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.
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.
The venue where the Antakya Christian Church gathers is a rented former courtyard house in the oldest part of the city of Antakya. It is not overly large – but we’ve been gathering in this location for over ten years now and, well, it feels like home.
It is known in the immediate community, and over the years, many have come and visited with us there, sharing in our special occasions, Easter and Christmas and many other events.
But it is rented. The rent, as rents do, continues to increase year on year. In the beginning, the fellowship was able to meet the rent. However, over the years, we’ve passed the point where the believers are able to do so; every month there is now a short fall.
In former times, the landlord, a Turkish, ‘Greek Orthodox’ gentlemen whose house is adjacent, would provide his large garden and its most important feature, in the midst of his garden, a large water feature for Fellowship baptisms. It was within this water feature that a number of believers have been baptised.
Sadly, our landlord has passed-on and with his passing, so has passed the opportunity to use his ‘water feature’ as our impromptu baptismal pool.
Recently, a brother declared his desire to obey the Lord in the waters of baptism and that raised the question of where were we to do this?
In the past, in addition to the landlord’s water feature we have conducted baptisms in the Mediterranean Sea. The sea sounds like a idyllic place to be baptised, but the reality is, it is over thirty kilometres away and large sections of the beach are subject to a vicious rip-tide. Added to this is the complication of transporting everyone who would like to be there to the baptismal location, thirty or more kilometres there and naturally, another thirty or so kilometres back. A local venue is our clear preference.
As it is our understanding and practice that baptism is by immersion; a bucket or font does not fill the bill.
One possible solution was to construct a ‘water feature’, that is a baptismal pool, at the building we rent for the church, but:
• we are renters – we may have to move at some time in the future
• the property is small, and to put an adequately sized ‘water feature’ in the stone clad courtyard would dominate the courtyard to such an extent that it would impede our fellowship times, fellowship meals, and the children’s work
• we can not built the baptismal pool indoors as, well, there really isn’t any space to do so within the church building.
And so was born the notion of building a ‘water feature’ in the courtyard of our home, which belonging to the elder and will always be available for our use, and use it for Fellowship baptisms. Our courtyard is larger, and whilst the Baptismal Pool will dominate it, it would not impede the activities that occur in the courtyard.
So, we embraced this solution with the desire to have it built and established quickly to enable our brother to be baptised.
Two young people from the United Kingdom came down to help with the refugee ministry and, they declared, in any way they could be of a help.
We took them at their word.
They helped with the refugee work. They helped with the children’s work. And they helped with this baptismal pool project.
We felt that if we built the baptismal pool on top of the courtyard floor and with it being deep enough for a baptism, it would stand rather tall – too tall. Consequently, it was decided that we would drop the bottom of the pool lower than the courtyard floor. In this way, with part of the pool below the level of the courtyard, less would be required to stand proud – the required depth would be created without being too high in the courtyard.
To go lower than the courtyard required breaking open the floor and digging down sixty odd centimetres. This was no mean task.
Digging the pit is a task in and of itself, but it is not just the digging, but also the bagging up of the spoil and then lugging it out of the way, that makes this such a laborious task. With over one and a half cubic meters of compressed soil, broken up and dumped into bags, this equated to a disproportionately large number of bags.
The need to dispose of all the bags was a constant pressure dogging me. It is not enough to create the hole, it was not enough to bag the spoil, at some point it would need to be dragged, lugged, cajoled or otherwise removed from the courtyard and loaded (let the reader understand ‘lifted’, hoisted, manhandled) up into a lorry for transportation and disposal… somewhere.
The courtyard tiles were carefully lifted and cleaned as they were needed elsewhere, and our two, hearty and hail young people threw themselves at the task of excavating the hole.
Slowly, layer by layer, the pit, about 1.70 meters by 1.86 meters rectangle, was excavated. Beneath the courtyard tiles there was a sand layer of about five to seven centimetres deep – we bagged this relatively clean sand up separately as we felt it may be required later in the build (it was). The sand had been laid over a compacted layer of stones. Together this formed the base of the current courtyard tiles. Below this, as we dug deeper, we passed through various levels until, at about 60 centimetres down, we encountered an old level surface. This appeared to be constructed of cement, so, it would not be really old. As this was at about out desired depth, we stopped excavating.
I confess, it was rather satisfying to look down and see a smooth, flat bottom to the pit.
However, it was less than satisfying to look all around at the bags and bags and bags of spoil. All the bags were hand filled. Some were on the light side, easy to shift, and others were beyond my ability to shift without extreme difficulty.
It was important that the sides of the hole be perpendicular and we did work at it to ensure they were so. And, to a degree, they were… to a degree… but, in reality, they really were not.
The young people, having expended their energies and sweat, returned to the country from whence they came and the labour baton was passed to a Turkish workman who does this sort of rough construction – forms, hand mixed cement, block walls and such.
He informed me that he had experience in this kind of thing, that he had made a large pool for his children and their friends to romp around in and it has never leaked.
I found that very encouraging.
He convinced me that he was the one to do the task and besides, I dreaded the notion of mixing a lot of cement by hand, and I have no real experience laying blocks.
Before he began his task of pouring a floor in the pit and building the sides, he jumped in the hole and measured the top and the bottom of the hole. He then declared that the top was larger than the bottom. True, my eye, which is not very accurate, did note a discrepancy. His measured discrepancy was significant – accumulative over two sides was about 15 centimetres, on the one axis and the same on the other axis.
