(first written 23 May 2009)

The workmen are hungry; it is time for the midday meal.

Here in this part of Turkey, and in 2009, it was still the expectation and practice for the person for whom the work is being done, to provide tea breaks and the midday meal.

As the time draws nigh for the midday meal, I leave the house, turn left and walk in a basically westwards direction being careful to walk wherever the shadows are. The sun is powerful and it makes its presence emphatically known. Hence, during the long summer months and whenever possible, I walk wherever the shadows are lurking.

After a block the street comes to a ‘T’ junction.  A ‘T’ junction that is if you are driving a car. But as I’m walking and as it transpires, there is a very narrow street carrying on roughly straight ahead; I choose this route.

Initially the narrow street is about two meters wide, concrete and not a lot of shade. The house to the right is a grand old house with high ceilings, high windows and in its’ prime was a fine example of a small, elegant house. However, it’s well past its prime and now only a shadow of its former beauty remains, more mocking what it formerly was, rather than a statement of what, no doubt, it once was.

After the house the road widens and there, in the middle of the now wider street, is a small domed shrine, roughly three metres by three metres with a small porched entrance – these in this region are somewhat ubiquitous and are locally known as a ‘ziyaret’ which generally is a tomb of some religious ‘good person’ or ‘saint’ to which the followers of the Alevi sect of Islam resort to pray, burn incense and make sacrifices, sometimes blood sacrifices.

Alevi are basically followers of Ali – who they believe should have succeeded Muhammed. They are also known as Shi’its and Alewites. No doubt there are distinctives and differences between these various named groups, but they all hold Ali in high esteem.

The ‘good person / saint’ is not necessarily an Alevi, for example here in the city there is a large mosque and half way up the mountain behind the city there is a shrine/ziyaret to Neccar Habib, who was, evidently, a Christian living in ancient Antioch (Antakya is the modern descendant of that city and rests on the ruins of its ancient predecessors), who lived and was martyred at about the time of the Acts of the Apostles.

Skirting around the shrine the road narrows again and we squeeze by the houses on the left and right, living, as it were, cheek by jowl. The upper floors stick out creating deep shadows. Here the sun’s rays can not penetrate except, possibly, for the briefest of moments when the sun passes directly overhead.

This street most often offers a welcome sanctuary from the sun.

I gratefully walk in the cool shade. The road continues to narrow until we come to another ‘T’ junction and the road is less than a meter wide – you would have difficulty with a scooter or motorcycle coming down this road.

I turn left and carry on in the shade past more houses that have seen better days but are still wholly and fully occupied. After another cross street – if it be correct to call these small pathways streets – I come to a main-ish road, a full three plus meters wide. I turn right and after five meters I come to the butcher shop.

The window of the butcher shop is the glass front of the cooler and there hanging is a slab of meat – lamb, I suppose. As I enter the building I notice that the floor is tiled as are the walls which are tiled from floor to ceiling.

That looks good.

On the floor is sawdust, placed there to absorb the blood and other bits that fall to the floor.

Uh, noted…

The owner slowly rises from his chair – he is awake today – he was sitting there sound asleep yesterday. Not really surprising if you spend every waking hour at work – inevitably, some of those hours will cease to be waking, besides, this is summer and it is hot – very hot.

In any event, he rises and moves ponderously towards the large counter. The counter is made of huge blocks of wood glued together forming a massive chopping block.

He has a wad of cotton gauze over his right eye, nominally held on by a piece of tape that looks like it may be ready to surrender and let the gauze go wherever it may and at any moment.

I order 200 grams of meat for each of the workers and ask for ‘Kağıt Kebab’, which by translation means Paper Kebab. It gets its name from the fact that the meat is put onto wax paper and then put in an oven to be cooked.

The man acknowledges the order, turns to a large meat grinder sitting opposite the chopping block. There is a mass of ground meat hanging from the end of the grinder.

He grabs the meat and tosses it on the scale. After adjusting the amount of meat he slings it onto one end of the chopping block.

He then takes some green stuff – maybe parsley, but then maybe not, in any event it is green stuff – and he takes some tomatoes and gives them to a boy, about ten year old and sends him to wash them.

