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Published: December 11th 2004
The river Tigris. You can barely make out the castle in the background. A bottle dropped in the river here would eventually land in Fallujah.
I'm in Mardin, the final stop before Syria. Perched on the side of a hill, crowned with a castle containing an immense radar dome spying on the middle east on behalf of NATO, packed with historical honey-colored houses lining crooked streets, Mardin is a real beauty. At least the old city is. There's the obligatory concrete sprawl, but it's kept in the back so as to not ruin the view. And the view is beautiful: an unspoilt plain, stretching out as far as the eye can see and beyond, into Syria.
The weather has been clear for the last couple of days, and that makes all the difference in the world in terms of my perception of the place... Too bad it started snowing tonight. Mardin shuts down early, even earlier than other towns I've been to. Come sunset, the entire place locks up. Clearly a problem when the sun sets shortly after 4pm and you're left with 5 hours to kill before bedtime. I generally shack up in a local coffee shop, ignoring the intense looks I get from the other customers, and reading, writing my (paper) journal, or studying ottoman writing.
Now, for our theme story. Many
The battlements of Diyarbakir
They're immense, apparently 6km in length. Inside is a maze of alleys and walled houses, outside is the Tigris river and armed conflict beyond.
songs have been written featuring presumptuous words following "hello": "hello, I love you", etc. "Hello, Money!" takes the cake. With a few notable exceptions, children who see you walking down the street will at least casually try a "hello" followed closely after by "Money!" It really pisses me off. I saw a couple of young shepherd guys yesterday, I offered them apples and tangerines, and they invited me to sit down with them. After about 5 minutes they started asking me for money. Why? I know I'm sounding like a capitalist pig, but what did they do to make them think I owe them money? It makes me want to avoid kids in general. That and "hello, donkey".. I don't know how they came up with that one but it seems fairly standard.
Diyarbakir was intense. "Raw Vitality" is the term I came up with to describe it. I met a guy my age who had 6 kids... and that's the norm rather than an exception. They marry early, have tons of kids, are mostly unemployed, and I have no idea how they get by. The streets are jammed with Kurdish men wearing baggy pants (and when I say
Mardin, and Beyond
As I said, the view to the plains below is fairly dramatic. The picture was taken from the top of the hill on which the city is perched.
baggy I mean it: the crotch is way below the knees), with thick dark-colored scarves or black/white checkered ones wrapped around their heads and necks. I got stares (I always get stares), but not the hostile kind I was half expecting, and people lit up when I said "chawanin, bashim?" (kurdish for "how are you? fine?"). The features are harsh, almost fierce, with tons and tons of hair, thick eyebrows, and the occasional green eyes with further accenuates the dark features. Street lights are non-existent in the "old city", and the place turns pitch dark after sundown. Low-flying fighter jets routinely flying over the city, and circling military helicopters as well as occasional "police points" made me think the current peace is fairly fragile.
I got harassed by a mob of kids on my way back from walking down the Tigris river, taking in the knowledge that I had made it to Mesopotamia. The usual story: money. This time the few tangerines I had didn't do the trick, and while some of them were just happy to try to talk to a foreigner, one was getting really intense, and started grabbing my jacket and blocking my way and saying
In my experience, people named "Ahmed" usually aren't the kind of people you want to befriend, but apparently there are exceptions. This kid skipped school and was tending his father's goats, trying to keep them out of a nearby field. He wants to study a lot and be a policeman someday.
"bana para verecaksan!" (tr. "you *will* give me money!"). The brat couldn't have been more than 9 years old. They followed me a long way, but immediately backed off when a police car started coming our way.
The clouds cleared up my last day there, and I suddenly felt much better about everything. I talked with a kid who was collecting salvageable garbage for pocket money. He had a bit of stuff in his bag and said he would fetch 10-15cents (US) for it. He wants to be a doctor when he grows up. I stopped by the fish-sellers (a personal favorite) and was told that they can't fish in the Tigris (even though it's literally right next to the city), due to security concerns and continued fighting between the government and insurgents. I spoke to one guy fairly extensively, and everyone was extremely friendly. I found a kurdish/leftist joint, the "Dicle-Firat" tucked away in the old city, where I was able to sit for hours and hours without anyone harassing me or so much as giving me a casual look. It was my "safe house" I'd retreat to when the city became too much. My last day there
Where do we go from here?
Here I am perched on a hill full of deserted Syrian monasteries, looking south. For unknown reasons, a nearby shepherd and his dog were quite annoyed at my presence.
I stopped by in time to catch a recital where 7-8 older men gathered around a table would take turns singing low rumbling improvised Kurdish tunes. That in itself was worth coming to Diyarbakir for.
All in all, Mardin is pretty and quite dramatic but I say Diyarbakir is a must to experience the raw vitality and essence of Eastern Turkey.
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