I think the year was 2006, and we were in the ‘pearl of the Aegean’, the city of Izmir. T and I travelled and stayed in the city for two-weeks every month for over a year.

When there, we stayed with our friends and coworkers.  They lived in an area of Izmir called Balçova, a place noted for its hot springs.  In this area the thermal water is so abundant that they use thermal hot water to heat the homes and apartment buildings.

This, I found to be magnificent, free heating and free hot water.  At the same time I found this to be quite terrifying that the conditions to heat the water were so close, so very, unnaturally near; in fact, just under our feet.  Still, one advantage of staying there was the ability to visit the thermal springs.  It was a real treat to indulge and relax in the natural hot water.

Izmir, was in ancient times known as Smyrna.  It was then a thoroughly cosmopolitan city.  It still is today whilst at the same time is also a typical Turkish city.  And so it was not surprising that many signs in the hot springs were bi-lingual, Turkish and English.

Once, as I was passing through the lobby, my eyes fell on a rather large notice.  Typically, the English drew me.  I read that “parents are liable from their children”.  I must admit this tickled my funny bone.  I snickered to myself over the obvious error.  My assumption being it was supposed to be ‘for’ in ‘for their children’ but had been misspelt as ‘from’.   No doubt the sign writer did not know English and so this error silently passed by.

Feeling smug, I then turned my attention to the original Turkish.  I confess, reading the Turkish surprised me.  The Turkish states that “Veliler çocuklardan sorumlu”.  Let me explain.  Turkish is a suffix based language.  This means suffixes are added on to words, and so, if we translate this literally it is: “parents children-from responsible [are]”.

This straight away brought two things to my attention.  The first is the method which shows the relationship in the Turkish language and according to Turkish syntax is using the suffix ‘den/dan’.  This we typically translate into English as ‘from’.  The dilemma isn’t Turkish but our translation of the suffix which is most often, but crucially, not always accurately rendered as ‘from’.  Another thing that stuck me was I would constantly translate wrongly as I would eschew ‘from’ and consistently use ‘for’.  The Turkish for ‘for’ is ‘için’ which is not a suffix but a separate word.

Oph!  I completed the rapid descent from smugness to chagrin.  One moment I felt superior, and the next embarrassment.  I again realised that my Turkish is full of English-inspired errors.  I was reminded my Turkish reflects English forms and English syntax.  These I subconsciously wield to create my own, personal form of Turkish.

I giggled when I read the English.  That was wrong.  If, in like fashion, Turks chuckled at my linguistic faux pas, they would be justified.  But there is a problem.

We have lived amongst Turks for thirty-five plus years.  In that time I’ve never witnessed or overheard them mocking, laughing, ridiculing or making fun of foreigners’ verbal blunders.  I have heard of many foreigners’ gaffes.   Some of which are funny – er, am I doing the same thing again?  But, I’ve never heard them from the Turks.

It seems making a mockery of someones struggles in a second language is more the forte of foreigners.  I have found the Turks to be genuinely gracious.  Turks strive to understand what the foreigner is trying to communicate.  Full stop.  They do not take the mickey, nor take pleasure at the expense of the foreigner.  Here the foreigner can take a lesson from the Turks.

Oh, as for the grammar lesson… it is only this year I’m applying it to my Turkish.  In guess I’m a slow learner.

Some encampments of Syrian refugee field workers, cease-to-be, they close up shop and disappear in the wet, windy and bleak months of winter.

Good for them.

Living in the fields in winter is not a desirable nor attractive proposition. Life is hard and miserable in summer, and just plain deplorable in winter.

We have been encouraged when we go to provide some assistance to an encampment to find a barren field with just the debris, cast-offs and the detritus left by human habitation that proclaims that there was once an encampment there – but the encampment is no more. They have moved on and maybe, just maybe, to some better place, or, we must confess, sadly, it may be to an equally bleak site somewhere.

This day was our last visit to just such a place. There remains but a few families living in some farm buildings which means that those few remaining will enjoy relatively good accommodation. The main encampment is barren and deserted – workers will return in the spring when field work will again be plentiful.

Those who are remaining in this location, by and large, are dry, secure and have proper sanitation. When there is work, they will work.

However, these remaining Syrian refugee field workers, in spite of the benefits they have, will still be in need. On this, our last trip up the long and prone to being reduced to a hopeless quagmire of a track, our goal was to provide some assistance and to collect their phone numbers. For the remainder of the winter months, we will ring them and then draw nigh to their location – to the closest point where the roadway is sound. They will come to us – farm equipment will happily power through where road vehicles will become well and truly mired.

From there we made our way to the encampment we have named ‘the Grove’ due to the small stand of trees across the road from the encampment; there are no trees or bushes of any description within the actual encampment; it is rather barren.

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This encampment is situated on some high ground. I would not call it a hill, it is just a simple piece of higher ground. It is rocky and would be impossible to farm in its current state. The rocks in this region are large; I mean they are literally gargantuan – they can only be removed with large excavators. The majority of the rocks are buried in the ground, sometimes their heads, sometimes just their shoulders protruding from the soil. Shelters, as best as one can, must be placed around these boulders as they can not be shifted.

