(written September 2004)

The journey started as so many do, with one form of transport to take us to another form of transport to be able to go where we want to go.… We took one of the small motor-ferries to cross the Bosphorus to the wee port of Kabataş where we would board the much larger ferry that would, well, ferry us to our destination.

On arrival, the ferry disgorged its cargo of day-trippers like us, except I suspect, they had an idea of what they were doing and how to go about doing it. I can’t confess to knowing what or how to do what we were doing.

It was our first ever foray to the Princess Islands, a string of islands nested under the wing of Istanbul in the sparkling azure waters of the Sea of Marmara. The next major earthquake, I mused, is to occur on a fault somewhere under these islands with the projected epicentre somewhere near where we were. Well, so they say.

Oh, and they say and sometime within the next 30 years.

The only motorised transport that is available on “Big Island”, the largest of the Princes Islands, is motor boats as private cars, buses, shared taxis and taxis are all banned. The only other main form of transport on the island, and not motorised, were horse drawn carriage. It makes for a gentle, quaint and quiet environment – quite desirable and compelling.

But on this day we were on a quest of a different sort. Y. had expressed his wish for the day “All I want is a nice beach”. Fair enough desire. Reasonable goal. The sign at the small motor boat tied up at the quay declared that it’s destination was a beach – the boat ride was free, but there was an entrance fee for the beach which included the lounge chairs, umbrella and showers. The fee was negotiable – and yes, sight unseen. This means we pay whatever I can barter the price down to – how would I have a remote clue as to the “going rate”?

So I barter and haggle trying to find an agreeable sum that will be in the right ball park – not too high and we feel ripped off, not too low and we are left standing on the quayside. Ah.

The price agreed, we boarded the boat, reclining in the aft section – and wait. It is a lovely day, the island rising before us, the stretch of Istanbul across the water filling our horizon. The gentle slap of the waves against the side of the boat creates a soothing sensation so we are not too bothered by the opportunity to exercise gracious patience in the face of circumstances not quite of our choosing.

Then, we’re off….

The boat heads off, we do not know where – we’ve never been here before – and it ploughs it’s way through the sea, doggedly, reluctantly it seems, around the island. Gradually the town clinging to the edge of the island falls aft of us as we make our way around the island sailing sou’ sou’west. The sea is quite calm and there is very little rocking motion. The island slowly passes off the port side as we are – uh, serenaded, by the dulcet throbs of the marine diesel chugging away beneath our feet.

As we progress ’round the island I note with growing concern the lack of “beaches”. The rocks tend to plunge down rather abruptly into the sea offering rather picturesque bays but frightfully few beaches. My son reiterates his simple desire for a plain beach. I know we are going to a beach – but I begin to wonder… the word that I am translating as “beach”, Turkish “plaj” – well, maybe….

We round the corner and the boat noses into a broad bay, swinging by large fishing trawlers at anchor and sailing past some rather expensive looking pleasure craft. I note with interest two things. A large boat, larger than the one we are on, a passenger boat, which is moored and people are swimming off the deck. The second thing I note, is the final destination of our boat. I see umbrellas. I see lounge chairs. I see a restaurant. I see a place to dock the boat. I see water. What I do not see is “sand”. The lounge chairs are on a concrete pad, which comes to the water and ends in a concrete wall.

Now it never occurred to me to ask the chap I had so patiently negotiated our entrance fee with, if the “plaj” had sand. I “assumed” that beach means sand – not a place to swim with shore facilities to lie in the sun or shade according to ones tastes.

This was a “beach” but of the “sand-less” variety. Words can mean one thing to one person, and carry a different meaning to another.

Likewise, as we seek to communicate Good News, we must be aware that words may mean one thing to me and another to our hearers… if something as simple and mundane as “beach” can be misconstrued, then how much more carefully need we be when the subject is the Good News.

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