(first written 18 May 2016)

The Volkswagen Transporter, bought by and primarily used by the American family who labour in the same fellowship here as us, was purchased with a view to being a tool of the fellowship.

Over the years, it has been used to transport people to the Southeast Region Family Camp, various children’s camps, the quarterly Youth Revival meetings and any other fellowship function.

Lately, that is for the past year and a half, it has been the instrumental instrument for facilitating our assistance to the Syrian refugee field workers. It has transported more than its share of physical aid, dry food stuffs, clothing, and a myriad of other supplies.

Additionally, it has transported people: volunteers who have wished to aid in distribution and then with the advent of the “Haven of Love and Compassion” volunteers who have facilitated this practical work with the children.

I have refrained from describing the service of this mechanical beast as being sterling, that is without trauma and fuss. There have been points and times when it has needed TLC – tender loving care.

In the beginning and in response to the desperate plight of the Syrian refugee field workers, the seats were removed and the vehicle was loaded with essential food stuffs – loaded according to the volume of the space and not the vehicle’s ability to carry weight.

This was our error – and the vehicle paid the price, or more to the point, things broke and we had to pay the price to expedite rectification of the faults.

We learned from our experiences, albeit slowly, and began loading the vehicle according to its weight limit. But the natural consequence of this was the single vehicle, alone, was no longer up to the task and hence, we needed to employ a second vehicle to carry the same amount of material.  This naturally required another driver and twice the expenses in fuel.

Thusly, and with more care for the vehicle, the work continued unabated.

Then, about ten days or a fortnight ago, when the vehicle, loaded – not overloaded – with volunteers, was returning from the “Haven”, which is an hour’s drive up the valley, came the news that there was a new problem.

It seems that it lost power and then just stopped.

What to do?

As there were Turkish speakers amongst the volunteers, they were dispatched to flag down and board one of the ubiquitous public minibuses which ply that road. The driver then rang the mechanic who does the maintenance and repairs on the van and he agreed to drive out to where the van was reclining – some 20-25 kilometres distance.

He arrived and it soon became apparent that it could not be rectified with a road side repair and so he affixed a tow rope and dragged the van back to his shop.

After inspection and diagnostics, the key problem was identified.  It seemed that the fuel pump had failed, but he also indicated other, essential repairs that were required (brakes! pads and disks….).

He is the mechanic that the elder has used for over ten years, I’ve used with the various vehicles that I’ve had charge of, and for the last four or five years, the American has also used his services. All this to say, we basically trust him and his judgement.

The only glaring and outstanding problem in this scenario was that this all transpired on the eve of the Southeast Region Ladies conference which this year was being hosted some twenty kilometres out of Antakya in the village of Altınözü. Although the bulk of the ladies would be billeted with the saints in Altınözü, there were others who would sleep at home and be transported to the church.  Therefore, a vehicle was needed to ferry ladies from the city to the village and back throughout the three day conference.

To compensate for the loss of this large vehicle, we needed to employ multiple vehicles.

With this provision in place we commenced the weekend. We were encouraged by the promise that the vehicle would be ready on Saturday. So Friday evening, going and coming and Saturday morning going we would use the two car convoy, but commencing Saturday night and carrying on to Sunday morning, we would use the larger vehicle to take and return the ladies after the meetings.

That was the plan. It was a good plan.

And so to facilitate this plan, I, again, drove out in a two vehicle convoy on Saturday morning, but then I parked up the vehicle I use and returned with the elder in his vehicle. The plan was I would return Saturday evening in the van and with this single vehicle return all the returnees; the car I use I would pick up on Sunday morning.

Saturday was a very busy day for me and as the American had retrieved the repaired van, it was agreed that I would collect it from his home on my way out to the village in the evening.

So, according to the ‘end time’ of the evening meeting that I had been informed of, I headed off to the chap’s house to collect the vehicle and go out to the village. Because of where I acquired the vehicle, I chose to go to the village by the alternative route.

