I try and walk every day with my aim of accomplishing at least 10,000 paces.

Ten thousands paces is a number bandied about as a good, healthy goal, but this first came about as a marketing name for a Japanese pedometer (!). Since then most studies since have endorsed this as a reasonable goal for most – too much for some, too little for others, but conventionally it is good as a broad ‘rule of thumb’ guide.

In any event, my goal is 10,000+ per day, but not in a legalistic, ‘absolutely must accomplish’ manner.

I have a variety of routes around the city and I endeavour to accomplish various tasks in the course of my travels.

In my ramblings I have observed a variety of things including Urban Renewal projects whereby older, weary, unsafe apartment buildings are being systematically rendered into dust and debris to be replaced by new, modern, earthquake-resistant constructions. I have seen the river reduced to a stinking, green morass due to the lack of water at the height of summer and I’ve seen it swelling with the prodigious abundance caused by torrential rains in the winter months. I’ve observed the Water Authority digging and laying a large pipe in the base of the river. I do not know why it has been laid, or to what purpose it will be put – but after two years, it now lies, buried and hidden in the bottom of the riverbed. And, there are banners displayed about town ‘promising’ that the river will be returned to its blue, non-reeking past by next summer (2018).

And, in my meanderings, I came across some renovations of the ground floor corner, front and side garden of an apartment building – something was being prepared. Over the course of weeks, slowly stone cladding was laid on the floor in the front and side of the building, the corresponding walls of the building were decorated with a brick façade and the corner section, the bit that is actually in the fabric of the apartment building, a service counter and various pieces of equipment were installed.

All of that is normal enough, but what caught my eye was the lack of, er, well, a ceiling, a protective roof and exterior walls with doors, in the place where the front and side gardens had been – that is, 75% of the footprint of the shop was exposed to the elements.

I had discerned that it was destined to be a coffee shop, providing light snacks and a selection of hot and cold beverages. But, at the end of the day, there was no way to ‘close up shop’, it was fully exposed.

I thought, surely, they will put shutters up, or a screen, or bars or something around the essential food preparation area which is situated in the building… but, alas, there were no shutters, no fittings for bars nor any way to enclose this area at the end of the business day.

Strange” I thought.

The day of their Grand Opening came and went, and the cafe / coffee shop was, wide open and unrestrained.

I must say that I found this rather intriguing.

Finally, I could contain myself no more and I broke my walk and stepped up – there really was no ‘in’ to step into, and I enquired as to what they do when the business of the day is over.

The answer was simplicity itself: “One of the employees stays on the premises overnight – he becomes a night watchman.”

I realised, then, that like many things in Turkey, they were ‘open’ but the project was not yet completed.

A good example of this is our local airport. For years there were visible works. The runway, the access road, some diverse buildings. But once they had all the absolutely essential elements in place – the electronics, radar, airport fire brigade, runway, lights, support systems, all the indispensable and vital elements, they constructed a small, basic building to act as a temporary terminal and ‘opened’ the airport.

It would be two years before the proper, large, modern terminal would be constructed and ready.

As time passed, they added to the simple two lane road connecting the airport to the main road with an additional second, parallel road and so, when fully finished, it formed a four lane divided carriageway.

In the initial phase, there were few flights, and so they could work all the kinks and teething problems out before it was fully completed and more passengers would be flowing through on a daily basis.

Very clever methinks.

Turks have truly mastered the phased construction methodology and so things are up and functioning before they are fully finished. And so, in a similar manner, those creating this coffee shop brought it up to an acceptable level, and together with a night watchman, they opened for business.

But the finishing of the shop would slowly continue over the course on the following year.

They opened in summer, when it literally, never rains in Antakya – yes, you may get a very rare, once in a blue moon, rain, but it really is a unique exception. However, before the onset of September, when at sometime in that month the first rain of autumn / winter will descend, they arranged for some retractable, high quality – luxury – roof awnings to be installed. They have built in lights and are extremely well made.

They are electrically powered retractable roof awnings – they open and close at the push of a button. It was clear this ‘retractable’ roof would provide the essential protection in the winter months from both the drizzly rains and the torrential flooding downpours. Of course, in the summer months, they will provide blessèd relief from the intense, scorching, Antiochean sun.

Additionally, these ‘retractable roof awnings’ also enabled the coffee shop / cafe to be considered ‘outdoors’ and hence exempt from the ‘indoor smoking ban’; the customers are free to imbibe in their smoking addiction. This is a massive business plus because smoking has been banned inside restaurants since July 2009. And, remarkably, this ban has been universally respected.

Since that time all enclosed restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and such are smoke-free in Turkey. Whilst this has been greatly appreciated by the growing numbers of non-smokers in society, it has left the smokers frustrated and fuming.

But, here, in this cafe, those ensnared by the entanglements of tobacco, are free to sit, relishing in the beverage (non-alcoholic) of their choice and engage in a relaxed, comfortable chat, and, in this outside-in cafe, if they so desire, they can light up at any point it takes their fancy or are forced to by the power of their tobacco craving.

This is a unique selling feature.

In time walls consisting of powered glass panels, which could automatically be raised or lowered, were fitted. These formed the exterior walls. These can be raised, to protect from the rains or the driving, bitter, cold winds of winter and lowered, to allow the delightfully cooling breezes of summer to pass through the shop.

They even fitted proper, lockable doors to the front of the shop.

At the end of the major works, the coffee shop / cafe is now weather tight, and the need for a night watchman is greatly diminished. The need is diminished, but they still have a night watchman, I asked, for although the shop is enclosed and the roof is made of a strong, sturdy , flexible awning material, it could still be pierced.

At the very least now, with the walls, firmly in the ‘up’ position at night and the roof tightly closed and weathertight, it is a more secure proposition – and a more amenable locale for the watchman to, er, well, watch in…

As the months passed, they have continued to polish and refine the interior décor. They have installed misting fans for the summer, fancy, mosaic like lights for decorative lighting and special, under-table heaters to provide directed heat for the patrons in winter.

The shop, now, after the passage of time, actually a fair amount of time, has been completed and the space is fully fitting out. Now, when I see tradesmen, it is not something new being fitted, but essential maintenance to ensure that all continues to function as desired.

I find it interesting to note that even when the walls are fully up and the roof is tightly closed, people freely smoke… To my eye, and nose, the space is now fully ‘enclosed’ and feels like ‘inside’. I ponder if it is still ‘legal’ to light up. I wonder if the space would now be more accurately described as ‘indoors’. I suppose it can be argued that the space is still to be identified as ‘outdoors’ for at the push of a button or two, it can easily be wholly outdoors.

Regardless as to the legal technicalities, at the end of the day, functionally, it is treated as a smoking friendly zone.

I tend to frequent this particular establishment, not because of the smoking or the freedom to light up – I find the revolting stench of cigarette smoke decidedly off-putting – but because I have developed a rapport with the owners and the staff. I come by – generally at off times – when there are few other patrons and precious little smoke fouling that air. Oh, and they make a rather nice de-caffeinated cappuccino.

It seems that I am the only customer who enjoys a nice de-caffeinated beverage. I asked.

There are times when it is cold, cloudy, a light rain mizzling and the retractable roof and glass walls are all tightly closed up, and the cigarette smoke, lazily drifts in the space and it is inescapable.

Well, I grew up in a time and in a home where my mum and dad smoked. My early working life was before the current enlightened era; in those days everyone, all smokers smoked everywhere, unrestricted, inside, outside, work places, offices, buses, cafes, restaurants, absolutely everywhere.

Seriously, it was not that it seemed or felt like it was ‘everywhere’, it really was everywhere.

