Monday, January 23, 2012

Halfway to Mt Ararat (T 3 - Turkey 1960s)

(Travellers’ tales – third episode, February 1965)

Two of the tyres were flat when we got back to the car after three months away. The Customs shed had no sides to it, and just enough roof to protect the contents from the winter snow. We pumped up the tyres, scraped the cable and connected it to the battery, and the engine caught at the second attempt. We thanked the Customs Officers lavishly in pidgin Turkish, and I gave them my last two Australian beers, carried all the way from London the year before. We hit the road out of Ankara, headed for Scandinavia and points east.

No wonder the tyres were soft. On a back road in a village not far from Istanbul, we had chosen the wrong fork in the road. Our choice really did look marginally the less rocky of the two, but eighty yards into it we reckoned we must be on a dry river-bed. And so it proved, eventually. We were lucky that only two of the tyres lost their pressure during the winter. I don’t remember ever replacing them; the budget didn’t run to new tyres, even with Linda paying half the expenses. Still, I guess we must have done it at some time and somewhere before we got back to London.***
*** Eventually I did remember where we had them fixed. I reported it in "The German Lesson" posted in May 2012. 

Turkey was immensely kind to us. Someone reckoned that being Australian must have helped, with the Turks feeling superior because their army had beaten back the ANZAC invaders in 1915 at Gallipoli. But most of the people we mixed with would never have heard of the invasion. In a town halfway to Mount Ararat we were intercepted in the street while looking for a cheap hotel, and pressed to stay in a private home. The small children were woken up and brought to meet us, and we slept in a bed still warm from their bodies. (Some things you just can’t argue about.)

We were snowed in the whole of the next day, and did what the natives did – sat around in a cafe sipping glasses of sweet black tea. I hate sweet black tea, but what can you do? I stood up to buy my round, only to be confronted by a fierce-looking fellow with red hair who dismissed my money. A futile argument (sign language and shouting) ended by his thumping his chest while roaring “ME TURK!” I glanced at the others, who gave me the slight shifting of eyes and head that says, “Let it go.” His command of English impressed his friends enormously, so he got his money’s worth, I guess.

In the villages, the sexes were segregated, pretty much. We knew enough not to hold hands, or show affection in any way, or to offend the dress code. We heard of a Danish couple who had been knifed in their tent one night for cuddling in public during the day. In most places our very presence was exotic enough to put us beyond the reach of local etiquette rules. Linda was an honorary male, in effect. Only once was she invited (with a hint of desperation, as courtesy warred with custom) to go with the women upstairs in their harem. They had never had a foreign woman up there before, and she had a great time dancing the Twist with them. I was guest of honour on a chair down in the street watching the men doing their line-dancing. Ho-hum. The village schoolteacher spoke a smattering of German, as did I, and he translated every word he thought I’d said to him.

Some time later, an English-speaker must have visited the village. In our mail at the Bank back in London there was a postcard with a message in English, printed in block capitals. “WE HOPE YOU COME BACK. OUR WILLAGE PEOPLES LOVES YOU.” Verbatim.

It doesn’t get any better than that.