The problem with that route is, you have make your way through the town of Harbiye – which is time consuming, and then up a rather narrow pass out of Harbiye to the junction with a new four lane section of road that will take us nigh unto the village, where the new road terminates and we would switch back to the old, two lane road.

All seemed well. I navigated the morass known as Harbiye and passed out of the town and began going up the gorge. I noted as I left the town and began moving up the gorge there was a security check point on the downward lanes – checking vehicles entering the town.

But my attention was soon drawn to the inescapable fact that the van was exhibiting extreme signs of weakness – illness. It had no power.

Granted, it is a fairly steep incline up the narrow gorge, but nothing that should have had that kind of effect on the vehicle. I was only able to proceed in third gear, normally, especially empty, you would be fifth or, at the very, very worst, fourth gear.

The van was struggling in third gear and I was seriously contemplating downshifting to second.

Because at that point the road is only two lanes, and as there was traffic, I moved over as far as I could to the nearside to facilitate normal vehicles in overtaking me.

It must be said that the van was still going, not quickly, but it was going. However, it really didn’t foster any confidence.

I made the junction with the four land section and turned on to it. Once again it struggled up the incline in low gear, but once we crested the hill, the van responded more like normal – and, in the fullness of time, I was travelling along in fifth gear, mind you, the vehicle was basically empty and the road was generally a variation on downhill.

At the terminus of the four lane section and after the translation on to the old two lane road for the final leg into the village, the road, again, being mainly downhill, the van seemed to behaved itself.

Once in the village, I made my way, very slowly over an extremely bad section of road to the church to find the ladies awaiting my arrival – the meeting had ended earlier than planned.

Everyone in, I returned via the bad section of road – no choice.

Back on the main road in the village I begin the climb up and as I approach an important junction, the road bending, as it does to the right, I notice police and vehicles on the right, but, paying it no mind, I continued to proceed directly up the offside lane.


It seems this was a police check, or should I say, a ‘mandatory police check’.

An armed policeman stepped into the street and the Turks in the van quickly told me that I needed to be stopping.

I stopped.

He said to pull over, put on the hazard lights and to give him the car papers and my drivers licence.

This I did.

I sat there for a wee bit and vocalised my wondering if I should get out – sometimes they take the papers, take a look, no doubt checking them against a list or radioing someone and then return the documents.

The Turks told me that I needed to go.

I don’t have a lot of experience with this kind of thing.

So out I get and in the gloom, there wasn’t a lot of light, I perceived that there were people gathered around the bonnet of the police car which was parked off and at right angles to the road.

I joined the queue.

When the police man finished with the man in front of me, giving him a road side breathalyser test, it was my turn.

He looked at the car papers. Then he looked at my driver’s licence. He asked where it was from…he postulated “Norway” (no, I don’t know why “Norway”).

I said no, the U.K.. We had quite a chat about what it is called in Turkish, England, United Kingdom or Great Britain (all Turkish equivalents of course).

Then he noticed a holographic “Jul 22” on the bottom left corner.

“What’s this?” he queried.

You know, I don’t often look at my driver’s licence – it has been a while. It is dark. I tend to be right eye dominate – and the vision of that eye is currently occulated by a cataract. I was at a loss to know what this hologram indicated.

Since then I have looked at it in daylight and it clearly and simply is the month and year of the expiry of my licence.

In any event, on the night, together, we agreed it was July and 22, of course duly translated into Turkish. He seemed happy with that, still at that time, none the wiser as to what it meant.

He then handed me back my papers, and sent me on my way – and without administering the roadside breathalyser that they were giving to all they stopped.

All they stopped, save me, that is.

So we carried on. The van again demonstrated its lack of power as we climbed the long incline out of the village. Because the road was still in the village, I wasn’t attempting “A” road speeds and so, whilst very aware of the lack of power, it didn’t make a deep impression – I wasn’t trying to go fast.