I do not enjoy the obnoxious, gagging, stench, but I am not driven away by it either – in the old days, you had to accommodate it as it was inescapable and I guess I just fall into old habits.

In any event, as I said, I tend to go at times when there are few patrons – so, even if the roof and walls are fully buttoned up, often, although not always, I can be blissfully unaware of anyone smoking.

Over the time that I’ve been going there, I’ve noticed that there are some people who seem to be always ‘there’. I assumed they are either partners in the business or backers of the enterprise or relatives of the owners.

As we have recognised one another, we have chatted, and they have come to know this crazy foreigner who comes and sits and writes away over a hot cuppa and I have come to recognise the various players.

In the course of our time together, I have discerned that they are of the Sunni division of Islam – the more orthodox branch.

They, in turn, have learned that I am both a Christian and that I am associated with a local Christian fellowship here in Antakya.

Recently, I was sitting, enjoying my beverage, doing some writing, when an individual who once, for a period of time, had come to our fellowship, approached and sat down beside me.

She is a single mum and is struggling with her teenage son. What single mum, or, for that matter, what married mum doesn’t have struggles with their teenage son?

She shared some of her struggles and a recent event when she, in frustration and anger, stumbled and struck her son in exasperation and helplessness and his general, surly attitude. She was asking what she should do.

Well, in my world view, the problem is neither unusual nor is there an easy, ‘off the shelf solution’ that can be drawn upon to sort things out.

I was open and honest with her and told her where, I believe, real help, real hope, real solutions can be found. Be warned, if you ask me, you get my answers.

So, I found myself, in this coffee shop, telling her Where and in Whom the answers can be found. I spoke candidly, frankly, honestly and sometimes rather bluntly…

I was sincerely speaking with her irregardless of the staff and one of the owners/backers being nearby… in any event, in Turkey, very little is done secretly.

I was sitting in the coffee shop, writing, when she came to me. I was visible. I was available. She approached me, shared a wee bit of her burden and asked her questions. I responded and answered her.

This, I believe, is all part of being ‘Light’ and ‘Salt’ in our world. Not doing something ‘special’ but going about our normal lives, and being who we are in Christ. Remembering: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15 NIVUK

What will she do? I do not know, that is for her to decide.

Often our lives, like this coffee shop, which, although not complete and all tricked out, was open for business, and so, we, are alive and functioning and interacting with one another, although we are not complete nor finished, there is still an on-going work in our lives – always learning, ever changing.

I know this is true in my life.

The venue where the Antakya Christian Church gathers is a rented former courtyard house in the oldest part of the city of Antakya. It is not overly large – but we’ve been gathering in this location for over ten years now and, well, it feels like home.

It is known in the immediate community, and over the years, many have come and visited with us there, sharing in our special occasions, Easter and Christmas and many other events.

But it is rented. The rent, as rents do, continues to increase year on year. In the beginning, the fellowship was able to meet the rent. However, over the years, we’ve passed the point where the believers are able to do so; every month there is now a short fall.

In former times, the landlord, a Turkish, ‘Greek Orthodox’ gentlemen whose house is adjacent, would provide his large garden and its most important feature, in the midst of his garden, a large water feature for Fellowship baptisms. It was within this water feature that a number of believers have been baptised.

Sadly, our landlord has passed-on and with his passing, so has passed the opportunity to use his ‘water feature’ as our impromptu baptismal pool.

Recently, a brother declared his desire to obey the Lord in the waters of baptism and that raised the question of where were we to do this?

In the past, in addition to the landlord’s water feature we have conducted baptisms in the Mediterranean Sea. The sea sounds like a idyllic place to be baptised, but the reality is, it is over thirty kilometres away and large sections of the beach are subject to a vicious rip-tide. Added to this is the complication of transporting everyone who would like to be there to the baptismal location, thirty or more kilometres there and naturally, another thirty or so kilometres back. A local venue is our clear preference.

As it is our understanding and practice that baptism is by immersion; a bucket or font does not fill the bill.

One possible solution was to construct a ‘water feature’, that is a baptismal pool, at the building we rent for the church, but:

• we are renters – we may have to move at some time in the future

• the property is small, and to put an adequately sized ‘water feature’ in the stone clad courtyard would dominate the courtyard to such an extent that it would impede our fellowship times, fellowship meals, and the children’s work

• we can not built the baptismal pool indoors as, well, there really isn’t any space to do so within the church building.

And so was born the notion of building a ‘water feature’ in the courtyard of our home, which belonging to the elder and will always be available for our use, and use it for Fellowship baptisms. Our courtyard is larger, and whilst the Baptismal Pool will dominate it, it would not impede the activities that occur in the courtyard.

So, we embraced this solution with the desire to have it built and established quickly to enable our brother to be baptised.

Two young people from the United Kingdom came down to help with the refugee ministry and, they declared, in any way they could be of a help.

We took them at their word.

They helped with the refugee work. They helped with the children’s work. And they helped with this baptismal pool project.

We felt that if we built the baptismal pool on top of the courtyard floor and with it being deep enough for a baptism, it would stand rather tall – too tall. Consequently, it was decided that we would drop the bottom of the pool lower than the courtyard floor. In this way, with part of the pool below the level of the courtyard, less would be required to stand proud – the required depth would be created without being too high in the courtyard.

To go lower than the courtyard required breaking open the floor and digging down sixty odd centimetres. This was no mean task.

Digging the pit is a task in and of itself, but it is not just the digging, but also the bagging up of the spoil and then lugging it out of the way, that makes this such a laborious task. With over one and a half cubic meters of compressed soil, broken up and dumped into bags, this equated to a disproportionately large number of bags.

The need to dispose of all the bags was a constant pressure dogging me. It is not enough to create the hole, it was not enough to bag the spoil, at some point it would need to be dragged, lugged, cajoled or otherwise removed from the courtyard and loaded (let the reader understand ‘lifted’, hoisted, manhandled) up into a lorry for transportation and disposal… somewhere.

The courtyard tiles were carefully lifted and cleaned as they were needed elsewhere, and our two, hearty and hail young people threw themselves at the task of excavating the hole.

Slowly, layer by layer, the pit, about 1.70 meters by 1.86 meters rectangle, was excavated. Beneath the courtyard tiles there was a sand layer of about five to seven centimetres deep – we bagged this relatively clean sand up separately as we felt it may be required later in the build (it was). The sand had been laid over a compacted layer of stones. Together this formed the base of the current courtyard tiles. Below this, as we dug deeper, we passed through various levels until, at about 60 centimetres down, we encountered an old level surface. This appeared to be constructed of cement, so, it would not be really old. As this was at about out desired depth, we stopped excavating.

I confess, it was rather satisfying to look down and see a smooth, flat bottom to the pit.

However, it was less than satisfying to look all around at the bags and bags and bags of spoil. All the bags were hand filled.  Some were on the light side, easy to shift, and others were beyond my ability to shift without extreme difficulty.

It was important that the sides of the hole be perpendicular and we did work at it to ensure they were so. And, to a degree, they were… to a degree… but, in reality, they really were not.

The young people, having expended their energies and sweat, returned to the country from whence they came and the labour baton was passed to a Turkish workman who does this sort of rough construction – forms, hand mixed cement, block walls and such.

He informed me that he had experience in this kind of thing, that he had made a large pool for his children and their friends to romp around in and it has never leaked.

I found that very encouraging.

He convinced me that he was the one to do the task and besides, I dreaded the notion of mixing a lot of cement by hand, and I have no real experience laying blocks.