Ah, there is no running water in the shop – no sink, no tap, no water, nope.

The boy takes the greens and the tomatoes and crosses the street to a public street-side tap. Here he proceeds to wash, or should I say ‘rinse’, the greens and the tomatoes in a plastic carrier bag (kind of fill the bag and pour out the water kind of rinsing) and then brings them back to the shop.

The boy, as I mentioned, all of ten I suspect, then proceeds to chop the greens. He takes a  razor sharp knife that is almost as long as his arm and rocks it backwards and forwards over the greens and hence chops them into a finer and finer mass of green. The tomatoes are quartered and then added to the mix and rocked with the knife until they become a red mass which, mixed with the greens results in a red-green conglomeration.

The one-eyed man takes over the final rocking / chopping of the greens and reds. Placing the knife aside, he adds the meat to this mix and begins to knead the mixture together with his bare hands. After a while of kneading he reaches forth his hand into a container and sprinkles salt and some red spice – maybe red pepper – into the mix.

More kneading and then the wax paper. He separates the meat into balls, his eye determining equal division to make the necessary portions. Each ball has its own piece of wax paper. He flattens the ball with his hands until he forms it into a circle.

Once all the portions have been so prepared, he calls the child and sends him with all the wax paper, loaded with the flattened red-green meat, to the local bread factory – where the ovens are wood fired and baking-hot. Together with the meat, and additional whole tomatoes and some long green peppers they are roasted in the oven.

Once fully cooked, the meat comes back to the butcher, who divides up the tomatoes and peppers between the portions. He then sets each cooked portion of meat on flat bread (fresh from the bakery), and it is now ready for me to take back to the workmen.

I return from whence I came, following the same path, and arrive back at our home, the work site. The workmen wash their hands and with the extra flat bread we have provided they tuck into their midday repast. A large multi litre bottle of the ubiquitous Coca Cola is poured out to accompany the meal.

This is truly “breaking bread” as the workmen tear off a piece of the underlying bread and use that as a scoop to bring some of the meat to their mouths. The extra bread is broken into handy spoon sized pieces to bring meat, tomato, pepper,  juices or whatever on its final journey to the mouth.

When the meal is consumed, we bring out the tea – no meal is complete without the obligatory tea.

Tea, in Turkey is prepared in a two pot system, one pot sitting on top on the other – the top pot holds deeply steeped tea and the bottom pot is boiling water. The tea will be consumed in small, tulip-shaped clear glass glasses.

One man takes responsibility for the pouring ceremony. First he pours some water from the bottom pot which is extremely hot as it was fully boiling just prior to coming to the table. In order to preheat the glasses, he pours the hot water from one glass to another. This both preheats the glasses, and as this is a construction site, if any debris or foreign matter has inadvertently fallen in the glasses, it will be washed away. I suppose it also acts as a final cleaning as there is no guarantee how well the glasses were cleaned after their last use. The water which has passed from glass to glass for preheating is then discarded with a swirl and a swish onto the floor.

With the glasses now pre-heated, the pourer pours a measure of hot concentrated tea from the top pot and then dilutes it with the hot water from the bottom pot. There is a specific colour that the pourer is aiming for. In Turkish it is called ‘tavşan kanı’ or ‘rabbit’s blood’ in English – not what it will taste like, but a description of the colour it should be when properly mixed.  Personally, I haven’t the foggiest notion as to what colour rabbit’s blood is… unless it is the colour of Turkish tea that is…

Once the desired colour is attained the glass is given to a workman who then adds sugar according to his own palate. Some add half a cube, one cube, and some two, three, four or more cubes of sugar into the tiny glass.

Once everyone has their cup of scalding tea, sugared according to their desires, they sit and chat, those who smoke are lighting up. It is a calm, resting environment.

Did I mention the pre-heating and hot tea and hot water?

The small, glass, tulip shaped, tea glasses offer a fantastic heat transfer medium. When you grasp the tea glass with your thumb and forefinger around the rim and lift it to your mouth, you are treated to a very distinct and unmistakable understanding as to how hot the tea really is.  On my first attempt, many years ago, the glass never made it to my lips as I put it down hastily exclaiming loudly because of my burning fingers.

