I was out on my normal constitutional when I received a phone call that required me to return home. It wasn’t urgent or negative, just something I had with me that was required there and then.  It was a time sensitive need.

So I agreed that I would ‘power walk’ home – to arrive with the least delay. I often walk ‘quickly’ and this was just an impressive way to say that I wouldn’t dawdle, but I would walk with purpose and as quickly as a man of age and state can manage.

Normally, I try and walk a minimum of 10,000 paces a day – that is roughly 7 kilometres or approximately 4 ½ miles. Currently I’m at 75 contiguous days of hitting the target and basically, I have been hitting the target for the bulk of a year or so…the odd few days here and there where I have missed it.

So I set off at a quick but not murderous pace.

There weren’t many people about, so I basically had the footpath to myself. Hence, I applied myself to increasing my pace to my quickest rate.

Powering down the boardwalk, ahead of me, I saw a family, some ladies and children coming up the footpath and filling it from side to side. In order not to inconvenience them, nor slacken my pace, I opted to pass to my left, off the footpath where I would bypass them by utilising the verge.  The verge consists of some grass, some bedding areas with no plantings and some trees and the odd light standard.  It is rather narrow, separating the boardwalk from the roadway.

Many times previously, in like situations , I had performed this manoeuvre  and so I was expecting to power on by and loosing little momentum on my journey home.

Except things didn’t go exactly to plan.

Now I do not know the precise sequence of events, but at some point I must have tripped, or lost my footing, or made some other elemental, basic error.

The first that I knew that something was amiss was only as I was somewhat airborne and going down with no hope of stopping it.  

Out flew my hands to protect me as I plummeted. There didn’t seem to be anything else that I could do.

Oh, and I was tumbling off, or was it over, the verge and into the roadway.

Now, generally speaking, this is an extremely busy little road and drivers, when an opportunity presents itself, will power down the roadway with seemingly reckless abandon.  

It was, in fact, on this very road, just two years prior I was witness to a young girl being bowled over by an inattentive motorcyclist. The girl was wholly up-ended and the motorcyclist and his travelling companion were left skidding down the road independent of their motorcycle which was also skidding down the road.

Now, here I was, flying into the same roadway. Mind you, it was without the aid of a motorcycle, but it still was not the most desirable of destinations to be heading towards.

As with all these things, it happened incredibly quickly, literally, in the twinkling of an eye.

I’m down.

Face first.

When I hit, my left side took the brunt of the fall and my outstretched hands absorbed some of the violence of the impact. I was aware that my head did not come in contact with the road surface. My 65 kilos had come pell-mell from an upright, forward moving state to a prone and utterly stopped state in under a second or two at the most.

Things have happened rather unexpectedly and rather abruptly.

I’m lying there, gathering my thoughts, doing a quick check to see what is speaking the loudest to me, my left leg, hands, elbow, wrist… the list seems to be growing…I was generally occupied in taking stock.

I perceived that nothing was broken.

Oh, and I noted that there was no traffic this day – the road is strangely lacking its normal frenetic masses of traffic. Strange for a Saturday, or, better put, thankfully strange for a Saturday.

Hence, I haven’t been run over.

At the time, I would have preferred to lie there on the floor for a bit, just to collect myself.

But, virtually instantly, people have rushed to my aid. There is a lady in her twenties, a young lad of about ten or twelve – asking if I was alright. There was a middle aged council employee asking the same thing. Others were there, but my mind was somewhat preoccupied and my vision rather narrow. Many hands were outstretched to aid me to my feet.

I couldn’t say no to the assistance. I may have wished to lie there a bit longer and gather myself, but aid to pull me up, well that was not to be neglected. I appreciated the hands pulling me up. It would have been a slower and I dare say, a more painful experience, if I had attempted it on my own.

I thanked my helpers – there was a small crowd around me now.

Of course I was rather embarrassed. There was no real reason for my tumble. I was simply rushing. I was walking too fast and not being careful enough. No excuses.

Nevertheless, there was no end of people asking after me, offering assistance and ensuring I was okay.

I returned to the footpath and turned my steps, once again, towards home. I still needed to get there and I still needed to be there sooner rather than later – the basic equation on why I was heading home had not changed. It was a time sensitive situation.

My left leg was speaking to me in several places, both my palms were distressed, my right elbow was smarting, and my left wrist had things to say, but everything was functioning, and so I headed off, but at a rather diminished rate.

I still arrived home in good time – naturally, no record had been set. I surrendered the item that was in my possession and made my way into our home. My left wrist is reluctant to give me support, my left leg, is battered, banged and skinned in multiple places, but I am on the mend. No serious damage has been done.

But I think it is important to note that with all the violence that is happening in our world, with people demonising a whole society, culture and religion – I would like to point out that young and old, male and female, workmen and housewives all stopped what they were doing, they ceased going about on their own business and offered me, a complete and utter stranger aid and comfort without pause or hesitation. I know if I had needed water, it would have been procured. If I had needed other aid, it would have been provided.

Rarely in life are things black and white. Rarely are generalisations accurate for the individual. Rarely are caricatures even remotely helpful. Rarely can we extrapolate from the few and apply to the many and have anything remotely resembling reality or something that is in some way helpful – except maybe in reinforcing preconceived prejudices and biases.

All who were in the vicinity of my tumble, Sunni or Alevi, Turk or Syrian, (Muslims all) came to my aid, expressing concern and care and willing to do whatever was necessary for me in my time of need. All for a complete stranger.

(first written July 2006)

It seems that we were waiting for a nondescript white van.

This act of waiting was performed in the “Söz Kitap Evi” or in English, ‘The Word Book Store’ – a Christian book store in the city of Adana, in South East Turkey.

Decades earlier we had lived in Adana in this city which is not far from the Mediterranean Sea and sprawling in the shadow of the mighty Toros (Taurus) mountain range.  Long has there been a city perched on the banks of the Seyhan River, in the midst of the amazingly rich and fertile Çukurova plain.

The story of Adana stretches from a mound or tell in the centre of the city, the Tepebağ tumulus which dates from 6,000 BC and flows from thence through Hittite times, is mentioned in Egyptian texts and was incorporated into the Greek, Roman, Armenian, Byzantine empires, it was subject to an Arab invasion, was part of a Crusader kingdom, became part of the Ottoman Empire and finally, now is a vibrant part of the Republic of Turkey.

Back in the early 1980s there was no church in the city, just a few young men who gathered together in a home to hear the Word of God shared, study the Bible, sing a few hymns and pray.  There was certainly no Christian Book Store.  From a Christian perspective, there actually was nothing in the city.  The population of the city then was approximately one million souls.

Now, for balance, there was a small, hidden away, tiny Jewish Synagogue and a largish Roman Catholic Church building which hosted a profoundly minuscule number of congregants.

But, now in 2006, we were standing in a Christian Book Store speaking with the leaders of two different Turkish Churches in this city which now boasts a population of approximately two million.  Things have changed just a wee bit.

On the arrival of the said, nondescript white van, we departed the bookstore and piled in – we were off to break bread together.

T and I had arrived by aeroplane just an hour earlier.  T was at the home of one of the elders of the church and I had absconded to this impromptu meeting.

It was good that we were going for a meal as my diabetes means I need little fill-ups throughout the day.  The good old days of going about ones business and grabbing a bite to eat whenever it was convenient has well and truly faded into the distant past.