On the plus side, this higher, slightly lifted up location, at the very least, will not become a bog in the incessant rains of winter.

And, sadly, it appears that this encampment will be remaining in this remote location over the dark, damp days of winter. The prospects of living in rude shelters, exposed to the wind and rain through the long, dismal days of winter is truly appalling.

The headman in this encampment is from the area in eastern Turkey near the city of Urfa. He is a bilingual Turkish / Arabic speaker and his life occupation has always been a ‘field worker’. He is the headman in this encampment because he is the ‘gang-master’ and the residents of this encampment are his work force.

As the gang-master, he organises the field labour and provides a modicum of the essentials for the workers – it was up to him to find and arrange a place for the workers to pitch their shelters. He also will provide some source of water (often it can simply be a water bowser as in this encampment). I would say in most, not all, but most encampments, the gang-master will arrange a degree of electricity (most often illegally sourced by attaching wires to the passing electrical cables).

The electricity that may be supplied is not properly established. Most frequently you observe wires running over the floor, lying on and through the dirt and puddles. There is no fuse box or circuit breaker. Wires can be spliced together and protected from the elements and curious children with whatever tape-like material is to hand, even sellotape. I suppose if the wires get too hot and burn up, then that will function as a rudimentary fuse… of sorts…

It is up to the residents in the encampment to construct simple out-houses and some kind of structure to bathe in. The bathing structure will have a dirt floor as everything else has, but the tarpaulin will be stretched around and over to afford a degree of privacy to have a rudimentary sponge bath. For the winter months, they also manufacture some primitive shelters to act as kitchens.

IMG_3114We arrived at the Grove, and, as I have been doing recently, I did not drive into the encampment proper, but rather chose to stay on the roadway. The road at the entrance is wide enough for us to set up on the far side, and traffic – traffic is rather infrequent on this passageway – can easily pass by on the remaining side. The residents of the encampment come and stand in the road, hence not in the mud, for the distribution.

The lorry reversed up to the van and hence the vehicles were back to back. This created a separated area for the team to work in. This space together in concert with the simple barriers we bring with us, forms a division between those who are waiting to receive some assistance and the team who are organising and distributing the provision.

Separate from the regular food-stuffs distribution and as the result of some special gifts being provided, we have been enabled to give the children some milk or fruit drinks and a sweet snack.

We have been doing this at each encampment.

But this encampment is different.

This encampment is fundamentally and dramatically different.

The gang-master in this encampment tends to be an ill-tempered, peevish, quarrelsome individual. We witnessed at an earlier time, in a different location, this gang-master physically assaulting a man who he thought needed being put in his place. In all the time we have been engaged in this work, this was the one time where we have observed a fight, a brawl between two men.

This gang-master can be pleasant, but he can be bellicose, petty and, well, short-tempered and grouchy.

It must be said, he is not short-tempered or grouchy toward us; with us he tends to try to manipulate and use us, he tries to get more for himself and his greater family – oh, and also for his Syrian refugee field workers. He is not above lying to our faces, or saying that someone is no longer in the encampment, when they are still in residence. It appears he has done this in the past in order to deprive them of the assistance.

However, it must be remembered that the gang-master is the gate-keeper of the encampment. If we do not make an effort to work with him, he may deny us access to his encampment and the Syria refugee field workers in that encampment; he can be petty, and then it will be the adults, the children and the babies who will suffer…

Today this most bellicose and quarrelsome of gang-masters, was present along with his brother, also a gang-master, and it would appear that they have brought their two different groups of workers together, to this one location, to winter there together.

Sometimes brothers can be very different, but in this case, it is glaringly obvious that they are two peas in a pod. They resemble each other in their looks and mannerisms. And it seems, they resemble each other in temperament. It is apparent they have had hard lives, and the scars on their bodies and more importantly on their personalities is patently evident. Of all the people in the encampment, that is, 197 individuals of which there are 65 children under ten and 18 babies, they were the only two who walked about with sticks, functioning as truncheons, in their hands.

In the past they have brought their separate groups of Syrian refugee field workers together to winter together in one place. In fact, when they this did this a few years ago, at one location, it was felt by the local Turkish village that they were too close to the village and they were rejected and ejected – the villagers required them to relocate.

Yes, the Muslim villagers told the Muslim gang-masters, and the Muslim refugees to depart.

Their current location, situated on some higher ground, is at a distance from any other habitation… so the chances of this happening again are diminished.

I took a quick tour of the encampment, and there are many more people and shelters there than before – indeed it is self-apparent that the other brother has brought his Syrian refugee work force to winter here. This location is now roughly twice the size it was previously.

In the course of my walking tour, I also noted the gang-masters’ shelters. Yes, the gang-masters frequently live in the encampment with their charges.

