Thursday, April 12, 2007

Denver, Colorado to Diyarbakir, Turkey

I got up early this morning (as I often do). I'm in City #1 in northern Iraq, 10 hours ahead of Denver time.

"Northern Iraq" may be a misnomer according to the locals. When you cross the border from Turkey, I was told I should never refer to this area with the words the locals use. They refer to it as "Kurdistan Area of Iraq." And if they themselves weren't trying to be quite so politically correct, they would call it, simply, "Kurdistan."

I have to confess that in any- and everything that follows, my explanations are mere reports of what I have been told.

I left Denver on Monday, April 9, at about 2 in the afternoon. I flew Lufthansa directly to Munich, Germany, where I connected, not quite 10 hours later (11:40 pm Denver time; 7:40 am Munich time) to another Lufthansa flight, scheduled to take off an hour later, headed to Istanbul. Perfect connection and on-time journey to Istanbul.

We landed in Istanbul, just over two hours after take-off, at about 11 a.m. Munich time, noon in Istanbul.

Two experiences on the Lufthansa flights worthy of mention.
  1. I knew I needed to get some sleep quickly if I was to have at all a good experience on Tuesday. For some reason, I miscalculated the time differential as "only" six hours (when it's actually eight). But still, I figured I should get to sleep by 6 pm Denver time, only a few hours after takeoff, and just an hour and a half or so after "brunch" was served. In anticipation of the need for sleep and the time shift upon arrival in Munich (not to mention the further time shift, whatever it was going to be, upon arrival in Istanbul and Diyarbakir), when I woke up at 3:30 on Monday morning, I decided to stay up. I figured I'd be pretty close to ready for a nap, at least, by 6 pm.

    I was. And I got five hours of sleep--not much less than my norm at home.
  2. Lufthansa features two soft drinks I have never had before. I decided to try them both. The bitter lemon, in particular, is very good! If you ever get the opportunity. . . .
Back to Istanbul.

I had been told I would need to purchase a Visa shortly after landing. Signs seemed to point the way, though not perfectly clearly. When I got to the general location of where the Visa signs seemed to point, one sign indicated "Turkish Citizens" and one "All Others."

I went to "All Others."

The immigration official looked at my passport, scowled slightly, and said, "You need a Visa!"


He pointed to his left—the area where, I knew, all the "Turkish Citizens" were going. As I looked at him in bewilderment, he waved his left-pointing finger up and down, as if to say, "Keep going that direction."

So I turned back, went out to the main line of traffic, and continued beyond where the Turks were going. . . . Ahh! A sign! "Visa"!

I had been told I should expect to pay about US$35. The man behind the desk said, "Twenty dollars US or 15 Euro." I had some Euros with me, but I decided to use dollars. (Considering the exchange rate, I realized, as I walked away, the Euros would have been a better deal. . . . Oh well!)

Back to immigration. No hitch. On to pick up my luggage, a 57-pound suitcase and a large, 37-pound box of medical supplies. They both made their timely appearances and, utilizing a luggage trolley that I was able to snag, I headed toward the domestic terminal.

I sat down in the not overly-large waiting area, and proceeded to read some literature I had brought. I also glanced at a Turkish newspaper that seemed to be left on multiple seats throughout the waiting area.

Interesting, I thought: the paper uses far more color than any American paper I've seen—even more than USA Today. And most of the stories were (or are) single paragraphs: just "sound bites." Much of the paper is taken up with sports, celebrities, and market news. And it featured a relatively high number of women's photos compared to the number of women one sees on the streets (or in the airport) in Turkish society at large. Furthermore, the women in the paper seemed all to be dressed in western (and rather revealing western) garb—far different from what you might expect to see on the streets of Istanbul (let alone more conservative cities in Turkey).

I should probably also note: though I sat in a no-smoking area, the air was filled with the smell of cigarettes. All around the perimeter of the waiting area, in every restaurant, men sat smoking.

About 2:30, I recognized one of the men from my group show up in the Domestic terminal. By 4:30, it seemed, we had all gathered: two women and nine men.

Our flight on to Diyarbakir wasn't scheduled till 8:10, so we made arrangements to check our baggage and head out to a shopping mall where we might enjoy some fresher air than what was available in the terminal.

The Galleria, I was told, was the first modern, indoor shopping mall in Turkey. It was 15 years old. In its center there was an ice skating rink. As we walked in, we were a floor above the rink. As I looked down, I estimated there were about a dozen children and a single female attendant enjoying the ice.

Our group headed to the restaurant zone—virtually the entire ring of stores that surrounded the skating rink on the ground floor. Among several local outfits, there was a Pizza Hut, Burger King, McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Not too different from most other large cities I've been in the world—including Beijing, China!)

"First order of business," said Bob, the leader of our group: "I want you to find a bank and change $50 into Turkish lira." --A kind of adult scavenger hunt.