As a family we had lived in Adana over twenty years previously and my, oh my, how things have changed.  Many landmarks, boulevards and buildings I recognised but many, many things were new.  

Well, when I say ‘new’, I mean these high-rise buildings were not there twenty odd years ago.  Once they were brand-spanking new but now they have become old looking, a bit tired and worn.  But, at the same time, there were the new, ‘new buildings’ adorning the city like a lavish, stunning garland.

So, as we drove off, before my eyes passed a delightfully variegated  smorgasbord of the old still familiar buildings and landmarks, ‘old new’ buildings that were still ‘new’ to me and the spectacularly new buildings exhibiting the latest in architectural design with their own unique flourishes often with a liberal splash of flamboyance.

The driver of the van aggressively weaved in and out of traffic, following roads I had traveled in the past and then he turned abruptly and crossed the Seyhan River on an ‘old’ new bridge.  There was no ‘bridge’ there in my time… now there was, and it looked like it had been there forever.

Once across the bridge we were in a simpler part of town.  No high-rises, no spectacular architecture nor splendid marvels of engineering or construction.  This was more like the ‘old’ Adana that we had once lived in and knew so well.  There was a profusion of dumpy looking two storey structures, each slap-bang up against their neighbour.  Dusty, dirty, unkempt, paint pealing – where there had once been paint – and I would have said, ‘run down’ but I’m not 100% certain that even when they were first built that they looked significantly different from what they do now.  Often, buildings of this, er, style, are never actually ‘finished’.

I overheard that we were going to a ‘good’ restaurant – but the area of town we are now slowly making our way through being – er, well, more simple, basic, even rustic – it didn’t naturally bode well for finding a ‘good’ restaurant – let the reader understand, by ‘good’ I mean, ‘safe’ as well as ‘tasting good’ and ‘reasonably priced’.

Without warning, the van unexpectedly slowed and then jerked over and unceremoniously came to a halt.  Everyone started tumbling out.  Evidently, it seemed, we had arrived … but where exactly?

As I scanned up and down the rather dowdy, grubby street, dust hanging limply in the air and litter scattered on the floor blown hither and thither by the occasional breathe of wind or the currents caused by passing vehicles, I could discern nothing likening unto a ‘good’ restaurant.  Gazing up the road, with its myriads of vehicles, people, bicycles, motorcycles, horse carts, I was confronted with a forlorn sense of general neglect combined with a suspicion that no one really cares or ever really had.  This impression seemed to permeate the air, hanging as an oppressive blanket over the area in the sweltering heat and humidity.

My eyes continued darting left and right, searching diligently, but, for the life of me I couldn’t uncover a ‘good’ restaurant anywhere. We walked down the broken and uneven footpath and turned into an, um, rather ‘simple’ establishment.

The ‘dining area’ was not of generous proportions, but we were able to quickly cobble together a collection of tables to accommodate eight, which was required, for we were a large group.

I’m not sure that we had the benefit of a ‘menu’, it was more ‘What do you have?’ and then responding to that. It was decided rather quickly that one of us would have lamb chops with the rest of us choosing ‘Adana Kebab’ as our main course.   

Adana Kebab is the hallmark of the city – it is a special kebab claimed by and named after the city of Adana.  It is made of minced lamb and spices, kneaded by hand and then formed on to a flat skewer and slow cooked over a charcoal fired brazier.  It comes in two varieties, ‘normal’ and ‘spicy’.  The spicy variety is rather hot to the tongue… lips… eyes… ears… throat… let’s just say, it is for those who love to burn… and perspire… and cry…

Once the order was given there was a flurry of activity, and then the meze, or appetisers, began to come in rapid succession.

First was a piping hot mini-Turkish pizzas-like dish fresh from the oven.  These little pizza-like meze are round in shape with a leavened pizza-like crust, but the topping consists of mince in a red pepper sauce – mind you it is light on the mince, often it is more a dusting of mince – oh, and no cheese nor tomato sauce.  I did say, ‘pizza-like’, meaning more shape and base than any other similarities.

These had come forth from a large oven that is part of the establishment.  Although it is an ‘oven’, the use of the word oven can convey the wrong idea… In reality, it is a large brick built, Turkish baker’s oven with an actual wood fire fiercely burning inside and on one side of the oven.  This provides an abundance of heat.

The door to the oven?  Well, there is no door.  The opening to the oven is a relatively small aperture.  A whole variety of bread dough based dishes are prepared, on-site, cooked and presented fresh to the diners.

Whatever the bread-dough based product, like the mini-Turkish-pizzas, or bread which is formed into loaf-like shapes – a bloomer style loaf, no pans are used – or whatever, once prepared, the baker takes these items and puts them on a wooden paddle with a long, two½ plus metre handle.

To say it is a definite skill to be be able to man-handle such an ungainly implement within the restricted confines of the oven area, with dough based items delicately balanced on the paddle end is a gross understatement.

The baker slips the wide paddle part of the implement under the bread-dough products and deftly swings the paddle around,  and then guiding it through the narrow aperture, he expertly thrusts it into the bowels of the piping hot oven to his selected location where he deposits the items to bake.  He must carefully select the location, for too close to the fire and it will bake too quickly; too far away and it will not bake quickly enough and this is complicated by the fact that the oven is rarely empty… he must find an appropriate empty place to lay the new items amongst the current baking tenants.

A specialty item is ‘pide’ bread which is made from normal leavened dough, but rather than a puffy, bloomer style loaf, it is spread out relatively flat – a flattened, stretched oval-ish shape – and the dough is worked, pushed out and down with the bakers fingers making a distinctive look to the bread with a series of wee bumps and valleys – like ridges and furrows in a ploughed field.  Then sesame seeds and black cumin seeds are liberally sprinkled on top before it, too, is ‘paddled’ into the oven to bake.

The baker, remains steadfastly positioned before the inferno of the oven, profusely perspiring, but keeping a sharp eye on the items in the oven and when the time is right, in flies the paddle which the baker deftly slips under the freshly cooked bread or mini-pizzas or whatever it is and draws it out.

This is truly ‘fresh from the oven’ bread and the heady, fragrant aroma of these freshly baked items precedes it and fills the restaurant with its heavenly bouquet.  It is brought to the table, piping hot and accompanied by a soft cheese, fresh butter and onions.

You could be tempted to make a feast of the bread alone!  It is profoundly appetising.

But, it is not that the restaurateur was content to present us with just simple, albeit heavenly breads with cheese, butter and onions accompaniments, for, following hard on the heels of the arrival of the min-pizzas and bread and pide there flowed a pageant of salads.

In the end, there were multiple instances of a total of five different types of salads crowded upon the tables.

Additionally, there were other ‘meze’ appetisers, humus drenched in lemon juice and fresh olive oil, ‘cacik’ – a yogurt and cucumber dish, a crushed walnut and pepper dish, ‘babaganuş’ an eggplant dish and a red hot-pepper dish.

I could have very, very, easily eaten my fill of these salads and mezes and been happily content even to the point of over indulging.  Like the breads before them, they are all extremely appetising.