Before he began his task of pouring a floor in the pit and building the sides, he jumped in the hole and measured the top and the bottom of the hole. He then declared that the top was larger than the bottom. True, my eye, which is not very accurate, did note a discrepancy.  His measured discrepancy was significant – accumulative over two sides was about 15 centimetres, on the one axis and the same on the other axis.

Now that is a large discrepancy, about seven centimetres per side.

In my ignorance, I thought he would trim the sides of the pit, creating more spoil, and make them truly perpendicular; that this approach would be easier, better, and result in a stronger structure.

I assumed he would make the bottom measurements the same as the top, with straight, perpendicular sides, and that then he would pour the floor and then build the walls.

The measurements at the top of the pit are true, framed by the courtyard tiles. To make the sides right it would mean excavating the bottom reaches of the sides to extract the excess soil – I acknowledge that this would be an added task, but I did not perceive that this was an overly taxing or difficult task.

Alas, no…

His first chosen task was to ignore the wonky sides and dig a hole in a corner to accommodate the sump pump. A sump pump was required as we could not put a drain in, partly because of the depth and mostly because we did not want to tear up any more of the courtyard tiles than necessary.

Leaving the sides as they were, his next task was to cut and put some steel rods in the bottom of the hole and then to hand-mix sand and gravel and cement in a pile on the floor of the courtyard. The idea is you roughly turn the pile over and in so doing, you mix the cement into the sand and gravel. Then you make a depression in the middle of the pile with walls formed out of the sand, gravel and cement, creating a lake-like basin. This space is then flooded with water.

Once sufficient water has pooled in the ‘lake’, you carefully chop slices off the interior side of the walls, that is the walls which are all there is holding the water in. These delicate slices of sand, cement and gravel are drawn into the centre and mixed with the water.

Thus, in this manner, slowly, slowly, the original dry pile, has been turned over and flooded and mixed until it is a large sloppy, soupy mixture on the floor of the courtyard.

To cement the sump pump depression, he first, carefully, put some of this cement mixture in the bottom of the newly excavated hole and then placed an old paint pail on top of the concrete. He then poured the cement around the sides. In this way, it would be encased in cement – the plastic paint pail would remain in-situ and provide the venue for the sump pump.

Then the remainder of the cement mixture was poured, pushed and coaxed so as to fill the bottom of the hole, carefully lifting the steel bars off the floor of the pit in the process.

This task being done, he departed.

On the following day with the cement now set, our rough builder set about building the walls of our Baptismal pool.

I did wonder if he would just make the pool smaller, using the bottom width of the pool his guide and build the walls straight up from there. This would result in a smaller pool and a gap between the tiles and the wall.

That was not his plan…

The constructing of these walls was one of the more intimidating aspect of the work for me… the walls need to be right, true and well built as they will, after all, be charged with holding in a tonne or more of water.

Turkish building block – Tuğla –

The chosen building material for the walls was ‘tuğla’, a special block made out of clay and formed with a hollow, lattice interior structure. These blocks are first sun dried and then baked hard in a special oven. This is the ubiquitous building material in Turkey for walls.

They are also some what brittle. Personally, I am not so keen on them, but, as I said, they are rather ubiquitous in Turkey. They are also comparatively cheap.

Now, our rough builder had been at pains to point out to me that the sides of the pit were not perpendicular. In assessing the problem he had determined that the solution to this problem was to knock off bits of the block, that is to reduce the size of the blocks laid at the bottom of the pit so that when the wall reaches the courtyard floor level we would be able to carry on using full sized blocks.

In other words, he decided to make up for the difference in the size of the hole (smaller bottom, larger top) by reducing the size of the blocks in the bottom of the walls of the hole.

I wrote this twice as it was not what I expected, nor desired.

In this way, at the courtyard level, the blocks will be their full 15 centimetres (full sized), but, as he was aggressively knocking half of the block away (sometimes more than half) at the bottom this meant that the bottom row of blocks were a mere seven centimetres wide.

I didn’t say anything partly because I reasoned that as the soil is the backdrop to the walls, the thinner wall will have nowhere to go, the soil behind it will hold it place… but, I wasn’t happy with his methodology.

Alas, it also transpired that the special hole for the sump pump was poorly located and actually came under the path of the wall – even the curtailed, reduced wall blocks. I feared that if this was not properly addressed at some point, then it would provide a weak point – an easy path for the water to escape from our enclosure.

Now, throughout the two days of rough construction, including the essential building of the block walls, our rough builder had brought along a ‘helper’, someone less skilled than he to do the simple tasks and the basic grunt work.

After the walls were, er, ah… custom trimmed and built up to the level of the courtyard, the rough builder departed as he declared that he had some other business that he had to attend to. He was adamant that he would be gone ‘no more than half an hour.’

Now, culturally, when a Turkish speaker gives a time reference it is not intended to be a precise, digital reference. That is to say, “half an hour” is not intended to mean thirty minutes duration. It is more the emotional intent – what he was saying was he would be gone a relatively short while, do not worry…

He left his semi-skilled ‘helper’ behind to carry on the task of building the walls up to the finished height.

In the event, we didn’t see the rough builder again until the task was completed and he had to return to pick up his helper, his tools, oh, and to be paid…

Now, to be honest, the helper worked to the best of his limited ability. It is true that the size and shape of the finished product will be a lasting monument to his skill set. Suffice it to say, a master block layer he, most definitely, was not.

At this point I also learned that it seems our rough builder has a tendency to over purchase material – to avoid running short when doing a build. The problem for me is that he charges for all the material that he has brought, used or otherwise!

Now, I acknowledge that I should pay for what was used, this is as you would expect. But it was a… er… surprise for me that I was expected to pay for all the extra that he didn’t use. He had no intention of carting the surplus away, and some of it was brought in preparation for the plasterer, nevertheless this was not what we needed, wanted or expected.

Indeed, it was a rather unpleasant turn of events.

However, on the positive side, he did load all the spoil; lugging, dragging, lifting, hefting, hoisting it all on to his lorry and then he deposited it somewhere. As I said, some of the bags were a doddle to lift, and others were beyond what Health and Safety would ever condone being hoisted by anyone.

Removing all the spoil almost made his exorbitant charge worth it – almost, but not quite. I still smart when I think of what he was paid. It was the agreed price… no one to blame but me – I agreed after all…  There are times when I make bad deals… and this was one.

Now with the walls so built, it does not look like anything that could hold the waters of the baptismal pool in place. I was informed and assured, by the rough builder, that the plasterer, would line the inside of the pool with a mesh and use a special plaster that is more or less water proof. He was adamant that this combination would be able to withstand the pressures of the water.

From our projects in renovating our flat, we knew a Master Plasterer. He had been sent out to work as a child and hence, learned his trade the old fashioned way. On the plus side, he really is a master of his art, but, on the other side, he didn’t choose this profession and he doesn’t really enjoy it.

Currently he has found other employment, which still involves his plastering skills, but the work is more varied, and most importantly, the pay is more consistent. We called him to come and examine our project. In his examination, complete with a tape measure and a level he found that there were quite a few challenges before him.

It seems on careful inspection that the new block walls were not straight, were not level, and the structure was not square. It could have been; actually, it should have been, but, alas, it was not. The shape of the pool had its own, unique, kinks and quirks.

The task for the Master Plasterer was to try and straighten out and correct some of the fundamental flaws and make the top of the walls level.

On the day he came, our first task was to go and source the essential mesh which would reinforce the walls… but as we traipsed from shop to shop, he couldn’t get the mesh he wanted. In the end he settled on some plastic coated wire mesh – good stuff, but harder to work with.