IMG_3341I immediately recognised the gang-master’s shelters as they had liberally spread fresh, clean, large stone gravel under and around their shelters. No mud for them. The rain can drain nicely away and their shelter will be dry within. I even noted that they had placed wooden pallets inside their shelters, raising them off the floor and providing a healthier environment to pass the winter months.

IMG_3346Not so the other shelters surrounding theirs. They are pitched on the raw earth, hence dampness within the shelters is guaranteed.

As I mentioned, previously, this encampment, that is both the gang-master and the residents, had proven to be a bit of a challenge. We especially encountered difficulties when we attempted to have some activities with the children.

The Team have been going out once a week and playing with the children, organised games, painting, fun things for children that have experienced precious few ‘fun things’. We have provide milk and something to eat as well.

For most encampments this has been a very positive, pleasant experience.

Sadly, even I have noticed that the children in this encampment are all exceptionally filthy. In all of the encampments, all the children are dirty. This is not surprising after all, as there is no proper washing facilities in any of the encampments. But here, in this one, they were dirty to the extreme; clothes, hair, arms, hands, faces were all grimy beyond measure.

Today, as we set about our planned provision of assistance, we also made ready to give the children the special juice boxes together with a sweet treat.

IMG_3336Now, as we do at other encampments, we attempted to line the children up to receive the juice boxes and sweet treat.

In all the other encampments, once the line is established, we begin at the head of the line, and the line slowly advances towards us and all receive their portion in good time and all are happy; no one is left out, no one has extra.

Here, the children, and not a few aggressive mums with babes in their arms, seemed content to line up in a semblance of a line…

…that is until…

….until the juice boxes and sweets came forth.

Then the nicely formed line instantly dissolved, it disintegrated and all broke free and set siege to the two hapless young foreigners whose only crime was to be the ones holding the prize, the juice boxes and treats.

They were surrounded and besieged – children and some quite demanding, aggressive mums – with a thicket of out stretched arms coming at them from all angles accompanied by a cacophony of cries to give to me, to me, to me and the insistent, pleading, whining of the mums. All the while other hands were striving to snatch and steal their prizes from the boxes in the embrace of the foreigners…

The two young people were immediately overwhelmed and forced back four or five metres to the side of the lorry where they abandoned the task as impossible to do in an orderly, organised and fair way. The box of chocolate bars was desperately cast up onto the lorry, the box of juice boxes was pirated safely away.

In advance, I knew it would be difficult to give the juice boxes and sweets to the children in this encampment.

The previous time we attempted to do this, it was bad, not as bad as this, but it was bad. It, too, had ended in a premature cessation of distribution of juice boxes and sweets to the children as the swarm of children was rapidly descending into an unruly, riotous mob.

True confession time: on the last visit, I was attempting to distribute the juice boxes after the main attempt had failed, and my phone rang, it was the wife of our interpreter. Whilst I was suitably distracted, one determined little chap reached up and tore a juice box from within the box that I was holding protectively in my grasp… needless to say, being engaged on the phone, I was caught unawares and I automatically responded in an instinctive, natural, way and I immediately relieved the young thief of the pilfered juice box.

I was angry.

What can I say?

There was and is no excuse for my response!

I really felt bad for the wife of the interpreter who I was speaking with, when suddenly there was a loud exclamation and my attention became solely focused on dealing with my small thief. I felt bad for the lady on the phone, but, I confess, I did not feel bad for the young lad who had his prize in his hand only to have it forcibly snatched from his grasp.

Now to compound my un-Godly response, I made matters worse as later on, when I was able to achieve a more orderly distribution, that is, ‘orderly for this encampment’, of the juice boxes and sweets, and he presented himself to receive something, I specifically, knowingly, and on purpose, looked him in the eye and did NOT give him any.

This was my so-called ‘just’ response to his unsuccessful grasping theft. I am ashamed as I recount this event.

Where is Grace?

Where is forgiveness?

Where is compassion?

Where is love?

Where is a modicum of understanding of the situation he finds himself cast in?

Where indeed…

After the fact, I felt stricken in spirit for my callous and so-called ‘righteous’ response – the response of justice and law…fully ignoring grace, love and compassion.

And for me, as one who was fully undeserving of the Grace of God, the Love of God, the Mercy of God, I, who have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’ to react in this way is a travesty of all that God has done for me – far more selfish and undeserving than that young lad had exhibited.

Again, my response and actions were far more selfish and undeserving than that young lad had exhibited.

He was desperate. He is actively living in truly appalling conditions of deprivation, hunger and suffering… and what is my excuse?

That was on our previous visit, this time I was determined not to make the same error. Mistakes are made, but, we can learn from them.

And this time it was far, far worse than the previous, difficult and contrary time.

Seeing the failure of the two young people to execute the distribution of the ‘special juice boxes and sweet treats’ for the children, I, once again, waded in to the fray, grabbing the juice boxes from the shaken young man. I was determined to effect some kind of distribution – gracious distribution – in spite of their rambunctious and riotous behaviour.