Now that is a large discrepancy, about seven centimetres per side.
In my ignorance, I thought he would trim the sides of the pit, creating more spoil, and make them truly perpendicular; that this approach would be easier, better, and result in a stronger structure.
I assumed he would make the bottom measurements the same as the top, with straight, perpendicular sides, and that then he would pour the floor and then build the walls.
The measurements at the top of the pit are true, framed by the courtyard tiles. To make the sides right it would mean excavating the bottom reaches of the sides to extract the excess soil – I acknowledge that this would be an added task, but I did not perceive that this was an overly taxing or difficult task.
His first chosen task was to ignore the wonky sides and dig a hole in a corner to accommodate the sump pump. A sump pump was required as we could not put a drain in, partly because of the depth and mostly because we did not want to tear up any more of the courtyard tiles than necessary.
Leaving the sides as they were, his next task was to cut and put some steel rods in the bottom of the hole and then to hand-mix sand and gravel and cement in a pile on the floor of the courtyard. The idea is you roughly turn the pile over and in so doing, you mix the cement into the sand and gravel. Then you make a depression in the middle of the pile with walls formed out of the sand, gravel and cement, creating a lake-like basin. This space is then flooded with water.
Once sufficient water has pooled in the ‘lake’, you carefully chop slices off the interior side of the walls, that is the walls which are all there is holding the water in. These delicate slices of sand, cement and gravel are drawn into the centre and mixed with the water.
Thus, in this manner, slowly, slowly, the original dry pile, has been turned over and flooded and mixed until it is a large sloppy, soupy mixture on the floor of the courtyard.
To cement the sump pump depression, he first, carefully, put some of this cement mixture in the bottom of the newly excavated hole and then placed an old paint pail on top of the concrete. He then poured the cement around the sides. In this way, it would be encased in cement – the plastic paint pail would remain in-situ and provide the venue for the sump pump.
Then the remainder of the cement mixture was poured, pushed and coaxed so as to fill the bottom of the hole, carefully lifting the steel bars off the floor of the pit in the process.
This task being done, he departed.
On the following day with the cement now set, our rough builder set about building the walls of our Baptismal pool.
I did wonder if he would just make the pool smaller, using the bottom width of the pool his guide and build the walls straight up from there. This would result in a smaller pool and a gap between the tiles and the wall.
That was not his plan…
The constructing of these walls was one of the more intimidating aspect of the work for me… the walls need to be right, true and well built as they will, after all, be charged with holding in a tonne or more of water.
The chosen building material for the walls was ‘tuğla’, a special block made out of clay and formed with a hollow, lattice interior structure. These blocks are first sun dried and then baked hard in a special oven. This is the ubiquitous building material in Turkey for walls.
They are also some what brittle. Personally, I am not so keen on them, but, as I said, they are rather ubiquitous in Turkey. They are also comparatively cheap.
Now, our rough builder had been at pains to point out to me that the sides of the pit were not perpendicular. In assessing the problem he had determined that the solution to this problem was to knock off bits of the block, that is to reduce the size of the blocks laid at the bottom of the pit so that when the wall reaches the courtyard floor level we would be able to carry on using full sized blocks.
In other words, he decided to make up for the difference in the size of the hole (smaller bottom, larger top) by reducing the size of the blocks in the bottom of the walls of the hole.
I wrote this twice as it was not what I expected, nor desired.
In this way, at the courtyard level, the blocks will be their full 15 centimetres (full sized), but, as he was aggressively knocking half of the block away (sometimes more than half) at the bottom this meant that the bottom row of blocks were a mere seven centimetres wide.
I didn’t say anything partly because I reasoned that as the soil is the backdrop to the walls, the thinner wall will have nowhere to go, the soil behind it will hold it place… but, I wasn’t happy with his methodology.
Alas, it also transpired that the special hole for the sump pump was poorly located and actually came under the path of the wall – even the curtailed, reduced wall blocks. I feared that if this was not properly addressed at some point, then it would provide a weak point – an easy path for the water to escape from our enclosure.
Now, throughout the two days of rough construction, including the essential building of the block walls, our rough builder had brought along a ‘helper’, someone less skilled than he to do the simple tasks and the basic grunt work.
After the walls were, er, ah… custom trimmed and built up to the level of the courtyard, the rough builder departed as he declared that he had some other business that he had to attend to. He was adamant that he would be gone ‘no more than half an hour.’
Now, culturally, when a Turkish speaker gives a time reference it is not intended to be a precise, digital reference. That is to say, “half an hour” is not intended to mean thirty minutes duration. It is more the emotional intent – what he was saying was he would be gone a relatively short while, do not worry…
He left his semi-skilled ‘helper’ behind to carry on the task of building the walls up to the finished height.
In the event, we didn’t see the rough builder again until the task was completed and he had to return to pick up his helper, his tools, oh, and to be paid…
Now, to be honest, the helper worked to the best of his limited ability. It is true that the size and shape of the finished product will be a lasting monument to his skill set. Suffice it to say, a master block layer he, most definitely, was not.
At this point I also learned that it seems our rough builder has a tendency to over purchase material – to avoid running short when doing a build. The problem for me is that he charges for all the material that he has brought, used or otherwise!