Initially he said he would put the mesh on the inside and on the outside of the walls of the pool – he had measured and had me purchase sufficient material for this.

Affixing this metal mesh proved to be an unexpectedly difficult and labour intensive task. At times it seemed as if the wire mesh had a mind of its own. Even once it was fitted and secured in place, it would sometimes find it within itself strength to pop away from the wall, or to refuse to stay in the selected position that had been determined. The plasterer used nails to try and keep it fixed in place until the plaster has been applied… sometimes to no avail.

He had arranged that we would have ‘black sand’ (brought by the rough builder) for this stage of the project. He said it is the best for this task. Also, he sourced a special package of something or other which was to be mixed with the cement and sand and will make the finished plaster, water… er… resistant…

After wrangling the mesh into place and standing in the pool, he expertly applied the ‘mud’ to the walls, embedding the mesh. The notion is, the wall provides form and shape and basic strength, but it is the wall, plus the mesh, plus the plaster in combination that will, ultimately, be sufficient to contain the water. As the water pushes outwards, the mesh, embedded in the plaster, will counter this powerful force. Hence, it is the wall augmented and strengthened by the mesh and plaster which are reinforcing one another, which will resist the outward pressure of the water; kind of like a Chinese finger puzzle – the more pressure, the stronger it seems to be.

As he worked, it became clear that at one place the plaster is just thick enough to bury the mesh, at another it is three or four centimetres thicker to make up for a wobble in the wall. It is a challenge to make right something that is, well, rather wrong.

When the interior was done, he carefully extradited himself and was about to commence the exterior walls. Now, initially, he said he would apply the mesh to the inner and outer sides… now, because of the difficulty in working with this plastic coated metal mesh, he suggested this was not really necessary.

I disagreed.

I could be in error; indeed, the wire mesh may not be required on the outside; truly, at the end of the day, it may offer little structural support. But as we had the mesh, and as our initial plan was to lay it on both sides and as we had the workman to fit it, and as he was being paid for the task, I insisted.

He fitted the mesh.

In this way, all the mesh purchased was used – nothing left over.

He then applied the plaster, smoothing it, levelling it, aiming to make the best base for the finish which will be ceramic tile on the interior and stone cladding on the exterior.

He had to add more plaster to the top of the wall than he desired and felt was acceptable. But, as the walls were not level and they really needed to be.

At the end of the day, he was both done and done in. The pool looked much better – this is just the foundation for the finish, but it looks like something now.

As he was worn out, and as we had the ‘excess building material’ that the rough builder had delivered and I paid for, it was agreed that I would take the Master Plasterer home (he lives in a nearby village) in the church van. We would also take along the building materials that were extraneous to our needs. We know that he could make good use of the building material and we appreciate him and he did put the mesh on the outside as I desired, and he is a jolly nice bloke.

With the pool now prepared, we needed a Master Tiler cum Stone Cladder.

Again, due to the renovations we had been involved in, we just happen to know a Master Tiler.

Before he came, I was sent out to source the tile. In so doing, I found I had the choice of one ‘pool’ tile, and, thankfully, everyone approved of it.

For the exterior, I had in mind a specific type of stone – travertine. I love stone, and travertine is, to my eye, a very pleasant stone. I was able to source and purchase the travertine – it comes from the west of Turkey. It was about the same price as ceramic tile so did not impact the cost of the project, but will look so much better in the courtyard when it is finished.

Now this tiler is a Master – he really knows his trade. He is the one who tiled the upstairs flat, over 90 square metres. He prepped the floor, found the ‘centre line’ and drew out the tiles from there and it took him but one day to do the entire flat.

A wonderful job which was very done as well.

I thought, “For a master tiler, this wee little baptismal pool should be a trifle.”

And I suppose it could have been except everything was off.  Nothing was square and nothing was true. The plasterer had brought it much closer to true… but much closer is not the same as true.

Our Master Tiler set to work and completed the inside walls of the pool in a couple of hours.

Great.

But the exterior stone cladding, well that took a lot of time. And the floor of the pool, that was a real challenge for as as you work, you run out of a place to stand and the high walls prevent you from leaning over to complete the task… and the sump pump hole presented its own, unique challenges partly because two sides were under the edge of the wall… and it was a round hole. He is a Master Tiler, he wants the sump pump to look good as well.

In any event, by the end of the day, the task was not yet completed. He completed a 90 square metres flat in one day, but our wee pool, proved to be such a difficult challenge that one day was insufficient time.

He returned in the morning, to grout the interior and to cut and place the stone cladding for the top of the walls. These walls that are 20 centimetres thick on one side and are 17 centimetres thick on another – even the most basic elements are not true.

Throughout the project, he was cutting the travertine stone using an angle grinder with a large stone cutting wheel fitted. At one point we noted that the cutting wheel was damaged (chunks missing at the cutting edge), nevertheless, with no alternative and no spare cutting wheel, he carried on. This is definitely not what is recommended by those involved in Health and Safety. You could argue, nor is it recommended by simple common sense.

We were near the end of the stone work. In fact, we are at that stage that his helper was cleaning tools – an essential task and one left to the end of the job. The Master tiler was himself cutting one of the last stones with the angle grinder. I’m standing off at the other end of the courtyard trying to stay out of the way of the dust.

Suddenly there was this almighty BANG … I mean it was sudden, it was very loud, and it was absolute… sharp, abrupt and unrestrained. It emphatically declared something had gone very, very wrong.

The Master Tiler’s helper, who had been standing in front of the angle grinder abruptly dropped what he is doing, his hands instinctively flying to his head and he twisted and turned away, walking towards the end of the courtyard. My first thoughts was injury to the face/head.

Thankfully, he was not injured, just shaken up with a serious smack to the face and a few minor cuts. Everything missed his eyes!

It transpired that the cutting wheel, spinning as it does at an extremely high speed had burst apart; all parts of the disintegrated cutting wheel being propelled at that extreme speed away from the angle grinder. The tile master himself, was aware of the danger, and had angled the machine away from himself. He was unscathed.

The bulk of the cutting wheel, with the largest pieces which had been, thankfully, expelled backwards, away from the helper in front of the angle grinder, had flown towards our flat and towards our closed front door.

The largest piece struck the window in the door where it pierced the glass and after creating a massive hole in the window, continued travelling all the way down the corridor to the far side of our flat. The corridor was liberally littered with debris, glass and bits of the cutting disk.

Thankfully, T was not in the corridor at the time but in a side room.

That was… er… exciting.

We were all extremely glad no one was injured.

And, as is in the nature of things, the work continued.

Finally, the master tiler finished his task and now the baptismal pool looks proper. His workmanship was 100% but he was paid less than the rough builder – life is not fair.

I paid him an honest amount – he would not take more. It was the rough builder who had the inordinate recompense. The rough builder, too, has a family to support and being a small builder, work can be inconsistent – paying him more, whilst it irked me, is providing essentials for his family.

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To finish off, we had a wooden cover made for the baptismal pool. This enables the baptismal pool to function as a table when we prepare the assistance for the Syrian refugee field workers. It also is effective in keeping the children from falling in when it is not in use.

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The pool is complete, and has been commissioned – we recently had our first baptism.

The construction process has been a bit of an adventure.

What really struck me was how the walls alone could not do the task, and how the walls and plaster could not do the task, nor just the walls and the mesh… all three elements are required to make the whole complete and strong and up to the task.

Reminds me that God saves, the Holy Spirit in-dwells and the Church – the Body of Christ – provides the living context for the living out of our Faith. Or to put it another way, we have faith and trust in the finished work of God in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit abiding within us to encourage us to walk in the Way and to give us power to do so, and God has established the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ – we are not alone, but need one another.