It takes a while to develop both the callouses and stoicism to sit, like a Turk, holding your wee tea glass in your hand between sips, as if it were a room temperature glass.

When the tea is consumed, being small glasses, this can mean multiple refillings and the cigarettes have been duly rendered into smoke, the men rise to recommence the labour of the day.

(written March 2004)

When darkness fell, from deep within came a desire to be home, tucked up and comfortably resting. It had been an exceptionally fine day for February.  

J. and his fiancée, L., and T. and I had been to the old city, – the ancient city of Byzantium also known as Constantinople from the mid 4th century.  Regardless of its name, we had spent the day in old Istanbul. We had finished the day with a tour of the TopKapı palace, the seat of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years and now the repository of a fine porcelain collection; the treasury containing every form and description of gold, jewel encrusted ornamentation, decoration and furniture; a portrait collection of the Sultans and the leading men of the Empire; and of course the room with the artefacts from the Prophet Muhammed; an extremely old copy of the Koran, reportedly a footprint of the prophet, a sandal, some of his hair, his sword and other artefacts. 

That particular room was packed with the faithful; women in a variety of head coverings, men with the small white skull cap, and  a multitude of children, all doing a sort of pilgrimage; parents showing the artefacts to their children, adults staring at the artefacts that confirmed the historicity of their prophet; in the corner, in a booth, a man in a long dull-coloured robe with a squarish hat on his head, a clean close-cropped beard, his eyes closed, as he sat before an open Koran, rocking gently, chanting verses from memory, the sound filling the room and invading every recess of the mind.

It had been a good day. With my smaller, but good quality video camera, I had taken some, what I felt was ‘good’ “stock footage” – you never know when you may need some footage from Istanbul, the Palace or the general environs. As always the camera bag was slung over my shoulder, and as always, at the ready for that important impromptu shot. We were tired and slowly trudged back to the ferry terminal for the half hour ride across the Bosphorous, the strait joining the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmaris and ultimately the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. 

The Bosphorous … which divides this city of 12 million into two halves, the European side – where the ancient, historic city is, and the Asian side– where we live. As always, there was a crush of people waiting in the departure lounge and when the ferry arrived, there was a mad dash to board and hopefully get seats. In one sense it is unnecessary as the ferry will take all who wish to board and there are an abundance of seats – so in all probability, all passengers will have a seat. We desired seats together, and me being me, I desired a certain part of the ferry.

The “no smoking” winds have blown across Turkey as they have across Europe and North America and so the interior of the ship is all “non-smoking”. Those who wish to imbibe must go to the open deck to engage their addiction. We settled nicely on some wooden benches, grateful for the opportunity to rest.

Normally the ferry goes straight over to Kadikoy, – ancient Chaceldon – and my plan was that we would walk the ten or fifteen minutes over to the train station at Haydarpaşa (which is also in Kadıköy but opposite the ferry wharf). It is from there that we would take the train to where we were staying (this was before we bought the flat in Üsküdâr). 

Suddenly I became aware that the ferry was slowing as to stop, not going directly to Kadıköy, but possibly stopping at the train station. To validate what I assumed was happening, I leaped up from the bench seat, left the others wondering what was causing my sudden burst of energy considering how tired we all were and I moved through the crowd to the middle door to see if we were indeed stopping at Haydarpaşa. 

Indeed we were stopping and the crowd at the door indicated that the regular commuters know that at this time of the day there the Kadıköy ferry makes a stop at the station. As the ship is nigh on docked and as it probably will not remain long at the wharf side, I hurried, through the crowd to my party.

““Quick, quick!”” I urged the others, “”we are getting off now.”” Everyone leapt to their feet and in a rushed blur of activity hustled to the departure point and the people crowding at the door. The ferry gracefully sidled up to the wharf as if the captain was parking a Volkswagen and not a massive ship several hundred feet long and carrying hundreds of passengers.

Trying to stay together amidst the turmoil, we hurried across the wharf and scampered up the stairs to the famous and historic Haydarpaşa train station. We made our way through the cavernous departure hall and out to our departure platform. 

