The most frequently asked question is “Are not you afraid?” and “You’re just a woman alone.” I am used to hear those questions and I do not flash a strange look towards them who’d ask me. Except this one: “But you’re really all alone and no one is there to help you!” in silence I wonder how they take place in this world? And mind you, these people are westerners…
In fact, people are helping me to such an extend that now, while I write this post in Iraq, I purposely did not ask my latest host to send me to yet another of his friends, in order I would be alone and not one to help me for some time.
Turkish Kurdistan has been a series of help. One day after the other was a continuation of devotion towards the stranger.
The arrival in Diyarbakir is a rough one, first there’s the sudden change in surrounding. Traveling by airplane is too abrupt. Secondly I see myself, very soon after I exit the airport, in a clash with a few little boys. The boys are touching all the buttons they can see, little fingers fingering the Spot satellite device and further on to the compass, bell and some more on the Spot device. It’s annoying me, besides, I am hungry, having eaten only two simits and two tea at 7 o’clock in the morning. I am tired too, having had no sleep on the overnight journey. So I fire tempered words to this little boys to stop it. They give a push to the luggage on my back and in no time I get off the bicycle and trow a stone at them. It missed just by a hair. My skills are still well, and I am proud but also pissed off. I cycle on, trying to find the way to the center of Diyarbakir and on a big roundabout I am again bullied by some little boys. They pull the strings of the elastic cord on the back luggage. I stop and try to get rid of them, but in my aggressive approach they come closer and try to get some more fun. In a meanwhile a few cars and minibuses have stopped and back me up, shouting to the boys. I myself get off the bicycle, angrily by now because the little boys just don’t back off. Then I loose grip of the bicycle, it falls on me, we’re both on the ground. There, on the roundabout. What a show. As soon as the bicycle is back on it’s wheel, I start to walk towards the little scum, in a meanwhile a stone is thrown in my direction and hitting the spokes of the front wheel. The men behind me are shouting, coming out of their vehicles and walk toward the boys, who’d run away now. I grab a couple of stones and keep them in my pockets. The boys are off now and too far away to be hit. The men from the minibus and car are all very concerned about me, while I am fueled with adrenaline and anger.
Why is it such boys attack strangers with stones, as how I see it? Later, Ferat will tell me that those boys, living in the bad neighborhood of town, have parents who don’t care about them. It’s best to give not too much attention to those boys. Not to react and be quiet. It’s not my style of defending but I guess that’s how it works in Kurdistan.
My first impression of Diyarbakir, being so quickly in such a different place on earth in comparison to the Netherlands, becomes softened by the men who stream to me as soon as I come to a standstill. They offer me water, they invite me for chai. Some other watch my bicycle while I eat my first meal that day at 5 o’clock. Then I cycle towards the address I found on Couch Surfing. I notice I am again a rarity among the people of Kurdistan. This part of the country is rather poor and traditional yet. Far from the quick changes of Istanbul. I receive surprised looks and discouraging ‘booh’s’, like the sound of a slaughtered goat. Though, people whom I ask directions are helpful, and I am plain relieved that when I am close to Ferat’s house, I have reached a proper area. I am delivered to Ferat’s house by a man in suit and tie who’s accompanying me to the doorsteps. He’d made a phone call to Ferat and made sure where to present me. Saved!
Couch Surfing Request Accepted
I decided to use Couch Surfing for a few reasons, one of them to get more immersed in the culture of where I am at present. This turned out to be a good decision, as Ferat joined a cyclist group gaining more awareness to choose a bicycle over a car. I have plunged into a modern family whereas Ferat comes from a rather traditional family: his mother married at the age of 14 with a man of 65. Luckily for Ferat his father died at an age of not less than a hundred year!
Into the houses of Kurdish women
Incredible Kurdish hospitality continues when I set out of Diyarbakir towards Mardin. The first day of cycling is not great. I am still tired, muzzy and my mind not set in a cycle mood. A few stones are thrown to me once more. I forget to take the expensive Icebreaker socks with me when I change shoes for sandals and after 50 kilometer I call it a day. I know it’s better not to camp in the wild here in Turkey, so I take my changes on a house on the right side of a tiny town called Asagi Konak. I am, as quickly as I walk to the courtyard, chased away again by a vicious watch dog while I on my turn chased away a munching donkey. By all this noises the women of the house have appeared on the balcony and by magic a man in car drives by and ask ‘Can I help you?’ He works in Marmaris and speaks English, tells me how good the Kurdish women are and I can not else than accept the offer of Hediyeh to sleep in the house. No one wants to hear of me sleeping in my tent next to their house.
Later on I try to camp in a garden of a family compound and a hospital, but all refuse. I have to sleep in their house. The continuous attention wears me well out, and the day I arrive in Cizre I escape to the privacy of a hotel. And all of a sudden I am perched between businessmen, and watch the lone daughter accompanied by her father as I am a man myself.
My night together with old mother and young daughter
Hediyeh is a mother of 8 children, the standard in Kurdistan, I find out soon. She’s about 48 years old while her youngest daughter Zarifa is 6 years. I am together with Leila of 11, who’s very shy and timid. Her sister in law Hicran is fat and 24 years old. She looks content, happy and a smile is always on her face. She’s dressed Kurdish fashioned, like many of the women here. Most probably it’s just convenient, a pyjama underneath a long skirt. Together we watch out over the balcony, as we have little else to do. We can’t communicate much. I see goats chasing the little kitten, the kitten who’s later catched by Hediyeh in a synthetic potato bag, and thrown out of the garage hard-handed. I see gooses make love in a puddle and watch mother pick vegetables in her garden. I get to milk the goats while another is pushing her horns into my back, we all laugh.
