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.

 

Equi's Fish & ChipsTo be honest, I do not enjoy eating fish. Well, the notable exception is the excellent Fish& Chips from Equi’s in Hamilton, Scotland. Their Fish & Chips are light, fluffy, not oily, no bones – absolutely wonderful.

But in all other cases, is it the taste, or the bones, or the smell or the skin that I find offensive?

Probably “Yes” to all the above.

However, my better half has a deep felt appreciation of a good fish meal. I encourage her to indulge and have fish whenever she so desires; as long as I do not have to join with her, I am happy. But she is not keen on preparing two different meals – the old cost – benefit calculation: the cost (preparing two different meals) against the benefit (having a fish feast) generally results in her not having fish as often as she may like.

Maybe, just maybe, having fish less frequently enhances the pleasure when she is able to partake of it.

However, if we ever go out for a meal, it is a prime opportunity for us to have something different, without the hassle. Well, there is always the hassle of the bill, but that is a different story.

Recently we were blessed by two young people who came down from the UK to help with the refugee ministry. They may not appreciate being referred to as ‘young people’ but at less than ⅓ of my age, to me they are young people – full of vim and vigour. Therefore, although they are older than I was when I married my wife, and they are in full time education in University, for the duration of this blog, they will be referred to as ‘young people’.

They helped in preparing the bags of food stuffs, in loading the lorry and in the distribution of the food to the Syrian refugee field workers living in the fields northeast of town.

They also helped with the children’s work, both in the city and out with the refugee children. They do not speak either Turkish or Arabic, but the children responded to the attention, playing games and interacting with adults who have time for them.

They also dug a pit in the middle of our courtyard, ½ metre deep and roughly 1½ metre by 1¾ in size.

the holeYes, we wanted the hole dug.

So it seemed only right that on the day before their departure, after all their diligent labours and as a small way to say ‘thank you’, my wife and I took them to see a few of the local sights.

We had suggested a walking tour of the so-called Titus Tunnel – this amazing civil engineering feat; a tunnel dug, with hand tools, through solid rock, roughly 2,000 years ago, in the time of the Roman Empire.

Seleucia & AntiochThe tunnel was initially commissioned by Titus’s father Vespasian as a water diversion project to protect the harbour of Seleucia – the harbour of Antioch. Antioch is twenty odd kilometres inland, and Seleucia acted as the harbour of Antioch and from time to time hosted elements of the Roman navy.

The project consisted of a dam, upper approach channel, the first tunnel, a short intermediary channel, the second tunnel and a very long discharge channel to take the waters to the sea – all to by-pass the harbour and the inevitable slitting that resulted. The whole series runs roughly 1.4 kilometres in length.

The work was begun by Vespasian, carried on by his son Titus and, finally, it was fully finished some thirty years after it was begun by Antoninius Pius.

This amazing undertaking was designed by engineers of the Tenth legion Fratensis, and built by Roman legionaries, sailors, and, unavoidably, prisoners. Some scholars believe that Jewish slaves, who were taken by Titus in the siege and destruction of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 – as recorded by Flavius Josephus, a Roman-Jewish historian – were employed in the construction of this channel.

The works began with a dam to divert the waters of the gorge to the tunnel. The dam was constructed of a masonry structure 16 metres high and was 5 metres wide at the crest. From the dam to the tunnel there was a 55 metre long approach channel.

Upper Entrance - 06-09-08 Titus Tunel Samandag DSCF2769The tunnel itself was to be forced through the base of the intervening hill – a rocky spur of the mountains from which the flash floods would torrent down the narrow ravine and, before this civil engineering marvel, deposit their debris into and silting up the harbour.

Here is where it becomes truly amazing. Using just hand tools, the living rock of the mountain was excavated, creating a channel 6.3 metres wide, 5.8 metres high and for a length of 90 metres and that is just the first tunnel.

This tunnel is high and wide enough for two articulated lorries to pass side by side!

After the first tunnel, there is an intermediate channel which connects the two tunnel sections. This channel is still deep under the hill, being 5.5 metres wide, 64 metres long, but, significantly, 25-30 metres high and with just a narrow slit, 2 metres or so wide, open to the sky.

Following this is the second, shorter tunnel which is 31 metres in length, 7.3 metres wide and 7.2 metres in height.

Thus, to traverse under the mountain spur required tunnelling for a distance of 185 metres through solid, rock-hard rock. But this, in and of itself, was not the solution to the problem.

Once on the opposite side of the hill the flood waters still had to be safely directed away from the harbour. Hence, a discharge channel to the sea was constructed. This was 635 metres long, with varying widths ranging from 3.8 to 7.2 metres and the height of the walls of this channel vary from 3.7 to 15 metres. This, once again, was hand chiselled out of the unbroken bedrock. The course of the discharge channel travelled towards the Mediterranean Sea, following the hillside and bending to the right to carry the waters well away from the harbour mouth.