Twenty minutes down the line we collected ourselves and disembarked at the station nearest where we were staying. As I was climbing the stairs of the underpass in the train station it struck me.

Something was missing. 

Something wasn’t right. 

What was it? … What was it? …

I stopped in the middle of the stairs and turned, a puzzled expression clouding my face. You know the feeling – something is wrong but you can’t put your finger on it. 

Then it dawned on me. 

I flapped. 

I patted my body. 

I looked anxiously at my fellow travellers.

Frantically I examined each of my companions; did T. have it, did my son, his fiancée? 

Alas no…..

My video camera – the one that went with me wherever I went, had now gone somewhere without me. More likely I had gone somewhere without it. Whatever the event that transpired, it was most definitely no longer wiht me. 

No more to be said. Did I leave it on the ferry in my haste to depart?  Most likely. 

Was it turned in to the ferry terminal?  Unfortunately not. Someone received an early holiday present – an expensive, quality camera, complete with batteries, unused video tape and some wonderful stock footage.

Regrettably, for me it was gone. And boy, have I missed it. It was so handy. It didn’t draw attention in a crowd, and yet it recorded very good images. I took it when I travelled and it allowed me to “load tape” onto the computer for editing on-the-fly. And it was gone.

 Not a cheap video camera – cost £1550 GBP or roughly $3,000 USD or $3,600 CAD (all 2003 values). It was not something that I was going to replace easily or soon. 

Ahh…

“But God”. 

I love the passages in the Bible that begin with “”But God””. Although I did not have the resources to replace this camera and as I had nothing to sell and no way to “raise” or “earn” that kind of money, “God”, who can do abundantly more than we can ask or think provided and now we have been able to replace the camera. 

Wow ! God is Great ! God is Gracious !

Gracious because it was my own haste and lack of attention that resulted in it being left behind. Grace – undeserved, unearned favour.

God is many things, all knowing, all powerful, Creator, Sustainer, Judge, Holy but maybe the two most powerful attributes of God are His is Love and His is Grace. 

 Without these two, where would we be….where would I be?

(written April 2016)

After our normal Sunday morning meeting with the saints at Antakya Christian church, T. and I normally stroll out for a light lunch and a bit of fresh air.

One Sunday in March, as we made our way down the pedestrianised Saray (Palace) Street it struck me how much it has changed since we first arrived some eight years ago…

Then it was not just a normal road, but an important road, forming a narrow but significant artery linking two major roads. Then the traffic was reduced to crawling along the narrow roadway which, thankfully was primarily a one way street. I say ‘primarily’ as motorcycles, push carts, bicycles and the odd car would still insist on going on their desired way whether it conformed to the road signs or not. Additional to that was the throng of pedestrians swarming down the too small footpaths on either side.

Pedestrians struggling to find space amidst the chaos of vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, carts ladened with goods for sale and lorries. Confusion, dust and noise dominated the so-called thoroughfare.

It was a route to be avoided whenever you could.

That was then.

Now it has been fully pedestrianised. The road surface has been replaced. No longer are pedestrians limited to narrow and uneven footpaths on either side of the roadway. Now we have a cobbled strip down the centre for delivery trucks servicing the businesses – access is highly limited and controlled by large hydraulic posts which can be lowered to be flush with the road or raised to form an impassible barrier for four wheeled or greater vehicles.

On either side of the fine cobbled surface we have smooth stone flagging making for a smoother walking experience. There is also the now common addition to new pavements being laid, of a strip of special, bumpy tile which is laid in a continuous strip which affords a guide for visually impaired people to aid them as they travel down the road.

Being a pedestrianised area, special plantings have been installed. These range from floor beds, maintained and replanted through the year as various flowers come in and out of season. There are special, decorative trees which have been grafted and shaped over years to form a kind of living basket weave of living trees. Fountains have also been installed added both the beauty of flowing, spraying water and the harmonic sound of gurgling, bubbling water. These are fitted with coloured lights adding a special attraction when darkness falls.

