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.

I know this is true in my life.

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.

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

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

Probably “Yes” to all the above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the holeYes, we wanted the hole dug.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our young people enthusiastically said they very much enjoy fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, there was no menu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nice to know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tension was applied.

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

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

IMG_2337

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trawler was free.

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

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

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

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

On my morning constitutional, I noticed that in spite of it being a significant holiday in Turkey, the water company was out with a JCB and parts and things.  

It seems there was a water leak.  

As I continue my walk, I came past the bottom of the hill below where the JCB was parked and noted that there was a large quantity of water freely flowing down from the leak – a good thing they are working to make things right, even on a holiday. 

The next day, there was just a gravelly spot on the road to declare where the leak had been. The hill was liberally decorated with dirt and dried mud from the overflow.

On the following day, I am sitting in a wee coffee shop at the bottom of the hill when I see horizontal water spray flying down the hill.

Now this caught my attention.

Slowly a Fire appliance came into view; a tanker truck – it carts the water to accompany the other fire fighting appliances and ensures a constant source of water.

Today, in service to the local council, they were slowly driving down the hill spraying the road with a set of high pressure water nozzles at the front of the lorry.

Slowly coming down the hill, they drove all the dirt, dust, stones before them. The roadway is left free of debris; clean and spotless.

The appliance then stopped in front of the coffee shop and released a fire hose. With this the two firefighters began spraying the street, driving the accumulated dirt, mud and stones along the road and towards the storm drain.

They cleaned in front of the coffee shop, they cleaned the pavement in front of the shop. They sprayed, with diminished force, the ten or so planters full of colourful flowers in front of the coffee shop.

They were diligent, hard working, pressing on to make all clean and ship-shape.

I found the process reminiscent of the circle of life. They were called out because of a water leak which had besmirched the roadway. They cleaned the road by driving the muddy, soil laden water into the water drains; where, in the fullness of time, they will become clogged requiring a crew to come out and clear the drain, soiling the street which will require the Fire Brigade to once again come and clean the street.

And after all this diligent, hard work… the two firefighters (er, street cleaners?) came into the coffee shop for their full Turkish breakfast          

The street is clean… until the drain needs to be cleared… and then the cycle will repeat itself.

No action, no activity seems to occur in isolation.  

Actions need to be seen, to be assessed, in their context. The activity that I am about to engage in: what are the natural repercussions; what will naturally result; what are the responsibilities; what are the consequences.

Hmm, I need to bear that in mind…

(written July 2011)

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.

Wonderful…

However…

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.

Oh joy.

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…

Yikes!

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.

(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.

On  the days that we are out in the fields seeking to provide some practical assistance to Syrian refugee field workers, it is our normal practice to stop mid-way through for a meal break.  

We do not stop willy-nilly, indeed there are only a few places that we habitually return to.  These locations have gained this status by meeting certain criteria.  For example, a place must not be too near an encampment or other buildings, have space to park safely off the road and it simply must have shade – which is essential, vital, in the hot summer months.

In the region where we labour, we have settled on a limited number of locales that meet this criteria; one at an isolated tree on the edge of a field, another under the trees at a water pumping station, and one that is next door to a well treed cemetery.  The latter one, the cemetery, is also situated in the lee of a very distinctively shaped bald hill.

Recently we arrived at my specifically selected and chosen luncheon venue, by the cemetery.

That may sound a bit odd as a place to lunch, but cemeteries in Turkey are often treed – and hence the shade so-created spills over the boundary, giving the weary traveller or in our case, the weary aid provider, a coolish place to rest without having to actually go into the cemetery.  

By this particular cemetery there is ample off road parking.

IMG_8963.jpgWhen this venue was originally selected as a ‘luncheon venue’, the fact that there is barren hill beside the cemetery was not in the least a factor in choosing it.  

But, today I specifically selected this venue, precisely because of that hill.

On even a cursory observation, it is apparent that this is not a natural hill.  Its unique shape tells the observer that while this hill is not ‘natural’ – it is the ‘natural result’ of continuous human occupation over millennia.  

These distinctive hills or mounds develop, because, historically the most common building materials were simple, sun baked mud bricks and/or wattle plastered with mud mixed with dung and straw.  

In time, the buildings inevitably return to the soil from whence they were born.  This deterioration can be the results of the effects of rain, neglect, age, fire or humanity being what it is, wanton destruction.   In the ‘crumble down – rebuild’ process, new buildings are constructed over the remains of the previous building, resulting over time in the creation of a rather unique shape, and this shape speaks, it ‘tells’ that that location is the site of human occupation stretching over millennia. 

As these mounds grow, not much at first, but over lifetimes, over centuries, and then over literally millennia, a distinctively shaped hill develops and slowly rises above the plain.  These mounds have surprisingly steep sides, often with a slightly tapered side and, invariably, with an unnaturally flat top.  This is their prevalent shape and they are fairly wide spread across Mesopotamia – the Fertile Crescent.  

It is because these mounds are the result of the same common, human activities, that in various locations across this region, they share the same basic shape.  This is so widespread and so common that it has become a means of recognising the location of these ancient settlements.  It has become a ‘tell’, something that clearly indicates that history is buried and hidden within.  

Archaeologists, often names things in a simple, plain, unimaginative, prosaic fashion: when they engage in an excavation or in other words, they are engaged in actually digging an archaeological site, they refer to that simply as a ‘dig’.  When something is found in a ‘dig’, it is unimaginatively referred to as a ‘find’.  And the indicators that inform or tell the archaeologist that a mound is actually the remnants of human activity, it is banally labeled a ‘tell’.   


IMG_4629 Amik Ovasi tell map smallThe plains around Antakya are liberally decorated by these characteristic ‘tells’. 

