Diyarbakir : Kiddy Problems in Kurdistan
Diyarbakir Travel Blog› entry 207 of 268 › view all entries
With the smell of incense still lingering in our nostrils and Aramaic echoes ringing in our ears itâ€™s time to hit the road itâ€™s time to tune into some slightly more heathen hymns. Leaving Deyrul Zafaran monastery, Mardin and Camila behind us Ronan, Arnold and I are cutting through the landscape on route to the nominal capital of Turkish Kurdistan, Diyarbakir in the eclectic company of Rage Against the Machine, Sting, Bon Jovi, Led Zeppelin, The Cardigans, The Eagles and others pouring out of the hire car stereo. Nice to hear some music. Any music. So little of it accompanies my travels.
Within minutes of driving under a gateway in the historic city walls weâ€™re lost and enmeshed in the rabbit warren of brightly coloured residential streets in the South Eastern quarter of the old city.
Whilst Arnold and Ronan bust themselves with trying to extricate our car and souls from this chaotic, clogged artery heart of these Kurdish residential backwaters Iâ€™m left free on the back seat to start to fall for the chaos and the colour and the light that paints its way into every corner of the environment we find ourselves in.
Arnold and Ronan are only in town for a few hours before heading on so I accompany their stroll. First the charming precincts of the renovated 16th Century Hasan Pasa Hani Caravanserai complex. Sunlight beats down onto a fountain through fabric awnings. Ã‡ay houses and petite restaurants sit in the courtyard and tucked away in the higher recesses of the black basalt and white stone patterned arches and balconies of the Caravanserai. If you visit here, even if not a lover of books, do pop down briefly into the book shop (located to the back right corner as you enter the courtyard) to admire the brick-vaulted architecture of the Caravanseraiâ€™s underbelly.
Next a further dose of â€˜spiritual tourismâ€™ on our religious agenda for the day. The large rectangular courtyard of Diyarbakirâ€™s main Ulu Camii (mosque) thronging with men and boys undertaking their ablutions ahead of midday prayer. We slip our shoes off and slip inside. Itâ€™s extremely well attended. I sit quietly at the back of the long prayer hall. Arnold, although a professed atheist, has spent plenty of time in Islamic countries observing their cultures and the rituals of the faith and joins the crowds on the carpet to partake in prayer.
Afterwards we have a short discussion on our approaches as non-believers to the observance and attempts to try to understand othersâ€™ beliefs and behaviours therein.
A Turkish Professor of French, Ahmet, having struck up a conversation with Ronan kindly tours us around some of the city centre sights.
At the conclusion of Ahmetâ€™s tour I bid farewell to the boys as they must depart soon and weâ€™ve been brought to the part of the city Iâ€™ve been dying to wander all day since we got jammed here in the car earlier on. Itâ€™s a different beast by foot though.
I obey but following them, soon veer off north into the street maze anyway as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Iâ€™m clearly an unusual sight round here. The Kurdish women sit in doorways chatting, preparing vegetables, fussing over recalcitrant kids. They stare with their wide, bright eyes as I smile and pass by. From time to time, on a forehead, a chin or upon a hand I glimpse the faded blue-black tattoos of their former nomadic lives, recalling my friend Farida from Urfa.
The majority of attention drawn to me like so many iron filings called forth by this little ginger tourist magnet comes, as ever, from the kids. At first a few predictable calls from the bolder amongst them â€˜Hallo hallo!â€™ Then the slightly more adventurous â€˜Whatâ€™s your name?â€™ and â€˜Where you from?â€™ Like skittish birds not sure whether to hop forward and feed from your palm or not, the little grubby boys and the shiny-eyed little Kurdish girls with their garish t-shirts and matted hair start to form a contracting circumference around my progress. Hop. Hop hop. They start to step further from the shadows and doorways drawn together by some psychic link of shared curiosity.
A boy I name â€˜Ben 10â€™ for the t-shirt of said character he wears takes a sort of lead in directing us about the streets, but only where I am willing of course. The numbers and noise all about me increasing now to a pitch of civil disturbance. â€˜Ben 10â€™ lights the fuse of some mega-destructo fire cracker housed in a small empty bottle of pop. We all take cover, hunkering down besides graffiti slogans in support of the PKK ( Kurdish Workersâ€™ Party) and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Ã–calan as the thing explodes with a truly war-like â€˜CRACK!!!â€™ and ferocity.
Thatâ€™s done it now. A call to arms has gone out. Tens upon tens of Kurdish kids now swirl all around me â€˜hallohallohallohallohallo!â€™ Screams. Laughter. â€˜Whatyournamewhereyoucomefromwhatyourname?â€™ They take me by the arm, bump against me, get under my feet. Grins all around. Vying for my attention. â€˜Ben 10â€™ trying to stamp some form of hierarchy, if not order, on the situation. Failing. Avid attention being paid to, and attempts to acquire crappy digital watch I begrudgingly possess, strapped to the handle of my daypack.
Iâ€™m enjoying this chaos mostly but itâ€™s getting out of hand. Getting too, too loud and inescapable. Kids can be quite a force of nature once fully unleashed as many of you may know. I feel like some errant knight lost in a dark enchanted forest where all of a sudden every limb of every tree, shrub and bush attempts to check my progress. These streets; these walls have many grasping limbs. I am wading through; drowning in a river of pint-sized flesh. The Kurdish elders look on. Some impassive and - I assume - disapproving ( â€™Who is this strange flame-haired wanderer come to disturb our peace?!â€™ ) and some of the younger mothers smiling sympathetically as their progeny overrun me ( â€˜Now you know what WE have to put up with!â€™ ).
Eventually just as the kids are about to reach critical mass and Iâ€™m beginning to think â€™this ainâ€™t so fun no moreâ€™ a burly baker whoâ€™s shop the storm happens to be passing grabs a wooden stall and lunges with it, growling like a moustachioed lion to frighten away the shower of imps. They scatter and reform, squealing and laughing. He takes me by the arm and drags me through a thick wooden door. Iâ€™m left alone in the haunting precincts of a ruined Catholic church, protected whilst the t-shirt â€™nâ€™ skirt storm without subsides. Saved.
Pestering kids sadly becomes the motif that hounds most of my remaining time in Diyarbakir.
I take to the fabulous 6 kilometre ring of the black basalt Citadel walls that encompass the cityâ€™s heart in various states of repair or disrepair. Walking along a particularly poorly preserved (probably not supposed to be traversed) section to the south east I am suddenly in the unwelcome company of three more grotty kids. Less friendly than their ground level brethren. These guys are straight onto â€˜Turista! Munny munny munny!â€™ Backtracking along the wall as I was anyway, one of them makes a very determined attempt to have my watch off the back of my bag.
The walk around the much, much longer, uninterrupted stretch of wall starting south, south west and ringing all the way to the north east of the old city passes without incident. I ignore utterly all further calls for my attention.
In need of descending from the wall but many of the available stairways having crumbled into ruinous impassability I ask directions of a bleary eyed lad sat within one of the periodic circular tower structures.
Sat back safely in the Caravanserai, keeping the date Iâ€™d made earlier with my book and some Ã§ay, the only kid around the one who - as with all of his brand of over-entrepreneurialism - offers to black my unelectable shoes.