To ‘dress’ the salads, they brought several simple plastic bottles;  bottles that in its original use, were common water bottles – just one of the normal, ubiquitous water bottles that are sold all over Turkey.  They were the small, one person sized bottles.  But now they had been given a new lease on life, a new task; they had been refilled with a dark red liquid, ‘Nar Ekşisi’, which is a speciality of this region and is a concentrated pomegranate reduction.  This is created by firstly squeezing fresh, ripe, pomegranates and then the resultant mash is boiled and strained until it is reduced to a concentrated, almost syrupy viscosity.  The resultant thick liquid is then poured into the former water bottles.  You could liken it to pomegranate molasses, but a bit more runny.

Holes had been roughly punched in the lids of the erstwhile water bottles and now, according to your taste, you could squeeze some of the pomegranate reduction onto your salad.  It was really good, adding a delicate, subtle and yet appealing flavour to the salad.  The ‘Nar Ekşisi’ by being both tart and sweet at the same time, was a wonderful, complimentary accent to many of the salads.

There was an onion salad where the onions were lightly cooked and another salad consisting of raw onions and dried red pepper flakes.  This latter salad tasted slightly lemon-like.  Another salad was made with red cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes and onions, and there was a mixed salad.  Finally, the last salad was a special one made from puréed tomatoes and, well, I don’t know what all else it consisted of… but it tasted great.  All told, the salads alone presented a rich variety that tickled the taste buds and quenched that gnawing hunger – and all this well before the main course which had yet to make its appearance.

By the time the Adana kebab arrived, steaming hot from the brazier, the edge had been totally removed from our hunger, and now, we could leisurely enjoy the grilled meat, adding whatever salad we felt would compliment the flavour, a little onion, a little mixed salad, a little cabbage, every mouthful could be tailor-made to suit the moment.

In this relaxed atmosphere, and with a large group of individuals, several conversations were going on and it struck me, there was a Turk from Diyarbakır in the East, a foreigner working in Izmir in the West, a Turk living in Adana, two Mexicans living in Adana, a visiting foreigner from America and myself.  Quite a mixed bag, a cosmopolitan gathering around this table laden with such a rich variety of good food and all united in our love for the Lord who has redeemed us and placed us in His Body and our love for this people.

In the end, it was indeed, a ‘good’ restaurant.

(written July 2011)

Owning a private motor vehicle is one of life’s great blessings, affording ease of travel, carting of groceries and timely transport always at our beck and call.  But, naturally, all these benefits have an associated overhead.  Private vehicles are not cheap to purchase, maintain, tax and licence.  And, as in many other countries, there is the additional task of the vehicle inspection – for private vehicles, this is required bi-annually in Turkey.

Therefore, there is an on-going balancing act, weighing up the benefits and blessings of owning a vehicle against the costs and requirements that must be met in owning said vehicle.

As motorcar owners, we are called upon to endure the ever rising costs of petrol.  We pay the annual insurance premium, which also seems to be ever more expensive.  When tyres wear out, we replace them.  When it is time for the annual service, we bite the bullet and pay the piper.  This is all part and parcel of the ‘cost of ownership’, for which we subject ourselves for the blessings and benefits so afforded.

But, in this balancing act, for me, there was a straw that broke the camel’s back – a small, rather insignificant thing that tipped the balance and motivated me to divest myself of our motor vehicle – a trivial thing in itself, but it was that which provoked me to give up all the blessings and benefits.  What was this petty little ‘straw’?  It was the mandatory bi-annual vehicle inspection.

Please do not misunderstand, the vehicle inspection is not an onerous or difficult task – there are a number of steps; steps which are not hidden or obscure, all the steps are known in advance – all one needs to do is perform each step and the vehicle inspection is, fundamentally, a non-event.  That is the truth and the reality for the vast majority of people.  But, for me, it simply became a bridge too far.

A few years ago it was a far different experience.  At that time you went to one office ‘somewhere‘ to get a piece of paper to say you had paid your vehicle tax and had no outstanding traffic fines.  Then you traipsed to another office to have the LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) system checked – and collecting another important piece of paper.  After this, to another place to have the exhaust system checked – and gaining another essential piece of paper.  Finally, when you have all your bits of paper collected, you went to the vehicle inspection place – a rude hut on the side of a road – where all they basically did was collect the various pieces of paper, the inspection fee and threaten to physically inspect your vehicle.  Often all I was asked to do was to pop the bonnet – which was then closed – that was the inspection.

Oh, I should mention that each piece of paper had it’s own individual charge against it and the vehicle inspection had it’s own, more weighty charge.

But that was a few years ago.

Now the system has been vastly improved, streamlined and modernised.

The new system is based on the German vehicle inspection regimen.

Therefore, all over the country, the State has built proper, dedicated vehicle inspection centres.  At the same time, they are working towards a form of ‘joined up government’.  In this way, at the time of your inspection they check, in real-time, to see if you have any outstanding fines – as of that actual moment – and if you do, you must leave the queue, and go somewhere else and pay your fine and then return (to the back of the queue).  In the same way your payment of the annual vehicle tax is confirmed.  You no longer need to go to another office and gain the requisite piece of paper to prove this – that is a marked improvement.

You still need to present the LPG certificate and the Exhaust Test certificate.

Nevertheless the new system is much better than the old way.  It is more joined up.

Oh, and they have a rendezvous-appointment system; you make your reservation on-line and therefore you have an identified ‘time slot’ for your inspection.

This sounds like a vast improvement and should be the cause of great, heart-felt adulation and rejoicing.

But theory and practice often are but passing ships in the night.  Even with all the real and notable improvements, I still do not like the vehicle inspection regime.

And, I do not like the cost of the vehicle inspection.  Typically, after two years since the previous inspection, I’ve forgotten the cost.  In preparation for another vehicle inspection, it always comes as a disconcerting shock to me.

The little certificates, still required, for the exhaust check and the LPG check (if you have a LPG equipped automobile) are all modest fees – it is the inspection itself that is more weighty, you know when you pay that one.

And so it was, for me, a result, a consequence, of this one last ‘straw’, added to all the other financial burdens of owning an automobile, that we now no longer own a motor vehicle in Turkey.

Having divested myself of a vehicle, I am free – I don’t have to give even a momentary thought regarding the delights of motor vehicles and their bi-annual inspections.  It is a glorious, delightful feeling of freedom.  The cloud is gone, the burden has been lifted.  The financial requisites have been expunged.

Wonderful…

However…

The elder does own a vehicle and in addition to his responsibilities in the fellowship, he is engaged in full-time employment.  He does not have the time nor opportunity to run around and collect the certificates and then spend the time required for the actual inspection itself.

And so, as the date for his vehicle inspection drew nigh, he thrust the vehicle papers and keys into my hands and said, “Get it done.”

Well, truth be told, we are here to serve and sometimes the most appreciated service is in the mundane, banal, common, most non-spiritual aspects and things of life.

Being here to serve and to do ‘that which needs to be done’, I know that I ought not/should not say ‘no’.  And so, on the outside, I smile (or was it more of a grimace) and I indicate acceptance of the task and take the keys and papers.

But, inside I am wailing, NOOoooooo!”

Whilst it is true that I rid myself of our vehicle, because of the over-all costs of ownership, but, notably, the requirement of the bi-annual inspection played a disproportionately large rôle in my decision.  That really was the last ‘straw’.

But here, once again, one more time, I go again.

Oh joy.