Now, I acknowledge that I should pay for what was used, this is as you would expect. But it was a… er… surprise for me that I was expected to pay for all the extra that he didn’t use. He had no intention of carting the surplus away, and some of it was brought in preparation for the plasterer, nevertheless this was not what we needed, wanted or expected.
Indeed, it was a rather unpleasant turn of events.
However, on the positive side, he did load all the spoil; lugging, dragging, lifting, hefting, hoisting it all on to his lorry and then he deposited it somewhere. As I said, some of the bags were a doddle to lift, and others were beyond what Health and Safety would ever condone being hoisted by anyone.
Removing all the spoil almost made his exorbitant charge worth it – almost, but not quite. I still smart when I think of what he was paid. It was the agreed price… no one to blame but me – I agreed after all… There are times when I make bad deals… and this was one.
Now with the walls so built, it does not look like anything that could hold the waters of the baptismal pool in place. I was informed and assured, by the rough builder, that the plasterer, would line the inside of the pool with a mesh and use a special plaster that is more or less water proof. He was adamant that this combination would be able to withstand the pressures of the water.
From our projects in renovating our flat, we knew a Master Plasterer. He had been sent out to work as a child and hence, learned his trade the old fashioned way. On the plus side, he really is a master of his art, but, on the other side, he didn’t choose this profession and he doesn’t really enjoy it.
Currently he has found other employment, which still involves his plastering skills, but the work is more varied, and most importantly, the pay is more consistent. We called him to come and examine our project. In his examination, complete with a tape measure and a level he found that there were quite a few challenges before him.
It seems on careful inspection that the new block walls were not straight, were not level, and the structure was not square. It could have been; actually, it should have been, but, alas, it was not. The shape of the pool had its own, unique, kinks and quirks.
The task for the Master Plasterer was to try and straighten out and correct some of the fundamental flaws and make the top of the walls level.
On the day he came, our first task was to go and source the essential mesh which would reinforce the walls… but as we traipsed from shop to shop, he couldn’t get the mesh he wanted. In the end he settled on some plastic coated wire mesh – good stuff, but harder to work with.
Initially he said he would put the mesh on the inside and on the outside of the walls of the pool – he had measured and had me purchase sufficient material for this.
Affixing this metal mesh proved to be an unexpectedly difficult and labour intensive task. At times it seemed as if the wire mesh had a mind of its own. Even once it was fitted and secured in place, it would sometimes find it within itself strength to pop away from the wall, or to refuse to stay in the selected position that had been determined. The plasterer used nails to try and keep it fixed in place until the plaster has been applied… sometimes to no avail.
He had arranged that we would have ‘black sand’ (brought by the rough builder) for this stage of the project. He said it is the best for this task. Also, he sourced a special package of something or other which was to be mixed with the cement and sand and will make the finished plaster, water… er… resistant…
After wrangling the mesh into place and standing in the pool, he expertly applied the ‘mud’ to the walls, embedding the mesh. The notion is, the wall provides form and shape and basic strength, but it is the wall, plus the mesh, plus the plaster in combination that will, ultimately, be sufficient to contain the water. As the water pushes outwards, the mesh, embedded in the plaster, will counter this powerful force. Hence, it is the wall augmented and strengthened by the mesh and plaster which are reinforcing one another, which will resist the outward pressure of the water; kind of like a Chinese finger puzzle – the more pressure, the stronger it seems to be.
As he worked, it became clear that at one place the plaster is just thick enough to bury the mesh, at another it is three or four centimetres thicker to make up for a wobble in the wall. It is a challenge to make right something that is, well, rather wrong.
When the interior was done, he carefully extradited himself and was about to commence the exterior walls. Now, initially, he said he would apply the mesh to the inner andouter sides… now, because of the difficulty in working with this plastic coated metal mesh, he suggested this was not really necessary.
I could be in error; indeed, the wire mesh may not be required on the outside; truly, at the end of the day, it may offer little structural support. But as we had the mesh, and as our initial plan was to lay it on both sides and as we had the workman to fit it, and as he was being paid for the task, I insisted.
He fitted the mesh.
In this way, all the mesh purchased was used – nothing left over.
He then applied the plaster, smoothing it, levelling it, aiming to make the best base for the finish which will be ceramic tile on the interior and stone cladding on the exterior.
He had to add more plaster to the top of the wall than he desired and felt was acceptable. But, as the walls were not level and they really needed to be.
At the end of the day, he was both done and done in. The pool looked much better – this is just the foundation for the finish, but it looks like something now.
As he was worn out, and as we had the ‘excess building material’ that the rough builder had delivered and I paid for, it was agreed that I would take the Master Plasterer home (he lives in a nearby village) in the church van. We would also take along the building materials that were extraneous to our needs. We know that he could make good use of the building material and we appreciate him and he did put the mesh on the outside as I desired, and he is a jolly nice bloke.
With the pool now prepared, we needed a Master Tiler cum Stone Cladder.
Again, due to the renovations we had been involved in, we just happen to know a Master Tiler.
Before he came, I was sent out to source the tile. In so doing, I found I had the choice of one ‘pool’ tile, and, thankfully, everyone approved of it.
