"Rest of the World 2013-14" story # 17

Erzurum, Turkey           November 14, 2013

After finding a job in Erzurum, Turkey, I went "home" to the apartment I'd been given and slept for thirteen hours. I woke up and wanted to sleep more.
     I'd spent the last three months on the road. Ooh! My body was tired. I'd been carrying my bags constantly.
     I traveled with a school backpack for students, my sleeping bag which hung off of it, and another bag that hung beside one shoulder and which contained my tent. "Why don't you get a big backpacker's backpack!?" people constantly asked me.
     "I've been traveling for fourteen years," I told them. "I think I know what I'm doing!" I liked traveling with two small bags, because it meant all my things were easily accessible.
     But, in truth, I probably didn't know what I was doing. My bags were uncomfortable to carry more than three miles. Lately, my back had begun hurting me if I carried them even one mile.
     My travels had also become difficult because of the changing seasons. I searched for and collected cardboard every night, as a temporary substitute for the sleeping mat I chose not to carry. "Benim arabam hep sey karton," a Kurdish driver of mine said recently. (You've filled my car with cardboard.)
     He dropped me off, in a soft and brown and tree-less land which rolled into mountains. A cold stream traveled past the devoured body of a dead jackal, and a large cave. Six thousand feet above sea level, I camped on the shore of the stream.
     I collapsed my tent partially while sleeping in it, so my body heat would warm the air. All night long, I peed inside a water bottle and put it in my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm. But, it was tough to pee in the bottle without also peeing on my tent and sleeping bag. Finally, I just yelled:
     I needed a break.
     I went to Erzurum to look for work.
     But, I needed to spend the first night in a city park. I set up my tent. Ew! It smelled like pee.
     No. Wait! That was just the smell of the tail I'd cut off the dead jackal. Or, maybe it was a fox's tail? It was beautiful. A soft gray and white, with some orange on it. Too feet long! Or, maybe it was a wolf's tail? Whatever it was, it smelled horrible.
     So, yeah. My life had become pretty pathetic. When I landed a job in Erzurum as an English teacher, I couldn't have been luckier.
     I began living in one of the earthy-gray apartment buildings in the seven-story center of the town. The huge apartment was filled with antiques: chairs carved into floral shapes, with floral decorations on their upholstery; old, Turkish rugs; marble tables; and cabinets and armoirs with mirrors built into them. Sunlight hit my living room and balcony, from the south. Pigeons and crows visited me. Snowy mountains hung over the city. The apartment was always warm.
     I couldn't have been luckier.
     And so, my homeless days as a wanderer came to an end. I couldn't have been luckier.
     But, my days as a wanderer had been good, too. I'd been carrying the right equipment. Out of curiosity and a strange love of statistics, I weighed all my possessions at an Erzurum fruit shop. The young man who worked there thought I was quite bizarre. But, he was happy when I promised to buy all my fruits from him in the future.
     Here was a list of what I'd been carrying, when I found my job ...

total weight of my bags: 36.5 lb. (16.6 kg)
clothes (jeans, shorts, two t-shirts, a long-sleeved shirt, a towel, extra underwear, socks and wool socks, a soccer jersey): 17% of the total weight
tent (with extra pieces, in case I lost something): 16%
books and paper: 13% (of this, 4% of the total weight were Persian language materials, while 1.5% were Turkish materials)
sleeping bag: 12%
toiletries (including an electric shaver, sun-tan lotion, and three packs of dental floss): 7%
random useful stuff (an umbrella, garbage bags and a poncho, sandals, a baseball hat, a sleeping mask, a Chinese fan, a sewing kit, a compass, a flashlight, a lighter, a bit of chocolate spread, a knife and spoon, an expired credit card, empty water bottles): 6%
fun stuff (including CDs, a flute, a camera and rolls of film, a snorkel mask, and a jackal tail): 6%
maps: 2%
important stuff (money, two passports, a wallet): 1%
weight of my bags, while empty: 19%
me (wearing black pants, a swimsuit and underwear, a jacket, and a sweatshirt around my waist): 175 lb. (79.5 kg)

Of course, the weight could become greater if I was carrying cardboard, food and water, my jacket, and garbage; or if my things were wet from the rain; or if I'd just eaten a bunch of lentil soup. My tall body bent under the weight.
     Here were more stats from the road ...

