Monday, November 25, 2013

Old roads, new insights

Last weekend I hitchhiked to Taşucu, a little town a stone's throw from Adana, Tarsus and Mersin, the first cites I visited in Turkey over one year ago. Most part of my route led along the Ankara-Adana highway, which I passed on my way to South-Eastern Turkey and Iraq, also last year. I hesitated a lot whether such a long trip would be doable in one day, considering how short the days are now and how much I don't feel like hitchhiking in Turkey after it darkens. However, along the highway between Ankara and Adana besides Aksaray there aren't any major towns; frankly speaking, there's vast emptiness, so I banked on that to score long rides taking me almost to my destination.

The trip didn't have a get-go to wish for. The first car to stop was something between a passenger car and a luxurious version of a minibus; those I associate with tourists rentals. I was confused by the number of the seats and made sure that it wasn't a ride I'd have to pay for. When I said I was going to Mersin, the driver replied "I'm also going to Mersin"and quickly added "But I'm not going to Mersin alone." I was dumbfound at what that statement was supposed the mean when after a few meters he pulled over and defiantly blurted: "Sex?" Yes, just a single word, as straightforward as it could be. I left the car immediately saying nothing more than "hayır" but tempted to be more brazen. Even when I was already outside, the guy still tried his luck: "I'll give you money." I cursed under my breath and waited for another ride.

I jumped when I noticed a woman in a car that stopped in the middle of the road. Creeps I meet when I hitchhike have little and short-term impact on my mood, but still after an experience with any weirdo I embrace rides where I immediately know I can feel at ease. In this case the passengers were a family consisting of a middle-aged man, his female cousin around the same age and his father. They lived in Sincan, a large metropolitan district of Ankara, but the elderly man was born and raised in a village south of the capital. The family was on their way to Mersin to visit the middle-aged man's daughter who had been living there for one year with her family and running a beauty parlor. At the same time it was the elderly man's first trip that far - except for regular visits to his home village even very nearby Tuz Gölü or Aksaray were new to him.

It was somehow touching to see how the elderly man's son and niece were guiding him during the trip. They made sure that he kept an eye open out for every high mountain we passed, every change in the terrain, every feature yet unknown to him. In the beginning of the trip he just chuckled, observing that the interminable fields and barren hills lining the landscape on both sides of the road weren't any different than immediate surroundings of Ankara. When we were passing Tuz Gölü, he joked that he couldn't see a lot because hills that could make a good viewpoint were on the other side of the lake. I added that in the summer the lake is much more beautiful, with its sparkling, wedding-white surface that resembles a tiled floor and minute flowers managing to thrive on its salty banks.

After Aksaray the terrain started getting more mountainous. The middle-aged man exclaimed "baba, look at the big mountain in front of us!" I took out my map and tried to figure out our localization. There was a mountain 3268 m high marked on the map and he asked me whether it was the one we were passing. "No, it's too small, it can't be over 3000 m tall," I replied. Before Ulukışla we entered a highway and from then on the man's attention was incessantly fixated on towering, wooded rocks. He also seemed to enjoy passing a large number of tunnels and viaducts along the way.

This 83-year old man was the most talkative of all my co-passengers and probably the most talkative elderly person I've met in Turkey. While we were chatting I described my job in Ankara, to which he responded emphasizing the importance of education and deplored that language teaching in Turkey is below par, with which I sadly agreed - maybe in private schools where you have to shell out lot of money English teaching comes up to European standards but kids in public schools progress at a snail's pace. [It's been over three months since my Güçkobir student, Cansu, started the school year and they still haven't plodded through the first chapter of the book. I'm glad that at least with me she can advance quicker but in the little time I have left in Ankara I can't have much impact on her.] The man could hardly contain the joy that his granddaughter spoke fluent English and even his great grandson has already started to learn English at the age of five. "Chirping like a bird," the niece added. The man also told me that his daughter had once spontaneously invited a couple of travelers passing by Ankara to their house. Thanks to her language skills he could also get to know the visitors.

I admired his curiosity and thirst for knowledge. He seemed to be more well-rounded than many young Turkish people who, with easy access to the Internet and other media, should have some idea about the world affairs but appear as if they were living in a hermit bubble. [eg. I've been asked many times whether Polish people speak English as the main language; upon finding out that we have a language of our own some people would frown with disbelief "does a language like lehçe (Turkish word for "Polish") exist at all?" (as if Turkish and English were the only languages in the world)]

The family was going to Mezitli, a district of Mersin located very close to the city bypass. I was just telling them that I wanted to get off before the off-ramp and stay on the highway when the middle-aged man announced that from where they were going to another main road was going my direction. I was already sensing their intentions, which confirmed once we reached Mezitli. We met with the younger family members, after which my drivers announced I would go to my destination by dolmuş. I played a loosing game pleading them to let me hitchhike. "I like the adventure, you've already helped me a lot." My drivers unwaveringly put me in a dolmuş going to Silifke, arguing that "not all people are like us." If only they were all like that Turkey, with its very amazing hitchability, would be a hitchhiking bliss...

1 comment:

  1. The family was right to put you on a dolmus. In some places, on main roads, women standing at the side are prostitutes, and some men think all women are doing this. Glad to read you story turned out well though