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.

To tell the truth, I do not travel well.  Rather than enjoying the travel experience, for me, it is more the ‘price you pay’ to arrive at your destination.

Our trip down from the UK via a Turkish budget airline was uneventful.  However, once landed, we pass through passport control and retrieved our baggage, the official bit of travelling is done.  Then the question of how to get from the airport to our accommodation for the night I could put off no longer.

Of all the various means before us, being met by friends, taking the city bus, the airport service bus or a taxi to our destination, choosing was difficult.  The city bus runs an express service to the centre of Kadıköy which is near, but not actually that close to our destination.  The Airport Service which is more direct than the city bus, but also does not go genuinely close to our goal.  Taxis go the most direct and quickest route, but this is offset by the cost.  Maybe it was the time of day, the darkness or just being tired… we opted for a taxi.

We bundled into the conveyance, I got in beside the driver and we headed off.  Unlike in London where Black cab drivers must pass the “Knowledge”, here taxi drivers rarely know exactly where you want to go but will figure it out along the way.
  Our driver first opted to avoid the E5 dual carriageway as it would be the definitive illustration of congested traffic.  I observed that as the plane landed and we crossed the E5, it was a panorama of traffic, standing still or creeping along.  I did not object to his choice.

From the airport we joined the TEM motorway, which is a road I know and would have used if I were driving.  However, our driver, feeling that traffic would be too much, opted instead to turn onto a new motorway which goes to the new third bridge over the Bosphorus.  This bridge is on the coast of the Black sea, quite a ways north of where we were and where we intended to go.

I bowed to local knowledge and raised no objections.  So we departed the road I knew and headed into terra incognito.

Mind you, I am curious regarding the new bridge and the new motorways connecting it….  I wasn’t wanting to cross back into Europe on our first night in….  This was especially true as our friend’s home is on the Asian side of the city, the same side as the airport and the motorway we were travelling on.

The driver was correct, traffic was light.  He was flying along.  I must admit I was feeling like we were being driven by a descendant of Jehu the prophet.

Our direction of travel was north, north-west.  Our friends live basically westward.  Hence, we are travelling in a negative direction, and for every kilometre north there will be a corresponding kilometre south.  I am not worried.  I trust the driver.  But… but… we are going out of our way, and at great speed….

I admit to enjoying the forested hills and travelling over impressive concrete via-ducts.  There is something impressive about being transported high over valleys.  Then I spot a motorway sign showing an exit for Umraniye.  Now, for me Umraniye is meaningless save that is where we could turn south, south-west and be really heading towards our goal.

Our driver is making excellent time, racing along in lane four – the furthest from the exit.  The first exit sign has come and gone, and still he continues thundering down lane four, traffic occupying the three lanes to our right.
Now, honestly, I am quietly concerned.  I really, really want to see the third bridge, but NOT tonight.  I keep quiet… either your trust your driver or you do not….

The exit is nigh, and dare I say at the last moment, the driver begins to ‘power over’ to the exit.  Room or no room, cars and such, are all immaterial, he is shooting for the exit…. Which we duly take.

This new road is also a sparsely utilised eight lane motorway.  With the road wide open, our driver speeds up and we take up our position, once again, in lane four.  I am much happier in myself as we are now heading directly towards our goal.  But, naturally, as we draw near Umraniye area, the traffic increases immensely.

Soon we are in a long, never-ending parking lot like experience.  Traffic, that is standing traffic, is everywhere.  The dual carriageway is no longer eight lane but six; we have road markings for three lanes, but we have four lanes of traffic jostling for position and advancement.

We are near the high hill called “Çamlıca”.  Near the top the Turkish state has built a brand new massive mosque which dominates the skyline and is visible from many miles away.  It is a glorious testament to power and influence of the government – just like the grandiose buildings that grace so many cities in the UK.  Those impressive stone edifices built during the time of the British Empire and are a lasting testament to the power and wealth of that era.

The city of Istanbul is likewise graced with many extraordinary edifices which the Ottoman Empire erected over the course of 600 plus years.  They stand as a clear and lasting testament to the power and might of that immense empire.

This latest mosque is on that scale.  But it speaks not of the past but the current state of the Republic of Turkey.
Traffic being what it was, we had ample time to appreciate the massive complex.

IMG_0327In contrast, on the back side of the hill and nearer the summit, a massive concrete pillar soars into the sky.  Still under construction, it is to be a new communications tower. The goal is to replace the rather ugly cluster of communication and television towers on top of Çamlıca, moving them to the top of the new tower.  That will be a marked improvement.

However, the tower, in its current unfinished state, looks like a unimaginative phallic symbol thrust impossibly high into the sky.   Standing without the communication rigs secured to the pinnacle nor the viewing platforms and restaurants completed, it is merely the carcass upon which the tower will be built. Yet, when it is finished, it will be a wonder to behold, soaring 365.5 metres and this from on top of a hill.  It will the tallest building and a landmark in Istanbul.

This dual carriageway, thronged with crawling traffic goes under the skirt of this hill through a tunnel.  On emerging from the tunnel, the overhead signs declare a division in the roadway;  straight ahead to Üsküdar, our destination, or right to the second bridge and Europe.  Traffic is inching along towards Üsküdar; I am happy-ish.  At the least, we are travelling toward our goal.

Our driver manoeuvres, with difficulty, to the right.  This is the exit that goes, according to the overhead sign, and to the best of my knowledge where I do NOT want to go.  I have absolutely no desire to go over the second bridge – none.

Traffic is not moving, it is stop and go with the emphasis on stop.  As I observed, our driver has, with difficulty, left the Üsküdar bound lanes and now we are estranged from them, from the lanes going where I want to go…. And by separated I mean with a substantial barrier – there can be no repentance now.

Either you trust the driver or you do not…  I sat silently.  Inside I was in a roiling turmoil.

We slowly crawl along to a road jutting off to the right – well it couldn’t go left could it, as that is where the standing traffic is.  Our driver, with purpose and direction, turns on to this road and leaves the masses behind.  The road is much narrower, only a two lane passage.  But, there are far fewer who are using it, so our speed has increased immediately.
Down we fly, following the meandering path of this residential street.  We come to a sharp turn and it is an acute turn up the hill.  We take that and are shortly going over top of the motorway that is going to the second bridge.  This driver knows his stuff.

We turn right and I am surprised at the good time we are making considering the time of day.  We are now in Üsküdar proper and heading towards the banks of the Bosphoros.  The road crested the summit, and we plunged down the narrow road towards the shore below.  We come to a ‘Y’ junction and the driver, decisively and with purpose takes the left arm.