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It really is an awe-inspiring structure and I felt, well worth sharing with our visiting young people. One of the young people is reading engineering and this is a good example of Roman engineering, and the other is reading architecture and funnily enough, this is a good example of Roman design.

They seemed to appreciate it. Mind you, I did get a bit lost – how do you get ‘a bit lost’?

This is how: after we exited the tunnel on the topside, I struck out to find the overland trail that takes you back over the top of the hill – something I’ve done numerous times in the past. Initially things went well, but after a while, it became clear to me that we had passed the point where the stream bed, where we were walking, and the trail intersected. This would be the ‘little bit lost’ bit, as I did not know where we were, where the path was, but I did know how to go back if it came to that…

Over Top Trail - 06-09-08 Titus Tunel Samandag DSCF2790In the end I did find the trail head! We returned via the overland route, standing above the entrance to the tunnel which was at the bottom of a vertical drop from the trail side and cresting the hill, seeing the expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea with an incredibly long, straight stretch of sandy beach for kilometres going south ending in the spectacular, in Turkish `Kel Dağı’ being translated as ‘Bald Mountain’ – in ancient times it was known as Mt. Casius now is also known as Jebel Aqra – rising out of the sea and the far slopes of the mountain demarcating the border of Turkey and Syria. It was a bit a palaver finding the start of the trail, but I think well worth the effort. Not sure what the young people thought….

After our walking tour through the tunnel and back over the hill – and after looking down through the 1½ – 2 metre wide slit at the top of the 64 metre interconnecting channel of the two tunnels – we took a short excursion to the local necropolis Beşik Mağara – The King’s Grave, an ancient graveyard carved, once again into the solid rock, with rooms, and rooms off rooms, and chambers and graves filling all the spaces.

When all was said and done, we returned to the ticket booth at the entrance to the combined site. It was time for lunch.

As we were by the sea shore and in the small village of Çevlik, I asked what the young people would like to eat for lunch.

Actually, what I asked was if they enjoyed ‘fish’ – I already know my wife does and this seemed like a natural opportunity.

Our young people enthusiastically said they very much enjoy fish.

So I asked the man in the ticket booth if there was a ‘good’ fish restaurant nearby. He had a recommendation. He also left nothing to chance, he made a call and the owner of the restaurant hopped on his motorcycle and sped up to the entrance of the Tunnel to guide us back to his restaurant.

Good thing, too, as I would never, ever have found it otherwise – it was past all the restaurants in the village proper, and a good ways down a road that led to the harbour side.

The restaurant was right on the harbour front, one side facing the road, the opposite side was the concrete apron of the harbour.

The building consisted of a large, high roof with open sides, gravel floor, simple tables and the ubiquitous plastic chairs which are normally white, but in this instance they were brown – on the left, under the large roof a small kitchen area had been created and with a cement floor.

To be honest, it wasn’t the most attractive of places and if it hadn’t been heartily recommended and if the owner himself had not collected us and brought us here, I would never have darkened the doorway.

My first question was if they had any alternatives to fish.

I’m a diabetic, the others were understandably hungry and they wanted to eat, however, I needed to eat. Happily they cater for the odd non-fish eater.

We sat down a bit away from a party of what looked like dock and boat yard labourers. There was no one else in the, er, restaurant.

Also, there was no menu.

When asked what they had, he said he had two kinds of fish and he rattled off their names – in Turkish. Now, not being a regular fish buyer, I knew the words to be some kind of seafood, but what kind, I hadn’t the foggiest notion.

A quick recourse to my ever present dictionary (smartphones can be very helpful), I presented the two offerings to the fish-eaters; bass or sea bream. Not being a fish-eater, knowing the English names didn’t mean any more to me than the Turkish names.

They opted for bass, and for me, I took the chap’s recommendation for the non-fish alternative – never get clever and make suggestions in a restaurant like that.  Let them make what they know, are comfortable with and have the ingredients for.

My kebab came and it was fine. They will receive no prize for portion size , presentation nor flavour, but it did the job, seemed to be well cooked and safe meat – what more could I want?

IMG_2110The bass platters came and I was assured by those who heartily partook that it was not just good, but very good. The owner assured me the fish was not 24 hours out of the water caught in that general vicinity and landed in this harbour the previous night.

As we were sitting there, letting our meals settle, there was progressively intruding loud and distinctive noise coming from our left as we were looking at the harbour. Slowly, a massive and I mean a really, really, really big crane came crawling into sight.

No doubt there are larger such monstrosities in the world, but this was happening before our eyes and it was, for us, a very, very large crane.