I forged into the teeming mass of the dirty, the neglected, the desperate children. Arms were vigorously, aggressively thrust up at me from all angles, voices cried out to gain my attention, the box in my arms was under constant, determined assault and I attempted to execute a gracious form of distribution.

As I was giving the juice boxes, I was aiming to prioritise the wee ones, the small, the weak, the ones unable to overcome their neighbour – and then I witnessed a larger child wrench the juice box from the grasp of the smaller child, I promptly wrenched it back and gave it to the smaller child – and then I gave the offender, the selfish bully, a juice box.

Why? Because of Grace, that is the unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour or blessing. Did he deserve it? No – but to get what you deserve is ‘justice’, not ‘grace’.

Scripture does not say in vain, love your enemies, bless them, do good to them… it does not make this conditional on their repentance or a change in their behaviour.

If your ‘enemy’ is thirsty, give him drink, if hungry, feed him.

It is rather straight forward and it is not difficult to understand. Sometimes we declare it difficult to do, but it is not difficult to understand – and these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The children (and a few aggressive mums) behaved as a rapacious horde of barbarians intent on taking and plundering and we strove to give them something to drink and something, special even, to eat.

In the course of this mini-distribution, I recognised my little thief from the previous time, still behaving as is his wont, as he has been taught and trained by all those around him, and I deliberately looked him in the eye, a look of recognition, and gave him a juice box.

There was one point where I bellowed. Oh, and I can be quite loud.

Regrettably, I have observed that more often than not, I can come across as angry, cross, upset. Truly, I am not, nor is it my intention. Actually, it is the furthest thing from my actually feelings. But, alas, it is how I am commonly perceived.

Nevertheless, in this situation I bellowed, knowingly. I was not upset. I was not angry. I was not frustrated.

What did I bellow?

Well, it was a bellow, a “AAAahhaHHHaa” like sound… they do not know English or Turkish, and I do not know Arabic, and my intention was to make a distraction in the raging mayhem.

There was an immediate, short-lived, positive effect in that they slowed down their physical assault on me. I was able to continue in my distribution.

But, soon, it was more than I could sustain and I had to bring it to a premature close. The aggressive ones were coming again and again, demanding, pleading, stretching forth their arms or attempting to snatch from the box in my embrace.

Some of the children received juice boxes and sweets, and many did not and some possessed more than their share.

Maybe next time we need to have several people doing the distribution, and dividing the horde – that way more, and more of the most vulnerable, will receive a wee blessing. Or, maybe, we should endeavour to include it with the food-stuffs, as part of the regular distribution.

Back at the van there were children who came and persistently begged, wheedled, connived and otherwise tried to gain possession of the treats.

Some of the children tried to force open the locked window in the van to gain possession of the treats. They were discouraged from this activity on several occasions. Finally I posted one of our foreign helpers to simply stand before the door to bring an end to these assaults on the vehicle.

This was proving to be a very difficult distribution, especially as we were dealing with a less than trustworthy gang-master, and the corporate conniving, lying, cheating, and grasping adults of the encampment only compounded matters.

Consequently, the distribution was taking a disproportionate amount of time and, with the passage of time, the door minder left his post by the vehicle.

The ever diligent and watchful children immediately launched another attempt on the window. They were able to force it fully open… and caused some damage in the process… for it was locked shut.

However, even opening the window did not put the prize within their grasp.

Once again I returned, and on my coming, the guilty parties became conspicuous by their absence and I was able to get the window shut.

In addition to those intent on assaulting the window, there was one little one who was conniving to get a juice box and sweet. Rather than getting angry, I would pick them up and cart them away from the distribution area, as you would your own child or more like your own grandchild where you indulge them and smile and have them smile as you truck them away.

More than juice boxes and sweets these children are yearning for some attention. They will take attention in any form, a shout, a slap, a smack with a stick, but of course, positive, non-violent attention is the pearl of great price.

I’m not about to beat anyone, nor shout at them in anger (been there, done that, repented) nor threaten physical violence upon them. I will scoop them up and in a positive manner, remove them from the immediate area.

So, now this wee one, trying to finagle a juice box or sweet, had a new game. They would come, I would pick them up, swing them happily about, and cart them away. Sometimes they would beat me back to the distribution area to start the process all over again.

Being in close proximity means there is a danger of head lice being transmitted – but they are more valuable and special than the danger and inconvenience of head lice.

The distribution at this encampment was not a pleasant experience for any in the team.

And on our departure, after fully completing our distribution (everyone receiving their allotted portion), one lady ran up to the reversing lorry, grabbed a bag of food-stuffs, and hoisted the bag, about ten kilos of basic food stuffs, out of the back, and made off with it. Our minder, from the local Social Assistance Department, was there, helping the lorry driver reverse and he tried to prevent her – to no avail.

In my experience, this has NEVER happened at any of the other encampments we have gone to over the course of the three years we have been going out among the fields to assist these refugees.