Now travelling on a steep, narrow, cobbled road there is just enough room to pass the cars parked on one side.  Down we go, the road turns to the left sharply down until we come to a sign strategically placed across the road declaring the road closed.  There is nothing for it.  With absolutely no room to turn around, the only action is to reverse back up whence we came.  I am glad I was not driving.

Now the driver took this in his stride.  He did not throw a wobbly, nor curse the city council nor any other emotional diatribe.  He put the taxi in reverse and cautiously reversed back up the hill between the parked cars, the edge of the road and back to the curve.

Well, before we got there, another vehicle came down the same, narrow, cobblestone passage.  The descending vehicle came to where we were.  Naturally we stopped.
After some mutual stopped-ness, our driver energetically gestured to the descended one to reverse up the hill.
He did.  We did.

Finally, we arrived back at the ‘Y’ junction and this time took the right arm, quickly descending the last bit of the hill.  Once on the sea-side road we passed by the end of the road we had attempted.  The workers had not yet laid the final stretch of cobblers, the road was impassible.  Added to this was a massive pile of sand blocking the exit.

We travelled along the side of the Bosphoros coming to the major square of Üsküdar.  The city council has redesigned this square many times over the years we lived there.  Once again they are redeveloping it…  the last time for a long while I hope.

Whatever they have done, traffic was manageable, and we made it through the maze expeditiously.  There is a one-way road at the bottom of the hill to the south.  Sometimes it is a one-way up and sometimes it is a one-way down.  It too has changed many times over the years.  On that day it was a one-way up, exactly what we needed.  Up we went.

Then travelling up Doğancılar street, we passed all the roads to the left which are all posted ‘Do Not Enter’.  Then we come to the one we want, a one-way, and going our way.

We power up the road, over the summit down part way on the other side to our destination.  We have arrived.

Mind you, going this way and that, up, down and back, it all has a cost.  It came to ₺150 which is a lot of money.   Shocked me it did. Works out to about £25 or $37 USD.

Through it all, we were at the mercy of a complete stranger.  We had to trust him.  We had to have faith he would convey us to our stated destination.  We encountered difficulties, struggles, barriers, and we were not driving.  It very much affected us, but it was not ours to solve.  We were to sit there and let the driver handle and sort it.  He did.

For me, this speaks of the Christian walk.  We must trust and have faith in God.  Whatever the barriers, struggles or troubles, letting Him sort it and carry us on to our destination.  Importantly, He is not a stranger, He is not ‘sorting it as he goes along’ like our driver.  He never makes a misstep nor takes a wrong turn.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, either I trust the driver, or not…

Antakya is rather unique among the cities of Turkey. The population that makes up this neglected backwater is strangely cosmopolitan.

The city consists of a mixture of Sunni Turks, Alevi Arabs, Kurds, Greek Orthodox Christians, a minute Jewish population, oh, and now a disproportionate number of Syrian refugee Sunni Arabs. Additionally, the imprint and influence of the time when this area was part of the French Mandate are still discernible.

For a cheap and cheerful explanation of the various religious divisions in Turkey, please refer to this blog: The Religious Make-up of Turkey 

Now in this region there is a preponderance of small – about 36 – 96 square feet – white-washed, often domed, structures. You will see them decorating hill tops, positioned by streams, found in lonely fields, situated by roads, and they are even liberally scattered throughout the old section of Antakya city.

I noted one such white-washed structure that is situated on an isolated patch on the banks of the Asi River – known in ancient times as the Orontes River.

In time, the ‘powers that be’ decided to cast a bridge over the river right at that point.

2010-08-28-Antioch-P1140594-ziyaret-1.jpgHowever, this small structure, white-washed with green highlights, capped with a small dome, was positioned right at the planned bridgehead.

What was to be done?” I wondered to myself.

Would they knock the structure down or shift it somewhere else?” I pondered and watched as the project advanced.

In time, the bridge was thrown across the river and the wee structure continued to defiantly stand where it has historically stood. The four lane approach road was built on the opposite shore.

Then, when the time came to build the approach road on the side with the structure, they built one half of the road on the right side of the structure, and the other on the left side – the structure, untouched, unmoved, unfazed and somewhat marooned, now in the middle of the four lane road – remained exactly where it always has been.

2010-08-28 Antioch P1140593 ziyaret

It seems it was too important, or too sacred, to be demolished or even removed to a nearby location. Those who wish to visit this structure will need to negotiate at least two lanes of flowing traffic to gain access.

It was long after this incident that I noticed that this structure has a strange and unique feature. It seems that there was a tree growing in that place and when the structure was constructed the tree, the living tree, was simply incorporated into the building; it continues to this day to grow in, through and out of the building.

These wee white-washed structures, scattered all over this region, are small Alevi shrines.

These buildings have been built over time and have been constructed over the graves of various ‘saints’. These saints can be a ‘holy man’ a ‘sheikh’, ‘a teacher’ or even a ‘Christian saint’ of old.

These structures are almost invariably painted white and most frequently boast a small dome.

Inside the shrines there is a large raised coffin-like structure. This internal feature is plastered over and painted white. It is believed that it has been constructed over the physical grave of the honoured individual. This sarcophagus-like structure is often draped with cloth, green blankets, normal Turkish flags, Green flags or other fabric. The floors are often covered in carpets. The whitewashed walls can be decorated with posters, pictures of Ali, Koranic verses and other writings both in Turkish (Latin) script and Arabic script. These structures are considered ‘holy spaces’. Shoes are strictly left outside.

Within the shrines copies of the Koran and other religious books, teachings, commentaries, and even, occasionally, a New Testament can be found. Local tradition declares that anything left in a Shrine should not be removed.

More often than not, it is the local people who maintain the Shrine – those living nearby or have a special connection with the shrine. Indeed, the structures have initially been built by local people at their own expense – these buildings are outside of the remit of the Religion Department of the government. It is the local people who ensure it is painted, maintained, cleaned and cared for. The door, usually a stout, strong steel door, is closed and locked but opened up on Fridays and other special days and times as according to the Alevi calendar and local tradition. Some can be open on multiple days, but always under the watchful eye of the key holder and self-appointed caretaker of the shrine.

To my limited knowledge no services or other events are planned or executed there – these locales are for individual acts of worship as people reach out to find help in their time of need.

Sometimes you will stumble on a Shrine which is just the grave of the ‘saint’ which has been surrounded by a high wall – but even these, over time, become enclosed and covered.

What do people do at a Shrine?

To the best of my knowledge, you will find no reference whatsoever to shrines within the Koran – these are extra-Koranic structures, functions and activities. They are an expression of Alevi belief and a desire to engage with God.