For the exterior, I had in mind a specific type of stone – travertine. I love stone, and travertine is, to my eye, a very pleasant stone. I was able to source and purchase the travertine – it comes from the west of Turkey. It was about the same price as ceramic tile so did not impact the cost of the project, but will look so much better in the courtyard when it is finished.
Now this tiler is a Master – he really knows his trade. He is the one who tiled the upstairs flat, over 90 square metres. He prepped the floor, found the ‘centre line’ and drew out the tiles from there and it took him but one day to do the entire flat.
A wonderful job which was very done as well.
I thought, “For a master tiler, this wee little baptismal pool should be a trifle.”
And I suppose it could have been except everything was off. Nothing was square and nothing was true. The plasterer had brought it much closer to true… but much closer is not the same as true.
Our Master Tiler set to work and completed the inside walls of the pool in a couple of hours.
But the exterior stone cladding, well that took a lot of time. And the floor of the pool, that was a real challenge for as as you work, you run out of a place to stand and the high walls prevent you from leaning over to complete the task… and the sump pump hole presented its own, unique challenges partly because two sides were under the edge of the wall… and it was a round hole. He is a Master Tiler, he wants the sump pump to look good as well.
In any event, by the end of the day, the task was not yet completed. He completed a 90 square metres flat in one day, but our wee pool, proved to be such a difficult challenge that one day was insufficient time.
He returned in the morning, to grout the interior and to cut and place the stone cladding for the top of the walls. These walls that are 20 centimetres thick on one side and are 17 centimetres thick on another – even the most basic elements are not true.
Throughout the project, he was cutting the travertine stone using an angle grinder with a large stone cutting wheel fitted. At one point we noted that the cutting wheel was damaged (chunks missing at the cutting edge), nevertheless, with no alternative and no spare cutting wheel, he carried on. This is definitely not what is recommended by those involved in Health and Safety. You could argue, nor is it recommended by simple common sense.
We were near the end of the stone work. In fact, we are at that stage that his helper was cleaning tools – an essential task and one left to the end of the job. The Master tiler was himself cutting one of the last stones with the angle grinder. I’m standing off at the other end of the courtyard trying to stay out of the way of the dust.
Suddenly there was this almighty BANG … I mean it was sudden, it was very loud, and it was absolute… sharp, abrupt and unrestrained. It emphatically declared something had gone very, very wrong.
The Master Tiler’s helper, who had been standing in front of the angle grinder abruptly dropped what he is doing, his hands instinctively flying to his head and he twisted and turned away, walking towards the end of the courtyard. My first thoughts was injury to the face/head.
Thankfully, he was not injured, just shaken up with a serious smack to the face and a few minor cuts. Everything missed his eyes!
It transpired that the cutting wheel, spinning as it does at an extremely high speed had burst apart; all parts of the disintegrated cutting wheel being propelled at that extreme speed away from the angle grinder. The tile master himself, was aware of the danger, and had angled the machine away from himself. He was unscathed.
The bulk of the cutting wheel, with the largest pieces which had been, thankfully, expelled backwards, away from the helper in front of the angle grinder, had flown towards our flat and towards our closed front door.
The largest piece struck the window in the door where it pierced the glass and after creating a massive hole in the window, continued travelling all the way down the corridor to the far side of our flat. The corridor was liberally littered with debris, glass and bits of the cutting disk.
Thankfully, T was not in the corridor at the time but in a side room.
That was… er… exciting.
We were all extremely glad no one was injured.
And, as is in the nature of things, the work continued.
Finally, the master tiler finished his task and now the baptismal pool looks proper. His workmanship was 100% but he was paid less than the rough builder – life is not fair.
I paid him an honest amount – he would not take more. It was the rough builder who had the inordinate recompense. The rough builder, too, has a family to support and being a small builder, work can be inconsistent – paying him more, whilst it irked me, is providing essentials for his family.
To finish off, we had a wooden cover made for the baptismal pool. This enables the baptismal pool to function as a table when we prepare the assistance for the Syrian refugee field workers. It also is effective in keeping the children from falling in when it is not in use.
The pool is complete, and has been commissioned – we recently had our first baptism.
The construction process has been a bit of an adventure.
What really struck me was how the walls alone could not do the task, and how the walls and plaster could not do the task, nor just the walls and the mesh… all three elements are required to make the whole complete and strong and up to the task.
Reminds me that God saves, the Holy Spirit in-dwells and the Church – the Body of Christ – provides the living context for the living out of our Faith. Or to put it another way, we have faith and trust in the finished work of God in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit abiding within us to encourage us to walk in the Way and to give us power to do so, and God has established the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ – we are not alone, but need one another.
All three elements are necessary.
They are necessary for the baptismal pool to function.
And in the same way, all three elements are necessary for me to grow in Grace and in the Knowledge of God.
Antakya is rather unique among the cities of Turkey. The population that makes up this neglected backwater is strangely cosmopolitan.
The city consists of a mixture of Sunni Turks, Alevi Arabs, Kurds, Greek Orthodox Christians, a minute Jewish population, oh, and now a disproportionate number of Syrian refugee Sunni Arabs. Additionally, the imprint and influence of the time when this area was part of the French Mandate are still discernible.
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.
However, 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.
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.)
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.
sheep awaiting sacrifice
the sacrifice waiting
sheep awaiting sacrifice
sheep awaiting sacrifice
prayers attached to a tree
Prayers attached to a wall
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.