As we put this encampment firmly in the rear-view mirror, there was a general feeling of relief and also a palpable degree of exasperation…

It was striking that even our lorry driver, who acts and strives to a ‘part of the team’ – on that day he even joined our prayer time before headed out for the day – was of the opinion that we should ‘zero’ the whole encampment. ‘Zero’ is what we do when we make someone ‘inactive’ – historically this has always been due to their moving away.

And so an emotional, natural response would be to ‘zero’ the whole encampment due to their manner of behaviour, their lying, their cheating, their aggressive attitude, their demanding actions and the general, casual violence from the gang-master downwards to the smallest child.

It is a natural, human response to feel that “they are not worthy”.

We can easily compare them to other encampments where, for example, on the very same day, something fell from the vehicle and a child standing nearby swooped in to scoop it up and return it to its rightful place in the vehicle – he was striving to assist and help us. And again, on the same day, a young child was offered a juice box and they responded by saying they had already received theirs and went on their way.

It is very easy, very natural, to conclude that this encampment has declare themselves a pariah encampment – justifiably worthy to be avoided.

It would be so easy to declare that this particular encampment is too difficult, too hard to try and provide anything to them because of their contrary, aggressive, grasping behaviour. Indeed, as we go from encampment to encampment, if anyone will lie, and it can happen in other places, but it will definitely happen here; if anyone will attempt to present twice for provision, which can happen in other encampments, it will happen here, and, as we witnessed, if someone will steal out of the lorry, this simply has not happened in any other encampment, but it has happened here. Indeed, I think is is fair to say that if we looked, we could find another encampment which would be far easier to work with.

The natural, earned and deserved response, is to write off this difficult and contrary encampment – to ‘zero’ them, to leave them to their own devices, to avoid them like the plague, to treat them as the pariah they declare themselves to be…

That is the natural, human response, and what is the appropriate response from God’s perspective?

Let us recall that the world was at total, absolute enmity with God.

We, everyone, each of us, were going our own individual ways.

We declared, that is each and everyone of us, declared ourselves to be as ‘god’ in our lives – that is, the final authority in our lives. We lived according to our thoughts, our plans, our desires and our passions. We purported to be masters of our own fate, living, planning, executing, solving problems according to our own understanding and desires. The last word in our lives was from ourselves, our desires, our will – that which we determined.

And today our world is filled with sexual harassment (and worse), warring, killing, maiming, hurting, enslaving, cheating, abusing, using, harming, boasting, strutting and all the while mankind is making like all is well in our world.

We, each and every one of us, deserved and earned the right to reap that which we had so plentifully sowed.

God was under absolutely no compulsion to intervene.

God was not forced to make a way of ‘salvation’ and to offer it to any who would desire it.

God was not required to make a provision to enable undeserving man a way, a means to renew and re-establish a relationship with Almighty God – but He did.

But He did

He, by an act of His free will, expressed His Love, His Mercy and His Grace and provided for us that, which we did not, by any definition, remotely deserve.

God Almighty did this whist we were active enemies of God, being proud, arrogant, going our own ways with no thought nor regard for the Creator God, while we were in this state, God sent His one and only Son into the world that through Him we might have Life and Life to the full.

And, as those who have received this free gift of life, even eternal life in Christ, those who have been reconciled to God through the finished work alone of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have now been given the ministry of reconciliation, whereby we call our fellow man to be reconciled to God, and as scripture says, we are called to make our calling sure, and to be productive in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; we are exhorted to put behind us the ‘old man’ and ‘its natural responses’ and to be re-made into the image of Christ, reflecting God’s values and God’s Love, God’s Grace, God’s Mercy and the Character of God in our lives.

Therefore, what then, can be our response to this rather contrary and difficult encampment, this encampment which will, naturally, experience rejection and be reviled by all in the world?

What, then, can be our response to these lying, cheating, demanding, ungrateful, conniving, violent people?

I can hear some voices articulating that, “Surely they must learn the consequences of their actions – how else will they learn and change…”

In other words, just like God left us to our fate, to the natural consequences of our actions that we might learn and change….

Except He didn’t!

He intervened, and He Himself established an example, sending His only Son, Jesus, who came teaching and then by sacrificing Himself, He completed and made a way that we may be fully reconciled with God. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, we, fallen, sinful, rebelling, proud and arrogant mankind may know God, learn directly from God and receive the Power of God to enable us to overcome temptation and sin in our lives, empowering us to live good, productive, clean, wholesome, pure, honest, lives with integrity.

Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed Himself that we might live – and He calls us to follow Him, to be like Him, and, yes, to sacrifice ourselves that others might live…

I am convinced that this encampment should take the Number One place in our hearts – not because the people are so pleasant and such a delight to assist, not because they are a pleasure to be about, but, truly, because they, more than all the others, need to see the Love of God, the Grace of God, the Mercy of God lived out among them.

And how will they see and experience this?

God has called each one of us, He has given to each and every one of His children the ministry of Reconciliation. In fact the Lord Jesus Christ has declared that each and every one of His children are Light and Salt in this world.