Out of the village to the four lane turn off – I had decided to return via the route I’d come as one of my passengers lives in Harbiye, and hence dropping her would now be “on our way”.

Once again, as we were going up the four land divided section, the van exhibited its reticence to going uphill quickly – but, still, it did go uphill.

Down the gorge – no problem going downhill.

As we reached the end of the gorge, just where the gorge ends and the town of Harbiye commences, where I had noticed the traffic control on my way out of town, well, I noted it was still there and active.

Having not yet learned my lesson with regards to traffic control, I merrily continued along in the offside lane – if they want me, they will indicate – or so my thinking went. Often that is the way, the control point is the tail end of a radar trap and they are only stopping certain vehicles.

Well, it seems they did want me to stop and once again at least one armed policeman stood in my lane indicating that I needed to stop.

And so, for the second time that evening, I slowed the van quickly, moved over to the nearside and joined the queue.

One of the policemen who had stepped into the road to encourage my stopping walked over to the vehicle.

I wound down the window and the policeman, dressed in civilian clothes, with a full black moustache pleasantly greeted me with a smile and a “welcome”.

I returned the greeting. He seemed pleasant enough.

“Where are you coming from?” he inquired.

“Altınözü” replied I.

After a few more questions he asked something to the effect, or so I thought, of “What are you doing?”.

Strange question I thought, rather self evident, nevertheless I replied. “I’m driving these ladies from Altınözü to Antakya”.

I must confess that this I said, in all naïve innocence.

Smile, little laugh, “where is your Residence [permit]?” he asked more directly. Ah the dreaded question….

Caught, as I was somewhat off guard, I naturally and honestly replied “İstanbul”. He seemed a bit content with that.

Then, when it became apparent it wasn’t just a van full of ignorant foreigners, but there were Turks in the vehicle, people fluent in Turkish and who would naturally be able to answer any queries, he smiled – I think a relieved smile – and began chatting to the elder’s wife who just happened to be sitting in the front of the vehicle.

She answered his questions – I noted her answers 🙂 .

He then waived his hand indicating we could continue on our way. Mind you, now I was truly bemused as, do I stop again at the head of the queue where other, armed and uniformed police are standing, or do I drive on….

In keeping with my evening’s practice, I drove on…

The following morning, once again I commanded the van to take the Antakya participants back to the village.

That morning I decided to go by the route I would more naturally take – nowhere near Harbiye, the dreaded gorge nor the almost constant check point.

As we left the valley and began our climb up towards the village, the van again demonstrated its abhorrence to going uphill quickly.

I spoke out load to no one in particular that “this vehicle is ill and needs to be taken back to the mechanic”.  Alas, I thought not a job for today, Sunday.

We, slowly, travelled up the valley and made it safely to the church. There I parked up and switched to the vehicle I use, for my return to Antakya. The wife of the American would be driving the van back with the load of ladies after the meeting.

I would be joining the men and the few ladies who were unable to attend the Ladies conference for the normal morning meeting.

It was after the meeting that we got the phone call. On leaving the church, the ladies had gone to the main road in the village which, as I’ve said, is an uphill road, but before they could get to the honestly steep part, before where I was stopped for the breathalyser check the van exhibited extremely low to no power and evidently, there was smoke. In the end, they stopped.

The ladies were all transferred to one of the minibuses that form the public transport link with Antakya and the elder and I were phoned and commissioned that on their arrival at the bus station to collect our ladies and escort them to their homes.

Once the American wife had returned home to watch the children, the owner of the van, once again needed to collect the mechanic to go and see what needed to be done with the injured and ailing van.

It turned out that it had something to do with a hose being fitted incorrectly or some such thing.

In any event, it is working again.

Mind you, yesterday when we did the distribution of milk, nappies, formula and some other things out in the fields where the Syrian refugee field workers abide, there was this disturbing noise…..

Time, methinks, to visit the mechanic once more…

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