I have a question: “If smartphones are so smart, why do people act so, well, simply put, ‘dumb’ when they are using their smartphone?”
Since the advent of the smartphone, simple life tasks, like walking, talking, interacting, driving have all become more intractable and fraught with danger and difficulty.
It is uncomfortably common that when I am out, driving somewhere and I encounter a vehicle being driven in an erratic, unpredictable, inattentive, distracted manner – slower than other traffic, drifting one way or another, stopping at profoundly inappropriate places, it is most likely that they are engaged on a smartphone.
Recently I watched a video on Facebook whereby the driver of an intercity coach was engaged on a smartphone – regrettably not uncommon – but what stood out was the fact that he was looking something up on his second smartphone; all whilst charged with the safety of all souls on board as he ‘drove’ the coach down the motorway.
Even a mundane task such as walking down the pavement can be fraught with hitherto unknown challenges. You often encounter an individual who is walking slowly, apparently unaware of where they are, where they are going and yet they are not stationary but are walking – after a fashion. They are going somewhere, and they have a phone glued to their ear, or are head down, intently staring at the screen of their smartphone.
Motorcycles are used to move a vast array of things about. Sometimes they are over-loaded with goods or people. But, just to make things more, er, interesting, often the motorcycle operator will have pushed his smartphone up between his helmet and his head so he can engage in a conversation whilst driving his over-laden, motorcycle in traffic. This is the ‘positive scenario’. You will also witness others who do not have the benefit of a helmet, holding the smartphone in place, so they have one less hand on the steering apparatus.
This is true for those who move about by bicycle as well.
Another phenomenon that is observed, again with great frequency, is the sight of two, three or more people, physically in the same room, be it a sitting room, a restaurant, anywhere basically, and each one, head down, intently transfixed on the small screen held possessively in their hands. Maybe they are ‘Messaging’ one another, or are Facebooking their exciting time to others on the web, or writing up a blog on their encounter with their friends – I do not know.
However, it seems self-evident that they could perform the same level of human interaction if they were in separate locales as much as being together.
Sad doesn’t begin to describe it, and yet, I, too, can succumb to the temptation to check my phone.
I find it rather ironic, bizarre, that the thing that routinely reduces mankind to a distracted, dangerous, wandering, discourteous, individual, behaving in a dumb state, is the use of the so-named ‘smartphone’.
Being able to play some musical instrument has been a long held and long unrequited desire of mine.
At diverse times in the past, I have made rather half-baked attempts to self-learn to play a musical instrument. These efforts routinely resulted in failure and heartfelt discouragement.
Since those earlier attempts, which were attempted in the fresh vigour of my youth and have now passed into distant, indistinct memory, I am emboldened to consider, one last time, that latent desire to be able to play a musical instrument.
Now, well out of the vigour of my youth, my inner voice is saying the time has come: ‘It is now or never’ to learn an instrument… it is now… or never…
Therefore, endeavouring to learn from my former mistakes, this time I determined to engage a teacher and enrol in a course of study to be taught how to play the guitar. No more self-instruction; no more trying to learn on my own.
My goal is not to lead worship in the fellowship, nor to take my place among the musicians on a Sunday morning nor any other ‘public’ expression. Indeed, my goal is rather muted. It is much more, dare I say, selfish. It is born out of a frustrated desire to be able to express myself via a musical instrument, which, although that desire has long been neglected and has been withering on the vine, it still expresses a waning attraction to me. Fundamentally, I desire to be able to sit down and ‘make music’, quietly expressing what is in my heart.
So, having engaged an instructor who I feel is an excellent tutor, one who is very encouraging and patient, I am encouraged.
So far so good.
In the first lessons, basic things were demonstrated and instructed. But, as with all things, the understanding does not come by the mind alone; this is not something that is solely grasped intellectually. To fully, truly learn what the instructor has so patiently demonstrated and explained requires that I take the time and practice it until my fingers as well as my mind have come to an understanding of it.
Herein is the rub — the practicing.
“It always is,” I hear you muttering…. “Stop muttering,” I mutter in response…
Now, I habitually, get up reasonably early. I have a morning routine which is fairly static. My mornings activities are fairly well defined. Following lunch, the afternoons are given over to a variety of tasks, and in summer this is often tempered by the degree of heat and humidity. Evenings are routinely committed and busy.
So, the problem facing me is when, exactly, will I ‘take the time’ to practice?
Jolly good question, methinks…
I feel this conundrum very deeply, for since I commenced the lessons, I have observed that there have been, not just single, isolated days, but, in fact, consecutive days that have passed with absolutely no practice being accomplished. (!)
I am ashamed to admit and declare this — I confess my abject failure to practice anything at all for, not just a single day at a time, but all too often, for days.
An inescapable truth stands proud: I cannot learn to play any instrument if I do not practice. Hand in hand they go, one with the other; in former times I did not have the instruction, and practice alone was insufficient — now, with instruction, it too, is insufficient in and of itself.
If I do not practice, all is for nought. I will not learn anything. I will utterly fail.
In this scenario, my failure will not be a failure of understanding nor a failure of skill — but a failure of trying.
We do not learn solely by hearing, but by hearing and applying/doing.
This is true in all aspects of life.
Recently our eldest son sent me a query on Facebook asking how my guitar lessons were going. I confessed to him my frustration — for the individual who is most frustrated with the lack of practice, is me.
