Wednesday, October 8 Kesan to Tekirdag, Turkey
“Now is the time to unite the soul with the world. Now is the time to see the sunlight dancing as one with the shadows.” The poet, philosopher and religious mystic, Rumi
“Troops on the streets, curfews for the first time in 22 years, protests in almost 30 cities and state buildings attacked – the situation is dangerous and escalating fast.” BBC News, October 8, 2014 regarding Turkey
Is it coincidence? Is it bad luck or good luck? Is it fate? Is it just divine irony playing itself out? Yesterday I posted that I had finally entered Turkey after almost five weeks of cycling through both Italy and Greece. It felt like a monumental relief to me to have reached this milestone. It was a wonderful day cycling with other Turkish cyclists and enjoying the grace-filled gifts of the day.
Who would have guessed that while I was crossing the border things were beginning to erupt around this country? This morning I woke to the sounds of Islamic prayer being sung from the tower across the city. As I ate at the hotel in Kesan, the TV was replaying images of protests, tear gas, and riots. I knew that at least part of it was related to Turkey as I recognized the city of Ankara in the subtitles. I went upstairs to my computer so that I could confirm just what and where this was happening. It was all Turkey. The ISIS attack upon the Kurdish city of Kobane, Syria had ignited Kurdish people in Turkey and their sympathizers against the government.
I erupted into tears. Not because it might put my pilgrimage in jeopardy or cut it short. Not because it makes my journey more complicated and possibly more risky. But, because I have spent five weeks opening myself up to the beauty of my surroundings, the generosity of the people I meet, and my own inner emotional landscape. Opening, opening, and more opening. Being vulnerable to whatever gift each day may bring. Living in the now moment. So how could I not erupt into tears as I felt the pain and violence of what was unfolding before me? How could my heart not ache as I watched people tear each other apart? I have allowed myself to become vulnerable and it hurts now.
And what an unbelievable and almost surreal contrast to what I experienced not too far down the road one hour later. I was just out of town painfully negotiating a section of road that really required a mountain bike due to the deterioration of the shoulder. Construction vehicles and crews in their fluorescent vests were busy hauling away some of the old pavement and further down the road, repaving it. I gritted my teeth and bounced along doing the best I could to avoid a minor mishap in a pile of gravel or broken, cavernous pavement.
Not far up ahead a group of workers were settling into the grass supporting trays of prepared lunch. As I neared, one man lifted a half loaf of bread and waved me over. I was glad to accept the offer. Before I knew it they had a full tray ready for as well—a half loaf of bread, a soup that seemed to have a pea base, a pile of rice that was imposing, and a dish that included some sort of meat patties, potatoes and a sauce. It was more than I wanted or needed, but I dug in.
I ate what I could. While cycling I like to eat easily digestible food and save the heavier meals for the night. I enjoyed all the soup, made a pretty good dent in the bread, and picked away at the meat and potatoes. I watched as some of the men wandered off to scrape their plates clean from their half-eaten trays too. I stopped eating and was hoping for a signal that I could do the same thing. But, the looks told me I was supposed to keep eating. My original inviter was trying to guide me with nods of his head, pointing to my food and lifting his fingers to his mouth to indicate, “Eat. Eat.”
Another man to the left of me was even more persistent and that is when I began to figure out the puzzle. While the second man was pressuring me to eat all of my food, the first man was shaking his head and giving me permission not to eat it all. Finally, I got it. He was trying to tell me that I had to eat the meat, but all else could be discarded. I finished the four little patties on my tray and he immediately picked up my tray and saved me from the stricter dictates of the second man. Afterwards, he pointed to a flock of sheep and goats thirty feet from us and then put his fingers in his mouth saying, “That is what we just ate.” It was clear that meat was sacred and not to be wasted.
I spent nearly an hour there with the ten or so men who took care of me. The second man wanted to know about my marital status and my earring and then finally spun his hands in the universal sign for “cycling” asking if he could ride my bike. Generally, that would be off-limits. I am a little protective of my bikes and this one is my only transportation in a foreign country. Little problems become a big deal very quickly. But, it was the right thing to do and fit the spirit of sharing what we had. We all had a good laugh as he attempted to ride the heavily-loaded bike through the gravel, but I think it was a success since he didn’t fall. Afterwards, he rubbed his butt to indicate that the thin seat was none too comfortable and we all shared another good laugh.
I drank three cups of tea with them and took pictures. Then the original inviter who had waved me over held out his arms. We hugged and he guided me through a proper Turkish embrace left cheek to left cheek and then right cheek to right cheek. The other men laughed with appreciation and delight. We didn’t share more than about two words in common—American and tea (chai), but he became my friend. I will always remember the kind way that he led me through the meal protecting me from the more critical eyes who were watching me. Thank you, my friend!
I would not have missed that opportunity for anything, but I did pay for it 45 minutes down the road. The meat sat heavily in my stomach and as I churned the pedals repeatedly over a series of rolling hills I felt a little queasy. It eventually passed, but it was a very uncomfortable period of demanding more from my stomach in the form of determination while my stomach was trying to demand a respite for digestion.
It was a particularly hard day of cycling outside of that. I have to admit that I saw very little of the scenery today. My eyes were focused for most of the day on a little square patch about six feet in front of me. With the exception of a very short two kilometer section a consistent headwind that shifted from hitting me between the 10 o’clock and the 12 o’clock position dogged me all day and eventually demoralized me. I went into an emotionally numb zone after four hours of it and just inched my way along knowing the eventually I would arrive at my destination back on the coast in Tekirdag, Turkey. I did, but only after seven hours of riding that would usually just take me four and half hours.
I am hoping to reach Istanbul tomorrow. I already have a reservation at a hostel right in Old Town where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located. But, it will mean at least 80 miles of riding, including the possibility that that headwind will still be there and negotiating my way into Istanbul—which by the way, I decided to do on bike after finding a website of another cyclist who decided to do all cyclists a favor by publishing the safest and most beautiful route into the city. I had hoped to get further today, but it just wasn’t to be.
Back to the other issue about the political and religious environment. I had a good coffee meeting with Esen, a local cyclist and outdoorswoman, who helped me interpret what was taking place and what areas it will affect the most. So far I still feel good about my route and my plan and feel confident that I am not riding into harm’s way. However, things are very tenuous and tensions are high and I am watching developments every day and will plan accordingly.
“Now is the time to unite the soul with the world,” writes Rumi. I like that, but I can’t help but to cry for the world right now, for the Turkish people, for the Middle East, for all of us.