People – and the people in this encampment – will only see the revelation of God, if we go, if we love, if we serve, if we forgive, if we are gracious, if we are compassionate, if we are patient, if we persevere, if we are kind and if we come back again and again and again… and give them that which they do not deserve.

Just as God has done in each and everyone of our lives to call us and bring us from our darkness to His light, from death to life, from slavery to my passions and desires to full freedom, so we need to be available to do the same for those we encounter.

I feel that this encampment needs to be our Number One encampment because of all the encampments we serve, they need the message, the testimony, that Almighty God loves the world, the whole world, including them and He has done all that is required that mankind, each and every one of us, regardless of who we are or what we have done, can know Him.

It is my conviction that this encampment needs to be our Number One because of all the encampments we serve, their need is the greatest.

All the encampments have a shared need of physical assistance.

All the encampments have a shared need to see and to know the Love of God.

All the encampments have the same needs; they are shared among them all.

But of all the encampments we serve,

this encampment is the darkest,

it is the dirtiest,

it has the most violence against the weakest members of their own encampment.

The only hope for them is the Good News.

The only hope for them is to know God.

The only hope for them is for them to taste and see that God is good.

The only hope for them is to receive the Grace of God, the unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour of God.

How will they know any of this if we, His children, write them off and avoid them as the plague, rejecting them, as they clearly deserve to be rejected, and if we abandon them to their chosen path and their chosen fate…

God didn’t do this with us…

….what, then, shall we do….

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.

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.

2010-08-28 Antioch P1140593 ziyaret

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.

It was in the autumn of 2003, the weather was still very pleasantly hot in Istanbul. I needed to go somewhere new in the city and I had never been there before. To complicate matters, I was not really sure of the directions on how to get there. Istanbul is a huge city – it has great communications, bus, mini-bus, underground, ferries – large and small, cable car – it is really well serviced… but, there is always a ‘but’, the population has expanded beyond the capacity of even this broad, rich and varied public transportation system.

On this day I headed out to the banks of the Bosphorus Straight – that international water-way that divides the European side and the Asian side of the city of Istanbul, that salt-water passage that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara sea – near the harbour in Kadıköy (formerly known in ancient times as Chalcedon).  I entered the man-made maze created by the multifarious lanes and a myriad of bus stands, all filled with a teeming swarm of buses that make up this, one of the multitude of city bus stations in this mega-city.

This open air station is a continuously surging shoal of city and private buses, disgorging their human cargo and reloading for the next foray as they power forth into the maelstrom of Istanbul traffic. Each bus, council or private, is prominently proclaiming the name of their destination and their route designation on the front, sides and rear of the bus.

The problem for me is I did not know nor recognise any of these destinations nor did I have any idea of where they are located in the city nor what the numbers of the routes mean. All this very valuable information, which is full of meaning for the many and yet, sadly, devoid of any practical meaning to the uninitiated such as I.

I had been instructed and was diligently searching for the ‘14Y’ designation. My problem was, I was finding a significant number of buses with destinations beginning with 14 – but, alas, none ending in all-important ‘Y’.

Finally, I caught sight of ‘my’ bus, standing at its appointed spot, across the many lanes from where I was. On seeing it, I carefully, and yet as quickly as I could, made my way, doing my best to avoid the buses powering away from their stands and heading out into traffic and other buses prowling through the narrow lanes to arrive at their appointed resting places.

On attaining the correct stand, I entered ‘my bus’ and pressed my ‘Akbil’ (a Turkish name representing ‘White Ticket’) to be rewarded with the satisfying ‘bee-boop ’ which indicated that my ticket had been accepted. This ‘Akbil’ is kind of like a key fob, but the electronic head had been charged with some money and on every use the cost of the ticket is deducted from the total. Every time you press the key fob, you hear the comforting ‘Bee-boop’ and you know you have paid the cost of the ticket – no hassling with correct change and such, it has simply been deducted from my device – what a wonderful system!

As I sit waiting for the bus to depart, I ponder the fact that I had been rushing to find the bus as I absolutely abhor being in the position where I would arrive at the appointed spot in time to forlornly watch the tail-lights of the bus powering out of the station – I dread missing my bus by a minute. My motto – ‘better a half hour early than a half minute late’.

This day I was happily early. However, in my haste not to miss my bus, I had successfully missed my lunch. In fact, I hadn’t even brought a bottle of water to quench my thirst and there was no way that I was about to leave the bus to find water.

Then I observed man boarding the bus – he didn’t purchase a ticket – in his hand he was carrying a blue pail and in the pail, proper, sealed, bottled water which he was offering for sale. Once he has visited our bus, looking for custom, he would exit and board the next bus. This water seller isn’t sitting somewhere waiting for custom to seek him out or to go to him, he is proactively out, he is diligently searching for buyers, wherever they may be hiding. He is bringing his service to wherever custom may be found.