My first task was to get an appointment.  For this I went on-line and worked my way through the various pages and made an appointment for about a weeks time.  We had missed the due date for the inspection so there would be a peppercorn late fine – but it was the earliest appointment I could get.  That is the problem of an appointment system, there may not be an appointment on or near your date.

The appointments fill up fast and well into the future.

Now before going for the physical inspection, I needed to get the LPG certificate and hence, went to the appropriate office for that aspect of the inspection.

The engineer asked to see the tank which is under the floor of the storage compartment.  I wasn’t prepared for that, so I had to manhandle some things out of the way to be able to gain access to the tank and then lift them out of the way so he could examine the physical tank.  Normally they just use a hand held sniffer device where they poke its nose in various spots seeking the telltale odours of a leak – but he want to visually ‘see’ the tank this time.

That brought about the first bit of bad news.  One look at the tank and he said he couldn’t do the inspection and promptly collected his tools and departed.

What he saw on inspecting the tank was that the tank was now ten years old.  The rated life of a LPG tank is ten years.  The upshot, we needed a new LPG tank.

We failed the inspection at the very first hurdle.  So much for this rather easy and straight-forward step.

I cannot go for the full vehicle inspection without this certificate.  Therefore, with a list of authorised LPG garages that the inspection department approves of, I head off to have a new tank fitted.

I find the garage and begin making the arrangements.  I learn the price and am all set to go when he asks if there is any fuel in the tank.  Normally the tank is kept full-ish.  Indeed, for the inspection I had even thought about topping it off – but, thankfully, I had resisted the temptation.  That was very good.

This brought about the second bit of bad news.

“The tank need to be empty,” says he, “… safety.”

True, after all they will be removing the old tank, and if it is full of LPG gas, it would be a dangerous, volatile, potentially lethal explosion risk.  Besides, we paid for that LPG – we do not want it to go to waste.

“Oh,” says I.

A new task has been added before the fitting of a new tank to facilitate the required inspection, I now need to drive the vehicle until the LPG is exhausted.

I was under the impression that there wasn’t much in the tank – and I had my instructions… drive until it is absolutely empty, then return.  Emptying the LPG tanks is another story which if you are interested you can read at: Emptying the Tank.

In any event, two days, and many, many kilometres later (I said I didn’t think there was much in the tank) I returned to the garage with a duly exhausted tank – the car now running on petrol – it is a dual fuel system.  (Why a dual system vehicle?  Petrol is prohibitively expensive and LPG is dramatically cheaper)

The new tank is fitted and I am instructed to go off to a petrol station and put about a quarter tank of LPG in and return to the garage for safety checks.  This made me ponder, if there is a ‘leak’ and I’m driving back to the garage… could it not…

Successfully returning, the installers commence checking the system for leaks.

Oops, (!) unfortunately they find some leakage.  So the work carries on to find, identify, sort and recheck the system.

Finally, they declare it is all clear and issue me with their official paper having installed the new tank – for the LPG inspection.

So I’m off to top up the LPG and then to the office for the LPG inspection and hopefully acquire the required certificate.

At the office, the engineer comes out with his sniffer device and checks around the tank and the regulator and under the bonnet; the lines and carburettor and various points and places.  No beep, no flashing lights, no odours – all smells of roses.

We have the all-clear.  We go upstairs, where I pay the fee and get our new certificate.

So, we are nearly there.  This, just a small aspect of the preparation for the inspection tasks, should only have taken an hour or two at the very most, but has now  taken up the best part of three days.

Thankfully, the testing of the exhaust system was without incident and the certificate was duly paid for and issued.

The day of the dreaded appointment approaches.

Now commercial vehicles must all be inspected annually, and private vehicles bi-annually.  Tractors, motorcycles – virtually all motorised transport must also be inspected.  I mentally count, how many bays there are in the inspection station – that would be seven.  Therefore, I begin extrapolating how many vehicles can they see in an hour.  With appointments set at every thirty minutes, therefore, the maximum number of vehicles at the inspection station would be seven times two equalling fourteen per hour.   That sounded okay to me – not overwhelming, shouldn’t be crowded, should be orderly, should enter for inspection at my appointed time.

I felt I could cope with that.  No worries.

I hate arriving late, and often, habitually even, I arrive early to where I am going.  On this day I arrived at the inspection station early even for my normal early arrival time.

The sight that greeted me was not fourteen vehicles waiting.  

Alas, vehicles were parked in all the available spaces.  Indeed, they were parked, double parked, triple parked; basically there were vehicles parked and standing everywhere.  They were parked up where it was intended that vehicles be parked and also where it was clearly inappropriate for them to be parked.  The large apron before the doors to the inspection station were crowded – nay, overcrowded, jam packed, overwhelmed, full…   

I immediately noted that near the door to the office there is a thick crowd milling about, immediately by the door of the office there was another mass of men, and I feared, that once passed the door and in the waiting room of the office there will be a crowded crowd inside.

The large expanse inside the fenced grounds of the inspection station is full of a whole variety of vehicles that there is no room for even one more vehicle – that is to say, the vehicle that I am driving – I am refused entry – my appointment notwithstanding.  So I must go outside the grounds and find a place nearby to park up and then walk in.

Like absolutely everyone else, this is contrary to my desire to be close to the action, to be timely, to be ready to go through and be done with this inspection.  I, too, want to be parked up inside the compound.  But, sadly, it is not to be.

I really want to be ready, so when it is time and I am required to enter the inspection bay I can respond in a timely manner – being parked outside the grounds strongly mitigated against all that.

As I park up a chap approaches me offering to ‘help me’ with the bureaucracy of the inspection.

But, I reason, I have an appointment, I am confident that everything is in order, I have the car insurance papers, the exhaust certificate, the LPG certificate and I know there are no outstanding fines and the car tax has been paid, therefore, I feel that I do not need his help and politely decline his offer.

I make my way through the gate, across the apron, through the first lump of men, past the second amalgamation of men and, finally, into the office.  As I feared – it is teeming with men.  It seems that the task of vehicle inspections is a primarily male occupation – and in this confined space it is clear that not everyone has access to… er… well, let me just say the air was ‘ripe’.

Whilst there is a rendezvous system – it seems that they also take people without appointments and fit them in, as and when they can…  so much for a manageable fourteen vehicles.

I take my number from the dispenser by the door.

Obviously, I must be exuding my internal discomfort for, once again, a chap approaches me offering to ‘help’ and takes a quick look at all my documents.  It turns out that one of the little certificates that they stamp at the vehicle inspection station is full – I need another piece of paper.

This is may only be significant in a bureaucratic nirvana such as this, but the lack of this bit of paper is a cause of failure and returning to the start of the process…

Yikes!

But, not to fret, he assures me, he is just the man to sort this problem out.

Out we go, through the throng of idle men to the fence where he calls over to a vehicle parked on the side road outside the Inspection station.  A girl comes over and takes the paper work and returns to the vehicle to fill out the appropriate forms.

And so ten minutes later – good thing I decided to go earlier than early – and twenty five Turkish liras lighter I have all my paper work in order.

I really am not enjoying this.

I know that the next step is to wait in the office until my number comes up on the display.  Then, at that point, I will hand in all my collected paper work, have a check performed on the computer to ensure no new traffic offences have been lodged and that the tax has been paid, pay the hefty fee for the inspection and then to outside to await the summons to bring the car in and surrender it to the chap who will take it inside for a rather through – German style – inspection.

