06 June, 2010

It's a long, long road to Silopi


The landscape that flows by is one alternately barren and rich. Low hills studded with boulders are broken by rare stream beds, choked green with small trees. A wide expanse of wheat fields stretches between tiny villages. I see boys herding goats; one pulls stubbornly at its halter. A woman is nearly obscured by the bales of hay on her back and head. A man and woman rake hay, piling it high above their heads on a horse-drawn cart. Dağyanıç Çamlidere. I write these places' names, hoping to see them better.

Desperate to begin my journey and not to let a friend's well-meaning concern hold me back, i had weighed the options and - at the last minute - bought a bus ticket from Ankara straight to Silopi. Straight to the border crossing. With just three Kurdish phrases under my belt and nothing but the notes compiled by my acquaintance Steven Bartus on his April trip, i hardly felt prepared. During the night the rough road kept me awake. My seatmate, a kindly hazelnut grower from Adapazari on the way to Urfa to visit his sons in the military, offered snacks but i wasn't in a mood to eat. I tried to sleep, and after the stop in Aksaray i slept almost to Adana.

But it's a long way from Adana to Urfa. And from Urfa to Mardin. Even in the predawn darkness i could see the landscape had changed, and it made me apprehensive. When we reached Urfa the sun had risen high, and still it was only nine AM. By the time we get to Mardin it's after 11. The bus windshield is cracked, and with only a handful of passengers left we're told to disbark. The remainder of the ride is with a different bus company; we switch flanks and descend the steep flank of Mardin.

I'm still nervous, but strike up conversation with a fellow passenger. Yasin is from Kirkuk, though he fled in 1987. He tried to seek asylum in Turkiye four times unsuceesfully; the fifth time he escaped deportation. In what little English he speaks, and with my rudimentary Turkish, he explains that in those days the Kurdish language was a no-no in Turkiye. Thanks to the pressure, he learned Turkish in 45 days. (When h refers to Kurdish, he mimes cutting off his tongue. If speaking English were politically incorrect i might learn faster too!) Together with his wife and four sons, Yasin is returning to Kirkuk for the first time in eight years. Mohammed, the eldest, is fourteen. I ask if he's excited.

I have no need to see Kansas after this: what i am entering is the original grain belt. The place where grain agriculture originated. The fertile crescent.