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Losing oil

2 June 2011

Three stretched out in the back of a small combi is pretty tight. That’s how we slept our first night together outside of Van parked on the rocky beach—we had driven out of town toward the famous Van lake in the hope of finding a pretty camping spot and became quickly disenchanted with our environment. Even 20 km outside of town the beaches were strewn with rubbish and cars parked in odd places indicated people binge drinking in a place where they wouldn’t get caught. There wasn’t anywhere that seemed safe or clean enough to pitch the tent. So the three of us tried out the new platform bed that had been created by the Afghan refugees from HELP in Herat. Cozy and rather hard! The temps dropped to about 8 degrees celcius and even three across we were not warm.

When we got up the next morning we were in no mood for more of Van. One night on the dirty beach was enough, but we had parts that had missed their plane from Istanbul and now were headed to Van by road and that meant they wouldn’t arrive for two full days. After much discussion we decided that it was better to drive leaking oil than to spend a Sunday and Monday wasting time in Van. We came up with a plan to have the cargo company send the parts when they arrived to Kayseri, a city in central Turkey that we would make it to by Wednesday. A good friend from Istanbul with fluent Turkish and the ability to convince anyone to do just about anything, called the cargo company to explain.

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We packed the bus up, filled a reserve container full of motor oil and high tailed it combi style out of Van

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—50 km/hour and stopping every 30 minutes to lubricate the engine. About a hundred kilometers beyond the city of Van we did find the beautiful scenic places along the enormous lake. And from that moment on the scenery was absolutely stunning.

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Lake Van
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Mountains outside of Van
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We wound our way up to 1800 meters in the mountains where it was very chilly and down into small villages where people came out in mass to wave at such an enigmatic sight. The country side was wide and empty of people aside from shepherds tending their sheep.

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Gorgeous scenery

Making slow progress, driving 12 hours with the constant hum of the engine and jostled up and down over the poorly kept roads, we were exhausted when we finally decided to stop and set up camp about 40 km outside of the small city of Bingol.

We had found a spot off the main highway, up in the remote hills, with a panoramic view of various mountain ranges all around.

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It was a few kilometers from a couple of mud built houses and stables and seemed empty. It was cold and dark when we got the tent up and ate a bit of cheese, tomato and bread. We were just about to head to bed when we saw a flashlight turn on about 10 meters from the bus. We had not heard a sound or any indication that someone was approaching.

The man that came into view looked like he was carrying a long stick—as he walked closer it was clear that it was a rifle held in marching position in one hand and pointing to the sky. Where he pressed his other hand against his hip, his coarse suit jacket opened to reveal a belt packed with bullets. We took a collective breath in in shock.

“Merhaba!” Aurel said (hello!). “Pardon, Merhaba!” The man looked at each of us and then nodded. “Merhaba,” he replied without anger. We were not the dangerous characters he was expecting perhaps, or maybe we just looked so disheveled and harmless that there was no way that we could be threatening. We all shook hands and we asked him politely if this was his property, which it was of course. In less than two minutes, after pleasantries and politenesses were exchanged properly in Turkish, he was smiling and checking out the bus.

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We showed him the old camera and asked him about his work. He had cows—11 of them and raised them for milk and meat. He was the eldest in the tiny village (consisting of 3 houses) and in charge—“Agah,” he said pointing to himself importantly. “Adi” (name). We asked him if we could come to photograph him in the morning with the old camera. He seemed slightly amused at the thought of it, but still weary of the idea of so many foreigners.

In a few minutes he waved his hand to say, “Go ahead and stay here tonight.” And then invited us to come to have chai in the morning at his house. docb 895 He posed for a picture with us, and then walked off into the dark.

In the morning we packed our things into the bus and drove as close as we could to his mountain side village.

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Breaking down camp

We trucked the camera up the muddy, brilliant green hill toward the idealic site. On our way we ran into an old women carrying buckets of fresh milk toward the house. Agah stood on a little patio area outside his quarters, thumbing his prayer beads and smiling smugly. “Gel!” he yelled (Come!). The view was stunning, even more so than from our camp site.

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View from Agah’s house

His wife (the women with the buckets), a few daughters and a little boy bustled around, all nodding and smiling when we arrived. Agah made a big deal of getting us chairs and we exchanged many rounds of good morning. Diego had the video camera out as we agreed to try to use without explanation. All our many hosts played the game of stepping in and out of the camera’s eye, and avoided the question of what the heck we were doing, enjoying the idea that we might be very important guests.

It was obvious that before even mentioning the agreement to take a picture with the camera obscura we would need to stay for tea and some chit chat, which seemed difficult at first because of the language barrier. But the more Turkish baby babble came out of our mouths, the more our hosts smiled and warmed to our over exuberant personalities. We laughed to show each other the idea of friendship that we couldn’t exchange in words.

We discovered that the family was part of the Zaza tribe of Kurds that are famous in Turkey. Agah was the oldest of 10 children and he had 10 children of his own, 3 boys and 6 girls. The year of the bus (1966) was also the year he married his wife. Wrapped even more tightly in a head scarf than her daughters, his wife’s face was sweet and deeply wrinkled and her smile missing a few teeth. We marveled at the fact that she looked more than 10 years Agah’s senor, and much too old to have daughters that seemed to be around 25 years old. But while Agah sat and enjoyed his guests, it became clear why she looked so much older.

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She did not stop, nor sit the whole time, but methodically went about the many morning chores, carrying milk and heavy loads of fire wood while we enjoyed the sunshine. And a few minutes after she and her daughters disappeared inside and we discussed politics (“Bush bad! Clinton, Obama good!), they returned with the most beautiful tray of Turkish breakfast we’d ever seen. Two kinds of homemade cheeses, homemade yogurt, hand churned butter, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and homemade Turkish flat bread.

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The amazing breakfast

After breakfast we convinced Agah to sit for a portrait in a grassy area with the mud wall of the back of his house as a back drop. He seemed shy at the our suggestion that he wear the bullet belt and hold the gun that defined our meeting the night before so we didn’t push it.

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Aurel takes a picture of our Agah

After the portrait, the women came out of the house with gifts for Molly—a pair of hand knit traditional Turkish slipper socks and a head scarf that had a tight little crochet patterned stitched around the edge. The older daughter smiled as she gave the gifts, pointing to Molly’s scarf that was holding her unwashed hair away from view, frowned, pointed to the scarf in the gift bag and pushed her thumb and fingers together in the Turkish sign for "good" indicating that the one in the bag was far better than the one she was wearing (which happened to be painted silk and a gift from her mom!)

We said many many rounds of thank you and goodbye, each of the women taking turns kissing Molly cheeks, the men exchanging gruff but warm traditional side hugs (one on each side, of course). We posed for a digital picture and went on our way.

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The Zaza hosts

When we had hiked back down our parking spot along the road, we checked the oil, got back in the bus and started off toward Malatya, with 600 km to go to Kayseri where we would meet our car parts in two days time.

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heading to the bus after the photograph
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Agah’s village


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