Interestingly, his simple question did bring things into focus and clarity for me.
In my heart I was quietly tending towards: “If I’m not going to practice, then I should stop taking the lessons and cease this pointless charade of ‘learning to play’; I should return the borrowed guitar and admit that I am unwilling to make the effort to learn now – and if not now… ever.”
These thoughts, though unexpressed, represented the clear drift of my thinking…
But, on writing my response to my son’s query, it struck me that the essential problem was that I was trying to ‘take the time’ to practice rather than being pro-active and ‘making the time’ to practice.
I thought, “Maybe it was time to make a change. Maybe I need to factor in practice time rather than waiting for opportune times to, miraculously, appear.”
This was not a profound thought and you could argue, it is rather obvious, but, I hadn’t thought this through before.
It is true that I have a certain form and discipline to my day — and so I reasoned, “How hard would it be to schedule in practice time?”
Well, rather difficult actually for on the face of it, my day is already rather full — there are no easily identifiable times that are ripe and waiting to be picked.
Additionally, there is no value in scheduling practice when I know I will be worn out and weary from other activities or drained of energy because of the heat. So, I would have to ‘make time’ in the premium times in the day.
However, if the goal is worth it, then the effort can be, should be, and well, will be made.
Let it be that if I am to fail, that it be for reasons beyond my control or for lack of basic ability and not just because I didn’t make the effort.
Writing about this here opens me to future accountability as some who read this, may, when they see me in the future, rightly enquire as to how my quest to learn the guitar is faring….
If I’m embarrassed to confess my practical ineptitude at this stage, and I am, how much more embarrassing would it be, after having publicly identified the basic equation, to then abdicate my desire and goal and choose the easy, soft path and simply ‘give up’ the quest….
So be it. Here I have declared, and time will tell… and, yes, let the queries come…
My desire is to learn to play a musical instrument, and it requires, regular, extended practice. There are no short-cuts in the learning process. There really are no short-cuts – it takes time and effort.
If I am to progress towards my goal, then I will be required to make changes to my daily routine.
Additionally, by focusing on the ‘how’ I will achieve my goal I see what things are in my hands to do here and now, prioritising activities and involvement, difficult choices and the ‘practice and frustration’ that is involved in repetitious practice that will bring me, slowly, slowly towards my desire of playing an instrument.
And still, I must acknowledge that, at the end of the day, in spite of diligent practice and effort, I may still fail and be unable to play a musical instrument as I desire. But at least then, it will be an honest failure and a failure due to ‘inability’ and not, bluntly spoken, simple ‘laziness’.
I’ve identified times in my day; prime times, quality times, and difficult to sacrifice times to give to practice. Now, I am no longer attempting to ‘taking time’ to practice, but I’ve proactively, created or ‘made the time’ to practice.
It is a good beginning, but must now be maintained over the long haul.
I’ve tried to ‘take time to practice’ at appropriate times in the day since engaging the teacher — with extremely disappointing and rather embarrassing results. In the heat of the day, with all the various activities of the day, I have failed, spectacularly and repeatedly, to ‘take time to practice’.
Now is the time to come at this more aggressively, for, I believe, this very well may be my last crack at it; this may be my (final)‘now or never’ moment.
My desire is not to be legalistic in my approach to daily practice. It is a target, a goal, an aspiration if you will. I will aim and discipline myself to attain it – but not at all costs.
When it comes, whether to personal discipline or life in general, some people see things in absolute, black and white — good for them. But my world has stark black and brilliant white and a whole lot of greys all over the place. Therefore, I can miss my target or goal, and not be overwhelmed by it. Life goes on… and the next target is before me.
Essentially, at least for me, my foundation is knowing that God is a God of Grace — He is One who is affording me unearned, undeserved merit and goodness. It is important for me to recall and remember that He is not a task master, with a ‘rod of discipline in one hand’ and a clipboard in the other, recording and holding all my failings and poor choices against me.
Realising and being congnisant that He is Gracious, I acknowledge that I, too, need to be gracious to all those around me, especially when they stumble or fail. But, I must also be gracious to myself when I stumble and fail — in the big things in life, and in the little.
Repentance, an inescapable and essential function in life, is acknowledging my responsibility and my failure — owning it if you will, not blaming others or circumstance; and then getting back up, determining not to repeat that error or poor choice, and pressing on towards the mark of my high calling in Christ.
This is true in all aspects of life: in morality, in the big things of life and also and importantly, in the mundane tasks of life, including learning to play a musical instrument.
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.
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.
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…
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.
My wife and haven’t done anything special for a while, so I floated the idea of walking down to the new Antakya Archaeological Museum to have a gander. We’ve been there before, but as we purchased ‘Museum Passes’ last autumn, we can go for ‘free’. Of course it is not actually ‘free’, but more accurately ‘pre-paid’, but it feels free. Sometimes it is nice to go to a museum, and streak past many exhibits to spend time exploring, experiencing and enjoying just one particular aspect. The Museum Pass enables this. Summer has not yet come, and consequently, strolling in the afternoon is acceptable, so we decided to head out in the afternoon.
After lunch, we struck out, planning a fairly direct course as the museum is a fair walk away (3.3 kilometres there – oh, and then there is back).
