(first written November, 2011)
I can’t remember ever doing this before, but today was kind of a special day.
It is holiday time in Turkey – it is the time for the annual Sacrifice Holiday – a remembrance of Abraham sacrificing his son (“Ishmael” according to Islamic belief). Those who can afford it, buy a sheep (or another kind of animal), bring in home, tether by the house and on the first or second day of the holiday, bind the legs, lay it down, and cut the throat of the animal until it bleeds out.
Then it is butchered and a feast is held with about 1/3 of the meat being given to neighbours or the poor (technically 1/3 is for immediate family, 1/3 for neighbours and 1/3 for the poor – I do not know what happens in practice, but meat did arrive at our door once, so that would have been some for the neighbour I suppose).
We, however, have no need for a sacrifice as we have One who was sacrificed once for all.
Nevertheless, the elder had three days off work. On the first day, he and his wife made some visits and on the next day, as is the way with holidays, some outstanding household tasks were done.
But today is the third and final day – tomorrow he returns to his labours.
Now it is a fact that since we sold our car a year and a half ago, we don’t get out of the town very much. This leads me to muttering, “if I had a car, we would go to….” filling in the blank with some location that is outside of our normal walking distance.
However, when we were in Istanbul recently, a good friend offered to loan us his car – his new car – an offer we gratefully accepted. And so now we have a car, or more precisely the use of a car, until we return it to its rightful owner when we travel back to İstanbul on our way to the UK in December for our annual sojourn there.
Still, I must confess that having an automobile parked up outside our house and every-ready for us to climb aboard and travel somewhere that we haven’t actually gone anywhere.
Needless to say, the elder challenged me on this, saying “You always say, ‘If I had a car I would go to…’ and now you have a car and you don’t go anywhere”… and by implication, what is the matter, stop muttering and go somewhere.
So, today, the third and last day of the nation-wide holiday, the elder and I took the car, “my” car and headed for the coast, destination: Seleucia, the ancient port of Antioch, for I have often been heard to murmur that I would like to drive along the coast from Seleucia – part curiosity to know what lays down that way and partly because it is breath-takingly beautiful.
We covered the 25 or so kilometres to Samandağ (pronounced Sa-man-dah) in reasonable time as most of it has recently been up-graded to a four lane divided road. The roadway still bisects numerous villages along the way, so it is not a high speed road, but a vast improvement on the former two lane roadway.
We wove our way through the town of Samandağ – the town which seems to be primarily stretched out along the interminable and incredibly long High Street. Once clear of that entanglement known as Samandağ, we then turned to travel across the flat coastal plain to the village of Çevlik (Chev-leek). This is the Turkish village that rests on, around, in and near the ruins of ancient Seleucia, from whence Paul and Barnabas sailed to Cyprus on their first journey.
Now, in the fullness of time we arrive right at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The clear sky above and the sea glistening in the bright noon-day light is a marvell to behold. The broad plain has long disappeared behind us and the road has been reduced to a narrow way squeezed in-between the mountains which rise steeply from the sea and disappearing high above us. In many places there simply wasn’t enough room for a road – but they had managed to achieve it through diligence and no doubt a copious application of dynamite.
The road is good, the car is great, the company superb and the scenery out-standing.
At every bend, the mountains relentlessly cascade down to the sea, and the Mediterranean itself, is calm, flat, crystal clear. As we travel along we witness little groups of Turks fishing from the rocks or others in large fishing boats just off shore.
We know the asphalt road goes some way along before it degenerates into a gravel road and our goal is an abandoned Police Station which the elder has been to, whilst on a fishing expedition with one of the believers some time ago.
The elder knows the way – I do not and I’m driving.
I do not know how far along the coast it is. Therefore, for me, there is the excitement of discovery, every bend, every rise, something new, exciting, and invariably a spectacular vista laying in wait…
We came to one place where the sea had assaulted the road to the point that it had begun to eat into the seaward side of the roadway – I wouldn’t want to be on that part of the road during stormy weather.
A bit further on the mountain emphatically completed its course from its highest heights to plunge straight into the sea. There was no place to tag a bit of road on the side and no practicable way to go around in the depths of the sea.
So, through the dint of hard work and probably a goodly amount of explosives, a cleft was hewed, blasted and otherwise forced through the living rock to make a roadbed with towering sides overshadowing the passage.
Once through this man-made chasm we rounded the corner and three things were immediately visible.
Firstly the asphalt road continued along the coast, sandwiched between mountain and sea a mile or so further and then was lost around a bend.
Secondly, before us was the abandoned Police Station.
Thirdly, the bridge was out, a victim to the weather, storms and floods. To circumvent the ruined bridge a rough ford had been made in the stream to enable vehicles to carry on up the road.
Rather than cross the ford, the elder suggested we park up and take a walk.
Walking is good.
I rather wanted to take the ford and carry on and at least see around that bend a mile or so further up the coast – but I took his suggestion and parked up. We walked across what was left of the bridge, probably not the wisest thing to do considering its state of its ruin, neglect and decay, and then meandered past the abandoned Police Station and up the coast for a ways, enjoying the fresh air, the warm, but not oppressive sunlight and the delights of nature, tender green grass and flourishing wild flowers blooming and garlanding the rocks and mountain slops.
As we walked, vehicles, not many, but normal cars and little trucks, came up and down the road, the ford not being a barrier to the more adventuresome.
After a ways, we turned back and as we came once again to the abandoned Police Station, we approached two men who were sitting there – they greeted us and invited us to come and share a cup of tea. Initially we said no, then the elder said to me that a glass of tea would be nice right about then, so we accepted their next offer and crossed over to join them.
These two men, enjoying the holiday, had risen early and come out to fish. Having finished their fishing, they had made some tea and were enjoying the delightful weather and vista. As we approached we shook hands and greeted one another.
To make tea the Turkish way they had a simple double boiler with a little wood fire below providing the heat. The first pot, that is the bottom pot, was filled with fresh mountain spring water and was on the boil and the smaller pot on top had the tea leaves steeping in a modest amount of water. Two tulip shaped glass glasses were produced and the tea was mixed – first the highly steeped tea from the top pot and then piping hot, boiling, water from the bottom pot added to dilute the tea mixture until it attains the correct colour. Turkish tea, I am told, properly mixed, will be the colour of rabbit’s blood (tavşan kanı).
As we drank our tea, we chatted a bit and they offered to make us some kebab – they had eaten and the remnants of the bar-b-que were evident. They sincerely offered to make us a couple of kebabs if we wished, they had mince and freshly caught fish. We drank our tea and gratefully declined their very generous offer. They offered again – and again we politely refused.
Once our tea was consumed, the elder crossed the stream to where a jet of water was gushing and began to wash his tea glass. “No, no, don’t do that,” they said, “No need, we will take care of that”. The elder then took my tea glass and washed it.
We thanked the men, who again offered to make us a kebab and we departed. We crossed the washed-out bridge and got back in the car.
The car is nice, very nice. The scenery is gorgeous – incredible. But the warm, friendly hospitality of two strangers, to offer us tea and kebab was the greatest of all.
When was the last time two strangers offered you tea, just because you were passing by and when was the last time you felt safe and assured enough to be able to take up such an offer from complete and utter strangers?
This is a wee taste of true “Turkish Delight” – the richness and warmth of this great profoundly hospitable people.