We set off. Ah! There were two banks, and both of them were on the second floor. Closed! It was 5:30. They closed at 17:00. But there were ATM machines.

Among eight people, I was the only one with an ATM card. So I became money-changer. Standard exchange rate, I had been told, was about 1.38 lire per dollar. I gave them 1.4--70 lire per 50 dollars US.

As everyone settled back at restaurant alley, I decided to do some window shopping. Smaller than any American mall I've been in, this mall still featured the kind of shopping experience one might expect in any high-end mall in the United States: the same style of clothing boutiques (though few American brands), small electronics, etc., and two shops that reminded me of upscale malls in China and India, but nowhere else: a grocery store and a large appliances store. (I don't think I've seen shops in covered malls that feature washers, dryers, stoves, and so forth. Not where that is the store's only inventory.)

On returning to the group at about 6:15, I realized if I was going to eat anything that day, I had better buy it now. It appeared Bob hadn't eaten yet. I asked if he planned to eat. "Yes!" he said.

We first perused the grocery store. Bananas were 3 lire per kg. (Do the math: 3 lire is just over $2.10; a kilogram is 2.2 pounds—about 95 cents a pound.) Gouda cheese: 65 lire per kg. (Let's see: 2.2 pounds into 65 lire is not quite 30 lire per pound—well over $20 per pound!)

We purchased a couple of half-liter or three-quarter-liter bottles of fruit soda for 2.56 lire and headed out to one of the restaurants to get food.

We both chose the chicken equivalent of shish kebob (shish _____). As we ordered, Bob noticed they featured a frothy white drink. "Is that ______?" he asked.


"You've got to try some!" he told me. And ordered two mugs. When we got them, he explained that they were a yogurt drink. It reminded me a bit of buttermilk. . . .
By 7:45 we were back at the airport, and by 8:15, on the plane. We arrived in Diyarbakir at 9:45, collected our luggage, and . . . Bob realized one of his bags--the one with all his clothing--hadn't arrived.

Seventeen pieces of luggage: which tags didn't belong to him?

By 10:30, the security guard was growing impatient. "We are closed!" he said.

As the staff turned off the lights, we moved our bags outside . . . while Bob and an associate headed off to the luggage area to see what they could do.

About 11:00, we loaded three taxis and headed to our hotel. By 11:30, I was shot. I plugged my ears with the earplugs and covered my eyes with the mask I had received from Lufthansa, laid down, and slept soundly.
Wednesday morning, 5:30, I was awake. I took off the mask and pulled the plugs out of my ears and heard a cock crow almost immediately. I read my Bible as the sun rose, and eventually began taking pictures of the scenery outside my window.

7:30 we went to breakfast. Concerned about potential gastrointestinal distress, I went easy: a bunch of bread and two hearty bowls of lentil soup.

At 8:30, we decided to take a stroll through the streets of Diyarbakir. We headed to the city wall. Diyarbakir, we were told, had the largest (longest) wall of any ancient walled city—five miles long. Unlike the (solely decorative) wall of Jerusalem, which was built of relatively soft limestone (therefore useless for protection) in the 16th century (long after any wall could actually provide a city with protection), Diyarbakir's wall was constructed by the Romans . . . of basalt.

Our guide, a man who has worked among Muslims for many years, told us that just the year before, he had been shown a church building constructed by Muslim converts who had fought the legal battles necessary to acquire the right to construct and own a church building. Unlike others, who have chosen to pursue a less confrontative approach, these Turks have said they believe . . .

Key observation on the streets (something I have noticed elsewhere): "everyone" is trying to sell the same things. In the city square, there were at least 20 shoe shine men all lined up in a row. What is to differentiate their services? Nothing obvious! Same thing with shop after shop. They are all selling the same products.

No wonder there is so much poverty!

Yet cheek-by-jowl with the food shops, here was a row of gold shops with rows and rows of gold rings prominently displayed in the window. Where does the wealth come from to purchase such ornaments? [Hours later, I was informed, the gold jewelry serves as a store of wealth. It is also easily transported, and you have it with you at all times, so it is not easily stolen.]

Another observation: enormous numbers of young children working, not in school.

Turkey has compulsory education laws. "Their enforcement is somewhat lax," said my informant. [No kidding!]

Two key features of Diyarbakir:
  1. It was the place where, in 1925, Attaturk murdered his religious opponents. He had several dozen men, who opposed his "secular state" idea, hung in the square.
  2. Diyarbakir is at the point of the Euphrates where the river is large enough to support a raft all the way down the Baghdad and the Red Sea. It is the terminus for shipping. Thus its medieval claim to fame.
Whoa! The power just went out. I'm working on UPS power backup. I'd better post or lose everything. . . .
Also, internet connections here are exceptionally slow and my space bar barely works.

I will attempt to post more tomorrow. [It is, right now, actually 10:15 pm Friday evening here in Northern Iraq/Kurdistan.]

More stories later.
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