Mornings in Mesopotamia
24.03.2010 - 25.03.2010
Another sunrise, another existential crisis. I stare out my window at the Cradle of Civilization and thınk, Why am I here? I'm bored. What's the point of this? These aren't my people. My people are in Ibiza. Why the hell did I choose to come somewhere that no one went?
It's possible that this is all just caffeine withdrawl. A nice cup of tea cannot compare to the adrenaline jolt of the three (minimum) cups of java that I usually start my day with. I'm fully aware that these morning crises might be bio-chemical and not existential at all.
This is Savur: inhabited since H. sapiens wandered out of Africa. The Romans built a fortress on one of the summits to control trade coming down the valley. The Byzantines called the nearby mountains Tur Abdin, the Mountains of the Servants of God, and buit their monasteries here. The Turkish sultanates moved in, and the Özturk family buit a mansion on the summit across from the Roman fortress. The current generation has opened up the house to visitors, and that's where I'm staying, at the Hacı Abdullah Bey Konağı. Other families built stone houses below, and now the two hills are like a prettier, more rural Mardin.
It's pretty. It's an important place that should be preserved. But there is not much for a tourist to do, and as a consequence there aren't any tourists here. My first day was: unpack bags. Nap. Explore the town with Serkan, though the only word I understood was tarihsel - historic. That took half an hour. It's a small town. I took another nap. I found an internet cafe and went online. I had a haircut. I drank tea with the old men outside the shops, and had the same conversation with each.
I saw another tourist, a backpacker from Spain, and that just made my day. I napped again. I waited for dinner. And ate alone (the backpacker was out taking photos, and got lost).
That's been the weirdest part of this trip. I'm staying in these fantastic places, living like minor royalty, but I'm usually the only one in the castle or mansion. It's like a sunnier version of a Hitchcock movie. Usually I meet plenty of characters on the road. There haven't been any out here, so I really am traveling solo.
The family matriarch cooked a meal using ingredients right from the farm, and that was enough to make me ask to stay a second night.
But morning two was a repeat of morning one: what am I doing here and what am I going to do with myself all day? I decided to walk to Kıllıt, a village about 7 km down the road. All I knew was that it was a Suriani village, had two restored churches, and was famous for it's wine.
And so I walked two and a half hours, only to discover that the village had been half destroyed during the war, that all the remaining men were out in the fields, and that no one had the keys to the church. And so I turned and walked back.
It felt good to out, though! My first thoughts when I hit the countryside were, this is why I travel! I'm American, heir to Whıtman and Kerouac, and the open road is it's own reason. And the road was beautiful. There were small new leaves on the trees, and the apple and cherry and dogwood were in bloom. It was a timeless scene - women wrapped in colorful shawls in down in the valley working the fields, and younger men tilling new fields with donkeys and wooden ploughs.
Occasionally farmers would pass me on their donkeys, or I'd cross paths with shepherds moving their flocks up to the hills. After a selaam and a wa aleıkum selaam they'd wish me a pleasant day and we'd move on. I was excited (and tired) when I first saw the village - it looked like a scene out of Arabian Nights, all stone houses on a hill and no modern development at all.
But when I got closer I realized that the buildings were crumbling and mostly uninhabited. Four school boys came out and warned me about dogs wandering the village. We went looking for a key to the Church but the director (Priest? I didn't recognize the word the woman used) was in town.
So. I doubted I could tour more, not with all the men out, so I turned around. I got lucky on the way back. After about a half hour walking a farmer hauling a load of wood back to town offered me a ride. All the farmboys were already piled on the tractor, so I rode on the trailer hitch bar. Basically, I just tractor-surfed Mesopotamia.
Later today I'll climb to the Roman fortress with Serkan. Tomorrow I'm off to Hasankeyf. It's famous - I certainly can't be the only one there!