At these shrines, people will come to pray. Some will come and make a vow to God. Others will make a sacrifice of a chicken, sheep or something else. Others will burn incense. Still others will read the books held within. (For one account of such an individual who read a New Testament in a Shrine – can be read here.)  

IMG_1943

It is a place to try and make a connection with God, to find solace, to lay out your petition, to seek for assistance, to seek redress for a wrong that has been done to you, to pour out your heart, to find help when you need it most.

Interestingly, burning incense plays a prominent part in the lives and devotion of the local Alevi community.

Confession time: I am not aware of the significance that the Alevi community put on the burning of incense, nor which type of incense is burned, nor when it is burned, nor for how long, nor why and with what meaning.

In an evening in the summer, it is not unheard of to have the heady scent of burning incense to be carried on the breeze and onto our terrace.

In the course of my daily constitutional, I have noted a local florist who perpetually burns incense outside his shop whenever he is open. I do not know how much it is costing him, but there is always a censer piled high with burning incense in the front of his shop, pouring forth its pungent scent and wafted along by the breeze.

It is my observation that people in Turkey are very industrious, innovative and hard working. If they can not find a job, they will seek employment wherever and however they can – creating a job where needed, or meeting a need in society. To explore this aspect of Turkish society, you can read this blog here.

For instance, if there is a road where traffic is routinely queued up, during the hot summer months, individuals will walk amongst the waiting traffic selling cold bottled water.

When there is a sudden downpour in the city, catching all unawares, diligent individuals will be out on the streets selling brollies.

Have you ever been caught without a tissue? There will be someone offering small packages of tissues for sale.

As you go about your business, maybe, just maybe, you may wonder how much you weigh… well there is a chap, with his scale on the side of the road ready to answer that question.

If you live in a city and you have a carpet with a frayed edge – never fear, for before long a lorry will slowly come down your street offering to collect your carpet, stich it up with the machine mounted on the back of the lorry and return it to you immediately.

This is the same for the knife sharpener. He has his sharping wheel mounted in a wooden stand which he rolls down the street offering to sharpen all your knives.

Do you need a photocopy? Or do you require some document to be laminated? A man pushing a small cart or converted pram, with a small electricity generator will come by, offering on-the-spot photocopy and lamination services.

Fresh milk and I mean really fresh, unpasteurised milk, plastic kitchenware, fruit and vegetables, these all will make their appearance in your street, as will a man pushing a wheel barrow full of fresh mint and parsley. If you desire to buy bulk onions, the onion seller will sell you a great bag of onions, weighing them with the scales on the back of his vehicle. Clothes, carpets, blankets, shoes, cloth, fruit, vegetables, water melon, well, just about everything will sooner or later go past your door. And for your cast offs, the rag-and-bones man will also pass by your door announcing his services.

And here in Antakya, in this community with a large Alevi population, an enterprising individual takes a hand-held censer with the fragrant, burning incense producing copious amounts of potent smoke flowing along behind him as he walks the street. If you are feeling the need to be blessed, he will stop and wave it before you, the sweet smell flowing over you, and you will give him a wee bit of money for his service. He goes down the street and various business will call him to come and bless their shop, the incense wafting in, and he will also receive a small remuneration for his efforts. You can see him at a distance, the great cloud of incense billowing out behind him declaring his presence as he searches those who desire his services.

It appears that someone will endeavour to try and meet even your spiritual needs on the streets of Antakya.

Nevertheless that void, that longing, that desire to ‘know’ God continues unabated, unrequited and untouched by the fragment smell of incense.

The answer to the longing in the heart of man is not found in shrines, full of dead men’s bones, nor in sacrifice – the blood of chickens or sheep, nor in the making and keeping of vows, nor in tying of votive offerings on special trees or special places, nor in inhaling or bathing in the heady scent of incense. It is not within these activities, as well-meaning as they may be performed, that intimacy with God can be found.

This natural, human, inner longing for intimacy with God is attainable, but like so much in life, it is not on our terms or according to what we desire or what we, in our wisdom, have decided is the Way to attain intimacy with God.

True intimacy is a two way street, it does not occur in a vacuum, nor in a void, nor it is imposed from one side on another. Both parties come together in a mutually acceptable manner.

God, Himself, has intervened in human history; the Almighty has physically entered human history and laid out His Way for mankind to know Him and experience intimacy with the Divine.

This is the Way that He Himself has initiated, and He deals with our weaknesses, our errors and mistakes and, let’s be blunt, our ‘sins’ …and takes care of this otherwise insurmountable impediment to intimacy with Pure, Holy, Righteous God.  It is in walking in His way that we can actually ‘taste and see that God is good’, that we can personally know Him and know His power and experience His Love in our lives. That we can know and receive and revel in the Love of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are out, pro-actively seeking custom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Well, today has been a day.

I know we do not ‘control’ any of our days – we are dependant on so many varied variables, but today has been distinctly different.

My normal routine had already been knocked for six because a man was coming to fit a sump pump in the house (another story why we need this), and I needed to be in attendance and consequently, as my normal morning routine was superseded. This being the case, we arranged for a man who can install central heating systems to come and appraise our flats and produce a quote.

Consequently, I went for my morning constitutional at 08:00 – the time I normally give to practicing the guitar.

Just to complicate things, we had anticipated some visitors arriving on the previous day in the afternoon – but in the event, they actually arrived at 11:30 – er that is 23:30… a time that I call night.

A brother from Diyarbakir, in the east of the country, was shepherding them on their desired tour – they themselves visiting from South Africa.

In spite of arriving late the night before, they were leaving by late morning today – an exceptionally brief visit.

Over breakfast there had been a discussion of the work that the small Christian Fellowship here is involved in with the Syrian refugee field workers. They were interested to learn more, and see a bit of the work. Hence, in my absence, it was decided that I was drive the church vehicle and lead them up the valley to some of the Syrian refugee encampments that we labour amongst.
As I was scheduled to be at the house to ‘attend’ as the man was to fit the sump pump, he was rung and we cancelled the appointment – to be rescheduled for another day.

It was also suggested that rather than having the ‘man’ dig the pit for the sump pump, that I dig a hole 1 meter deep by about 80 cm square before we call the man to come back… Okay…

With these changes in play, we also rang the central heating man and arranged for him to come in the afternoon…

My plans for the afternoon have now been dealt a blow as well; my normal routine had been suspended and now the alternative plan (attending the sump pump man) was superseded.

I climbed into the church’s ten passenger Volkswagen Transporter and began my hour long drive up the valley to where we do our aid distribution…

There were about ten or twelve people in the other van.

On the way up the valley, I was leading, when, unexpectedly the following van overtook me. Now in front, he promptly pulled over to the side of the dual carriageway, stopping in front of a small shop. It seems they wanted to get some refreshments of some sort.