Modern Antakya, living and breathing on top of its ancient forebears has been afforded a special place on the pedestrianised way. In doing essential upgrades to the storm sewer system the local Council uncovered three arches which were buried under the street. They are standing in situ and rather than lifting them and placing them elsewhere, or back filing them and leaving them under the street, it was decided to make them a feature. Now you can stroll down the former street and there, fenced off but still accessible in a trench in the street the three arches in their glory standing ready for all and sundry to have a view from the surface surrounding them.

I don’t know what they were part of. It could have been a shop, boat yard (the Asi river is nearby), an ancient, historic or old government building – there is no indicator as to what it once was. But it is now on display.

In addition to the plantings of flowers, decorative trees and fountains, they have brought in old olive trees – gnarled and knotted with time and still producing an abundant crop of olives in season. These are set on a small belt of grass, the landscape sculpted to form a wee rise where the oldest looking olive tree has been transplanted.

There is a seating area shaded by producing orange trees. These ever green trees both bring shade and the bright orange fruit – that remaining above easy picking height, adds a wonderfully colourful element to the peaceful tranquility of the space.

Although now pedestrianised and technically only open for people on foot, one will still encounter hand carts, bicycles and motorbikes as they make their appearance. Often they cause some confusion as they power their way through the crowds.

However, primacy has been given over to people, and for this reason, there are lots of people which then make up crowds and crowds they are. The street, once home to so many different kinds of transport, now nominally limited only to people and yet it is still teeming, bustling and busy with humanity.

On this particular Sunday in March there seemed to me more than normal. There were young people with their mobile telephones and back packs, smiling and laughing and girls clumped together, boys hanging out – and the inevitable pairing off. There were also the middle aged and elderly who were evident as this was proving to be a very pleasant, sunny afternoon.

After a long winter, the pleasant weather seemed to be calling to all and sundry to step out and take the air.

At the end of the pedestrianised street we came to “Köprü Başı” (The Head of the Bridge), the site of the ancient stone bridge, an artefact from Roman times which was demolished in June 1972 to enable works on the river to reduce the risk of flooding and was replaced by a much larger, concrete structure.

To cross the bridge you must first cross the road which runs along the eastern bank of the river. Now at this point it is a four lane divided roadway. Normally in this land, practically speaking, crosswalks have precious little meaning.

In practice a Turkish crosswalk is a designated place where the pedestrian is responsible to avoid traffic and choose the appropriate time to cross without inhibiting the flow of vehicles. Almost without exception, crosswalks exist in name and signs and paint, but not in function.

Except here. Here, often, I can not say every time, cars will grudgingly yield and allow precedence to pedestrians. It is one of two places here in Antakya where you can, with a watchful eye, cross a street relatively freely.

Having successfully crossed the street and the modern bridge we turn up-river, continuing our stroll on the board walk which the Council has constructed on the banks of the Asi river.

Asi is the modern name for the river known in ancient times as the Orontes. This river rises in the south, in Syria. It flows northward and at one point it forms the physical border between the two nations. It then turns basically west and after a ways turns roughly south to run down the valley, through the city of Antakya and on to the Mediterranean Sea.

It was once a nice, ‘natural’ river, now it is damed up stream in Syria and in the summer months many little temporary earthen dams are thrown across the river in Turkey to facilitate local irrigation needs.

But this being spring, the temporary dams are yet to be constructed and the river is full of runoff from the winter rains, muddy water, which, uninhibited is flowing freely down the river to the Mediterranean sea.

The boardwalk, gracing both banks of the river, is on this day crowded with happy, smiling, strolling people: young people and old, families – it seems like the bulk of the city have answered the call.

As we make our way upstream, we encounter a constant stream of smiling faces as people meander and stroll along, little knots of people contentedly wandering along the sides of the river.

Some are conservatively dressed, others not quite so, and yet modest by western standards and others dressed more to fit in, in Manchester or Bristol than one may assume for an Eastern Turkish city.

It is also noted that this is a very mixed crowd. Due to the on-going, four year old conflict in our neighbour, our city has received more than its share of the influx of refugees.

One might generalise and postulate that many of the poor have taken refuge in official camps whilst at the same time others of the same socio-economic group have been making do in accommodation in the towns. It would appear that the upper middle class are living in rented flats in the cities; they are well dressed, often with cars – not infrequently, very nice cars.