All three elements are necessary.

They are necessary for the baptismal pool to function.

And in the same way, all three elements are necessary for me to grow in Grace and in the Knowledge of God.

Antakya is rather unique among the cities of Turkey. The population that makes up this neglected backwater is strangely cosmopolitan.

The city consists of a mixture of Sunni Turks, Alevi Arabs, Kurds, Greek Orthodox Christians, a minute Jewish population, oh, and now a disproportionate number of Syrian refugee Sunni Arabs. Additionally, the imprint and influence of the time when this area was part of the French Mandate are still discernible.

For a cheap and cheerful explanation of the various religious divisions in Turkey, please refer to this blog: The Religious Make-up of Turkey 

Now in this region there is a preponderance of small – about 36 – 96 square feet – white-washed, often domed, structures. You will see them decorating hill tops, positioned by streams, found in lonely fields, situated by roads, and they are even liberally scattered throughout the old section of Antakya city.

I noted one such white-washed structure that is situated on an isolated patch on the banks of the Asi River – known in ancient times as the Orontes River.

In time, the ‘powers that be’ decided to cast a bridge over the river right at that point.

2010-08-28-Antioch-P1140594-ziyaret-1.jpgHowever, this small structure, white-washed with green highlights, capped with a small dome, was positioned right at the planned bridgehead.

What was to be done?” I wondered to myself.

Would they knock the structure down or shift it somewhere else?” I pondered and watched as the project advanced.

In time, the bridge was thrown across the river and the wee structure continued to defiantly stand where it has historically stood. The four lane approach road was built on the opposite shore.

Then, when the time came to build the approach road on the side with the structure, they built one half of the road on the right side of the structure, and the other on the left side – the structure, untouched, unmoved, unfazed and somewhat marooned, now in the middle of the four lane road – remained exactly where it always has been.

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It seems it was too important, or too sacred, to be demolished or even removed to a nearby location. Those who wish to visit this structure will need to negotiate at least two lanes of flowing traffic to gain access.

It was long after this incident that I noticed that this structure has a strange and unique feature. It seems that there was a tree growing in that place and when the structure was constructed the tree, the living tree, was simply incorporated into the building; it continues to this day to grow in, through and out of the building.

These wee white-washed structures, scattered all over this region, are small Alevi shrines.

These buildings have been built over time and have been constructed over the graves of various ‘saints’. These saints can be a ‘holy man’ a ‘sheikh’, ‘a teacher’ or even a ‘Christian saint’ of old.

These structures are almost invariably painted white and most frequently boast a small dome.

Inside the shrines there is a large raised coffin-like structure. This internal feature is plastered over and painted white. It is believed that it has been constructed over the physical grave of the honoured individual. This sarcophagus-like structure is often draped with cloth, green blankets, normal Turkish flags, Green flags or other fabric. The floors are often covered in carpets. The whitewashed walls can be decorated with posters, pictures of Ali, Koranic verses and other writings both in Turkish (Latin) script and Arabic script. These structures are considered ‘holy spaces’. Shoes are strictly left outside.

Within the shrines copies of the Koran and other religious books, teachings, commentaries, and even, occasionally, a New Testament can be found. Local tradition declares that anything left in a Shrine should not be removed.

More often than not, it is the local people who maintain the Shrine – those living nearby or have a special connection with the shrine. Indeed, the structures have initially been built by local people at their own expense – these buildings are outside of the remit of the Religion Department of the government. It is the local people who ensure it is painted, maintained, cleaned and cared for. The door, usually a stout, strong steel door, is closed and locked but opened up on Fridays and other special days and times as according to the Alevi calendar and local tradition. Some can be open on multiple days, but always under the watchful eye of the key holder and self-appointed caretaker of the shrine.

To my limited knowledge no services or other events are planned or executed there – these locales are for individual acts of worship as people reach out to find help in their time of need.

Sometimes you will stumble on a Shrine which is just the grave of the ‘saint’ which has been surrounded by a high wall – but even these, over time, become enclosed and covered.

What do people do at a Shrine?

To the best of my knowledge, you will find no reference whatsoever to shrines within the Koran – these are extra-Koranic structures, functions and activities. They are an expression of Alevi belief and a desire to engage with God.

At these shrines, people will come to pray. Some will come and make a vow to God. Others will make a sacrifice of a chicken, sheep or something else. Others will burn incense. Still others will read the books held within. (For one account of such an individual who read a New Testament in a Shrine – can be read here.)  

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It is a place to try and make a connection with God, to find solace, to lay out your petition, to seek for assistance, to seek redress for a wrong that has been done to you, to pour out your heart, to find help when you need it most.

Interestingly, burning incense plays a prominent part in the lives and devotion of the local Alevi community.

Confession time: I am not aware of the significance that the Alevi community put on the burning of incense, nor which type of incense is burned, nor when it is burned, nor for how long, nor why and with what meaning.

In an evening in the summer, it is not unheard of to have the heady scent of burning incense to be carried on the breeze and onto our terrace.

In the course of my daily constitutional, I have noted a local florist who perpetually burns incense outside his shop whenever he is open. I do not know how much it is costing him, but there is always a censer piled high with burning incense in the front of his shop, pouring forth its pungent scent and wafted along by the breeze.

It is my observation that people in Turkey are very industrious, innovative and hard working. If they can not find a job, they will seek employment wherever and however they can – creating a job where needed, or meeting a need in society. To explore this aspect of Turkish society, you can read this blog here.

For instance, if there is a road where traffic is routinely queued up, during the hot summer months, individuals will walk amongst the waiting traffic selling cold bottled water.

When there is a sudden downpour in the city, catching all unawares, diligent individuals will be out on the streets selling brollies.

Have you ever been caught without a tissue? There will be someone offering small packages of tissues for sale.

As you go about your business, maybe, just maybe, you may wonder how much you weigh… well there is a chap, with his scale on the side of the road ready to answer that question.

If you live in a city and you have a carpet with a frayed edge – never fear, for before long a lorry will slowly come down your street offering to collect your carpet, stich it up with the machine mounted on the back of the lorry and return it to you immediately.

This is the same for the knife sharpener. He has his sharping wheel mounted in a wooden stand which he rolls down the street offering to sharpen all your knives.

Do you need a photocopy? Or do you require some document to be laminated? A man pushing a small cart or converted pram, with a small electricity generator will come by, offering on-the-spot photocopy and lamination services.

Fresh milk and I mean really fresh, unpasteurised milk, plastic kitchenware, fruit and vegetables, these all will make their appearance in your street, as will a man pushing a wheel barrow full of fresh mint and parsley. If you desire to buy bulk onions, the onion seller will sell you a great bag of onions, weighing them with the scales on the back of his vehicle. Clothes, carpets, blankets, shoes, cloth, fruit, vegetables, water melon, well, just about everything will sooner or later go past your door. And for your cast offs, the rag-and-bones man will also pass by your door announcing his services.

And here in Antakya, in this community with a large Alevi population, an enterprising individual takes a hand-held censer with the fragrant, burning incense producing copious amounts of potent smoke flowing along behind him as he walks the street. If you are feeling the need to be blessed, he will stop and wave it before you, the sweet smell flowing over you, and you will give him a wee bit of money for his service. He goes down the street and various business will call him to come and bless their shop, the incense wafting in, and he will also receive a small remuneration for his efforts. You can see him at a distance, the great cloud of incense billowing out behind him declaring his presence as he searches those who desire his services.

It appears that someone will endeavour to try and meet even your spiritual needs on the streets of Antakya.