When they were ready, I headed out again – faithfully holding to the 80 kph speed limit. I utterly detest speeding tickets and paying money for, well, nothing really, just a certificate of speed attained.

We passed through the first police check point with no problem. But, further up the road, I was selected to be checked by the Gendarme at their security checkpoint.

I dutifully pulled in and stopped – the other van, not being so selected, carried on. I rolled down my window, greeting the soldier and then turned away to turn off my phone which was playing music to accompany me whilst I drove. The soldier looked in the empty van, looked at this late middle aged, white-bearded foreigner and when I finally turned from my phone, he told me to carry on.

Off I went, rejoining the traffic on the dual carriageway and powered up the valley – holding to the 80 kph speed limit.

Then ahead I spied the other van, moving slowly along on the side of the carriageway. Now the vehicle I’m driving is a rather distinctive black Volkswagen Transporter, so when I over-took them, I ‘assumed’ they would see and recognise me. The driver knows our vehicle.

After overtaking, as I pulled away, I checked my mirror and they seemed to be continuing to drive slowly along the side of the road. I assumed they would speed up.

I carried on… at 80 kph.

When I arrived at the turn-off point – there was still no sign of them – I stopped.

Now, I rant and rave against people using their mobile phones whilst driving; so I had purposed to neither initiate a call whilst driving, nor to answer any incoming calls. Stopped as I was now, I was still loath to ring the other van as they are most likely driving.

So, swallowing this, for me, rather bitter pill, I rang and the first question was “Are you still at the Security Control point?”

“Er, no, I was there very briefly, I am awaiting for you at the turnoff point”.

A few minutes later they roared up, and our convoy, now duly reconstituted, departed, me again leading the way to where the Syrian refugee encampments are situated.

We travelled up to Kırıkhan, and turn off the main road and headed towards the border. The encampment I had selected was not the first, but at a bit of a distance, but it was a good, all-round example of the encampments we deal with. Additionally, there is a real gaggle of children there and the visitors had purchased some sweets to give the children.

We call this encampment ‘The Grove’, not because there are trees in the encampment – there aren’t any – but because there is a grove of trees across the road from the make-shift encampment. This encampment is on a bit of a rise, and now, well into summer, baking hot. As I said, no trees within the encampment, everything is exposed to the unrelenting, scorching sun. Water at this particular encampment is provided by a water bowser which is topped up from time to time.

Sweets were happily received by the children.

After this encampment we swung by another encampment – but this was wholly redundant, and, as one of the visitors commented to me, “They all look alike”, to which he added, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” – let the hearer understand, he was politely declaring ‘No need to show us anymore.’

We powered back to the main road – the other van turning right to carry on up the valley and then back to Diyarbakır. I turned left to return to Antakya.

It had been stressed to me that I needed to be back by 13:00 as the van was required. Today was a deferred time for the team to go to one of the encampments where we do a children’s work – their departure time was slated to be 13:00.

So, in one sense, I was racing the clock. When we departed we had three hours for me to complete the journey, there and back.  I thought this was easily adequate amount of time for the task. However, in fact, it was taking more than three hours to complete.

I did not exceed the speed limit, if I arrive late, I arrive late.

I was patient at all the red traffic lights.

I think I made a record for the number of red traffic lights I encountered on the return journey.

Being impatient at a red traffic light profits me not at all; being patient, however, and remaining calm, blood pressure abiding where it ought to be is both profitable, pleasant and absent of stress.

I had been told that if I was late, then they would take Ö’s vehicle – it would not be the best solution, but it was a viable and a ready solution.

My better-half, T, can monitor where in the world I am as I have ‘shared‘ my location via my phone with her. Hence, I hoped that they would have an idea where I was and, roughly, how long I would be.

Again, I had determined that I would not ring T whilst driving, and I would not answer the phone if it rang.

Driving the speed limit, waiting patiently at all the red lights, I arrived at our home about ten minutes later than their planned departure time.

Happily, my ever-changing location had been monitored; consequently they knew where I was and about when I would arrive.

They had opted to wait.

I didn’t park up; I just stopped in the street in front of our house – which given how narrow our street is, I effectively blocked the road. But I knew they would be departing posthaste.

Personally, I was done in… being diabetic, I can not play loose and free with my meal times. I had grabbed some bites of my sandwich whilst up the valley – only whilst stopped, not whilst driving.

Now at home, I finished my meagre meal.

Immediately after the meal was my first opportunity to practice the guitar this day, but after just ten minutes, the man for the central heating system arrived.

Now, I thought he would come, do his investigation, make his measurements, and calculate the cost all before I would depart for my guitar lesson, which was fully two hours after his arrival.

Indeed, I even entertained notions that I would have time to practice some before the lesson.

The man and his helper came and examined the space we had identified as a potential ‘furnace room’.

It is not ideal, but, well, it is the only space that could be remotely converted into a furnace room.

It took quite a while to determine where the chimney could go and then to decide where it would go. The chimney will begin on the ground floor, pass through a disused stairway which is covered and made into a wee balcony area on the first floor and then pass up through the roof and then, it will pass through our neighbours roof which overhangs ours. All in all, it is proposed to be eleven metres of plastered, cement block chimney, reinforced with angle iron.

Just to make things more interesting, this is on the side of the house that is subject to our neighbours rather disturbing subsidence….

After sorting the furnace room/chimney out, they came into our flat to measure for radiators, decide where they would go and how the various challenges identified could be and ultimately, would be addressed.

Then we went upstairs to the elder’s flat and did the same.

For me, the clear priority is the upstairs flat as my motivation in going to a furnace system was to alleviate the labour and work load of the elder’s wife, E.

In Turkey, if you have a wood/coal fired, pot-bellied stove, it is the lady of the house’s task to operate it (fuel, light, maintain, empty ash) – it is a cultural imperative and, really there are no practical alternatives.

But when it comes to furnaces, however, they are primarily a man’s responsibility – it is a big piece of equipment that needs a man’s touch.

Interestingly, emptying the ash is still the ladies task – but I have been sold on the idea of a wood-pellet furnace which produces very little and very light ash – or so we have been assured. So the labour requirements for the elder’s wife will be greatly diminished – which is the goal.

Then, over a demitasse of strong Turkish coffee, he did his sums.

I, as seems to be my nature, complicated things.

I wanted a sum with the second-hand furnace, a sum with a new furnace, and a sum with the top of the line, fully automatic furnace.

I also wanted a sum calculated without doing the radiators in our lower flat, in an effort to save money.

However, this last request is extremely strange and a rather odd kind of request for Turks, and in the end, it seems, he just ignored it.