IMG_2116It was moving along the harbour front; well, by ‘moving’ I mean it was slowly creeping along.

Nevertheless, because of it’s size it was mesmerising. As our guests seemed to be interested in the slowing passing sight, we remained at our table – I suppose it was our after dinner entertainment.

I counted the counter-weights on the back of the crane, it was carrying 100 tonnes of counter-weights in addition to its already impressive bulk.

One of our young people was now standing, staring, fascinated by the sight before him when the man guiding the machine forward saw him and called him over. He immediately ran over in front of the trudging mega-crane.

The modern, it looks brand new, machine shuddered to a halt and he scrambled up the broad, one metre wide steel tracks, then he moved along the top of the track and finally up to the control cab mounted on the front of the machine.

Not long after, our remaining young person, was encouraged to join him on the massive machine. She, too, scrambled up the steel track and was encouraged to sit inside the control pod – an operators view of the proceedings.

Whilst they were there, looking at all the controls they saw a multitude of monitors which showed various aspects of the machine and it was clear from what they saw and what the operator was able to communicate that these various monitors would show the angle, tilt, lifting, weight and a myriad of other technical and essential data that would be indispensable for a safe lift… maybe you noted that I said ‘would show’, this is because the operator indicated that these various monitors and sensors had not been ‘calibrated’ and hence they all were “kaput” (his word). He was operating this ginormous machine by his innate skill, his experience and fundamentally, by the seat of his trousers…

Nice to know.

Once again the machine was set into motion, slowly crawling towards some fishing trawlers which previously had been hoisted out of the water and were now sitting dock side for maintenance and repairs.

IMG_2330The operator indicated he was going to pick up and move the fishing trawler on his right and move it into the harbour.

To turn this massive creation, it uses the standard track vehicle technique, either stopping one track and the other continues to move causing the machine to pivot around the stationary track, or, when necessary, one track reverses as the other drives proceeds forward for a faster pivot. At diverse times, he used both methods to reorientate the machine.

There was a small fishing boat on the quayside, and this goliath had to be pivoted to its right to avoid it. Mind you, he could not go too far right as there was a line of parked vehicles there.

He pivoted and continued his trudge down the quayside. Finally around the boat, he pivoted back and straightened his path towards his destination – leaving massive white friction dust from pivoting such a mammoth machine on the concrete.

He came once again to a grinding halt to enable our young people to abandon the cab and they scrambled down the stationary track. They then came over and joined us on the water’s edge to watch the proceedings.

For our young people, the machine was stopped to enable them to climb on and off, but in the course of its travels we witnessed a couple of times young men clamouring on the moving track to chat with or get cigarettes from the operator before disembarking via the still moving tracks.

The operator then began moving forward once again but this time he opened it right up and it was moving along at twice, even thrice it’s initial speed. It was veritably sprinting down the quayside.

Truly, however, it was still slow moving – but such a beast at any speed is a marvel to behold.

He arrived and his prey, the fishing trawler was on his right hand side, the harbour – the watery destination – on his left.

The crane swung over to the right, massive cables were hanging from a rig suspended from the crane. These cables were unlinked and two cables were passed behind the trawler and their matching cables in front. There were people onboard the trawler helping to move the cables to their appropriate positions. The positioning of the cables seem to be selected by the ‘eye-guess’ methodology.

Once the cables were on either side of the fishing trawler, men clamoured underneath the ship to link the cables together, ensuring the linking point was exactly under the keel. The linking device was a massive ‘u’ shaped steel fitting with the open end being closed by fitting a huge pin. This device was to rest directly under the keel and hence they planned to lift the ship, basically from two points under the keel.

It was not easy to wrangle the unwieldily cables into the fittings, and then to manoeuvre the heavy, large pins to close the open ends. There was a considerable amount of time that the men struggled and laboured underneath the trawler and underneath the keel.

All the while this 75 tonne fishing trawler was being supported on some wooden beams beneath the keel and the sides of the ship held in place by eight or ten (per side) round wooden props, leaning against the side of the ship to hold it upright. Friction, it seems, is a powerful force.

In the fullness of time the men succeeded in getting the fittings fitted. The men onboard used ropes to secure the cables in the right place along the ship – then they disembarked.

The crane operator began the lift, monitors of no value, he trusted what he was seeing and his experience.

Tension was applied.

The precise lifting points under the keel had been selected by the ‘eye-guess’ method as well – so as the tension increased it was becoming evident if the correct locations had been used. The trawler lifted a bit, moving slightly forward and back, but, basically remained level.

A bit more lift, and all the supporting props on either side fell away – the massive trawler was now fully airborne. Once free of the supports, it immediately swung backwards towards another trawler on the dockside.