I have my number for the first step, inside the office, where I must first clear this bureaucratic phase.  I am more than aware that the next step would be to go outside until summoned for the actual inspection.

How do you know you are being summoned?  Uh, that is when you hear the name on the paperwork called over the tannoy.  And the tannoy system there is in keeping with the majority of tannoy systems the world over, all you really deduce from their blasted, garbled, utterances is that something has been emphatically declared.  In the past, when I’ve had cause to be in this position, I found it so muddled, distorted and indistinct that I was not even sure what language was being utilised.

Contemplating all this, I buckled.  I asked the chap, my ‘helper’ what he would charge to hold my hand through the up-coming steps (I’m assuming either his hearing is up to the tannoy, or he has the gift of interpretation).  We then agreed a price and now, I am left at his mercy, feeling all the more like a ‘lamb before the slaughter’…

And so, my ‘helper’ and I return to the office, he takes charge of my ticket and as the room is packed, he asks someone he knows to vacate his seat so I can sit down. So there is an immediate, tangible benefit for engaging him.

Now the office is air conditioned and I have a place to sit – so that is good.

But, even so, there is a lot of loud talking, and people hanging about, and the counters are full, and the air is, er, rather ‘natural’ – so, it still not the most desirable place to be.

My number comes up, my helper calls me to the counter, but in my mind I have a nagging concern.  This is not my car, it is the elder’s.  It is not in my name.  They ask for my ID and I hand them my foreign passport which, of course, is in English.

There was no problem with my ID. Whew!

I surrender the car papers, insurance documents and my collection of certificates.  The computer check is done and all is in order.  The fee and late fee is paid and out we go to await the next phase – listening for the crucial tannoy announcement (for those who can decipher it, or have the gift of interpretation).

Now we wait, outside, with no air conditioning.  We have been expelled from the office to commence the task of ‘waiting’ – but I have no inkling as to how long I will be waiting.  So much for having a set appointment time.

This, hopefully, is the last step – as long as the motor vehicle does not fail the inspection.

Our final task is simply waiting to be summoned to deliver the vehicle for the actual vehicle inspection to commence – the vehicle which is not there, but has been consigned to the outer reaches – languishing outside the fence and down a side road.

All that we have done thus far is the preliminary, essential preparation work – it all counts for naught as the key element is the physical, rigorous inspection of the motor vehicle.

Outside of the office, there is little shade, but this is Antakya in the summer.  It is scorching – wherever you are – shade not withstanding, you are subjected to degrees of stifling – but all hot.  There are but a very few places to sit – and they are all occupied.

For me, herein is the truly traumatic part.  How do I know when it is ‘me’ they want to go in?  I ponder, will they try and call the foreign name of the chap who brought it in (me)?  Or will they be calling the name of the owner?  Will it be blasted unintelligibly over the tannoy, or will it be a workman who comes out the door with a clip board in hand and shouts?  My mind is awash with various, unknown possibilities…

And this is precisely why I hired my helper.  He not only knows the system, but he also knows the people in the system.  He talks with them, and at the appropriate time he has discerned and understood it is my turn and tells me to bring in the car.

Off I madly trot as well as someone of my age and fitness can, across the baking hot tarmac of the parking lot, out the gate, down the side road where the car is parked.  I hop in, turn it on, go the wrong way up a ramp (well, there really is no other way to do this), up to the gate, convince the chap at the gate to let me in – harder than you would expect – and proceed up to the door where they are waiting to take delivery of the vehicle.

The door is as far as I can go – my ‘helper’ as well.

The ‘inspector’ takes charge of the vehicle and drives it in.  They check the brakes and lights and search for rust and examine underneath the car.  They check the brake lines and look for various types of faults.  I do not know all of the things they check, but it appears to be detailed and vigorous.

We walk around the building – it is a big building – and wait on the opposite side, the exit side, for the car to emerge.

At the end of the process, we had a number of small faults – it seems they must find some faults – but nothing big enough for a failure – ergo, we passed !

I receive back all the paper work, with the appropriate places filled in and stamps affixed.  We get a sticker for the number plate to declare when we must return and repeat this marvellous, wondrous experience.

At the end of the day, I had divested myself of our car, partly to avoid this experience.

I guess my Lord has other ideas and there are things that I can best learn by going through this delightful bi-annual vehicle inspection process.

(written August 2008)

Life in our modern world is kind of amazing…

Map of AntakyaOn Tuesday we were in Antakya, located near the bottom of a ‘pan handle’ in the south and east of Turkey, not far from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and boxed in by Syria on two sides.  That day we flew the 1,100 kilometres to Istanbul as we had some essential tasks to accomplish there.  Just four days later, on Saturday and after driving for two relatively long days, we were back in Antakya.

A journey that not that long ago would have been either unimaginable or simply impossible.  Today, such a journey is not even remotely noteworthy.

In this case, our short turn around was due to some responsibilities we had here in Antakya, and so, once our business in Istanbul was concluded, we hurried back.

Whilst we were in Istanbul one of our tasks was to bring our car down to Antakya.  Now, as you do when contemplating long journey in a significantly less than new automobile, I took the car to a Fiat service centre and had it serviced and checked over.

They found a fuel leak (!) which was fixed – which was good.  They adjusted various things and gave everything a thorough going over.  In process of doing that, they checked the brakes and adjusted the hand brake.   All good.

As we departed Istanbul, we were comforted with the thought that everything should be ‘top notch’ and ready for the rigours of the trek before us.

The goal of the first day out of Istanbul was to drive a little over half way to Antakya.  Our resting place was to be the city of Aksaray on the vast high interior Anatolian plateau.

For the first four and a half hours of that initial journey, we moved along rather briskly at 120 kph.  The motorway is both brand new and ultra modern – utilising tunnels and concrete via-ducts to go where previously no road could ever conceivably go.  The remaining two and a half hours of the first days travel were accomplished at a more sedate 90 kph as the roadway whilst being a good quality dual carriage way was not classified as a motorway and consequently, had a lower speed limit posted.  Frequent police radar controls helped to dampen most drivers desire to drive at a speed that logic dictated would have been reasonable and safe on that road.

The Anatolian plain is a vast, well, plain.  On the first leg on the plateau, after the capital city Ankara, there are some lumps and bumps, but, it  progressively becomes relatively flat.  The one noteworthy feature, about 45 minutes before we arrive at Aksaray is the vast ‘salt lake’.  It is always fascinating to observe the broad white levels as the water has receded over the course of the summer.  The observer is left blinking in the harsh white reflected light from the lake bed.

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At the same time, it is always intriguing to see the salt being harvested by big machines out on the lake.  Sometimes they are at a distance where they are glimmering like distant mirages on the lake.

So far, the trip has progressed exactly as it has the many times in the past that we have covered this terrain.

We lodged the night in Aksaray and planned to head off reasonably early for the final leg of our journey.  The planned day’s travel encompassed travelling across the remainder of the plain, into the lofty coastal Toros mountain range, passing through the ancient and extremely narrow ‘Cilician Gates’ and then dropping down to sea level and once on the other side, to follow the Mediterranean around to ancient Alexandretta, modern name Iskenderun, before climbing the Amanus mountain range where, at the summit, we would be crossing over the ancient ‘Syrian Gates’ pass, to finally drop down to the broad valley leading to Antakya.