On this particular day, they too are out, strolling the banks of the Asi. They too are smiling, maybe on this day the problems of their homeland, if not forgotten, are pushed out of their minds for a brief respite.

Husbands and wives, children of all ages, strolling in the gentle sun and enjoy the simple pleasure of taking a family stroll without fear or intimidation.

Today, we are all equal, strolling under God’s sun, enjoying family, friends and a most pleasant of days.

Wish every day were like this – but, alas, war is just over the border, not far from this oasis of tranquility and peace. Here there are smiling faces, ice cream and fun for the children. Not many kilometres away all of this is a distant dream, a faint recollection.

Enjoy today. Give thanks for your blessings.

(written March 2011)

When you examine it and boil it down to its fundamental essence, the essential element of the equation is trust. Without trust, there is no way that it would work. Maybe in the short term, but rarely in the long term would I make the effort to ensure that it happens. I am referring to one of the reasons we travel to the UK every year – to see my doctor and have a battery of health checks.

My doctor examines the results of my tests and if required, prescribes additional tests, where necessary, any medicine and advises on life-style issues that affect health. If I didn’t inherently trust my doctor, how could I accept his evaluation of the test results and what the appropriate responses should be?

Now, in the UK, the patient has a ‘say’ in his or her treatment regimen.

I find this odd.

My doctor has studied medicine – he has had a ‘practice’ for decades and as part of the National Health Service he is required to do additional study every year.

Comparatively, I know nothing. A few hours on the internet does not a knowledgeable correspondent make; in no wise, with mere hours of Internet study will I begin to compare even remotely to his study and years of experience.

Nevertheless he lays out the various options and asks me what I think.

What do I think?

I think I want to know what he recommends. He is the trained professional with years of experience.

And I trust him.

For instance, I am told that I have a ‘lipid’ issue. See, I have difficulty even in expressing what the problem is – what’s a lipid… Now, those of Scottish descent have a genetic disposition towards this difficulty with lipids. He offered to send me to a specialist clinic in London which would do all the tests and work to find the exact medicine that I need for my lipids. It would take months and I would attend there when they called me. Or, I could choice to go on the standard, tried and tested medicine for lipids. My choice.

Great.

But what, I pressed, is his recommendation? I can chose either. I am free. It is my choice. Fine. Okay. Good.

He confessed that he would just put me on the ‘tried and tested’ medicines and then check to make sure they were doing the job. That makes my choice easier. I trust my doctor. Both options are valid and good.

So, as in my Christian walk, if I really ‘trust’ God in my life, then making choices comes down to what does He say. If I trust Him, that makes it easier. Yes, I can choose – but who really knows what is best and who do I practically  trust?

Clearly, my choices and not my pronouncements, truly declare who I really trust.

Okay, in the instance of my ‘lipids’, the choice is done. I have the medicines prescribed. I will commence taking the medicine in about three weeks time and a month after that I will need a blood test to see what is happening. Hmm, we’ll be in Turkey then. They have doctors – but do they have a doctor I trust?… that is the key question….for later.

But my doctor does more than prescribe medicine and tests. He also tells me things that I can ‘do’ and ‘not do’ that affect my health.

I like my doctor. He is not overweight – partly because he would not feel effective in telling people to watch their weight if he were obese. He gives advice and is not loath to follow it himself.

So, he says some basic things – but the one that keeps coming up is little eight letter word which I do not appreciate.

My doctor doesn’t lecture. He doesn’t make me feel bad. He doesn’t have to. He speaks the truth. He applies his own medicine to himself. He points the way forward. He gives good counsel. He uses illustrations and wee stories that highlight the basic health message he wants to communicate.

I control my eating well. Tick, that is good.

But that little eight letter word – well, I toy with it, I entertain it – I even indulge it from time to time but not on the regular basis required.

By nature I tend to be quite sedentary. When we were first parents and riding in a crowded vehicle on a long, long journey our first born was tired and needed to sleep – he was a wee babe in arms. I cradled him on my chest and didn’t move for the length of his nap. Didn’t stir, shift or reposition – he needed his sleep.