Nevertheless that void, that longing, that desire to ‘know’ God continues unabated, unrequited and untouched by the fragment smell of incense.

The answer to the longing in the heart of man is not found in shrines, full of dead men’s bones, nor in sacrifice – the blood of chickens or sheep, nor in the making and keeping of vows, nor in tying of votive offerings on special trees or special places, nor in inhaling or bathing in the heady scent of incense. It is not within these activities, as well-meaning as they may be performed, that intimacy with God can be found.

This natural, human, inner longing for intimacy with God is attainable, but like so much in life, it is not on our terms or according to what we desire or what we, in our wisdom, have decided is the Way to attain intimacy with God.

True intimacy is a two way street, it does not occur in a vacuum, nor in a void, nor it is imposed from one side on another. Both parties come together in a mutually acceptable manner.

God, Himself, has intervened in human history; the Almighty has physically entered human history and laid out His Way for mankind to know Him and experience intimacy with the Divine.

This is the Way that He Himself has initiated, and He deals with our weaknesses, our errors and mistakes and, let’s be blunt, our ‘sins’ …and takes care of this otherwise insurmountable impediment to intimacy with Pure, Holy, Righteous God.  It is in walking in His way that we can actually ‘taste and see that God is good’, that we can personally know Him and know His power and experience His Love in our lives. That we can know and receive and revel in the Love of God.

Well, today has been a day.

I know we do not ‘control’ any of our days – we are dependant on so many varied variables, but today has been distinctly different.

My normal routine had already been knocked for six because a man was coming to fit a sump pump in the house (another story why we need this), and I needed to be in attendance and consequently, as my normal morning routine was superseded. This being the case, we arranged for a man who can install central heating systems to come and appraise our flats and produce a quote.

Consequently, I went for my morning constitutional at 08:00 – the time I normally give to practicing the guitar.

Just to complicate things, we had anticipated some visitors arriving on the previous day in the afternoon – but in the event, they actually arrived at 11:30 – er that is 23:30… a time that I call night.

A brother from Diyarbakir, in the east of the country, was shepherding them on their desired tour – they themselves visiting from South Africa.

In spite of arriving late the night before, they were leaving by late morning today – an exceptionally brief visit.

Over breakfast there had been a discussion of the work that the small Christian Fellowship here is involved in with the Syrian refugee field workers. They were interested to learn more, and see a bit of the work. Hence, in my absence, it was decided that I was drive the church vehicle and lead them up the valley to some of the Syrian refugee encampments that we labour amongst.
As I was scheduled to be at the house to ‘attend’ as the man was to fit the sump pump, he was rung and we cancelled the appointment – to be rescheduled for another day.

It was also suggested that rather than having the ‘man’ dig the pit for the sump pump, that I dig a hole 1 meter deep by about 80 cm square before we call the man to come back… Okay…

With these changes in play, we also rang the central heating man and arranged for him to come in the afternoon…

My plans for the afternoon have now been dealt a blow as well; my normal routine had been suspended and now the alternative plan (attending the sump pump man) was superseded.

I climbed into the church’s ten passenger Volkswagen Transporter and began my hour long drive up the valley to where we do our aid distribution…

There were about ten or twelve people in the other van.

On the way up the valley, I was leading, when, unexpectedly the following van overtook me. Now in front, he promptly pulled over to the side of the dual carriageway, stopping in front of a small shop. It seems they wanted to get some refreshments of some sort.

When they were ready, I headed out again – faithfully holding to the 80 kph speed limit. I utterly detest speeding tickets and paying money for, well, nothing really, just a certificate of speed attained.

We passed through the first police check point with no problem. But, further up the road, I was selected to be checked by the Gendarme at their security checkpoint.

I dutifully pulled in and stopped – the other van, not being so selected, carried on. I rolled down my window, greeting the soldier and then turned away to turn off my phone which was playing music to accompany me whilst I drove. The soldier looked in the empty van, looked at this late middle aged, white-bearded foreigner and when I finally turned from my phone, he told me to carry on.

Off I went, rejoining the traffic on the dual carriageway and powered up the valley – holding to the 80 kph speed limit.

Then ahead I spied the other van, moving slowly along on the side of the carriageway. Now the vehicle I’m driving is a rather distinctive black Volkswagen Transporter, so when I over-took them, I ‘assumed’ they would see and recognise me. The driver knows our vehicle.

After overtaking, as I pulled away, I checked my mirror and they seemed to be continuing to drive slowly along the side of the road. I assumed they would speed up.

I carried on… at 80 kph.

When I arrived at the turn-off point – there was still no sign of them – I stopped.

Now, I rant and rave against people using their mobile phones whilst driving; so I had purposed to neither initiate a call whilst driving, nor to answer any incoming calls. Stopped as I was now, I was still loath to ring the other van as they are most likely driving.

So, swallowing this, for me, rather bitter pill, I rang and the first question was “Are you still at the Security Control point?”

“Er, no, I was there very briefly, I am awaiting for you at the turnoff point”.

A few minutes later they roared up, and our convoy, now duly reconstituted, departed, me again leading the way to where the Syrian refugee encampments are situated.

We travelled up to Kırıkhan, and turn off the main road and headed towards the border. The encampment I had selected was not the first, but at a bit of a distance, but it was a good, all-round example of the encampments we deal with. Additionally, there is a real gaggle of children there and the visitors had purchased some sweets to give the children.

We call this encampment ‘The Grove’, not because there are trees in the encampment – there aren’t any – but because there is a grove of trees across the road from the make-shift encampment. This encampment is on a bit of a rise, and now, well into summer, baking hot. As I said, no trees within the encampment, everything is exposed to the unrelenting, scorching sun. Water at this particular encampment is provided by a water bowser which is topped up from time to time.

Sweets were happily received by the children.

After this encampment we swung by another encampment – but this was wholly redundant, and, as one of the visitors commented to me, “They all look alike”, to which he added, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” – let the hearer understand, he was politely declaring ‘No need to show us anymore.’

We powered back to the main road – the other van turning right to carry on up the valley and then back to Diyarbakır. I turned left to return to Antakya.

It had been stressed to me that I needed to be back by 13:00 as the van was required. Today was a deferred time for the team to go to one of the encampments where we do a children’s work – their departure time was slated to be 13:00.

So, in one sense, I was racing the clock. When we departed we had three hours for me to complete the journey, there and back.  I thought this was easily adequate amount of time for the task. However, in fact, it was taking more than three hours to complete.

I did not exceed the speed limit, if I arrive late, I arrive late.

I was patient at all the red traffic lights.

I think I made a record for the number of red traffic lights I encountered on the return journey.

Being impatient at a red traffic light profits me not at all; being patient, however, and remaining calm, blood pressure abiding where it ought to be is both profitable, pleasant and absent of stress.

I had been told that if I was late, then they would take Ö’s vehicle – it would not be the best solution, but it was a viable and a ready solution.

My better-half, T, can monitor where in the world I am as I have ‘shared‘ my location via my phone with her. Hence, I hoped that they would have an idea where I was and, roughly, how long I would be.

Again, I had determined that I would not ring T whilst driving, and I would not answer the phone if it rang.

Driving the speed limit, waiting patiently at all the red lights, I arrived at our home about ten minutes later than their planned departure time.

Happily, my ever-changing location had been monitored; consequently they knew where I was and about when I would arrive.

They had opted to wait.

I didn’t park up; I just stopped in the street in front of our house – which given how narrow our street is, I effectively blocked the road. But I knew they would be departing posthaste.

