Updated: Aug 21
Before I launch into another travel rant – which you can turn away from the moment your head begins to nod and begin wondering where the coffee’s at - I wanna say that not being able to capture and represent the sounds and smells of southeast Turkey places me at a great disadvantage.
Particularly the sounds . . . horns, always horns, but the shouts of kids, the revving of mopeds, music – flat-sounding quarter-tones from the baglama fading in and out as vehicles come and go - the sounds of the markets, men yelling, women calling out, horns, did I mention horns . . . and the smells of cooking and the variety of products at countless stalls (each stalls pretty much the same as the other) – meats, unmentionable concoctions, sewage, garbage, cars, dusts, oppressive heat . . .
Ok . . . because I was dutiful in mentioning this, I’m exonerated from getting any of this straight.
Speaking of straight, nothing is level in Old Mardin or in New Mardin either.
Everywhere you go, you’re walking on an angle, either you’re going up or down. Once you’re in a shop or a hotel you get a reprieve, the floors are delightfully level.
Narrow alleyways, like open-air tunnels snake around neighbourhoods of stone houses all pretty much connected through hundreds of years of multiplication. Old Mardin is 5 kilometers sideways and 3 kilometers up and down.
They say that only Venice and Jerusalem have a better preserved historical architecture. UNESCO is involved in conserving it – hard to do when some 600-year-old buildings are attached to 1,400-year-old structures that have foundations begun before Christ.
Actually, let me begin again . . . all the stuff you just read – forget about it.
Now let’s start.
Mardin is set between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in the Upper Mesopotamian Basin. I've read about these rivers . . . now I get to see them. They say the region is the cradle of our civilizations.
That’s a big-time plural. For over 7,000 years civilizations, religions, sects, customs have come and - sort-of - gone. Many have never really 'gone' . . . and that’s a bit of a problem. Assimilation has never really taken hold here. Some might then say the place is blessed with traditions and diversity makes us stronger . . . ahhhh . . .
I’ve met displaced Kurds (with traditions) with no place to go – they are beyond frustrated. Syrians refugees (with traditions) are everywhere with no passports – no future.
(I've included a picture of a 20-year-old Syrian-Kurd because he reminded me a bit of Jonathan, my son. He spoke a bit of English.) Assyrians (talk about traditions!) still hanging on to cultural identity – lament their dying legacies.
I've included a shot of my Assyrian Christian friend, drinking tea at 11 at night. Assyrian, not Syrian.
Armenians proud of their arts and technological history are completely suppressed by the powers that be.
The Arabs are another sect mingled together here in southeastern Turkey – they imagine their traditions superior to the rest. And the Turks . . . oh man – are trying desperately to dominate all these groups with inane political rules.
I've included a picture of an Armenian woman . . . we're in a bus and seems everyone wants in this shot.
Not to mention the traditions of Ottoman Empire which collapsed after the first world war. And even the Greek culture still has relevance in Mardin - but generally speaking – the Turks beat the crap outta them in the 1920’s so not much left of them in Mesopotamia.
Ok . . . deep breath.
All these groups have their own proud religious integrities, their languages, rituals, customs, foods . . .
In Mardin, I believe I’ve met representatives from every one of these traditions in these four days having visited the various museums. I won’t bore you with all their stories but each one is a heart-break. (I’ve not met any Palestinians.) Just chatted at length with a guy whose dad is Kurdish and mother is Arabic . . . he’s able to hold onto Turkish identity - otherwise he can’t get papers to go to school. He’s lucky.
It’s completely overwhelming . . . every group can’t let the other group get ahead.
Diversity makes us strong . . . when diversity is accepted. There is a nervous tension here.
Sometimes their only comfort is that other families are as stuck as theirs.