We commenced the journey at a reasonable time.  We estimated the travel time from Aksaray to Antakya to be about five hours.  It would not be too strenuous.

The first hour is rather straight forward as you drive straight across the plateau aimed squarely at the mountains.  There are no real curves nor hills to break up the monotony.

Don’t get me wrong, I find the view fascinating, the soaring heights of an apparently dormant volcano soaring high in the sky and dominating the skyline on our left.  On the right hand side, the plain itself is amply dotted with strange conical hills, looking to be covered in scree.  I really enjoy viewing those unique rounded hills and would love to know how they came to be – to any geologist reading this, I would profoundly grateful to be enlightened.

Even so, I must confess, it is a rather monotonous drive.  The course of the road is a fundamentally straight line from Aksaray to the Toros mountains.  In 2008, the majority of the road had been upgraded to a dual carriage, but the speed limit remained at the single road level and so we were plodding along at just 90 kph.   That is harder to maintain on a flat, straight road where you can clearly see where you are going for the next hour…

Again, in 2008, the dual carriage did not extend the whole way, and the ultra modern motorway – with its prodigious use of tunnels and concrete viaducts carving a new path through the mountains through a formerly impassible valley was then just a tantalising mirage on the horizon.  We came to the end of the dual carriageway section and entered a long stretch of the old two way road. Two Lane Road Anatolian Plateau

So, until we rejoin the motorway, on the opposite side of the mountains, we commenced playing the ‘passing game’.

“Can I… should I… possibleimpossible… silly… wise… suicidal…”

What a fun game to play.

I’m only doing 90 kph, but the heavily laden lorries are trudging along at a slower rate than that, hence even I must be an active participant in the passing game.

Inevitably, in the normal course of things, I came up behind a groaning lorry belching black smoke as it was expending all its efforts to plod along.  I am travelling faster than the lorry, and as I drew near the solid obstruction of the rear of the lorry, I went to apply the brakes on our wee Fiat Uno.

It was, however, on applying moderate pressure on the pedal, that it disappeared, dropping straight to the floor.  It was like there was absolutely nothing there.  My speed remained unchanged – we continued to close on the imposing bulk of the heavily burdened lorry.

The car did not slow, but, in truth, my heart rate did increase rather dramatically at this point.

This is not a dual carriage way – I am immediately aware that I have four limited choices:  slow down (preferred option – brakes performing normally), or, failing that, hope that it is clear to pass (which is not likely), or, failing that, use the lorries back end as a brake (definitely not my desired choice), oh, there was always the options that I could just drive off the road and avoid hitting the lorry (but hitting whatever is off to the side of the road and discovering all the delights of bumping, banging and who knows what’s lying hidden in the wastes of that somewhat desolate plain).

Generally, I am a conscientious driver, paying attention and trying to be ‘full-time’ focused on driving.  But now, with my brake pedal sedately resting flat on the floor, my driving awareness had leaped up a gear…

The brake pedal lying passively on the floor tends to do that to you.

Thankfully, on my vigorous, urgent, repeated, frantic pumping of the brake pedal, some pressure returned bringing some feeling to the pedal.  It was no longer the same limp limb passively lying prostrate on the floor and the car began slowing – but not as it should.

Not at all as it should….

Our meeting with the posterior aspect of the lumbering lorry was hence postponed. 

Thankfully.

And thankfully, I did not need to attempt to pass, nor to discover what was lying out in the plain.

To say this experience was disconcerting is a bit of an understatement.

It is also needless to say that now my driving had taken on a new, urgency, an intense intensity.  I applied a whole new level of caution – my mind was actively engaged in pondering through the ramifications of ‘what do you do if the brakes fully fail…..’.

This is a rather lonely stretch of road – not much happens out there other than the odd shepherd and his flock of sheep or goats.  Nevertheless, necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I am on active look out, scanning for an unlikely repair shop.

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Correct bit of road, wrong time of year…

Because this is not our first time down this road, I anticipated the possibility of a repair shop at the top of the long hill that was looming in the distance ahead of us.

I pressed on across the plain, contemplating the implications of entering the mountains, going up the hill, cresting and beginning the descent on the opposite side.  My mind was fully occupied with these thoughts and the myriad of implications.

Don’t get me wrong, the brakes were now working – sort of, after a fashion.  But they were really, really soft.  Consistently, on first application, there would be nothing or next to nothing, but on pumping, some braking would grudgingly return.

My driving reflected this reality being clearly in the forefront of my mind.  Where possible, slow down ‘naturally’ by lessening the petrol…

We drew up and crested the long hill rising up from the plain, and before the long, narrow, twisting and winding descent to sea level on the opposite side on the mountains, we came to the little village of Ulukışla.

I  wonder what it must be like to live in a place whose name means: ‘With Great Winter’.  Thankfully, this was not winter.

Ulukışla is a shunting yard for the railway as they prepare trains for the descent and reorganise the trains that have made the laborious climb up from the coast.  There is really not much else in the village.

We drive through the village, slowly, and it is only as, with hope waning and we are passing out the other side that I see a row of vehicle repair shops.

I immediately turn in.

Now, T. sitting beside me is puzzled and wondering why as we have never, ever, gone into Ulukışla before.  It is not a very attractive village – completely run down, dumpy and dirty.  It is clearly a place that never had a ‘golden age’ – it has always been what it is…

Confession time: the truth be told, I had not pointed out the deficiency with the brakes to her, feeling there was no point in causing undue worry.

But, now, well, the cat is out of the bag.

To make matters more, uh, interesting, this day was the Zafer Bayram – or Victory Day holiday, commemorating victory in the War of Independence.  So it is a high and important holiday.  Most everything is closed for the holiday.

As I carefully drive past the various workshops and repair shops I notice that many of the shops are indeed closed (as you would expect) but a few are surprisingly open, which is good.  But most of them are Auto-Electric shops, which is of no aid to me as I do not think my problem is electrical.

I pull in to one promising looking repair shop, but, alas, no one seems about.

We depart that shop and meander along to another, where there is a chap.

I pull the car in and explain the problem.

He replied by saying that he can only adjust the brake shoes if that is the problem, but, because of the holiday, he can not get replacement parts in the village.  Adjustment he can do, but if something is broken…

His suggestion to me was that we carry on to a bigger town and have it looked at there.  This truly is not what I want to hear.  The notion of carrying on down through the mountains, on a very narrow, windy, congested two lane road crowded with a prodigious numbers of slow-moving lorries and all the while with questionable, queasy brakes was not something that I truly wished to undertake or experience.

But before he sends us off, he says he will have a little look around, check the brake fluid and such.  He then starts up the car, backs up and hits the brakes.

He gingerly drives back in and says he will take a look at it.

It is at this juncture that he feels the various hub caps and discoveries that the rear left wheel is extremely hot – in fact it was too hot to touch.

So we spent the next half hour waiting for it to cool enough for him to begin to investigate what is happening.

As we were not prepared for this degree of roadside expenses, I asked and learned where the nearest bank was.  T. was then dispatched to go off to the ATM and get some cash – we had only about 20 between us.  Even in Turkey, this was only enough, in 2008 for a simple meal – today, it will only stretch to a couple cups of coffee.