This took us, naturally, to the dominate road in the old quarter of Antakya. This road is ‘Salvation Avenue’. Salvation can have a special meaning for Christians, but locally, it is probably a reference to the war of independence or some other victorious battle.
This ‘Salvation Avenue’ runs, straight as a die, through the heart of the old quarter. By examining street plans of the ancient city – and due to the mountain being a a fixed point, and the river (until recently crossed by the ancient Roman bridge) as another fixed point, you can discern where the ancient layout and the modern ‘old quarter’ coincide.
In ancient times there was a major street dissecting the metropolis. This was a unique, colonnaded street which hosted the first street in the Roman Empire to boast ‘street lighting’… a significant thoroughfare and as Romans tended to make, a very straight street.
It would appear that ‘Salvation Avenue’ follows directly on top of the course of this ancient thoroughfare. If archaeologists were to conduct a dig, it is extremely likely they will come upon the ruins of that ancient way just two or three metres below the road surface.
We headed off, our goal in mind.
As we walked along on the pavement, I noticed ahead, two men dressed in civil attire, but one had a distinctive radio hanging from his waist.
As we drew nigh, the one with the radio turns towards me, and pointing a single finger directly at me, directs me to stop. He looks like a policeman. His manner of stopping me was as one who has authority, very unlike salesmen and beggars.
Once stopped, he begins patting and examining his pockets until he finds his ID and produces it to officially declare that he is a policeman. His travelling companion did not do this – I suppose one is sufficient, would be the thinking.
He knew he had stopped foreigners, we are somewhat obvious, he therefore spoke in English, and asked for my passport.
Under the current conditions, I ‘never leave home without it’. I reached into my pocket and produced my passport. He looked at it and we then had a discussion on what made up the ‘United Kingdom’.
My wife, following our rules, ‘only do or answer what you are asked, volunteer nothing’, is standing there, passport safely stored in her bag.
He asked for her passport as well.
They took photos of both passports – the modern ‘smart phone’ at work in all its glory. Then they sent a text message or email with the salient information from the passport somewhere.
He asked what I do. I explained I ‘help a local church’. My belief is the truth will be spoken convincingly and comfortably – and is verifiable and hence is the best course to follow. Besides, Holy Writ instructs me that my ‘yes’ needs to be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ must mean ‘no’ – in other words be honest in my communications.
Which church?, and such questions naturally followed.
This done, they hold us there on the side of the footpath – it is not a wide footpath.
A man came up to assist, he identified himself as the local ‘muhtar’ (the elected head of a neighbour in a town). The two identify themselves as police (without showing ID) and the man beats a prompt retreat.
We are informed that we are awaiting a message – our details having been sent somewhere, are being scrutinised and a response will be forthcoming.
As we wait, the other policeman engages me in a discussion of religion – specifically, ‘Protestantism’ and ‘Evangelicals’. As we are chatting, the other policeman’s phone rings and I hear him talking with the person on the other end. He refers to me as a person with responsibilities at a church.
When the call was concluded, he, making no additional comment, gave us back our passports and sent us on our way.
So it was a ‘random stop and check’… he seemed to be at pains to point out that we were not the only ones so stopped. That, in itself is somewhat odd for me – why would you do that, unless…. it was not random, but targeted…. it is a path I use frequently….
Enough pointless and profitless paranoia…
There is a very important referendum on Easter Sunday – we will be celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, and the Turks will be going about their democratic duty voting in the referendum. This has probably resulted in some additional security checks.
I must say, it is almost a night and day experience. Nowhere else where we have lived has it occurred in this fashion.
Let me explain what I mean.
The city of Antakya is situated in the southern most part of Turkey, in a ‘pan handle’ that extends down below the bulk of the country.This pan-handle encompasses a mountain range and a broad valley. It is bordered with Syria on the long, eastern and short southern sides, the Mediterranean sea on the long western side and our connection to the rest of Turkey on the northern side.
What this means is, this is the part of Turkey that is closest to the equator.In the summer, the sun is frightfully potent.Routinely our UV index is extremely high and the advice given is to avoid being out in the noon-day sun, that is between 12:00 and 15:00.
In addition to the heat, summer in Antakya is noted for the total absence of rain, and, er, well… clouds, for that matter.
September is marked by the first rains since spring.This September has been no different and we have had three or four days in succession where it rained.
The rain was not the beneficial, long, slow, soaking, permeating kind of rain, the kind that gently waters and replenishes the earth, but the short-lived, sudden, excessive, disproportionate, raging inundation type.
True, it emphatically washes the summer accumulation of dust away.It also results in a sudden over abundance of water pouring down the streets and entering the storm drain system.
Normally, the drains can handle this inundation, however, for the prolonged extent of summer, the drains have lain idle, unneeded, unused, forgotten and neglected.There has been no visible indicator that some of these drains have been, if not clogged, at least choked with dirt, debris, paper, stove-ash and other impediments.
With the sudden, prodigious amounts of water cascading down in these first autumnal rains, the result is many storm sewers are simply overwhelmed.
I noted on the morning after and continuing for days afterwards, the sight of prodigious amounts of ‘water’ geysering up out of manhole covers and then flowing down the street in search of a working drain.
So this year, September has been proceeding normally.
