Day 33: Hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name?
Diyarbakir Travel Blog› entry 46 of 260 › view all entries
People I met here and/or travelled with: Sabahattin (Turkey)
Ah, sleeping in. Can't remember when I last did that. I was quite happy to be in a comfortable hotel room again, even if by 10:00 the room had become almost unbearably hot. Today's temperature would hover around 35 degrees again and once again I was so glad to be visiting this region in spring and not in summer.
I had not planned to have breakfast in the hotel (it was an additional 5 TL) but as I was feeling particularly lazy I did in the end. I left the breakfast room at 10:55 only to be told by the receptionist that check-out time was 11! Yikes!
They were kind enough to give me another hour though, so that I could at least have a shower. I contemplated staying another night here, instead of taking yet another night bus tonight, but I figured if I did that I would be really pressed for time during my last days in Turkey, so I had to say goodbye to comfort for now and move on.
But first there was some serious sightseeing to do. After all I had not come to Diyarbakır for nothing. If the name Diyarbakır rings any bell, it is because the city was in the news frequently in the 1980s as this was the centre of the Kurdish resistance movement. Throughout the eighties and early nineties this was the site of frequent violence and the Kurdish locals speak of civil war (though the Turkish government prefers the word terrorism, since civil war would indicate that there is such thing as ethnicity in Turkey).
But its violent recent past is not the attraction of Diyarbakır, no, the reason for my visit was the chaotic Middle Eastern old city, surrounded by huge basalt city walls, full of old mosques, churches, caravansaries and bazaars.
I started my city walk with the city walls.
Although the walls have not entirely survived the industrial revolution (some chunks have been demolished to make way for roads in and out of the old city), there is still an impressive amount left standing. Parts of the walls have been restored, including several defensive towers and a large hall underneath the wall which has now been turned into a modest restaurant.
After walking a semi-circle over the top of the walls, before returning into the maze of tiny streets of the old city. Let me put one thing straight: Kurds are nice people. Though in the west the Kurds are often portrayed as violent fanatics, the common people aren't anything like that at all. not being I wasn't able to walk 100 metres without being stopped in the street by someone curious about where I was from. By the time I reached the city walls my belly was already sloshing from the excessive çay intake.
As it was weekend there were children playing in the streets everywhere and almost all of them came running towards me as soon as they saw me. Laughing at me, trying to practice what little English they knew and, unfortunately in the case of some annoying boys, asking for money as well.
As I reached one of the mosques in the northern part of town I was approached by some young girls who wanted to know all about me. Some elderly ladies came over to check what was happening and at the same time a few boys came towards me as well, asking for money. What happened next is a sight I will never forget. One of the old ladies first started shouting at the boys and then she started hitting one of them with her stick. And hard! She was furious.
She muttered some apologies to me and it made me realised just how delicate the balance is between tourism being a blessing and a curse for local communities. Yes, visitors like me bring some much needed cash into the local economy, but at the same time if tourists give in to children begging the step from skipping school to become a full-time beggar is only a small one.
(by the way: I never give to beggars. That said, I have never hit one either!)
The girls were very sweet though. They wanted to show me around the old citadel and the mosques that lie within a separate section of the city walls in the northern end of the old city. One girl was the leader of the group and she did most of the talking. In her limited English she tried to explain what she and her friends were thinking of a big bald tourist: “me, my friends, we, I love you very much”.
Hmm, not sure what to think of that coming from an 11 year old Muslima. And with me more people had their doubts, or so it seems, because everywhere we went the girls had to explain themselves to older men undoubtedly asking them just what the hell they were doing talking to a man.
Later I would find out that the concerns weren't so much born out of conservatism, but rather that kidnappings are very common in this area. Apparently the organ Mafia is quite active here. I was quite shocked when I found out.
After our little tour the girls walked me to the city gate and said their goodbyes (though not after presenting me with some flowers they picked).
Before coming to Diyarbakır I had tried to arrange a place to stay via couch surfing. After the positive experience of the meet-up in Istanbul I had wanted to use this great concept a bit more. I had been in touch with one guy who regretted not being able to host me, but he wanted to meet up with me for a drink instead.
I met Sabahattin in the old city in the early evening. We immediately hit it off together. He is a Kurdish Turk with a great outlook on life. He was able to explain so much about the whole Kurdish situation, as seen through the eyes of someone who is Kurdish but not a terrorist. Up until a few years ago it was illegal for him to speak his own language, or to celebrate the Kurdish cultural day on 21 March. During his childhood Diyarbakır had been the site of violence and civil war, though he would not want to live elsewhere.
He told me most Kurds prefer autonomy within Turkey over a separate Kurdish state shared with Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi Kurds.
Within a few hours after meeting we were chatting as if we had known each other all our lives, discussing sensitive topics like religion, politics and virginity (or the losing of either three).
It was a real pity I had to leave for my bus which left at 23:30 from the Otogar.
Arriving at the otogar was a bit of a shock. My bus to Erzurum was a tiny, tiny bus. When I saw the bus from the outside I noticed neck pillows were provided, which was definitely a first in Turkey so far. Would this finally be a bus in which I could sleep comfortably?
Once inside all thoughts of sleeping disappeared, since leg room was virtually absent. There were so many seats crammed in this bus that I was not able to fit in the seats.
People seemed quite surprised to see me travelling this bus. As I walked in all throughout the bus I heard murmering “turista, turista”.
As the bus was not full they were kind enough to give me two seats, so that at least I could fold my legs somewhat sideways.
Throughout the journey the TV was on and loud music was blaring out of the speakers - how was I ever going to survive this?