We got our prices.

We drank our Turkish coffee.

I buzzed with the effects of the potent caffeine hit.

I had been surreptitiously monitoring E.’s location (she has shared her location on her phone) and I knew they were well on their way back from the children’s work.

Before we were done, she arrived, and so, we began explaining everything we had determined, what could be done and what we suggest should be done – if we decide to have a system installed.

Then the elder, H, arrived from his secular job.

So, we began explaining everything to him.

It was in the midst of rehearsing all the salient facts, problems, compromises and solutions that my guitar teacher rang, wondering where on earth I was… because I clearly was not at my lesson…

Time had totally escaped me.

Profuse apologies, following profuse apologies… things really are not going according to any plan that I am part of today.

In the end we finished all our explainations.

We need to inform the central heating man by the morrow if we want to install any system and especially if we desire the second-hand furnace.

Today, nothing went to plan and I was bounced from pillar to post by various events…

But, life is like that… we constantly need to respond to events, assess, appraise, decide what we can and should do in the circumstance and all the while, to be true to who we are and our principles.

(written August 2008)

Life in our modern world is kind of amazing…

Map of AntakyaOn Tuesday we were in Antakya, located near the bottom of a ‘pan handle’ in the south and east of Turkey, not far from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and boxed in by Syria on two sides.  That day we flew the 1,100 kilometres to Istanbul as we had some essential tasks to accomplish there.  Just four days later, on Saturday and after driving for two relatively long days, we were back in Antakya.

A journey that not that long ago would have been either unimaginable or simply impossible.  Today, such a journey is not even remotely noteworthy.

In this case, our short turn around was due to some responsibilities we had here in Antakya, and so, once our business in Istanbul was concluded, we hurried back.

Whilst we were in Istanbul one of our tasks was to bring our car down to Antakya.  Now, as you do when contemplating long journey in a significantly less than new automobile, I took the car to a Fiat service centre and had it serviced and checked over.

They found a fuel leak (!) which was fixed – which was good.  They adjusted various things and gave everything a thorough going over.  In process of doing that, they checked the brakes and adjusted the hand brake.   All good.

As we departed Istanbul, we were comforted with the thought that everything should be ‘top notch’ and ready for the rigours of the trek before us.

The goal of the first day out of Istanbul was to drive a little over half way to Antakya.  Our resting place was to be the city of Aksaray on the vast high interior Anatolian plateau.

For the first four and a half hours of that initial journey, we moved along rather briskly at 120 kph.  The motorway is both brand new and ultra modern – utilising tunnels and concrete via-ducts to go where previously no road could ever conceivably go.  The remaining two and a half hours of the first days travel were accomplished at a more sedate 90 kph as the roadway whilst being a good quality dual carriage way was not classified as a motorway and consequently, had a lower speed limit posted.  Frequent police radar controls helped to dampen most drivers desire to drive at a speed that logic dictated would have been reasonable and safe on that road.

The Anatolian plain is a vast, well, plain.  On the first leg on the plateau, after the capital city Ankara, there are some lumps and bumps, but, it  progressively becomes relatively flat.  The one noteworthy feature, about 45 minutes before we arrive at Aksaray is the vast ‘salt lake’.  It is always fascinating to observe the broad white levels as the water has receded over the course of the summer.  The observer is left blinking in the harsh white reflected light from the lake bed.

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At the same time, it is always intriguing to see the salt being harvested by big machines out on the lake.  Sometimes they are at a distance where they are glimmering like distant mirages on the lake.

So far, the trip has progressed exactly as it has the many times in the past that we have covered this terrain.

We lodged the night in Aksaray and planned to head off reasonably early for the final leg of our journey.  The planned day’s travel encompassed travelling across the remainder of the plain, into the lofty coastal Toros mountain range, passing through the ancient and extremely narrow ‘Cilician Gates’ and then dropping down to sea level and once on the other side, to follow the Mediterranean around to ancient Alexandretta, modern name Iskenderun, before climbing the Amanus mountain range where, at the summit, we would be crossing over the ancient ‘Syrian Gates’ pass, to finally drop down to the broad valley leading to Antakya.

We commenced the journey at a reasonable time.  We estimated the travel time from Aksaray to Antakya to be about five hours.  It would not be too strenuous.

The first hour is rather straight forward as you drive straight across the plateau aimed squarely at the mountains.  There are no real curves nor hills to break up the monotony.

Don’t get me wrong, I find the view fascinating, the soaring heights of an apparently dormant volcano soaring high in the sky and dominating the skyline on our left.  On the right hand side, the plain itself is amply dotted with strange conical hills, looking to be covered in scree.  I really enjoy viewing those unique rounded hills and would love to know how they came to be – to any geologist reading this, I would profoundly grateful to be enlightened.

Even so, I must confess, it is a rather monotonous drive.  The course of the road is a fundamentally straight line from Aksaray to the Toros mountains.  In 2008, the majority of the road had been upgraded to a dual carriage, but the speed limit remained at the single road level and so we were plodding along at just 90 kph.   That is harder to maintain on a flat, straight road where you can clearly see where you are going for the next hour…

Again, in 2008, the dual carriage did not extend the whole way, and the ultra modern motorway – with its prodigious use of tunnels and concrete viaducts carving a new path through the mountains through a formerly impassible valley was then just a tantalising mirage on the horizon.  We came to the end of the dual carriageway section and entered a long stretch of the old two way road. Two Lane Road Anatolian Plateau

So, until we rejoin the motorway, on the opposite side of the mountains, we commenced playing the ‘passing game’.

“Can I… should I… possibleimpossible… silly… wise… suicidal…”

What a fun game to play.

I’m only doing 90 kph, but the heavily laden lorries are trudging along at a slower rate than that, hence even I must be an active participant in the passing game.

Inevitably, in the normal course of things, I came up behind a groaning lorry belching black smoke as it was expending all its efforts to plod along.  I am travelling faster than the lorry, and as I drew near the solid obstruction of the rear of the lorry, I went to apply the brakes on our wee Fiat Uno.

It was, however, on applying moderate pressure on the pedal, that it disappeared, dropping straight to the floor.  It was like there was absolutely nothing there.  My speed remained unchanged – we continued to close on the imposing bulk of the heavily burdened lorry.

The car did not slow, but, in truth, my heart rate did increase rather dramatically at this point.

This is not a dual carriage way – I am immediately aware that I have four limited choices:  slow down (preferred option – brakes performing normally), or, failing that, hope that it is clear to pass (which is not likely), or, failing that, use the lorries back end as a brake (definitely not my desired choice), oh, there was always the options that I could just drive off the road and avoid hitting the lorry (but hitting whatever is off to the side of the road and discovering all the delights of bumping, banging and who knows what’s lying hidden in the wastes of that somewhat desolate plain).