When things were cool enough to handle, he removes the tyre, the brake drum and it all seemed okay (I guess).  He then pulls the bearing and greases and re-fits it.

Then he re-adjusts the hand brake.

Finally, he checks the other side which he determines is good.

In the end, the only explanation he could suggest was that the hand brake was tightened a wee bit too much (in Istanbul) which could result in there being a bit of contact between the brake shoes and drum.  This friction could result in the drums running hot.  When things get hot, they,  well, expand and get larger and hence things would naturally get tighter and therefore run hotter which in turn…. a vicious, self sustaining circle.

Only much later did I consider that maybe, that morning in setting off, I failed to release the hand brake fully.  I released it to be sure, but, if it wasn’t 100% released, then, as it had been tightly adjusted, this could have been sufficient to engage a bit of friction, which ultimately was the cause of my, er, excitement on the road.  Hmm….

Anyway, what he said at the time seemed a reasonable and plausible explanation, which also gave a degree of confidence to head out into the mountainous roads and heavy traffic with far less trepidation.

Therefore, as a result of waiting for about an hour and all the work, dismantling, reassembling, greasing and adjusting that he had completed, the brakes were back to feeling normal.

The charge for his labours, on this high holiday – 20.

As I drove away, I experienced how utterly delightful it is, when you put your foot on the brake pedal and it virgoriously resists you.  How pleasant when it does not immediately flee to the floor.  How truly joyous that on the application of the brake pedal, the automobile begins to slow in accordance with the amount of pressure applied to the now normally resistant brake pedal.

How often I have leapt into the car, fired it up and pelted off without giving even a moments thought as to the stopping exercise.  It is great when the car thunders into life and propels me down the roadway – but it is equally, actually more important, for me to be able to bring it to a safe stop when required.

It seems, in life, it is all too easy that some essential, but boring, banal elements can quietly be taken for granted – commonly, we only notice them when they cease to be.

A challenge then, is to be alive to all aspects of life, appreciating and being thankful for those ‘mundane’ and yet essential aspects.

(written January 2012)

We reside in a dusty backwater of a town with a population nominally posted at 509,000.  This is rather deceptive as number is for the greater or metropolitan city – our actual part which was before the restructuring, consisted of the formerly much smaller city of ‘Antakya’ with a population of around 200,000. 

CC BY-SA 2.0 it, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=300399
Seleuceo I Nicatore – founder of Antioch

Regardless, for in reality, it feels more like a large village than a proper city.

This city, in ancient times was known as Antioch, which was founded, or rather, re-founded by a general of Alexander the Great in about 293 B.C..

Through the passing millennia, through changes in empires, ruling powers, languages, strife, turmoil and not the infrequent and violent earthquakes, the name has remained for all intents and purposes the same.  Over time it has morphed into the Turkish rendition of Antakya which is still very similar in sound to the original.

However, after being known as some derivative of this name since its re-founding some 2,300 years ago, it has now, in the last ten years or so, been rebranded as ‘Hatay’.  I’ve not found a meaning for ‘Hatay’ other than the name of the region and now the city where we reside.

Additionally, it is notable that in spite of the history that it was in this very city, some 2,000 years ago that ‘followers of the Way’ were first described as Christians, that currently there are but a small number of churches in the city.

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Greek Orthodox Church

The largest of these small churches, is the Greek Orthodox Church, home of the ancient Christian tradition dating all the way back to the time of the apostles.  Then there is an extremely tiny Roman Catholic Church.  Additionally, there is a small Korean Methodist Church.  Last, but by no means least, one, also small, Turkish Protestant Church.

The physical home for this Turkish Protestant Church – the Antakya Christian Church, is a rented, old courtyard house, modestly modified to serve the needs to the fellowship.

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Antakya Christian Church

Like all courtyard houses in Antakya, the inner sanctum of the property is hidden from the street by a massive, three metre high stone wall.  I suppose in the days when these homes were constructed, they really did believe that a man’s home was his castle.

IMG_5288Typically, entrance is afforded by one single, solitary steel door.

Entering the Antakya Christian Church through its substantial and

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the courtyard of the Antkaya Christian Church

reinforced street door, you find yourself in a rectangularly shaped, 11 metres long, and 4½  metres wide, stone clad courtyard. On the right side there is a primitive, poorly constructed wing hosting two small multi-purpose rooms followed by a minuscule kitchen and finally the toilet. On the opposite side, across the courtyard is the left wing, constructed of finely finished dressed stone and looking the part of a fine old Antiochian house.

Today this wing houses the main meeting room. Formerly this space was divided into two ‘fancy’ rooms but over the years, with the landlords permission, it has been merged into one larger space with seating for about 70 souls (75 in a squeeze).

Sunday by Sunday the space is more than adequate, however, on special occasions the space can be rather restrictive – and so an idea was born.

DSC01729 (1)

Currently there is a large, rather fruitful orange tree living and dominating the far end of the courtyard, but we reasoned that if we were to put a roof over the ⅔ of the courtyard remaining, then when the weather is inclement, this space could be used for children activities and, after meeting, also utilised for fellowship and drinking tea.

Tea drinking is an important social activity in Turkey.

Christmas was approaching and the church – that is the people who constitute the church – were planning on inviting those with whom we have had contact in the past year, plus the neighbours where we live, plus the neighbours near the church building – all people we have had dealings with and built a degree of personal rapport with. And so, anticipating a larger than normal number of people for the celebrations, this added a new impetus for the construction of a roof over the courtyard – and if possible, in time for Christmas.

However, there were just a few obstacles to be overcome for this to be a reality.

  • First we needed the landlord’s consent which was two-fold; consent for the actual construction of the roof and, most importantly, agreement from the landlord to off-set some of the expense of the roof against rent – after all, it will be part of his property.
  • Then a quote on the cost of fitting a roof – it had to be within our means
  • Finally, we desired, if possible, for it to be built before Christmas.

A rather tall order.

We prayed and asked the landlord, but he declined to accept a modest reduction in the rent for the next two years to off-set the cost.

Falling at the first hurdle as we had, it looked like it was a ‘dead deal’ rather than a ‘done deal’.

As we waited on the Lord, we felt it was right to offer the landlord a modified proposal, which was to hold the rent at its current level for the coming two years (meaning, no annual increase in rent). In this way, at least a part of the cost of the roof would be recovered in not having our rent increased for two years.  If this would be acceptable, the cost would be shared between the landlord and us.

To this proposal the landlord consented and so the first hurdle was cleared.

Now to get hard quotes for the work.  There was still sufficient time to get the task done before our special Christmas event.

I contacted a welder we had used in the past and was commissioned to meet him at the church, explain the task and get a hard quote. The hard quote was essential as we can not afford to have price creep – we need to know what it will cost up-front – with no surprises.

The welder came at the agreed time. The landlord also came. We talked about the task and discussed how it could be done. In the course of this discussion our landlord took a rather strong dislike to the chap – he leans over to me and muttered “Where did you find this guy?

It was not a positive query.

The fact is, he had done some work for us at our home and we were reasonably happy – happy enough with his workmanship – but clearly our landlord was not impressed with his persona.  To be fair, not everyone is enraptured with him – our landlords reaction was not unique.

