15 June, 2010

Diyarbakır 3: There are things, and then there are pictures.

And then there are no more pictures.

At the mosque, i took parting photographs. There just outside the door to the mosque, with traditional carpets behind them, six new friends filled the wide screen of my camera with their handsome smiles. I would treasure that picture for years to come, i thought. The perfect day: swimming, futbol, and access to the sacred silence.

As they had accumulated, they trailed away. With Oktay and three others i saw more of the city sights, the last one being an old Ottoman stable. From atop the walls by Urfa gate we saw fruit sellers park their carts for the evening rush.

If there is one reason to come here, aside from the walls, restored churches, and unique minarets (only mildly interesting), it's the fruit. Everywhere street vendors offer cherries, plums, apricots, apples, grapes, watermelons, all in season here mid-June. Children carry trays atop their head, laden with bowls of mulberries.

Another of the local specialties is şerbet. Known to American health-foodies as kombucha, it is a dark, fermented black tea drink, both nourishing and refreshingly cold on such wuthering days. Şerbet sellers line the sidewalk, jingling the tin cups that dangle by a chain from their apparatus. It's a rather nifty paraphernalia they carry: a metal tank, often modified with backpack straps. A spigot projects to the front like a faucet. Though many of them have a collection of both tethered tin cups and disposable plastic cups, i have only been served from tin, or from a common glass which they rinse between customers with another spigoted container (like an oilcan) of water.


Though fascinating, my time in Diyarbakir has been overshadowed by frustrations like the couchsurfing host who let me down, not replying to text messages. After the old Ottoman stable, i was tired and both spatially and psychically disoriented. I had been straining to understand my companions' Turkish all day, and exhausted, i wanted to politely leave my new friends and have some quiet time. After a couple hours in an internet cafe, i stopped at a restaurant, and against my intuitions sat at a sidewalk table, where it was cooler than indoors. As fate would have it, they have security cameras on the sidewalk tables - but mine was just off the edge of the screen.

What happened i can only guess at. Yakup, one of my favorite characters from the afternoon, walked by as i was eating. I sat for over an hour drinking tea and spilling the overload of thoughts and new experiences onto the laptop screen. And when i checked, the camera case buckled by a carabiner to my pack strap - was empty.

Panic set in. I had been so overwhelmed with information and disoriented in that concrete and stone labyrinth i didn't know where i had been. When the panic cleared i realized i may have set the camera down inside the Ottoman stable, though i recalled only its visual elements and a few environmental cues along the way. I would bet on my own careless distractedness over ill intent any day. Knowing the place was locked up tight, i harbored a hope the camera might still be sitting on the oval stone watering trough this morning.

After nearly an hour searching, i'd found the place and figured out its name, but no keeper could be found. Back at Iç Kale i waited for nearly three hours and explained my problem over and over again in broken Turkish to the men of the Museum and Historic Place mintistry-thing. The trouble was that the idea i'd been inside Cemil Paşa Konağı was a bit of a stretch for them. Was it one of the mosques, one of the churches? No, i insisted. It was one of the only historic places that has not been restored, and the only way we got inside was that my companions knew the man with the key. At last one said, go back and knock. A teenager named Ercan volunteered to accompany me. With Ercan's skill as a translator, we found the keeper of the key nearby. Five hours of search and waiting, and no camera lay inside.


Diyarbakir has already left a vivid mark on my consciousness. It left me reflecting on the nature of trade; asking where is the limit of job creation. (Diyarbakir, in my perception, has a population that outscales its economy.) It left me aware that there are two types of people, the ones out to skin you, and the ones - like Yavuz, who refused entrance money for his pool, and Ercan, who offered me cold drinks even as he helped me look for my camera - who want to share, no matter how little they have. (It seems that depends on their major source of business; people who don't depend on tourist money see me as a new friend rather than a potential sale.) It left me wondering - is there any way to give street kids something better than a desperate, badgering capitalism? And of course - though throughout the afternoon my concerns dissipated - it left me wondering, could i trust these new acquaintances? Who took my camera?

After the disappointing lack of discovery, Ercan took me to the teahouse where he works as a waiter. His boss, a smiling man who likes to read Sartre and Fromm, offered words of wisdom and consolation i could only partly understand. The pictures will last, he reminded me, inside your head. Boys caught mid-leap from the roof into the pool, the faces of six handsome young Kurds who idolize Abdullah Ocalan as a martyr - these linger as i write.

It is not the loss of the thing that troubles me so much as the loss of its use, and the loss of the images that were to accompany these past three posts. I apologize that, for an indefinite period, the only pictures you will find on this blog are the ones i poorly transsubstantiate into words.