T. can’t do that. When she is at ‘rest’, something somewhere is moving. Her toe can be beating time to music in her head – all absent-mindedly. When I try to replicate it, I have to assign part of my mind to actively maintain the action – quickly I either tire or become distracted. She can do it for hours on end. She can not, however, sit still.

I can. And that may have been a blessing for my sleeping son, but it is now part of my problem.

What does my doctor say? What is that eight letter word?

Yes, you know.

Exercise.

Not ‘kill yourself with exertion’ exercise – not ‘marathon running’ exercise. Just twenty minutes a day with the heart beating well (not frantically).

Simple, straight forward exercise on a routine, daily basis.

You brush your teeth, you wash your hands, you have a drink, you eat a meal – things we all do daily. He just advises moderate exercise to be part of the daily picture.

What he says is not in anyway or by any definition, unreasonable.

Besides, I trust my doctor.

I believe what he says – and I am impressed by what he does.

I take the medicine he prescribes – faithfully.

I watch what I eat.

but……

But a doctor I trust and the best medicine in the world and wise words of life-style counsel are only as effective as my obedience not to the part but to the whole.

Confession time (in March 2011). I do not exercise. I do bits and bobs but I do not keep either the spirit nor the letter of his recommendations. I felt ashamed to visit my doctor this year – not for the bits I did and did well, but for the significant bit that I had left undone.

Confession is good – face the truth – admit the truth. But that doesn’t really move things forward. It is a positive step, a starting point and yet there must be more.

After confession must come repentance – turning from my neglectful and slothful ways and putting into practice that which I already know.

And I write it here – and any one of you can challenge me on this point – to see if I am merely a hearer of what my doctor says or a doer. And I encourage you to challenge me (I couldn’t write I ‘welcome’ because no one wants to be called on their weak point) but better to be a wee bit embarrassed and do the right thing rather than attempt to cover it over and hide that which will be obvious to all who would subsequently see my over-weight frame.

How often have I neglected the whole counsel of what my doctor has told me – doing the bits that I chose to do and yes, developing self-discipline to achieve it, but neglecting the bits that do not come naturally to me and would require a real commitment.

Dare I query of myself how often have I done this with my Heavenly Physician…..

(Written April 2016)

It is not dramatic, nor something that you notice everyday.

It is in the small things, the imperceptible changes that the hints reveal themselves.  Every autumn I fit a tarpaulin on the landing by the elder’s flat door. In winter the winds and rains can come through the gap between us and the neighbour and a properly fitted tarpaulin provides a safe haven from the elements.

It was, maybe two years ago now that I took note of it. I was previously aware, but it really caught my eye then.

Fitting the tarpaulin requires me to ascend a ladder and then stand on the top of the wall, where on our side it is a bit over a metre and a half to the landing, on the opposite side it drops down a floor and a half into the neighbours courtyard.

As I stand and manhandle the bulky tarpaulin I find my mind alive to the situation, my surroundings and the inherent risks attached. It is in this state that my attention is drawn to the back wall, where our neighbour’s building abuts ours.

There was once a small fissure running vertically between the two. Nothing significant, not truly noteworthy. But now I am acutely aware that our little crack is growing up…well, maybe not ‘up’ per se as much as ‘out’.

I am drawn by the fact that it has expanded so much.

When I completed hanging the tarpaulin, I was left with a new awareness, and since then I find myself actively and passively looking for additional, er, growth. 

We are blessed with two loos in our home. The one in the shower room is an ‘ala franka’ (a loo you can sit upon) and in a separate little room next door there is a ‘ala turka’, or a squat toilet. Our shower room is at the end of our house that is bordering our neighbour. I noticed, in the shower stall, a hairline crack in the tile. The tiling was done when we moved in August 2008, and there was no crack, hairline or otherwise at that time.

Now there is a definite fracture crossing the tile. On examination, outside the shower stall it continues downward. It is a multi-tile hairline crack.

In the ala turka toilet next door, there is another hairline crack, and where it crosses two tiles it is clear there is a 2 or 3 millimetre lateral shift. 

These are all noted, and now I find myself passively monitoring them whenever I find myself in one or other of these rooms.