Personally, I was done in… being diabetic, I can not play loose and free with my meal times. I had grabbed some bites of my sandwich whilst up the valley – only whilst stopped, not whilst driving.

Now at home, I finished my meagre meal.

Immediately after the meal was my first opportunity to practice the guitar this day, but after just ten minutes, the man for the central heating system arrived.

Now, I thought he would come, do his investigation, make his measurements, and calculate the cost all before I would depart for my guitar lesson, which was fully two hours after his arrival.

Indeed, I even entertained notions that I would have time to practice some before the lesson.

The man and his helper came and examined the space we had identified as a potential ‘furnace room’.

It is not ideal, but, well, it is the only space that could be remotely converted into a furnace room.

It took quite a while to determine where the chimney could go and then to decide where it would go. The chimney will begin on the ground floor, pass through a disused stairway which is covered and made into a wee balcony area on the first floor and then pass up through the roof and then, it will pass through our neighbours roof which overhangs ours. All in all, it is proposed to be eleven metres of plastered, cement block chimney, reinforced with angle iron.

Just to make things more interesting, this is on the side of the house that is subject to our neighbours rather disturbing subsidence….

After sorting the furnace room/chimney out, they came into our flat to measure for radiators, decide where they would go and how the various challenges identified could be and ultimately, would be addressed.

Then we went upstairs to the elder’s flat and did the same.

For me, the clear priority is the upstairs flat as my motivation in going to a furnace system was to alleviate the labour and work load of the elder’s wife, E.

In Turkey, if you have a wood/coal fired, pot-bellied stove, it is the lady of the house’s task to operate it (fuel, light, maintain, empty ash) – it is a cultural imperative and, really there are no practical alternatives.

But when it comes to furnaces, however, they are primarily a man’s responsibility – it is a big piece of equipment that needs a man’s touch.

Interestingly, emptying the ash is still the ladies task – but I have been sold on the idea of a wood-pellet furnace which produces very little and very light ash – or so we have been assured. So the labour requirements for the elder’s wife will be greatly diminished – which is the goal.

Then, over a demitasse of strong Turkish coffee, he did his sums.

I, as seems to be my nature, complicated things.

I wanted a sum with the second-hand furnace, a sum with a new furnace, and a sum with the top of the line, fully automatic furnace.

I also wanted a sum calculated without doing the radiators in our lower flat, in an effort to save money.

However, this last request is extremely strange and a rather odd kind of request for Turks, and in the end, it seems, he just ignored it.

We got our prices.

We drank our Turkish coffee.

I buzzed with the effects of the potent caffeine hit.

I had been surreptitiously monitoring E.’s location (she has shared her location on her phone) and I knew they were well on their way back from the children’s work.

Before we were done, she arrived, and so, we began explaining everything we had determined, what could be done and what we suggest should be done – if we decide to have a system installed.

Then the elder, H, arrived from his secular job.

So, we began explaining everything to him.

It was in the midst of rehearsing all the salient facts, problems, compromises and solutions that my guitar teacher rang, wondering where on earth I was… because I clearly was not at my lesson…

Time had totally escaped me.

Profuse apologies, following profuse apologies… things really are not going according to any plan that I am part of today.

In the end we finished all our explainations.

We need to inform the central heating man by the morrow if we want to install any system and especially if we desire the second-hand furnace.

Today, nothing went to plan and I was bounced from pillar to post by various events…

But, life is like that… we constantly need to respond to events, assess, appraise, decide what we can and should do in the circumstance and all the while, to be true to who we are and our principles.

In the old section of Antakya, the pathways and byways are convoluted, narrow and, at times, rather Byzantine.  Many are impassible by any form of motorised transport.

And so the question arises: “How does the city council provide the basic services necessary in the 21st century?”

The solution is found inthe time honoured, tried and tested method of accessing and servicing these areas – let me introduce you to the city council donkey.

These determined, strong and dour creatures can navigate the narrow ways, and when you come to the houses pearched on the mountainside, they can climb the rough stairs and can reach all the properties situated there.

Of course you do not send out the donkey on its own, it is accompanied by and lead by the Council ‘donkeyman’.  Maybe that is not his title, but it does describe what he does.

Teams of men and their donkeys go out every night, collecting the trash and detritus of life set out in front of the dwellings in this, the old quarter of the city.

The rest of the city is serviced by your typical rubbish lorries – but here, in the old city, the new has had to give way to the old.

The technology of yesterday is helping to maintain the standards of today.


 

On my morning constitutional, I noticed that in spite of it being a significant holiday in Turkey, the water company was out with a JCB and parts and things.  

It seems there was a water leak.  

As I continue my walk, I came past the bottom of the hill below where the JCB was parked and noted that there was a large quantity of water freely flowing down from the leak – a good thing they are working to make things right, even on a holiday. 

The next day, there was just a gravelly spot on the road to declare where the leak had been. The hill was liberally decorated with dirt and dried mud from the overflow.

On the following day, I am sitting in a wee coffee shop at the bottom of the hill when I see horizontal water spray flying down the hill.

Now this caught my attention.

Slowly a Fire appliance came into view; a tanker truck – it carts the water to accompany the other fire fighting appliances and ensures a constant source of water.

Today, in service to the local council, they were slowly driving down the hill spraying the road with a set of high pressure water nozzles at the front of the lorry.

Slowly coming down the hill, they drove all the dirt, dust, stones before them. The roadway is left free of debris; clean and spotless.

The appliance then stopped in front of the coffee shop and released a fire hose. With this the two firefighters began spraying the street, driving the accumulated dirt, mud and stones along the road and towards the storm drain.

They cleaned in front of the coffee shop, they cleaned the pavement in front of the shop. They sprayed, with diminished force, the ten or so planters full of colourful flowers in front of the coffee shop.

They were diligent, hard working, pressing on to make all clean and ship-shape.

I found the process reminiscent of the circle of life. They were called out because of a water leak which had besmirched the roadway. They cleaned the road by driving the muddy, soil laden water into the water drains; where, in the fullness of time, they will become clogged requiring a crew to come out and clear the drain, soiling the street which will require the Fire Brigade to once again come and clean the street.

And after all this diligent, hard work… the two firefighters (er, street cleaners?) came into the coffee shop for their full Turkish breakfast          

The street is clean… until the drain needs to be cleared… and then the cycle will repeat itself.

No action, no activity seems to occur in isolation.  

Actions need to be seen, to be assessed, in their context. The activity that I am about to engage in: what are the natural repercussions; what will naturally result; what are the responsibilities; what are the consequences.

Hmm, I need to bear that in mind…

I enjoy history, old photos, old travelogues, old stones, basically, things that are old and the older the better.

We have come across some old photos of Antakya which clearly depict the extent of the old town, pinned up tight to the skirt of the mountain rising to the south and hemmed in by the Asi (ancient Orontes) River to the north.

In days past – throughout the history of the city – buildings were constructed to the best of local knowledge of construction, and as is always the case, according to  available resources.  Many of the older buildings made liberal use of, shall we say, pre-existing building materials.

It has been a constant throughout history that old, decrepit, abandoned or damaged buildings have formed a source for building materials – suitable stones, arches, door lintels and supports being readily retrieved and re-purposed.

This ancient tradition goes contrary to our new, modern sensitivities to maintain and preserve these examples of the former.  But, throughout history, old buildings were viewed as valuable resources to be exploited.

A stroll through the old quarter of the city of Antakya will amply demonstrate this practice over centuries.  Many building will have lower courses of finely finished large stone blocks, superbly fitted together.  Then, as you look further up the walls, you see a change to less well finished stones which are not well set together, and, often, the upper sections will be formed from uncut, unfinished field stones mortared together.