The whole scenery is tranquil. Their diet is mostly organic and super healthy. And not much later I am invited around a huge plate with lentil soup, goat yoghurt, tomatoes, olives, a spicy greenery and peppers. We all sit on the ground, together with Hicran’s husband and the father of the family. Tea is poured continuously and mother Hediyeh is pushing vegetables and yoghurt non-stop towards my part. She pleading me to stay here and live forever on their side. Furthermore I must eat some more, and drink yet some more tea. Then fresh grape juice and grapes are presented in front of me. I always feel a bit like a princess, spoiled and looked up upon.
I made clear I want to sleep early, but after the few rounds of tea, of course. Hediyeh is showing me all the possibilities. Or so, I think she does. One room after another is shown to me. All bare with mattresses against the wall, one room has not less than 30 folded pads. Their house is huge, ready to host all four sons with wives to come. Finally, we arrive at the rooftop, where 3 mattresses are laid out side by side touching. However Hediyeh her life has been modified and made a lot easier, she got an electric tea stove as were it shimmering coals. She’s got a washing machine and a sink, she’s got a robust house with a decent bathroom and toilet. There’s a car and a new tractor. Their garage holds their wheat stock and like many farmer’s women she bakes her own bread outside in a stone oven. Still, she choose to sleep underneath the stars. And she invites me to do the same. And so I sleep a wonderful 11 hours next to Hediyeh with Zarifa between us. The sky is clear, the Milky Way shines bright, the many trucks on the highway slowly lessen…
A peaceful family versus a riot family!
Not all family stays are like this, tranquil and peaceful. The next day, when I cycled a 90 kilometer and start a new part of the route via the highway along the Syrian border, I decide to stop at a house, lonesome along the road. My idea is that when I choose a house on it’s own, not all the village kids will have a look at me. I am tired and not hungry -I had a soup in Mardin- and all I hope for is a short introduction into the family and off to sleep. Reality is that a bowl of livers and a plate of barbecued chicken wings is set in front of me. Saying I am a vegetarian would be plain rude. And there I am, plunged into a compound with about 6 families. All women have an average of 8 children. The empty room with it’s traditional tree trunk ceiling and plastered walls is soon filled. And I am the one giving the one-woman-show.
No one speaks English but Sevim has an English dictionary. She’s the daughter of Hakiséh, a plump woman of about 40 something. Lying in a sitting positing next to me, speaking louder and louder when I don’t understand her, encouraging me to eat more, while all the while she’s the one who eat most. Hakiséh must have a hard life, unless she loves to deliver babies. I hope she loves to take care for the children, doing the household, being an obedient wife and loves to stay inside. Cooking, cleaning and caring. I truly hope all the girls in the family just love to do this. I sincerely hope that’s what they want from life, because there are not many other choices for them. Hakiséh sometimes gives me a look which speaks for itself, her husband is a friendly man but must be a joke to her. He’s clearly mentally very weak, even her two daughters, who are beautiful and lovely, seems to have inherited a bit of their father.
The elderly woman, an age which is often reached as early as 40, dress quiet unfashionably. Their clothes often stained and not changed while sleeping, are a mess. Soon they’ll ask for my age and whisper mash’allah when they hear I have passed 40! Sadly, we are no equivalence to each other.
The stage around me is highly disturbing, and because I am right in the middle of it, every one has gathered around me and I am the only one to keep the show going. The set has never been so demanding and outraged. An African village is peaceful compared to where I am now! Little boys are running through the small room, fighting with each other to get attention. Never has an European woman been in there house, perhaps they never even have met one? When I go to the toilet, a little separate structure outside, the whole bunch of children follows me and start knocking on the door, screaming ‘money money’. Without exception the girls are all sweet and so well mannered that they seem to compromise their brothers behavior. About four mothers have huddled together in the far corner of the room, sweet, quiet and in wonderment. Sometimes our eyes meet and I can only read soft and admiring love. Some of their daughters knitting quietly away. The daughters of Hakiséh sing for me and continuously pouring me chai. A husband keeps asking me questions which I am happily answering, though with much difficulty because of our lack of each others language. Then, a moment of fun for the children is brought in, their grandfather of 95 has to pee and does this right outside the doorstep, we can all see his white butt. The old fragile man is helped by the daughters of Hakiséh, the man is almost blind and deaf, but obviously not leaky yet.
By the time I go to bed the whole bunch of about 15 children moves with me to the bedroom. They jump in excitement on the mattresses laid out by Hakiséh and dirty little feet are stamping on the pillows. I put Nivea cream on my face and all are watching me doing this. Every move is registered by their curious eyes and lack of our set of European manners. Finally, when the light is switched off, no one can see me anymore and I am gone into a deep sleep. Later on I am accompanied by Hakiséh and one of the little pestering sons of the man I initially asked to put my tent up in his garden. I am exhausted and the evenings I prefer as a quiet count down of the activity of the day, but that’s no more here in Turkish Kurdistan.
I’ve cycled in Turkish Kurdistan from 28th of September to 4th of October 2013, started in Diyarbakir, and took the border crossing at Ibrahim Khalil to exit the country.