Generally, I am a conscientious driver, paying attention and trying to be ‘full-time’ focused on driving.  But now, with my brake pedal sedately resting flat on the floor, my driving awareness had leaped up a gear…

The brake pedal lying passively on the floor tends to do that to you.

Thankfully, on my vigorous, urgent, repeated, frantic pumping of the brake pedal, some pressure returned bringing some feeling to the pedal.  It was no longer the same limp limb passively lying prostrate on the floor and the car began slowing – but not as it should.

Not at all as it should….

Our meeting with the posterior aspect of the lumbering lorry was hence postponed. 

Thankfully.

And thankfully, I did not need to attempt to pass, nor to discover what was lying out in the plain.

To say this experience was disconcerting is a bit of an understatement.

It is also needless to say that now my driving had taken on a new, urgency, an intense intensity.  I applied a whole new level of caution – my mind was actively engaged in pondering through the ramifications of ‘what do you do if the brakes fully fail…..’.

This is a rather lonely stretch of road – not much happens out there other than the odd shepherd and his flock of sheep or goats.  Nevertheless, necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I am on active look out, scanning for an unlikely repair shop.

2007-03-07 Istanbul-Antioch DSCF9626 Taurus mtns adjusted snow
Correct bit of road, wrong time of year…

Because this is not our first time down this road, I anticipated the possibility of a repair shop at the top of the long hill that was looming in the distance ahead of us.

I pressed on across the plain, contemplating the implications of entering the mountains, going up the hill, cresting and beginning the descent on the opposite side.  My mind was fully occupied with these thoughts and the myriad of implications.

Don’t get me wrong, the brakes were now working – sort of, after a fashion.  But they were really, really soft.  Consistently, on first application, there would be nothing or next to nothing, but on pumping, some braking would grudgingly return.

My driving reflected this reality being clearly in the forefront of my mind.  Where possible, slow down ‘naturally’ by lessening the petrol…

We drew up and crested the long hill rising up from the plain, and before the long, narrow, twisting and winding descent to sea level on the opposite side on the mountains, we came to the little village of Ulukışla.

I  wonder what it must be like to live in a place whose name means: ‘With Great Winter’.  Thankfully, this was not winter.

Ulukışla is a shunting yard for the railway as they prepare trains for the descent and reorganise the trains that have made the laborious climb up from the coast.  There is really not much else in the village.

We drive through the village, slowly, and it is only as, with hope waning and we are passing out the other side that I see a row of vehicle repair shops.

I immediately turn in.

Now, T. sitting beside me is puzzled and wondering why as we have never, ever, gone into Ulukışla before.  It is not a very attractive village – completely run down, dumpy and dirty.  It is clearly a place that never had a ‘golden age’ – it has always been what it is…

Confession time: the truth be told, I had not pointed out the deficiency with the brakes to her, feeling there was no point in causing undue worry.

But, now, well, the cat is out of the bag.

To make matters more, uh, interesting, this day was the Zafer Bayram – or Victory Day holiday, commemorating victory in the War of Independence.  So it is a high and important holiday.  Most everything is closed for the holiday.

As I carefully drive past the various workshops and repair shops I notice that many of the shops are indeed closed (as you would expect) but a few are surprisingly open, which is good.  But most of them are Auto-Electric shops, which is of no aid to me as I do not think my problem is electrical.

I pull in to one promising looking repair shop, but, alas, no one seems about.

We depart that shop and meander along to another, where there is a chap.

I pull the car in and explain the problem.

He replied by saying that he can only adjust the brake shoes if that is the problem, but, because of the holiday, he can not get replacement parts in the village.  Adjustment he can do, but if something is broken…

His suggestion to me was that we carry on to a bigger town and have it looked at there.  This truly is not what I want to hear.  The notion of carrying on down through the mountains, on a very narrow, windy, congested two lane road crowded with a prodigious numbers of slow-moving lorries and all the while with questionable, queasy brakes was not something that I truly wished to undertake or experience.

But before he sends us off, he says he will have a little look around, check the brake fluid and such.  He then starts up the car, backs up and hits the brakes.

He gingerly drives back in and says he will take a look at it.

It is at this juncture that he feels the various hub caps and discoveries that the rear left wheel is extremely hot – in fact it was too hot to touch.

So we spent the next half hour waiting for it to cool enough for him to begin to investigate what is happening.

As we were not prepared for this degree of roadside expenses, I asked and learned where the nearest bank was.  T. was then dispatched to go off to the ATM and get some cash – we had only about 20 between us.  Even in Turkey, this was only enough, in 2008 for a simple meal – today, it will only stretch to a couple cups of coffee.

When things were cool enough to handle, he removes the tyre, the brake drum and it all seemed okay (I guess).  He then pulls the bearing and greases and re-fits it.

Then he re-adjusts the hand brake.

Finally, he checks the other side which he determines is good.

In the end, the only explanation he could suggest was that the hand brake was tightened a wee bit too much (in Istanbul) which could result in there being a bit of contact between the brake shoes and drum.  This friction could result in the drums running hot.  When things get hot, they,  well, expand and get larger and hence things would naturally get tighter and therefore run hotter which in turn…. a vicious, self sustaining circle.

Only much later did I consider that maybe, that morning in setting off, I failed to release the hand brake fully.  I released it to be sure, but, if it wasn’t 100% released, then, as it had been tightly adjusted, this could have been sufficient to engage a bit of friction, which ultimately was the cause of my, er, excitement on the road.  Hmm….

Anyway, what he said at the time seemed a reasonable and plausible explanation, which also gave a degree of confidence to head out into the mountainous roads and heavy traffic with far less trepidation.

Therefore, as a result of waiting for about an hour and all the work, dismantling, reassembling, greasing and adjusting that he had completed, the brakes were back to feeling normal.

The charge for his labours, on this high holiday – 20.

As I drove away, I experienced how utterly delightful it is, when you put your foot on the brake pedal and it virgoriously resists you.  How pleasant when it does not immediately flee to the floor.  How truly joyous that on the application of the brake pedal, the automobile begins to slow in accordance with the amount of pressure applied to the now normally resistant brake pedal.

How often I have leapt into the car, fired it up and pelted off without giving even a moments thought as to the stopping exercise.  It is great when the car thunders into life and propels me down the roadway – but it is equally, actually more important, for me to be able to bring it to a safe stop when required.

It seems, in life, it is all too easy that some essential, but boring, banal elements can quietly be taken for granted – commonly, we only notice them when they cease to be.