Everywhere I go in southeast Turkey I’m followed and asked for money . . . it’s an honour to stand out . . . I’m tall and let’s say ‘blond’ (for fun) not to mention ridiculously good-looking. But it’s exhausting . . . I’m confused enough in Canada where I speak the language. English is not known here . . . they speak four languages (Arabic – Kurdish – Turkish – Aramaic) but not English. Sometimes I'm completely lost in a sea of moving horning vehicles in these complex cities . . .
They see me representing a fabulous country (I’m a celebrity everywhere I go) – a land they all dream of going to . . . and yet, they considered Canadians a little young and naïve, not unlike a 50-year-old watches a presumptuously self-absorbed 10-year-old playing in the school yard. It’s true though - we have financial stability (inflation is crazy here) and educational opportunities, passports, jobs, freedoms we take for granted, abilities to borrow $$$ for houses and stuff, vehicles that start at a turn of a switch, a government that works, fresh air, no threat of war, traveling possibilities, worship as we want without fear.
They have none of that – just lots of conflicting traditions. Really Canadians have no idea.
This afternoon I visited an 800-year-old mosque and witnessed part of a wedding ceremony . . . (they put a lot of care and pride in their wedding attire here) . . .
. . . one witness told me that their great, great, great, great grandparents were married in the same way 300 years ago in the same mosque.
You’ve got to be kidding!
They converse in multiple languages and cultures . . . their challenges make them tough and alert people. I fret if the electricity goes out for two hours (actually that never happens) or my showers aren’t hot enough or I have to wait in line for more than three minutes (that really pisses me off) or have to wear a mask on my face
Let me end here with a warning about having a warped sense of humour in southeast Turkey. I think I've watched too much of Larry David to be honest.
In one of the museums I attracted a fair bit of attention - again . . . apparently none of them had seen a Canadian tourist before and, undeservedly, I received a great deal of affection. It's kinda pathetic actually.
I had a whole entourage following me around. Everyone was hoping I'd be awed by what I was seeing . . . actually, I was . . . but there was a lot of pressure to keep on being terribly impressed with the relics and artifacts and carpets and coins and gold and . . . on and on . . .
At one point, I was taken into a kitchen-type room and the women there were asked to make the Canadian tourist some Syrian food - they dutifully jumped to attention . . . and I was asked to participate in the production. Someone took a shot of me and emailed it to me later.
So we made the thing . . . meat wrapped in a kind-of flour recipe. I don't know . . . I had a hard time keeping mine together much to the delight of the giggling ladies . . . and as they were cooking it, my tour group took me to the third floor to see more statues without heads. (Ever notice that?)
Anyway, we get back to the kitchen to celebrate the feast of our own making. Three of these tiny pies are placed before me . . . and I realize pretty quickly that I'm the only one eating (I hate that).
And again the expectation for me to be absolutely blown away was readily at hand. I salute them all and take my first bite . . . rather tentatively as I remember. All eyes on my mouth.
And . . . it was quite good! I didn't have to fake appreciation.
And then, of course, I made my mistake, feeling a little heady from all the attention.
I say . . . to the woman who assisted me making the cake . . . "it's so good, unbelievable! . . . will you marry me?"
I mean, really, how funny is that!!!!
No one knew what I was saying . . . and I should have stopped right there. If you gotta explain a joke then . . . just stop, just stop.
And I also had time to evaluate what I had said and the environment I had said it in . . .
But the group insisted on knowing what I was trying to say - they were all so eager - and it seemed really rude to brush it off with a 'oh, forget it.'
They got out their translators and I . . . yes, pointed to my finger and presented the act of slipping on a ring.
When they understood I had just proposed . . . for some reason they believed I might be serious . . . the once-so-friendly women slipped away (not sure where they went so quickly to be honest) . . . and the men who remained explained politely, but sternly, that in Mardin, marriages didn't happen within hours of meeting.
I agreed that perhaps, maybe, I had jumped the gun a bit.
But it was really, really good!! Could you send me the recipe then? (And at my age, I really do not have time for a long engagement.)
Please excuse my spelling and grammar mistakes . . . I don't have the energy to proofread.