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                                                         Lake Van with Akdamar church

Let's just start my story from the moment in Istanbul when I got on the connecting flight to Van. After having taken my seat somewhere in the middle of the aircraft, thrilled with excitement how my new life will look like. I was hyped indeed... big smile on my face but also, somewhere in the back of my head, there was this undefinable momentum of unease. Fear of the unknown? No. Rather some sort of reservation. It was related to the new experience laying ahead but at the same time it was also the very moment in that plane itself. You know (well, if you don't you can surely  imagine...), that moment when you look around in a airplane and realize you are just about the only Caucasian looking fella around... in a radius of clear eyesight.


And the others around me, well... how should I put it in order to not give a wrong expression? Well, the other's around me all  pretty much looked like Kurdish folks. Now take my word - the Dear Almighty Lord is my witness I tell nothing but the absolute truth - I'd be most probably the last of people thinking in terms of skin color, race, ethnics and similar racist bullshit... but on the other hand I am/was not completely free from conditioning (e.g. via tv-brainwashing) either. You know, at that time (June 2015) there was much talk going on about ISIS, war in Syria, terror attacks and the likes. Refugees were just about to become a topic in Europe... ISIS was at it's peak in popularity and attention. So me sitting there somewhat isolated in the middle of a travelling crowd of Kurdish folks... 


Well, I gotta be honest, for a couple of seconds it just felt like sitting on a plane with a couple of hundred potential terrorists all around. Luckily I was levelheaded enough to turn that thought around after a few moments. I realized the only terrorist thing and action is that very thought in my brains that had been pushed there by some sneaky bastard news-maker... and from there on I was sitting on an airplane full of good, close and dear friends...


Hah! I almost forgot the best part of the story... Let's start my learning experience 2-3 hours earlier. Having just arrived in Istanbul coming from Budapest. Queuing for pass control in the terminal just after landing. Feeling happy and lightheaded without a sorrow in mind, about to meet my girlfriend in Van soon... so there I was, in the queue, awaiting to meet Turkish authorities, probably even smiling peacefully to myself. Drifting away in my mind... Unfortunately the drifting part didn't last too long though. It got to an abrupt end when a bunch of civil police officers approached me (me recognizing them only once they stood by my side asking for my passport and final destination)...Right then and there it hit me. My appearance, my outfit, my destination...



 On first day after arrival

Before boarding the plane in Budapest my father had given me some sort of military looking fisherman's hat. The beard I had grown for some month (with the idea in mind of making assimilation in Van a touch easier - for some mysterious reason I had imagined all Turks would wear huge beards), well... it was not exactly Prophet Mohammed style tall but remarkable enough anyway (see above), sunglasses, trooper outfit, big backpack...


So the question about my destination (place close to Syrian border...) and the one following, whether I have a return ticket booked... kinda caught me off-guard and caused my intestines to cramp before managing to give a straight and firm answer. Providing the reason for my travel: meeting with my girlfriend who will be working as a psychiatrist in Van (starting her 1.5 year long obligatory job service - a direct consequence of Turkey's Istanbul centered politics, sending well-educated state officers (teachers, doctors, policemen, soldiers etc.) to underdeveloped territories (located mostly to the east...). I mentioned to the border police that they are free to contact her and receive additional details... but apparently I was already convincing enough. Well, me but rather my passport, showing a collection of stemp entries having visited to Istanbul already 3 times previously. During the course of 1 year, since I knew Gamze, my girlfriend (with whom I first met through couchsurfing while working as an IT- helpdesk agent for a multinational in Budapest). That's how my adventure began - and it never stopped ever since.




Van breakfast with my wife Gamze

-  Too long Prologue  -


Dear You! Thanks for reading, I'm thrilled! :) 

I'm thrilled to be writing to a public audience and people actually seeing & perceiving my thoughts... probably not the first time I try (and hopefully not the last either) but anyway, just be told, this time I have the right feeling so you are warmly encouraged to keep going! :)


Writing to a broader audience is not easy as we are all pretty unique and are interested in very different things, furthermore consider that already a single person can be in so so many different moods. Therefore the best I can do is probably to kindly ask for your continued interest, your soft judgement and your best mood and willingness to process my words. Additionally I can only but hope for you being a loving non-violent warm-hearted human being, for these days I'm falling for such crazy hippie bullshit :)I hope there is no violence in your life and least of all none present at this very moment, for I would really not wish anyone having to make even the slightest of efforts forcing her/himself to continue reading... well, I suppose the tiniest bit of effort might do no harm... ;)


Anyway, as we have so nicely made it this far already, we might as well keep going. Just a few more words on this violence topic. I reckon and honestly advise you: in case such words as 'non-violent', 'hippie' or 'warmly' give you a feeling of utter repulsion and disgust, you might wanna re-consider things... as I have a strongly vague feeling there might be many more similar words to come and the least I could want is having any of my readers give such destructive feelings to themselves...


