13 June, 2010

Mardin: chance company

Now if it weren't for those darn feral puppies, it would have been a perfect night's sleep as well. But during the night they would whimper to enter the walled lawn, and since the puppies were small enough to wiggle through the gate, just after sunup i woke to find three pawing at my pack. 

After breaking the fast with a watery-sweet overripe kavun (melon), we were more than ready to hit the trail. The monastery would not open for another two, nearly three hours. Bidding our host farewell as he watered the visitors' center plantings, i shouldered my pack and my chance comrades mounted their bikes for the trip back to Mardin. Though i could have ridden, the walk was better; familiar songs on the iPod, stopping to snap photographs as the spectacular landscape unfolded around me. These are just a few. 

In Iraq, the pirated Lonely Planet on my laptop (published mid-war) offered nothing. The Turkish LP guide is a resource i simply haven't used. In Mardin, the mixture of ethnic and religious groups - Kurds, Turks, Syrian Christians, Arabs, and Çerkez - creates an eclectic atmosphere unique to this city. Here, as in Aleppo and Damascus, churches stand side by side with mosques - though as i talk to people i learn that many are Muslim, with Christian parents. The town's hillside perch sets it apart, as does the architecture, far closer to Syria than to anything i've seen in Turkiye. No doubt i missed some worthwhile sights. 

Instead, i spent all of the few waking hours i was in Mardin on foot. I've come to the belief that to know a place, one's eyes are insufficient. Ears, even sense of smell, only fail to produce a complete picture when coupled with locomotion. I know the landscape through my feet. 

Wendell Berry said it well, in a quote that has become one of my mantras: "On foot, you will find that the world is still large and full of beguiling nooks and crannies." In Mardin those included narrow alley-staircases descending in the old city, and a small waterfall overlooking the Syrian plain. In that same fold in the landscape, ancient sheepfolds are carved into the worn rock. One is inscribed with two lions over its arched mouth; just a few meters from the city's edge, their floors bear no evidence of use save the litter so plentiful in southeast Turkiye. 

The thing that will linger longest in my recollection of Mardin is the boys. As i walked the old city in the evening, nearly every boy i saw between ages five and fifteen said hello. Many knew the basic phrases in English that i had learned in Kurdi. Five small children shouted from a crowded staircase below: HELLO. HELLO. GOOD MORNING TEACHER. HELLO. WHAT IS YOUR NAME? at the top of their lungs until i disappeared from view. Then i encountered a gaggle of boys (eight to fifteen, i'm guessing) on bicycles. For half a kilometer they pedaled slowly beside me asking for money, pressuring to become Musluman, and asking probing questions about my sex life: seks seviyor mısın? Amerika'da kaç tane kız siktin? I motioned to the old women standing nearby to dodge: kadinlar var. Even as i sat writing in an internet cafe a group of boys gathered, looking over my shoulder, introducing themselves, and curiously questioning me in Turkish too fast to comprehend.