, actually, it wasn't possible to "see" anything of them - except their eyes.
     The shiny, brownish city center sat at 6400 ft. above sea-level. It got so cold here that I, while camping, mostly lay in my tent with cold feet unable to sleep. I became tired. I liked Erzurum. So, I gave myself two days to find a job that came with a place to stay, or else I'd move on to lower ground.
     On the second day, a language school hired me. They gave me the keys to a big, old apartment.
     And I wrote an e-mail to the Kyrgyzstani Embassy ...

Modern Oddyseus

"(Slavery) still exists, but it doesn't weigh on anyone except for women, and it's called prostitution.
     "It weighs on women, that is to say on grace, on weakness, on beauty, on maternity. It's not one of the minor shames of man." - Victor Hugo

And thanks to Nikolas & Natia; Otto & Kaha; Tariel; Manuchir; Dato, Mutlu, & Tea; Aga & Atecir; Kamran & his wife; Esat & Nasip; Onnur; Ahmet Vural; Alper & Vuysal; Kenan & his neighbor; Bulent & Uycel; Gocha; Edik; Geo & a passenger; Tacittet; Burhan; Ali Tasdemir; Omer & Mazum; and Berat for rides!
Much thanks to Ugur, Aji, & their gas station; Adem Topaloglu; and Savas for places to stay!

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