So you see: I want something and you want something and in the end it really is only up to you to decide. It won't neither disturb nor affect me too much whatever way you decide eventually but on the other hand - as per my best of hopes - it will be useful for you to continue reading after all... 


Last bit of warning: in case you are aiming to have only uttermost beauty & perfection present in your life, well... I suppose you might wanna reconsider continuing. I have a tendency to use so called 'strong language' and not exactly sparingly either. 'Course I wouldn't make a sport or habbit out of choosing & using the most juicy ones just for the sake of it... ;) Only you know... there are moments and topics in life when only rough words are fitting and anyway it's better having them come out rather than staying inside...


In case you have been wondering how exactly the aforementioned 'hippie' bullshit can be defined... for now let me just tell you, I feel free enough labeling my thinking with this category, you eventually get a feel for what I mean. At the same time, coming back to your possible need for sophisticated beauty: if you're looking for yasemin-scented soothing soft words only, I strongly doubt that's all you'll find around here...


--------

1. In a strange country far far away

My introduction of Van & first impressions


Now let's just suppose for a moment we are all well informed, open-minded, interested & smart beings of the magnificient species homo sapiens and have not spent most of last year living somewhere hidden on the dark side of the moon. Let's also suppose we are all smart enough to at least open a door in one smooth & steady motion without having to thoroughly think through such action for seperate steps. So if all these preconditions are met, I am thoroughly confident to express we are all smart and informed enough in order to associate at least a couple of vague feelings or pre-concepts related to the word combination 'East of Turkey'. 


- Interlude -


Just in case it might be a touch confusing: when writing I might involuntarily stumble upon expressions that could hurt people's feelings. This is not intentional. I'd be the last one to do so intentionally. The intentional part about it is to express obvious and easy-to-grasp concepts with as much a complicated and unnecessarily politically incorrect language (and thinking) as just humanly possible. Why? Because I reckon it's more interesting to read, surely it makes it definitely more fun to write - as I like the good old challenge of using sophisticated language once-in-a-while (havin' spent that awful lot of obligatory school-time sitting on my arse wondering why... why??? Hence the least I can do is to make  good use of this one-and-only unique & truly beneficial bit of knowledge they were ever able to beat into my limited sized brains: the glorious English language).


Coming back to my previous comparison about the people and the doors: Obviously the ones amongst us having trouble opening doors for the lack of brain capacity or functionality (or their relatives) surely do have  enough difficulties in their lives. I really wouldn't want to be that asshole that makes fun of them. The reason I still write what I do is this (and this one only): It is my most creative way I could come up with (at the very moment) to express following: If you're not completely ignorant and dumb as shit you have surely heard the word combination 'East of Turkey'.


Even if you wouldn't know what direction it might be.

Even if you've never ever been to this magical country.


Same goes for all comparisons and expressions to follow. If you read this, you read me, Domi, no more, no less. That's what you've not signed up for nor payed any money, so I suppose, love it or leave it. No hard feelings I hope. And hell, by all means, please don't go easy on the comments.



 Me cool.

- Interlude end - 


Now just to inform you, with the slightest little twinkle in the eye: I myself am fairly good enough at opening doors, still... strangely enough I had no idea whatsoever of what to expect from 'Van' in 'East of Turkey'. A relatively small place close to the borders of Iran & Syria - which names straightaway ring a bell in the heads of the mildly informed but under-traveled (lower) middle-class type westerner - and not a fair, fine-sounding bell that is either. Though saying that I was free enough from serious preconceptions when I came to Van. And this much I did know: over there, over that border nasty things are happening. So probably I must have thought something along the lines of the border being the end of the rainbow - minus the pot of gold. Or maybe an invisible one... who knows??? And the related question that comes to mind: where does that rainbow start...? What I did not know back then (before arriving here on 4th of June 2015 - last year) that Van is in fact located somewhere along the rainbow's most colorful spot...


And now slowly coming to the point... only to make it perfectly clear for all of you, dear readers: I am recollecting hereby my experiences, views, feelings on the city of Van, located in the county Van of Turkey. When I write about people in Van, I mean the inhabitants of the place (and occasionally the visitors and friends of mine - or the place). I don't speak about 'The Turkish' per se, I don't speak about 'The Kurdish', I don't speak about 'The Muslims'. Though (obviously) a pretty high percentage of the inhabitants of Van city is in fact Kurdish, is in fact Muslim and is - surely enough - part of the geo-political entity called 'Turkey'.