A challenge then, is to be alive to all aspects of life, appreciating and being thankful for those ‘mundane’ and yet essential aspects.

(written May 2008)

If it seemed like we had just arrived in Antakya it was because, well, we had.

We had been in Antakya for just three weeks and already we were back on the 1,000 kilometre trek, heading north to Istanbul. I had seriously considered taking the train back, but as we had a video shoot planned in Antakya in June, and as a consequence, I needed to bring lights, and our home-made Teleprompter and other bits of video kit back with me. Practically speaking, we had no choice but the car.

It was not that long ago that I would have completed a trip like this in a single day – it is, after all only a 13½ hour drive. However, it seems that time, and dare I say the reality and effects of diabetes, have taken their toll on my stamina and physical resources. As a result, we now split the journey over two days. The plan is the first day, when we are freshest, will be the longer day and the second, when the freshness has grown a bit stale, will be the shorter day. That is the theory at least…

We commence the journey on a dual-carriageway for the hour long drive from Antakya to Iskenderun, crossing over the Amanus mountains via the only pass in this part of the mountain range. This pass was known in ancient times as the ‘Syrian Gates’.

Having successfully traversed the pass, travelling through the wee village of Belen and passing under the shadow of an old Church bell tower – the last remnant of the former Christian presence in the village – we then join the motorway. This is a six lane modern motorway whereby the landscape has been tamed and now the roadway consists of gentle inclines and smooth curves.

For the next hour we travel up the plain between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, past the battlefield where Alexander the Great with his much smaller army of Greeks and Macedonians decisively defeated Darius III, King of Persia.  This spelt the end of the mighty Persian Empire and the dawning of Greek ascendancy under Alexander.

The motorway turns westward at the end of the bay and then strikes across the fertile Çukurova plain, amidst vast crops of cotton.
After another hour and a bit, we approached and passed through Turkeys fourth largest city,  Adana.  This high rise city lies straddling the Seyhan River.

The motorway crosses the river just north of the ancient, 13 arch, Roman stone bridge. In the beginning, when this bridge was first constructed, it consisted of 21 arches, but over the nearly two thousands years it has stood over the river, the banks have been stabilised and the width of the river reduced.  Consequently the over -all length of the bridge has been reduced.

It is remarkable that until recent times this was the single main crossing point in the city.  Even as late as the early 1980’s  the bridge was open to motorised traffic, cars, buses, lorries, and well overloaded lorries  – those Romans knew how to build.

Passing through Adana at speed, it was now in our rearview mirror as we carried on towards Tarsus, another half hour, forty-five minutes down the road.  Tarsus was the birthplace of the apostle Paul.

Just prior to Tarsus we turned  90º to the right and proceeded north, paralleling the course of the ancient Roman road.

Travelling at motorway speeds it is not long before the plain was left behind us and we entered the foothills, forging forward on our way towards the Taurus mountains.

Motorways are truly a marvel; bridging, spanning and, at times, removing vast amounts of mountain to enable a high speed motorway to pass.

Remarkably quickly we are up into the mountains, travelling up an ever-narrowing valley until the valley narrows to a point where the left and right mountain sides are almost touching and the minuscule passage between is the bed of a river which occupies all the real estate at the bottom.

This is the famous Cilician Gates, one of the few passes through this coastal mountain range. Once there was a Roman road that traversed this narrow valley and through the profoundly narrow pass. It was upon this ancient way which the apostle Paul would have trudged on his second journey.

When the season is right, the river would dominate the pass as a raging torrent.

Today, the massive stone mountain sides that descend to the bottom of the pass have been blasted and reduced, making the narrow pass wider.  Then a concrete span has been built from edge to edge and above the river.  It is upon this newly created space, just wide enough to to carry the six lanes motorway.

The motorway continues its’ climb through the valley at a challenging incline, our wee Fiat Uno straining to maintain a reasonable climbing speed.

Finally we complete the passage through the Cilician Gates. We crest the top of the pass and immediately begin dropping down the opposite side towards a valley below.  This new valley winds its way up through the high mountains that are now surrounding us.

When we made this passage in 2008, following our decent into the valley, the motorway came to a sudden, complete and abrupt end. This main transportation link between the west of Turkey, the major cities and the fertile region to the south and east, once again reverting back to a simple, two lane roadway.

In 2008, we were somewhat tormented as we could see that the motorway, all six lanes of it, were being pushed, thrust and blasted forward into and through the mountains. The new motorway paralleled us for a while, massive concrete via-ducts soaring over the raging stream in the bottom of the valley – the only way that you could create new space for the roadway.

To complete our passage through these spectacular mountains, the old road turned left up the old, passable valley whilst the new section of the motorway turned right up a different, and fully impassible valley (that is, until modern building techniques and a massive amount of determination was thrown at it).  But with the liberal application of tunnel after tunnel connected by vast concrete via-ducts to join up the tunnels and spanning the wild stream which owns the bottom of the valley, this new motorway would be possible… but not on that day…

We carried on with a two lane road winding its way through narrow valleys. Impressive mountains rising all around us as we travelled, on a constant, steep incline up through the mountains towards the vast interior plateaux.

The next 40 or more kilometres is a mixture of breath-taking scenery and occasionally, breath-taking driving as the two lane road is clogged with heavily laden lorries slowly trudging up the mountain passes.

We fell in behind a smaller lorry and were slowly proceeding up the valley when we happened upon a straight section of road. In the mountains, these are rarities and only when traffic allows, do they present the only hope you have of passing over-burdened transport lorries labouring up the inclines. Behind the lorries, your best speed is set by the capabilities of and state of the lorries, but, if you can get by the lorry, then you may be able to travel closer to the posted speed limit of 90 kph. Otherwise, the passage will be dictated by the slowest crawl of the lorries. Additionally, we will be treated to breathing in the vast clouds a pitch-black exhaust that they are continuously belching out.

I took a quick peek and the road was clear, so I indicated and moved into the on-coming lane to overtake. However, as I manuoevered, simultaneously the lorry in front of me did likewise.

It seems there was an even slower lorry struggling up the road in front of him. Now, instead of a smooth acceleration to overtake the lorry, I am reduced to the speed of the lorry in front and to its rather limited ability to increase speed.

After a ponderous start, the lorry abandons his attempt, slowly slows and pulls back in. Before me the reduced length of the straight section of road continues for a distance, but now, being in the opposite lane as I am, I have a clear view of the challenge and my eyes take in the fact that there are actually three slow moving lorries, hunkered down and plodding up the hill. It is a moment when you have to make a split-second decision.

The lorries are tightly packed together, each one following the one in front with the most minimal space between.