Now, on another day, at our flat in Idealtepe in Istanbul, I heard a strange noise emanating from the street outside our home – some kind of power machine making an unfamiliar and rather unusual sound. I looked out my window and there was a flat-bed lorry standing in the street. On the back was a large table and on one side was a machine. A man and a boy were manhandling a large runner type carpet onto the back of the lorry. They twisted and turned their awkward burden, to line it up and put it into the machine and then carefully they guided the edge through the machine. Two balls of cotton or twine or some other material magically spun and twirled as the thread was pulled off and into the machine. Powering all this was a small petrol powered electrical generator. The machine itself was stitching a proper, finely finished edge to the carpet.

Not leaving any opportunity ignored, this industrious individual has taken his lorry and offers not only repair work, but people can purchase a hall runner from him and get it cut to their own, unique specifications, and then have it machine finished, right there on the lorry, outside their home.

The carpet finisher isn’t in a shop, somewhere, waiting for you to come to him, rather, he has chosen to go out onto the streets and is actively seeking for custom.

Have you ever found yourself out and about when you remember that you need something photocopied?

That is not a problem here in Turkey. Of course you could go to a copy-shop and have it done there, or you could simply pause on the street corner where a man has a photocopier and a small electrical generator, both mounted on a small cart – he stands ever ready to do your photocopying right there on the street while you wait.

And if, by chance, you want it laminated, well, there is another chap standing nearby with a cart, generator and laminator – waiting to serve you.

They are out, pro-actively seeking custom.

Sitting in your home you become accustomed to various calls resonating through the streets. The dulcet tones of a lady singing “SeeepPPPpet VaaaarrrRRRR” and you know the lady peddling plastic kitchenware is making her way down your street.

Once or twice a day you will hear the sing-song call “EeeSSssskkkiiiiJJJJJiiiiiIII—ahhhHHHhh” – the rag and bones man is making his presence known.

Sometimes the caller has a distinctive call which I have been unable to distil down into recognisable words – but everyone recognises his call and everyone knows what he sells.

The call rings forth, sounding like “SoooOOOOOooootTttt” – ah, you say to yourself, the melon seller is going by.

In fact, the sound distils down to resemble the Turkish word for milk and bears no likeness that I can discern with the Turkish word for melon, but everyone understands his unique call and instinctively knows what he is peddling.

Another variant is to change the word order. For example normally you declare the equivalent of ‘Fresh Bread Rolls’ but what a local seller declares as he walks the streets is ‘Bread Rolls Fresh’. He has made it different to catch your attention and becomes his own unique, differentiating catch phrase.

This is true for virtually everything you will need. Everything may be a bit more expensive, or there may be less selection or it may not be as fresh as you would like, but, you could practically source everything you need from your own door step.

Bottled water, plastics, cleaning supplies, clothes, cloth, blankets, shoes, sheets, vegetables, cleaning supplies – and more than I can currently recall.

All brought to your door. Full service, and with a smile.

The Turkish attitude to employment is very pro-active. If someone hasn’t or cannot find a ‘normal’ job, they may be able to create a job, to meet a need, to fill a gap; to earn a crust. As it says in Proverbs: “The appetite of labourers works for them; their hunger drives them on.” Proverbs 16:26 NIVUK

For the rest of the population, yes, they can go to shops, malls, markets and other places to buy various things – but at the same time, there is a whole army of people bringing their goods and services to whomsoever, wherever they may be.

 

Ah, the mystery and the power of culture.

Culture is difficult to define because, well, it is ‘culturally defined’.

Culture is, I believe, a gift from God.  It relieves us from many mundane decisions in life.  We just ‘know’ what is acceptable and what is not… without thinking.

People sometimes query me on some aspects of Turkish culture:

“Why must you uncross your legs when you pray?”

“Why are crossed legs inappropriate?”

“Why is blowing your nose in public profoundly rude and offensive?”

“Why, when I have a cold, is it acceptable, a non-event, to continuously sniff, sniff, sniff?”

The simple answer, is “that is the Turkish, (cultural), way”.  But so often people are reticent to comply until they understand the ‘why’ and even then, I suspect that if the reason is not convincing enough, that they will feel free to reject the prevailing culture, opting, interestingly, for their own cultural norm.

Culture, generally, by-passes our conscious minds.  It is behaviour and values that we have learned as children and have become embedded in our hearts and minds.  They are not the result of reasoned thinking, deduction or conscious decisions.  They are, if you will, subconsciously inherited.

And they are powerful.

Culture is extremely persuasive and operating as it does underneath our conscious mind, the result is that we are more often than not, blissfully unaware of its very existence and yet all the while living according to its dictates.

For an inadequate example: if someone asks me what time it is, my natural answer will be a precise: “It is 10:36”.  My culture calls for and honours accuracy.

And then I come to this culture that seems to paint ‘word pictures’ that describe the scene, and include ancillary information but tend to be woefully inaccurate.

To the question of what time is it, the respondent, feeling it is late in the day and time is flying by, may well respond “It is 11:00” or if they feel there is much of the morning left, they may reply “It is 10:00”.  Broad-brush accurate, but patently and profoundly fuzzy and, well, inaccurate – after all it is 10:36 exactly.