I am aware that there are one or two ‘tells’, by the main road that traverses the plain from Antakya to Reyhanlı, that have been excavated revealing, among other things, centuries of Hittite rule and millennia of human habitation.  Many impressive artefacts from these and other ‘tells’ are on display at the local Archaeological Museum telling the story of daily life, government, religion and tracing the history that has transpired on this plain since time immemorial.

This broad valley that leads to Antakya has always been a fertile region and hence mankind has dwelt, married, buried and farmed here from antiquity.  The area is still actively farmed and farming communities continue to be dotted all over the plain – hence the presence here of Syrian refugee field workers.  These are desperate people, willing to do whatever needs to be done.  Field work is hard, strenuous, poorly remunerated, providing no security – no one chooses to do it if they have any choice.  Thankless, profitless, arduous do not begin to adequately describe the work.

IMG_8506.jpgPreviously, we had eaten here, by the cemetery, on the skirt of this striking mound, on a number of occasions, and, being acutely aware as I am of the presence of this millennia old, man-made accumulation of the detritus of daily life, I have silently longed to ascend the pinnacle of the mound.  But, alas, not to inconvenience others in my personal quest, I both refrained from sharing my longing and from arbitrarily heading off on my own.

However, on this particular day, the mid-day break was at the end of our business for the day, therefore, there wasn’t the normal pressure of time hanging over me.  Speaking with my companions, and gaining their understanding, I grabbed my lunch and together with T, we headed off, eating and walking, so as not to delay our departure unnecessarily.  We headed up the tapered end of the mound as being the least demanding means of making the ascent – the other sides being as they are, rather steep.

Roughly speaking, the mound probably stands 30 metres (or about 100 feet) or more proud of the surrounding flat plain. 

IMG_8488.jpgAs we began our stroll up the mound, it wasn’t difficult effort, I noticed the soil was liberally littered with the ‘plastic of the ancient world’ – pottery shards.  Here and there some stones were visible, lying partly buried in the soil, the sizes ranging from apple-sized to large melon-sized in diameter.

Some of the pottery shards were IMG_8489.jpgreasonably large, with clear shapes, a rim here, a handle there mixed with smaller bits and bobs.  In the words of the British Archaeological television programme ‘Time Team’, the breaks in the pottery were clean and not worn, indicating that the soil has not been disturbed.  Time Team is a wonderful TV programme that makes archaeology easily accessible and understandable.  I, for one, find it highly entertaining and informative; it is available to view on YouTube.

As we made our ascent, I had to remind myself that people did not live at this site for the view, as the growth of the mound was the result of a natural process involving the building materials (sun baked mud bricks), copious amounts of time, depredations of the buildings over time, no doubt the odd earthquake and again, humanity being what it is, destruction resulting from passing armies and marauding raiding parties.  As time passed, later generations built their homes on the ruins of the previous structures and consequently, the settlement slowly rose above the plain.  The first settlers had a limited view, the latter residence had a marvellous view over the surrounding plain.

If an archaeologist were to come and conduct a professional ‘dig’, interpreting the ‘finds’, they would be able to discern the various levels of occupation and read the history contained therein.  They could correctly decipher the signs of earthquakes and fires in the soil.  They could trace the development of tools and society in the detritus that remains.

An unschooled individual like myself, can but look and marvel at the amount of pottery shards, at the height of the mound, at the rocks on the flat top – common-looking, uncut rocks that are only there because someone at some point in the past picked them up from somewhere else and physically carted them up there.  

Were these stones the basis of a foundation for some building or did they perform some other function – well, those are questions left for the archaeologist.IMG_8487 stones.jpg

When we crested the mound, and began walking the circuit of the flat top, it was not as I expected.  

I knew they all have a distinctive flat top – that is part of the features that declares that it is a ‘tell’.  But I had assumed that they were basically circular or ovalidal in shape at the top.  That was an assumption.

IMG_8478 flat top.jpgThis particular one, the only one I’ve had the pleasure and honour to walk upon, did indeed have the flat top, with the slightly trailing taper, but on the opposite side of the mound, there was what appeared like a shallow depression from the top going down to the north out of the mound to the plain.  This depression made an incursion into the top of the mound, denying it a full flat ovalidal shape in practice. It did not appear to me to have been something that was done to the mound after the fact – but I do not not know.  It struck me (unschooled and uneducated in all things archaeological as I am) as an original artefact of the mound, which had developed over time and in the life of the ‘tell’.  Obviously, I could be completely wrong.  

Nevertheless, I found it very fascinating.

I have seen mounds on the plains around the birthplace of Abraham, south of Urfa, at the village that surrounds and over-dwells the ‘tell’ of Haran.  From the top of that partially excavated ‘tell’, you can see the neighbouring ‘tells’ on the surrounding plain.  Those reflect the existences of villages and towns that date back to the prosperous era of farming on that plain in the time of Abraham.  They were probably closer to the level of the plain then, only over the subsequent centuries and millennia slowly working their way upwards to the dominant mounds they are today.

On our journeys around Turkey, we’ve driven past many ‘tells’, some, silent, deserted monuments to that which once was, and others where people are continuing the tradition to live and work on that locus – those tells where mankind has been doing just that for millennia and continues to do so…

It was a real treat for me to be able surmount that tell.  That is the good news.

However, now, I would love to visit another tell (there are many on the plain around where we labour).  That is the bad news.  I’m not here to indulge my passion for old mounds of dirt.

Having said that, maybe another opportunity will present itself.  I am not going out of my way to find one, but, if it so transpires that one presents itself, and if it is appropriate and there is time, I will grasp it…     

For me, these ‘tells’ are truly fascinating… not much to see to my uneducated, untrained eyes, but, the connection to humanity over millennia, for me, that is, well, intriguing…