The decision, made in the twinkling of an eye, is to press on and pass all three.

As I down shift, our little Uno does its rather feeble impression of a race car, the engine noise increases as does our speed – the engine noise increase is greater than our speed increase. The engine sounds like we are flying – the speedometer indicates that our increase in speed will not make it into any record book.

In these seconds T.’s telephone rings and I become aware that the road markings have changed from ‘passing allowed’, to ‘passing not permitted’.

However, I am committed, we are in the act of passing.

We are past the first lorry and abreast of the second with the third to go; our speed is increasing and the engine, roaring , throbbing and straining with all its diminished might, is giving it all it has.

Then ahead, at the bend, I see a car round the bend and coming in our direction.

I am not mathematically inclined. I do basic maths, er, basically. And yet in this situation, my mind, at some unconscious, subconscious level is calculating the distance yet to travel, my speed, my rate of increase in speed, the speed of the vehicle I am passing, the speed of the on-coming car and the distance left between us and him. Calculating all of this data, doing an incredible amount of assessment and evaluation (not me consciously but, automatically, somewhere deep in my mind),  the conclusion comes to my conscious mind: “hold your course”.

I don’t know how all those calculations have been made. I do not know the math or the trigonometry or whatever other math is required to complete this complex task and couldn’t do with my conscious mind as I have never learned that math.

But I trust the result of the calculation. I don’t know how it has been done, but I trust it and act on it.

The accelerator can not be depressed any further – it is already on the floor. The wee Uno is giving its’ all.  There is nothing left in reserve, nothing more to call upon.

The decision has been made, we are now passengers as events unfold, literally, before us.

The frenetic roaring of the engine fills our ears, I hear T. on the phone saying “No, I’m not driving…” – the person on the other end would have been reasonably alarmed if she had been.

There is a palpable tension in the car.

“Hold the course” – the calculations have been made, the speed and distance are all still within acceptable limits.

Somewhere, deep in my mind, the calculations are being continuously updated and checked.

There is no need to panic, yet. There is no need for draconian, emergency measures, at this point…

I breast the third lorry, space, time and distance remain… just. I indicate and as soon as we fully clear the last lorry we return to our designated side of the road, shift gears and the engine reverts from its maniacal raging to its normal din.

We traverse the last kilometres of the two lane road section and as we descend onto the vast interior plain of Anatolia the road reverts once again, to a four lane dual carriageway.

This interior plateau is a vast plain dotted here and there with proud mounds, often still covered in scree – the remnants of the last volcanic eruptions some time in the very distant past.

Our mid-trip destination is a town an hours’ drive across the plain. The town is built at the foot of a massive volcano – extinct I trust. This mountain soars into the sky, dominating the plain and seen from a great distance.

The road itself stretches off to the horizon, straight as a die with no wiggle or curve, just a straight line leading all the way to the end of sight.

In spite of it being a dual carriageway and basically dead flat and straight as an arrow, the speed limit remains frustratingly posted at 90 kph. Driving on this plain is easy driving – but, from a driver’s point of view, rather boring.

Traffic is light, and anything that we do encounter that requires overtaking, well,  is the antithesis of our experience in the mountains and the two lane road. Overtaking is a doddle as we have our own, dedicated, overtaking lane.

This last hours’ drive before we stop and rest for the night is neither exciting nor challenging. The task is dead simple, hold a steady speed and hold a steady course. There are no hills, no curves, no movement to break the monotony.

Even with the lack of challenge, as a driver, you are always scanning ahead for potential risks, and ahead I see a rare side road that will soon intersect with our dual carriageway. On the side road, coming straight towards our road is a rather large blue tipper lorry.

He is barrelling towards the dual carriageway with speed and determination – one could almost say with ‘reckless abandon’.

Once again, sub-consciously, a calculation is being done; our speed versus his speed, our distance to the ‘meeting point’ and his distance to the ‘meeting point’, the distance by which if he hasn’t stopped (as he is incumbent to do), we will have had to stop…

Now, Turkish drivers rarely slow down before they have to. Possibly in the West, some drivers may let off the fuel feed and allow the vehicle to begin to slow naturally before having to apply the brakes, but not so here.

We are advancing at 90 kph – holding our course, he is approaching at what I would estimate to be the same speed. The distances are closing rather sharply and he is showing absolutely no signs whatsoever of relenting.

It appears as if he is claiming right-of-way.

Somewhere deep within my brain the calculations have been made and continuously updated, and now the word comes down “Do NOT hold your course”.

This, by interpretation means “STOP”.

I vigorously apply the brakes and quickly downshift and our wee Uno begins to slow.

It is at this juncture that the large blue lorry must have become aware that he was approaching the dual carriageway, that he didn’t have the right-of-way and that it was incumbent on him to stop.
The lorry was also now in sudden stop mode.

Quite a sight actually, seeing this rather large vehicle decelerating so.

He stopped. We slowed. We passed one another.

At one time it was appropriate to “hold the course” and at another the message was “do NOT hold the course” – both times as the result of complex, subconscious calculations. These calculations were not performed by my conscious mind; I was not party to the various deliberations and evaluations – all was done silently, at a subconscious level with only the result being sent to my conscious mind. And yet I trusted the result implicitly.

Different situations, different calculations and clearly, there was and is no easy rule or simplistic determination to be applied in all situations.

This could be construed as a microcosm of life.

As we travel through life, various events adorn, intrude and otherwise encroach on our path. Some of these are planned, some are welcomed and many, well, they just happen, intrude and ‘are’. Indeed, some are extremely unwelcome and yet, there they are.

As we manoeuvre through our life, encountering and dealing with these events, the planned and many that, well, that just intrude, we seek the best way forward, the best choice. This can be fraught with pitfalls and dangers – the right choice can mean life and the wrong choice…

As one who has trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, to guide and lead and, well, be ‘Lord’ of my life, yes, I use the mind that God has given, I apply logic, I reason, but now, in addition, I have access to the leading of the ‘Spirit of God’. Now, I can listen to the ‘still small voice of God’. In this way, in addition to my logic, in addition to my reasoning, both which are God-given, I can listen for the voice of God and can learn when to ‘hold the course’ and when ‘not to’.

Logic is good. Reasoning is essential. God does not call us to live illogically – He, after all, gave us reasoning and logic and gave them to us to be used.

However, to successfully engage with, respond to and overcome the multitude of challenges that daily crop up in life, it is essential that as I trust the unseen and subconscious reasoning and calculations done in my subconscious mind and to also trust the ‘unseen’ and yet more trustworthy than all my logic and all my reasoning, the ‘still small voice of God’.

May God continually give me ears that hear what the Spirit is saying.