IMG_2337

This trawler too was ashore for maintenance and repairs and was supported in the same manner by resting on beams under its keel and with supports propped up on either side. It was at 90º to the first trawler, and so the back of the airborne trawler was swinging backwards and towards the broadside of the other trawler.

One touch and it was my fear that the trawler would toppled over, and then to probably collide with the trawler parallel to it, which would have toppled and onwards…. There were about five or six trawlers side by side on the quayside…. trawler dominos…

It was close. Well, it looked very close to me. It was a 75 tonne dead weight swinging on the cables – but by talent, efforts, planning or just dumb luck, it refrained from nudging the other trawler.

Whilst it was hanging there I noticed a number of workmen scampering around with paint rollers in their hands. Wherever the ship had been supported by various props for the repairs and maintenance, it could not have been painted. Now the supports had all literally fallen away and here was the only opportunity to paint where the supporting posts had once been – and oh, also painting where the keel had rested on massive wooden beams.

So these men, in their construction ‘flip-flops’, safety ‘hair gel’, busied themselves, scuttling around and under this massive, moving target to complete the paint job. Health and Safety must have been busy elsewhere on this day… for what could possibly go wrong…

Now the ship is lightly swinging in the air and they are getting ready to change its orientation; it is sitting parallel to the water and in order to move it across the quay to harbour waters it must be swung 90º. Meanwhile, the workmen continue to scurry around the underside of the trawler, feverishly painting any unpainted bit, or the bits that were scraped by the cables during the initial lift. They must get right underneath the vessel in order to paint under the keel.

Additionally, there are men, hanging on to ropes fore and aft of the trawler, who, through brunt man-force swung it 90º so now the trawler is parallel to the other trawlers on the dockside.

Slowly, this massive ship is moved across the dock, and to make matters a bit more challenging, it must pass through a narrow opening between the propped up trawlers and a smaller fishing boat resting on the dockside near the water.

To achieve this the crane is swinging as these machines do, on its central ring, but the machine must also be moved, forward and the machine itself must be turned towards the harbour – all while holding the trawler in the air, with men fussing around underneath and others hanging onto ropes to control the orientation of the vessel.

The men holding the rope off the aft of the trawler – the ship is moving aft first towards the water – are running out of quay to stand on and are on the far side, between the moving trawler and the propped up trawlers.

I am wonder what happens next, when they scramble underneath the still moving, swaying trawler, to our side, bringing their rope attached to the aft of the ship with them.

IMG_2355Also at this point I was puzzled as to how they were going to put the trawler into the water – it kind of looked like it was going to go aft in.

I was moreover, curious as to how they would get the cables out from underneath the ship – it was clear, once in the water, no one would go down to release the massive pins.

Then the men holding the aft rope, there were just two men, on the quayside, with the rope to the aft, were straining with all their might, pulling for all they were worth and relentlessly being slowly drawn towards the waters edge.

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They resolutely held on, in this tug of war; man versus 75 tonne fishing trawler.

Slowly, the back of the trawler began to pivot towards the harbour side, slowly moving to become parallel to the quayside – ultimately the men were victorious.

At the start, the trawler had begun parallel to the harbour but on the far side of the dockside. It had been brought 90º to move across the quayside, and now another 90º to realign it once again, parallel to the harbour side and ready to be deposited in the water.

A space, large enough, well, just large enough, had been cleared of the little fishing boats moored to the harbour wall to receive the trawler. Mind you, the space so created was just able to accommodate the trawler. Indeed, whilst the lowering the trawler was happening, a workman was diligently holding the nearest small fishing boat out of the gap. Slowly the trawler was lowered into the water.

Once in the water, the cables were relaxed and as the tension was removed, people quickly boarded the trawler and began moving the still connected cables along the side of the ship to pass underneath and come out on the aft end. The pins joining the cables would be undone, later, on land, where it would be eminently more feasible.

The trawler was free.

75 tonnes of ship lifted up, painting topped up and swung into the harbour, now back in its proper environment, fully supported by the water and ready to be about it business on the open sea.

For us, the show was over – and what a show it was; talk about dinner time entertainment. Evidently the other trawlers are to be lifted and deposited in the harbour waters – whether on the same day, or later, we didn’t know. For us, what we had seen was sufficient.

This was one ‘fish meal’ that I was more than happy to be part of! Sometimes, it is in the things that we would not normally choose to do that surprise blessings and intriguing situations develop – need to be ready to move our of my comfortable routine from time to time.

As we departed, leaving behind this most powerful and modern of machines we made our way to visit, among other sites, the Monastary of St Simon the Stylite, a ‘saint’ who lived 68 years on top of a pillar in a quest to know God – what a dramatic contrast.

(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.