Above the kitchen, shower room and ala turka we have a one third height storage space. I was up there recently when my eyes were inexorably drawn to a new, rather ugly chink. Nothing subtle about this brute. Noted. 

In discussion with various neighbours, it seems that some years ago there was one of the deluges that occur in this part of the world. An overwhelming inundation that the storm drains and the design of the streets to draw water away were vanquished and were completely unable to cope. It was at that time that many homes were flooded.  

The common scuttlebutt is that the flood water drew soil and other material away from under the street and buildings creating a void. When you recall that modern Antakya is the direct descent of ancient Antioch, a city which is both multiple millennial in age and also throughout its long and turbulent history has been frequently destroyed by earthquakes and that it has been reconstituted upon the rubble of the former city again and again, and that our modern foundations in this part of the city are resting of the detritus and debris of earlier demolished buildings, it is believable that a massive downpour could excavate a void under our feet. This part of the city is not built upon a firm foundation, not on rock or natural earth but upon the demolition layer of earlier civilisations.

It has also been drawn to my attention that at the back corner of our home, where our two buildings join at the back street (it is a poured concrete street) that it sounds distinctly hollow when the street is thumped. Not a scientific observation I know, very subjective…nevertheless, it does sound rather hollow.

Our neighbour’s testimony is that there is a visible void under their home at the back of their property. 

When I go and examine the back of their house it is abundantly clear that this part of their home is both settling and moving laterally away from our building. 
As it moves away from us it, naturally, begins impacting their neighbour on the opposite side.

Now our neighbour of the sinking house is not using this part of their house – they used to, but not any more. It is comprised of a basement, ground floor, first floor and on the flat roof, a small roof room and both a water storage tank and solar energy system complete with its own storage tanks.

From whatever cause, it seems clear that this structure is ill, tired and looking decrepit to the point that sooner or later it will give up and either move into the neighbours house or collapse into the basement – or a combination of the two.

It may not even be waiting for an earthquake (we live in an active, notorious and historically volitial earthquake zone). Having acknowledged that, there are times when, for no apparent cause, buildings collapse…give up and tumble down. This building seems to be a candidate for this.

Potential remedial actions present themselves. As the structure is not inhabited, demolish it, filling in the basement in the process. This would relieve the pressure and may be a total solution.  

If that is too much, shift all the water storage and solar hot water onto the front building which is not exhibiting signs of subsidence.  

Barring that, have the city council come and investigate the back street with a view of repairing the street – this is the riskiest for it carries the potential that the council may very well discover a void and condemn both houses – the neighbour’s and ours as we are affected by the subsidence, maybe more of our neighbours as well. This then, would not be fixing the basic problem….but rather end up rendering at least three families homeless and with no solution.

So, our neighbours, true to the philosophy which is sourced from the dominate faith here, believe that if it is God’s will for the building to stand, it will stand, regardless of the state of the foundation or building itself, and, likewise, if it is God’s will for the building to fall, the building will fall regardless of whatever remedial work is undertaken.  

Result? Well nothing is being done. Well, that is not strictly true, the roof over the front house and extending across the courtyard and resting on the decrepit building has been replaced with a new roof – spanning the same distance and still resting on our candidate for collapse. 

If that house were ours, I would have moved the water storage tanks and removed the building and filled in the basement long ago. But it is not ours.

It presents the greatest risk to our neighbour and his children. The only point of access to their home is via the slumping back building – the only way in and the only way out.

Our neighbour’s building is talking. It is declaring its intent. From a Judeo-Christian world view it behooves us to act, to do something to take responsibility. In this place, with a very non Judeo-Christian world view, fate, kismet, what will be will be world view, the response is acceptance and a total lack of personal responsibility. 

And so, I monitor my cracks. I measure, observe and otherwise am mindful of the situation. There is frightfully little that we are in a position to do. 
 
Pray – yes.  

Trust in sovereign God – true.  

Rest in His grace – affirmative.  

Live in fear – rejected.  

Abandon that part of our home? Well without the loo and kitchen, life becomes somewhat more challenging.

And so life goes on. We come and go, and watch our walls and measure our cracks.