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If I try to ‘read’ such a building, I may be forgiven for hypothesising that the lowest parts are the remains of the oldest building (maybe 100 years, 500 years, a thousand years….), and people reused the extant old walls in-situ, then, building on top with whatever other stones could be scavenged and reused and finally, the upper courses in the wall consisting of field stone, unfinished and simply mortared into place in the wall.

That is common among the old buildings of Antakya.  However, for the past sixty odd years or more, the modern inclinations of the inhabitants has been to abandon these old stone built houses constructed around private courtyards and to build with concrete and to go up in three, four, five, or even six stories, forming modern high rise apartment buildings.

A generation has turned their backs on the old, stone build courtyard houses preferring these ‘modern’ concrete boxes.

Of course, it is possible to accommodate many more people in the same building plot when you build up.

Okay.

I understand this.

However, when it is considered that this is an active earthquake area and for the past sixty years these buildings, these modern high-rise buildings, have been constructed, er, well, using the knowledge and building methodology adapted from single story buildings, we come to a point of concern.

These high-rises were built to meet an ‘aspiration’ to be modern.

They were built to meet a housing need.

Many were built, simply to turn a profit.

They were built to look nice.

They were built with a form of reinforcing steel, but of a smooth, outdated style which is not now used; the concrete was generally created by a pile of aggregate being dumped in front of the building under construction, water was added and cement dumped on top of the pile of aggregate and then the pile would be hand shovelled and turned over until it was considered ‘mixed’.  Then the cement would be shovelled in to old tin cheese containers, and then hand carried on the workmen’s shoulders to wherever the ‘pour’ was happening.  If on the top floor, they would lug all the concrete so mixed, trudging up the stairs to where the pour was happening.

There was no quality control on the cement mixture nor the effectiveness of the ‘pour’.  It is a sad fact that often insufficient steel was employed and the steel that was used was of the wrong style.  When you combine that with the poor quality cement mixes,  the result is buildings which looked good (plaster is a master of disguise) but are structurally suspect.

In those days there was less awareness of the building requirements which would enable a building to withstand the powerful forces of earthquakes which, from time to time, rock this particular part of our terrestrial ball.

These apartment buildings were built.  People moved in.  A generation has been raised within their walls.

But now the modern question is: “What do you do with these extant, existing, occupied structures which are inherently defective and vulnerable to earthquake damage and even catastrophic failure?”

There was an earthquake in 1997 which violently shook Antakya and reminded all citizens abiding here that Antakya has been utterly destroyed by earthquakes numerous times throughout its long history.

This was followed by the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul, which was centred near the town of Izmit, and devastated tens of thousands of houses, high rises and buildings – with over 17,000 fatalities.  The images of this earthquake exhibited scenes of rows upon rows of high rise apartment buildings collapsed, leaning over, pancaked and others  left standing but being inherently uninhabitable.

What was truly shocking was in the midst of this general, extensive destruction there would be the odd building, built to the building code and standing proud and true in the midst of the great devastation and death.

This highlighted that in many ways this was a man-made disaster.

Especially since that devastating earthquake of 1999, building methodology and practices have been brought into sharp focus.

Consequently, there has been a greater emphasis on the building code (which was good) – and the enforcement thereof (which was lacking).

Additionally, considering the vast amounts of old, substandard housing stock, there has been a real concerted effort to replace the worst, the most vulnerable buildings, with new proper, sturdy, strong buildings.

This national programme is called ‘Urban Renewal’ and it is a government scheme to assist in the tearing down of older, vulnerable  buildings and replacing them with new high-rise buildings, built to modern building codes and able to withstand – as much as anything built by man can – the effects of earthquakes.

Of course this is a costly business.  All the occupants must leave and be housed elsewhere.  The old concrete monolith must be totally torn down and then a new building erected in its place.

Often, from what I’ve observed, a four story building is rebuilt as five stories (five stories rebuilt as six and so on), the contractor having possession of the extra flats created and sells them as part of their fee in doing the work.

Sometimes the existing flats are rebuilt, but smaller, allowing the creation of additional flats that the builder can sell as part of their remuneration for the building work.

And I notice that the age-old process of stripping a building of the valuable bits continues.  Near where I am sitting a five storey building has been emptied and is about to come down.  There are men removing windows, any and all metal – basically anything of value – before the process of reducing the building commences.

Once the ‘recyclables’ have been reclaimed, then the work of reducing the building in earnest begins.

As this is occurring in many places in the city as I write, I have a general picture of the process.

Firstly the building is isolated by a high fence; a basic metal frame and sheets of corrugated metal.

After the scavenging, men enter the building and, using jack hammers, open up large holes in the floors of the larger rooms – creating voids to allow building debris to fall through the building.  They sometimes jack-hammer some of the balconies away.

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When the building has been thusly prepared, a tracked JCB with a hydraulic jackhammer fitted on the boom is hoisted to the top of the building.  I’ve never been present at this stage, but I assume a very large crane is brought in to lift the JCB to the pinnacle of the building.

Once there the operator sits in the cab and systematically jackhammers the floor out from underneath the machine he is operating.

How they move down to the next floor, I do not know.  I see the machines on the top floors.  I hear them hammering away.  I see the upper floor shrinking as they destroy it from above.  And I see the building getting shorter and shorter.  I’ve never been there when the JCB made the transition to a lower floor.

However it is accomplished, in this way the debris falls down, around, in and through the openings in the building.  When the building is reduced to a mound of debris two or so stories tall, the smaller machine is replaced by a very large, tracked JCB with a huge hydraulic jackhammer which continues the demolition process.

Finally, they replace the jackhammer with a big bucket and load the shattered debris into dumper lorries and cart it off.  The reinforcing steel is separated, collected, and compacted as much as they can with the JCB and then loaded into lorries for recycling.

At the end of the process, a new building plot has been created.  The old is gone.  What can be recycled, as in the ancient tradition, has been redeemed and removed.

After a suitable passage of time – is it for permissions, or checks or, well, I do not know, planning permission… the rebuilding process commences.

Modern, proper reinforcing steel, modern curtain walls and other structural principles are all diligently applied.  The cement is all proper, ready-mix, made to order and quality controlled.  The cement is  pumped up from ground level with massive concrete pumping lorries to wherever the pour is happening, ensuring a good, continuous pour.  Workmen with vibrator devices ensure the cement flows and fills all voids and is a good pour.

The new buildings will be substantially stronger and more resistant to the violent forces released by earthquakes.

When the process is all said and done, the former owners take possession of their new flats.  The builder takes possession of the new flats created and sells them.  And a neighbourhood which was slowly becoming dowdy, being amply littered with older, sadder, shakier buildings is slowly rebuilt with new, taller, smarter, stronger, stylish buildings.

True Urban Renewal transpires.

This causes me to think that as a follower of the ‘Way’, I have embarked on a process which doesn’t attempt to clean up and strengthen what was in my life, but like ‘Urban Renewal’, actually calls for the removal of the old, the substandard, the weak, and like the rusted and inadequate steel and poor quality concrete – it all must go, it can not be redeemed, can not be strengthened, can not be made right.  The only recourse is to demolish right down to and including the foundation and then to rebuild, correctly, from below ground level upwards.

My life is not subject to renovation or improvements – but the absolute removal of the weak and defective and a rebuilding, a making new, from below the foundations all the way up is underway.

With ‘Urban Renewal’ things do always go as planned.  If you would like to read a bit more of this blog, there is more below… or you could stop now.  The choice is yours…  Click Here for a wee bit more…

 

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.

(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 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.

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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.