Amerika, Diapers, and a Kurdish Fighters Funeral

“Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.”

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Now that we have been in Turkey for two weeks we have begun to see some patterns. After we tell people where we are from, nearly all of them answer with “oh good!,” “I love Amerika” (with a k here in Turkey) or even, “thank you.” This is especially true in the east predominately Kurdish region where we have been cycling because the United States is currently helping the Kurds to fight off their greatest enemy… ISIS. One Kurd also thanked us (on behalf of his people to our people) for helping to secure some land and government representation for the Iraqi Kurds who are no longer as oppressed as they once were. Though politics definitely aren’t our thing, and we are often hesitate to go around shouting we are from the USA since we definitely aren’t a unanimously loved nation, it has seemed to be a pretty good thing so far over here.

Throughout the whole “Kurdish” region (about a fourth of Turkey which encompasses nearly the whole Eastern area) there is a very heavy military presence which we are starting to grow accustomed to seeing. Everyday we are passed by extremely sturdy looking armored vehicles (with scary looking automatic guns on top), and we usually pass by a few of their bases daily as well. After asking the locals, I now know that this is a totally normal (in this region) military presence which has nothing to do with the war going on south of their border, but rather, as the locals view it, it’s Turkey’s way of scaring the Kurds and keeping them suppressed. I’m sure if I were to ask a non-Kurd, they would say the military presence is necessary against the PKK, so as you can see, there are always two sides to a story. Many Turks from the west of the country are scared of this area and would never visit whereas many of the Kurds (from the east) don’t look fondly on those in the west, and most notably, the government. It has been interesting to hear different points of views, from hardline Kurds who believe that Turkey is fascist and that Kurdistan will one day be recognized, to Turks who really hate the group (most notably the PKK) and tell us that we really must avoid the Kurdish regions completely.

The most interesting event we ran into this week was when we arrived into a city (90,000 inhabitants) only to find every single shop closed. Not just most of them like on a national holiday, but every single shop, market, or restaurant of any kind. We also saw that the police station was roped off and heavily guarded, and that an unusual amount of people were on the streets. We later found out why: a Kurdish fighter from that town who had gone to Iraq to help his brothers had been killed by ISIS, and on October 27th (the day we were there), they were hosting a funeral and day of mourning for him, hence everything being closed. The reason the police station was so heavily guarded against trouble was because many Kurds are frustrated with the Turkish government for its lack of help in defending Kobane (which is just across the Turkish boarder) so they were worried that this Kurdish fighters death could cause riots or protests against the government as there have been many demonstrations during the past month. In fact, November 1st was “national Kobane Day” where many towns held protests in order to raise awareness (and vent frustration) over what is happening across the boarder. It was also Turkey’s Independence Day this week as well, though in the town we were passing through that day most of the shops were still open.

Another thing we have noticed thus far is an unfortunate pattern amongst young boys when school is out (weekends and holidays, which as you can see, we had a lot of this week). The 7-12 year old city boys seem to enjoy throwing rocks at us, encouraging their dogs to chase us (which they unfortunately do) or just obnoxious following us around, pushing us, or doing whatever else young boys find amusing. The 13-22 year old boys use a different approach, yelling rude comments like “I want to fuck you” or other insults (half of which they may not know the meaning) which is just frustrating because it makes me want to shake those boys and show them how stupid and immature they sound. Sure, they are bored and this is their call for attention (and for coolness since this only happens in cities, and only happens when they are in a pack) but it is definitely not something that happened to us in Georgia, nor has ever happened to me in the States when I was cycling. The harassment in and of itself isn’t all that shocking as it definitely happened to us in India, but the shocking part is that every single adult we have interacted with has been extremely kind and respectful, so these annoying and sometimes harmful actions by these children seems very out of place here. It especially seems out of place because during our first week (as we cycled through very small villages) the children would simply wave happily as we passed, and the stone throwing and pushing only began (and has only happened) throughout the four larger cities we have now visited, and it happened in every single one. I guess it just solidifies our love for the countryside, and unfortunately, solidifies our distaste for cities as well.

Other random things we have noticed? Truck drivers are always super friendly and wave like crazy when they pass us. The roads are extremely nicely paved, many of which even have a large shoulder for us to enjoy. There are diapers everywhere. Seriously, bags and bags of dirty diapers in every ditch and around every corner.. We still haven’t figured this one out so if anyone has the answer as to why, do let us know! Gas stations are an awesome spot to stop for water cause they always have it and the people who work there are really friendly and often give you tea (if you haven’t gotten it by now, everyone here is super friendly, and tea seems to be mandatory at least ten times a day). Farmers and shephards are the best, but this we already knew cause the kindness gene seems to run through this type of people in every country. An unusual amount of people speak German, and nearly everyone assumes we are from Germany (which I assume is due to the fact that so many world touring cyclists come from Germany or are Swiss German, and the fact that many German tour busses come through the area during the summer). Hitchhiking is totally the way to go, on any given day we see at least a dozen locals catching rides from cars and trucks that pass without much difficulty. Another thing we have noticed is that no one is ever shocked or tells us it’s dangerous when we mention our tent, something which use to happen on a daily basis throughout other countries. Needless to say, this makes us feel a whole lot safer!