So, when I ask a question, I prepare my heart for a non-accurate ‘word picture’ which both answers the question (generally) and gives an insight to the speakers feelings about it.

Now, when I am asked a question, my culture demands, requires me to answer ‘specifically and accurately’.  That is the way my culture was formed and it has an inescapable influence over me.  My reply will be highly accurate and utterly devoid of any emotional content, that part which gives a hint of how I feel about it.

Do I communicate?  Yes, but after a fashion.

Do I understand?  Yes, but there are times of frustration and struggle as I am stumbled by the patently obvious inaccuracies declared.  For the speaker, they are not ‘inaccuracies’ but the part that declares their feelings about their answer.

With the dawning of the month long fasting of food and drink during daylight hours – the Islamic month of Ramada – a routine, commonly heard query is:  “Niyetli misinz” or, by translation, “Are you intending (to keep the fast)?”

This is a quick culturally specific means to know if normal Turkish hospitality – the offering of tea, coffee, cold drinks – should or should not be offered.

Now, as a non-Muslim, I am not attempting to maintain the demanding and difficult fast.

During the month of Ramadan, it would be fair to say that generally speaking, many people are tired from lack of sleep – the time to eat and drink are the dark hours, after the sun has set and before it rises in the morning.  Added to this are the normal demands of the working day compounded by the heat and intensity of the sun.  All combined together, this often makes for a miserable, difficult, trying day.

But, this year I’ve been struck by this question.  In years past, no doubt, I’ve been asked this question, but this year I’ve noticed it more and an answer, which I have not expressed to anyone, has been stirring in my heart.

The Question:

“Niyetli misiniz?” – “Are you ‘intending’ today?”

My unspoken response:

“Why, yes, I am intending to be honest and fair in my dealings with everyone I meet today.”

“Indeed, I am intending to be morally upright, not indulging my old nature and all its rampant passions and desires.”

“Yes, I am intending to be forgiving to those who may be contrary, awkward, miserable, simply spoiling for an argument or profoundly selfish or demanding.”

“Today I am intending to be loving to all I encounter; to those who are lovely, beautiful, pleasant, kind; and also to all the other people who are having a bad day, who are liberally sharing their difficulties with all they encounter; and the people that society in general has rejected; and the ill, and those with emotional problems, family problems, mental health problems; the foul mouthed, and the lusting, passion obsessed individual.”

“I am intending to be gracious to all I meet, encounter or have any interaction with today.  Being gracious, means doing good in situations and for individuals who, often, do not, even remotely, deserve it.  This is an expression of both the mercy and love of God being enacted by the proactive saying and doing of positive things for those who, from a purely human perspective, from a purely ‘natural’ point of view deserve to be ‘taught a lesson’ or ‘rejected’ or ‘shunned’ or ‘put out of the community’ or ‘locked up’ – because by their actions, their attitudes, their works, their words they have earned and deserve such a response.  Yes, today, I am intending to be gracious to all, especially the so-called undeserving.”

“This day I’m intending to be patient with everyone I encounter – regardless to how they maybe behaving, nor however demanding or profoundly, exceptionally, impatient they may be.”

“As I encounter the vagaries of life in this twenty-four hour period, I am intending to live in peace: the world around me can be falling apart; there may be horrors or terrors being perpetrated on the innocent; there may be turmoil and upheaval in the financial markets causing stress, worry and abject fear; events in my life may be flying wildly out of any kind of control; nevertheless, it is my intention, I am intending to live in peace despite all that may be unfurling around me.”

I guess, I am finding the question to be a good question that deserves to be seriously entertained and considered.  It is asked with regard to the demands of the fasting month – with a view to not causing a stumbling block or offence for those who are ‘intending’.

But, I am finding it a good question to contemplate and consider.

Of a truth, those around me, if they do not actively ‘intend’ to keep the fast, well, in the heat of the day, in the demands of work they will break the fast…

By the same token, if I head out into my day without identifying that which I am (actively) intending to do, then I will simply  react and respond to the events of the day and with very mixed results.

It remains a good question and I think, deserving of a serious answer:

“What I am intending for this day?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except things didn’t go exactly to plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m down.

Face first.

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

Things have happened rather unexpectedly and rather abruptly.

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

I perceived that nothing was broken.

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

Hence, I haven’t been run over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(first written July 2006)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(written July 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that was a few years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful…

However…

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

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

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

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

But, inside I am wailing, NOOoooooo!”

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

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

Oh joy.

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

The appointments fill up fast and well into the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brought about the second bit of bad news.

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

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

“Oh,” says I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The day of the dreaded appointment approaches.

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

I felt I could cope with that.  No worries.

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

The sight that greeted me was not fourteen vehicles waiting.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take my number from the dispenser by the door.

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

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

Yikes!

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

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

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

I really am not enjoying this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no problem with my ID. Whew!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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