We came to one of the finer points for the roof, how to deal with our flourishing, young olive tree, situated just inside the street door immediately on the left hand side.

Earlier, this flourishing olive tree had become a point of contention with the landlord – a point of contention that we felt had been fully resolved.

DSC01730It was some years ago that we had planted this olive tree in the courtyard of the church and it had flourished.  Mind you, it had yet to bear olives, but was a green, leafy, pleasant, shady addition to the courtyard.

But, it is to be noted that in its flourishing, it had now grown too high for the proposed roof. I noted that we would need to trim the top of the tree – that is the tree we had planted.

But the landlord adamantly declared: “No, it will not be touched.

He was emphatically emphatic. Our landlord could be very emphatic when he wished.

It is clear that we cannot leave a hole in the roof to facilitate the tree – it needs to be a complete roof in order to keep the rain out. Therefore, I rang the elder and we agreed that if the tree has to stay at that height, the project cannot go forward – if we are to do this project, it is either we do it right, or not at all.

Consequently, I told the welder that we had decided not to do the project and he departed.

Truthfully, I was rather downhearted at this unexpected turn of events, but, there was no choice – the landlord, well, is the landlord – it is, ultimately, his property.

The project is dead – there will be no roof.  Result: we will continue as we have been doing, so nothing has been lost except the hope and expectation.

However, as soon as the welder had departed, the landlord informed me that I needed to be at the church the next day as we will engage in reorganising the courtyard with a view to building the roof.

Say what?” I think. “One minute the project is absolutely, completely and summarily scuppered and now we are re-organising the courtyard greenery to facilitate the construction of the roof….

Rather bemused, I agreed.

The following day, a simple, hard working, rather religious labourer had been engaged by the landlord; engaged by the landlord but to be paid by the church.

His tasking for the day, under the watchful eye of the landlord, was the reorganising of the greenery.

However, before commencing work on the living, green things, his first task was to remove an old tree stump from the far end of the courtyard, under the shade of the five metre tall orange tree.

The tree stump was a stubborn, well entrenched remnant of a quince tree which had dominated but not graced that end of the courtyard.

The labourer struggled mightily with the stump. He didn’t have the correct tools for the task, but he was dogged and determined, utilising those tools which were at his disposal. Whenever he was particularly frustrated, he would exclaim “gavur” which being translated, means “infidel” in English. It perplexed me as to what I, in his view a full-blooded infidel, had to do with the inanimate stump.  What was the connection between me (or my ilk) and this passive, lifeless, wooden remnant of the once unappreciated quince tree – mind you it was proving to be very well rooted, determined, recalcitrant remnant.

These little verbal pejoratives are laced throughout the culture and language, quietly tainting peoples view and fouling their understanding of us as Christians.

In time the ‘infidel’ stump submitted to his labours and was grudgingly  dragged from its former resting place. Its final fate was to be given to a neighbour to be used as fuel for their wood stove in the coming winter.

Maybe the quince tree would find momentary appreciation yet.

Then it was the turn of the olive tree – yes, ‘the olive tree’ that the night before the landlord had adamantly, emphatically proscribed it being pruned let alone the removing of it to a new location. Now this very same man, our landlord, ordered it to be uprooted and replanted in the now vacant space left by the evicted quince stump.

To add insult to injury, midway through the relocation, whilst lying helpless on the ground, the olive tree was well and truly, one might say, savagely pruned – far beyond what we had ever contemplated, envisioned or suggested.

At this point I understood: when the landlord objected the night before, it was his way of saying, “I don’t want this man to build the roof…” and not, “I do not want the olive tree to be pruned…”

Hmm… a little lesson in cultural communication there…

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The pomegranate tree was next to swap ends of the courtyard. Then the rather anaemic grape vine was summarily removed and consigned to history.

Finally, the orange tree was vigorously trimmed.

DSC02377At the end of the day there remained no impediment for a roof to be constructed to cover ⅔ of the courtyard and redeem the space which is lost in winter to rain and in summer to the intense Antiochian sun.

The landlord then arranged for a welder, a welder that he approved of, to come and discuss the project. The man arrived and gave us a firm, hard quote and followed on by writing up a detailed description of what he would be doing and he signed it. A written and signed statement of what the work would entail – I had never had that happen to me in Turkey before – this seemed a good sign.

Whilst there still was just enough time before Christmas for the roof to be constructed, T. and I were about to leave for the UK and so I could not be there to superintend the actual construction.

But, we had a written description of the work, and the landlord would be there, and it was in his nature to ‘supervise’, and it was being done by the landlord’s chosen welder – so there was some reassurance in that.

As we had agreed the project, in my capacity as co-treasurer for the church, I had to hand over from Church funds, a goodly portion of the price to facilitate the purchase of the necessary materials. I understood that work would commence on Monday and be completed by Tuesday or Wednesday at the very latest.

The task would be completed days before Christmas.  I was happy.

On Sunday, after preaching in the meeting, T. and I left for Istanbul in a borrowed car. We broke the trip into two parts, stopping at a near half way point in Aksaray on the vast interior Anatolian plain.  We arrived in Istanbul on Monday evening.

My first task on arrival was to ring and learn what progress had been made.  It was then that I learned that the welder hadn’t come, but I was assured, he would be coming on Tuesday.  I’m still happy, but now mixed with heavy dollop of consternation.

And so, on Tuesday I rang again only to be informed that the welder had failed to come yet again.  Although I must add that, reportedly, all the materials had been purchased and preparations at his workshop had been accomplished. I subsequently learned that on Wednesday they got a good start and erected the bulk of the steel but on Thursday the rains settled in.

Now, even I can understand a reticence to do electric arc-welding in the rain.

So work had come to a complete and absolute halt due to rain.

Time was no longer running out before Christmas – it had now run out.

The rains persistently continued through out the rest of the week – not uncommon in winter in Antakya, and the very reason we desired the roof in the first place.

By faith we were expecting a full building for the special Christmas celebrations. Invitations had been printed and given to people we had met or know – not blind, mass distribution, but focused on those we know. The roof remained unfinished and could not now be completed for Christmas.

And so we prayed.

The day of our Christmas Celebrations dawned overcast and rainy.

But at the appointed hour the rain ceased, the clouds lifted and parted.  The day brightened. There was a wonderful, dry interval that encompassed the time of the meeting and fellowship afterwards.

2011-12-26-331979_328171080546433_567032000_o.jpgWe wanted a roof to keep the rain off, but the Lord of the rain took care of it in His own way.

On the day, there were 85 souls present – 36 guests, 20 believers from another meeting, and our own folks. The building was brimming full to capacity, actually, well beyond capacity, as ten people had to stand.

Because it was not raining, after the meeting people could spill out into the courtyard and drink tea and chat. So we had room for the visitors to comfortably visit and chat afterwards without being cramped or crowded.

The roof was completed on the Monday following Christmas – ready for our normal Sunday meetings and special occasions as and when they happen.  It will be a blessing and expand our limited available space.

God does all things well and this was a poignant reminder. Our goal, in this case, was a place for the visitors to, uh, visit, and consequently we felt that this required, or so we thought, a roof. On the day, the ‘roof’ was still an unfulfilled promise.

Yet He accomplished that goal without a roof, hence keeping our focus and trust where it really, always, ought to be – on Him.