Probably the nicest thing that happened to us this week was when we tried to pay for our meal (the typical breakfast soup with an unlimited amount of bread for about two bucks each) but were refused by the owner who insisted on giving it to us for free. He also brought us out multiple cups of tea as we sat in his restaurant charging our iPad, and like everyone else, was very friendly and welcoming. Turkey is a country were you are sure to be treated much better by strangers than back home by the people you know (unless you are from Iran that is, cause I’ve heard it’s the same there too!).

During this past week we passed Mount Ararat which is said to be the resting point of Noah’s Arc, and is the tallest mountain in Turkey. Unfortunately during the three days we were close enough to see it, it was cloudy and we never got a clear view.

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On the road.

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We ended up taking a day off in order to eat, rest, do laundry, and bath, since it had been a little too long since we had done the latter two.

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And just a few more from the week.

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8 thoughts on “Amerika, Diapers, and a Kurdish Fighters Funeral

  1. Really enjoyed reading this post and your take on the East. There are definitely two sides to every story, and as usual its never simple. I also experienced stone throwing out at Haran near the Syrian border a few years ago and it is so out of character with what I normally experience. I cant work out why. Anyway safe travels you two.

  2. Très intéressants commentaires, merci Shirine.
    Les paysages sont hallucinants!
    Je n’ai pas de difficulté à imaginer que les jeunes vivant dans les grandes villes sont frustrés par leurs conditions de vie et de pauvreté. Nous assistons au même phénomène de ”Gang de rues” dans les toutes les grandes villes de la planète. Votre passage en vélo est une belle occasion de manifester leur agressivité face aux riches occidentaux et d’impressionner leurs collègues par leur bravoure et courage en vous lançant des cailloux!!! C’est un peu inquiétant lorsqu’on songe que ces enfants agressifs deviendront bientôt les citoyens adultes de ces agglomérations!
    En ce qui concerne les déchets qui trainent un peu partout, fais-tu vraiment allusion à des couches pour enfants?
    J’ai observé un phénomène semblable au Maroc et au Portugal mais il s’agissait de milliers de sacs d’épiceries en plastiques(couleur noir de surcroit) qui s’envolaient au gré des vents et s’accrochaient un peu partout aux branches d’arbres et fils de clôtures. Vraiment triste à voir mais le plus grave, c’est que tout la population semble indifférente à cette pollution visuelle.
    J’aimerais que tu nous parles de ta condition physique. Comment ton corps s’est-il adapté aux exigences de ces randonnées au cours des mois. Tes muscles, ta peau, tes articulations, tes blessures et ampoules, ton endurance, la digestion des aliments, la fatigue, ton niveau d’énergie, ton sommeil, ton appétit, etc…(bien sur, à conditions que ces sujets n’aient pas déjà été discutés précédemment).

    J’ai compris que vous détestiez les villes mais quels sont les types de parcours que vous préférez? Montagnes? Long parcours sans habitations? Petits villages fréquents? Campagnes? routes désertiques?
    Préférez-vous la solitude ou la compagnie d’étrangers?
    Fréquentez-vous beaucoup les autres touristes?
    Que faites-vous pour relaxer? Yoga? Lecture? Écriture? Randonnées pédestres? Simplement contempler l’environnement?
    Lorsque l’un de vous a besoin de solitude, vous séparez-vous pendant une période de temps?

    Pierre

  3. I’ve read from cyclists touring in Etheopia that stone throwing is the norm. What is the reaction from adults when they see this behavior or is it done without any adults around, which is what I suspect?

  4. I’m enjoying reading your posts Shirine, keep them coming.

    Riding with a flag on the back of your bike may help with the stone throwing, but choosing the right flag could be difficult. I know some choose the flag of the country they are riding through, but as you allude to, the Turk flag may not be welcome in the Kurdish regions and vice-versa. Perhaps the Red Cross? You could fly it on your dog sticks.

    If you are sat in a restaurant charging an iPad, and the owner refuses payment for food, maybe leave a suitable amount on the table as a tip. I’m guessing you did this anyway, but iPad and free don’t sit well together on the page.

    P.S. I also enjoyed your chat with Alistair Humphreys, which he posted up this week. The itinerary information is struggling to keep up with your current plans.

    Jon

  5. Pingback: Turkey Through the Lens | The Wandering Nomads

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