However, before the advent of September and for the duration of the summer, commencing in June and carrying on, uninterrupted, the skies have been clear and rain unheard and unfelt.The very notion of ‘rain’ has, slowly, been morphing from a fading memory to a growing longing.
For some unfathomable reason, in spite of the daily, relentless, onslaught of the sun, hats are not in ‘style’ and people do not routinely wear them.
Now, as for me, for whatever psychological reasons, I am a hat person.I enjoy hats and enjoy wearing hats.I am used to them and appreciate them.
Having said that, for various reasons, this year I am not wearing hats in Turkey.
Consequently, from June until the rains, I wander about the city, hatless, my path being determined by where the shade and shadows are found.
Additionally, this means that outdoor walking, where possible, is limited to mornings and late afternoons/evenings.The noontime hours are avoided whenever practicable.
When I embark on a stroll, I do not have to think about avoiding the sun.For when I step out of our door, and that blast of solar energy strikes me, my eyes squint and I reel and stagger, automatically retreating to the nearest shade.
Therefore, the path of my daily constitutional is dictated by where the shadows lay.
Until, that is, this past Monday.
I struck out, as I normally do, and I immediately became aware of a general coolness in the air – it was readily apparent that the air felt chilly – not truly chilly you understand, just ‘comparatively’ chilly when compared to the summer norm.
Additionally, I was not automatically drawn to the shadows as was my wont.
Conversely, I felt myself being drawn to the sunshine – allowing it to gently warm me.
The first rains had come and gone days earlier, but it was that Monday, when the time had come; when ‘the change’ had occurred.
Summer is past and autumn has commenced.
It occurs almost like the flicking of a switch.One day is summer, the next is autumn; it is immediate, no preamble, no transition, no messing about, no indecision.
At the same time, it is important to be warned, temperature wise, this is a very deceptive time. Nights are cool, and the days start cool. But come midday, the temperatures can comfortably climb to 30 – 32º C. That is at least a 13º C – 16º C shift between night and day temperatures.
This is the season when you commence your morning walk and you rue not wearing a long-sleeved shirt as the chill bites and you are drawn to the warming, sunny places. But come the return leg, you are emphatically thankful for the short sleeved shirt as you once again search out the shade and shadows with perspiration flowing freely.
This is the time of year when the weather presents a simple recipe for catching a cold.
It is, let me emphasis, a beautiful time of year and a delight to go forth – properly dressed and prepared.
And so, the march of the seasons continues…
There is so much in life that is unpredictable and, well… fickle. It is quietly reassuring when you note the normal changes in the season. You know what has passed, and you know what is coming. It is comforting and heartening.
Additionally, this really is a delightful time of year; it is not oppressively hot, and it is not yet miserably cold and damp.
True, there is a threatening shadow, for as day follows day, it slowly grows cooler, quietly indicating that we are heading, inexorably, towards winter.
Winter in Antakya consists of rain – lots of rain. It is marked by gloomy, dark, short days, with low skies and what the locals call ‘cold’ weather. Others would undoubtedly declare that the weather is merely cool, temperate, and compared to some other locales, even pleasant.
This ‘cool’ weather, whilst nothing compared to other parts of Turkey, Europe or North America, still, due to the high humidity, results in a penetrating, piecing cold which is both inexorable and deeply felt. There is no fear of frost bite, but the cold still makes its presence inescapably and severely felt. The danger of hypothermia persists. In Antakya, houses are poorly insulated and coal stoves are the most common form of heating.
Autumn has come to Antakya. The harsh edge of summer has been removed and it unobtrusively fades from our memory. For the next month, we have the delights and pleasantness of this milder weather to enjoy.
Life, time, seasons, all roll invariably onwards…
It remains important to appreciate ‘now’. It is of no value, no profit, no benefit, to succumb to dismay, lamenting the soon onset of the hardships that winter naturally brings. There is no value in looking back to some time or place, longing after something that ‘was’ but ‘is no more’.
I am, after all, physically, in the present, and it is essential that I, consciously, live in the present – enjoying that which is before me today… the good and the bad…
It may be ‘easy’ in this particular season, to say “how pleasant” and to enjoy the “now”. But this season is short and all too soon it will succumb to inescapable realities of winter with its short, dark days, overcast vistas and being liberally visited by rain with the accompanying damp and cold. I can enjoy today, or by anticipating, I can embrace the unpleasantness of tomorrow, doing that today and suffering, in advance, vicariously as it were.
To be honest, winter is a season with its own beauties, delights and positive points, if one is open to looking for them.
The rains, true, bring dampness and a gloomy sense, but they also cleanse the air. It is astonishing how bright and light and clear and wondrous it is after a good rain and the air is crystal clear.
The rains cleanses the city, washing away all the detritus and muck that people seem to relish in tossing and leaving lying about.
The rains water and nourish the countryside, causing life to burst forth and turn the valley around us to a rich, verdant, luxurious green, brimming with life and hope and promise.
It is the will of Almighty God that we enjoy today, in all its pleasantness, and all its difficulties, for there are always difficulties.
It is His will that we enjoy tomorrow, with all its pleasantness and with all its differences – but in its’ own time, when it completes the transition from that which ‘will be’ to that which ‘is’.
Scripture says, “Now is the day of salvation” – it is essential to be cognisant, to be mindful, to wilfully be aware, to abide, to live, to relish, to acknowledge and to ‘be’ in the present…