days traveling, from the Czech Republic to Erzurum: 98
days written in my journal in Turkish: 86
days slept outside: 75
nights sleeping at over a mile above sea-level: 23
mountains attempted to climb: 4
mountain tops reached: 2
days swimming: 30
days swimming in lakes a mile above sea-level: 13
nights sleeping on Black Sea beaches: 5
consecutive days without talking on a phone: 48
new numbers in my address book, during that time: 20
consecutive days with diarrhea: 23

days I was given meals in Turkey: 31 of 45 days
... in Georgia: 17 of 29
... in Armenia: 9 of 17
days I slept inside for free in Turkey: 7
... in Georgia: 5
... in Armenia: 9
days drinking alcohol: 8
days drinking alcohol in Georgia: 6
evenings spent in bars: 7
evenings spent in bars in Yerevan: 7
girls tried to kiss: 2
girls kissed: 1
hitchhiking partners: 11
countries they came from: 7
Polish hitchhiking partners: 4
cars I got rides in: 147
... driven by females: 3
.... with no men inside: 1
photographs taken: 219
young Turkish women appearing in those photos: 1

Modern Oddyseus stories written while homeless: 12
new entries in my "Book of Philosophy": 6 *
times masturbated, since leaving Michigan: 0
... during six months in Michigan: 12 or 15 **
... during 8.5 months of travel in 2012: 1

* - the most recent:
     "When you kiss someone, you begin to obtain his good qualities. When you have sex with someone, you begin to obtain his bad qualities." - J.Breen philosophy

** - While pursuing my passion to travel and write, I had the personal strength necessary to break bad habits. Taking a break from my passion in Michigan, I became dependent on outside influences for my happiness, and when those outside influences (namely, the girls of Michigan) disappointed me, I succumbed to weak habits.
     "I get so goddamned mad at myself I could kill myself ... and in a way, that's what I do every time I have an orgasm." - a Henry Miller character
     My desire to not masturbate was also compromised by the presence of the internet in my Michigan home.

items I traveled with that used electricity: 1
... batteries: 2
times I used my lighter: 0
maximum number of strangers who used my lighter on a single day: 3
days using my sewing kit: 4
times I got my shoes fixed: 1
zippers broken: 2
zippers fixed by Johannes the German blacksmith: 2
items I thought I'd need to replace before this trip, but never did: 3 (backpack, electric shaver, jacket)
money saved by not replacing them: about $200
money with me when leaving the Czech Republic: $1000 and 80 Euros
money with me when I began work in Erzurum: $520, 20 Euros, and 70 Turkish lira ($35)
money spent on visas: $28
job offers received while wandering: 2
other people I thought could employ me: 2

Yep. I was lucky to get a job in Erzurum.
     I celebrated by going to the main square and skinning my jackal tail. The square, which was made out of chalky gray stones, surrounded an old, stone mosque with its minarets. An old, stone palace - with an inverse honeycomb design carved into its door-frame, and a single tower/minaret that was a gray-and-turquoise rocket - was the square's most inspiring feature.
     A man looked at me, disgusted, and asked: What was I doing skinning a dog tail? It was garbage.
     Across from my spot on a bench sat a blue-eyed Moldovan woman with her head covered. She said, Muslims considered dogs to be filthy, untouchable animals. What I was doing didn't look good.
     I said, I thought it was a jackal tail. Or maybe it was a fox's? Even Muslims had to admit, foxes were beautiful. Or maybe that guy was right? Maybe it was a dog tail. Whatever it was, it smelled awful.
     I was so lucky to be in Erzurum.
     At this time, my friend Walker Stephens was working a daytime construction job, and a nighttime hostel job, while earning pennies in Georgia. I told him he should come work with me. He came right over, got hired, and moved into my apartment. This squirrely little guy, when he saw the apartment, became so happy he couldn't stop giggling.
     "Yeah," I said, happy too. "Five days ago, I was peeing all over myself in a tent."
     Incidentally, it had been Walker who'd told me about the "warm-water-bottle" trick. And it was his love of animal skins that had inspired me to collect the jackal tail. So, either way, it was his fault my tent smelled bad.
     At least I wouldn't be sleeping in it any time soon.

from Erzurum,
The Modern Oddyseus

A belated "thanks" to the director of the fortress in Ahaltsihe, Georgia for letting me camp in one of its towers!

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