Now I'm not exactly sure if you, dear reader, can straightaway spot the fine but extremely important slightest touch of a difference underlying my words of description. Why differentiate the way I do? You see, I'm really only saying, giving an opinion on the inhabitants of a city of around 1 million people is already a rough enough generalization. From this number of people I might have met around 345 (??) personally during the course of 1 year as a vague and completely random estimate. You see, I have never met 'The Kurdish Guy' or 'The Kurdish Gal'. There never was anyone wearing that kind of t-shirt walking towards me introducing him/herself. So I'd be rather careful of how and when to generalize - if needed at all. This care not being given pretty much all but causes the issues and incredibly shameful attitude present nowadays in many people's minds, media & public opinion in most parts of good-old Europe... the whole feckin' globe rather.


Van


Just in case... if maybe the following keywords don't ring a loud enough bell as to kinda provide us a hint where to place this picturesque city culturally, demographically and politically onto our little personal coordinate system of our very own contemporary planet Earth - (keywords being: Kurdish issue, Armenian issue, Syrian refugee situation, Erdo─čan, AK parti (Turkish government party), HDP (People's Democratic Party, connected to Kurds and said to have ties to PKK))... proximity to cradle of civilisation, as well as birthplace of mayor religions etc. etc. etc. Van is located 38.5012° N, 43.3730° E alongside the shores of beautiful lake Van in county Van, surrounded by monumental mountains that have their peaks covered in snow about 7 month a year.



 View of Van Street with Mount Erek in background 

I can assure you, right now I have by all means no intention whatsoever to enlighten you on aforementioned keywords or any topics related. The only thing essential for you to know at this stage is this: beauty often manifests itself in simplicity but the refined eye adjusts and rejoices discovering beauty in complexity rather. There is a number of details that you are prone to notice when visiting here for the first time. Let me try to make a collecting of these from the memories of my mind (I am sadly not too good for taking notes), so in order of appearance:


One of the first impressions was surely the surprising normality paired with the light and inexplicable sense of colorful buzzing chaos. Normality in the most surprising sense of the word, meaning here: basically I was surprised to see this town being really not that much different from most (European) towns. There are shops, cars, people walking, talking, eating... and all this happens in a fairly neat, tidy and orderly manner (despite the undefinable smooth sense of chaos). Now looking back I am seriously wondering, what had I had been expecting...? A people in arms due to the war close-bye? Sadness, poverty, despair, tension? Camel caravans roaming between huge nomad tents and folks sitting around in colorful turbans bargaining on ancient jewelry? It really is a mystery now to me what I was expecting... there mostly was a sort of grey whole that wouldn't let me expect anything, not as much as reflect any unconscious anxiety of the very foreign and utterly unknown - for it was anyway the first time I had traveled that far to the East - ever. By then the only somewhat solid experience on Turkey happened to me during 3 short visits to Istanbul (plus the close-by village and beach at Ormanl─▒, where we had watched the stars with my Gamze, the most lovely Turkish woman, who was soon to become my wife...). 


So in a way it was this 'normality' that struck me during the first few days. Before my sences started fine-tuning to experience the differences...
 One of the lovliest and most pleasant difference is the attitude, personality and appearance of people. It took a few days to sink it but than it hit hard enough: people here are calm. People here are relaxed and friendly. People here are so wonderfully different compared to anything I had ever experienced about people previously. Therefore it was a bit hard to understand. I can remember, the very first of my impressions while walking on the streets of Van was this: the whole fucking city, every fucking single individual who roams these streets looks like being constantly on a nice, healthy and generous dose of finest hash. Every one of them. People walking arm in arm, grown man, children,... all in a coreography and smooth, slow rythm that defied all of what I had ever experienced during a simple walk on a street. By god, it was hallucinating!!! (Though - of course - I wouldn't know how to hallucinate or what it means to be on hash, these are strictly speaking only very very abstract but powerful means of comparison that I've heard about from the friend of a friend of a friend - who's seen it in the tv... :P ;) ).




                                                    Van city center

People smiling. And most of them smiling all the time. And honestly. Now that's the other thing I've hardly ever seen before... Man, what is going on here? You know, and then the pace... the small streets are completely overcrowded most of the time. But people just move in literally all directions, cars, bikes, carts, everything moves everywhere like guided by some sort of secret force that demands chaos but helps to maintain harmony, choreography. No people bumping into each other, no people being apparently stressed or frustrated, no fighting, no shouting, no violence. Sweets being sold everywhere, foods being sold everywhere, vegetable stands, carts, nuts, 3-10 year old beggar children running around happily (or begging unhappily but patiently, sometimes half a touch too nosy or pushy but always heart-breakingly cute in their difficult fate), selling smuggled cigarettes illegally every 5 meters from poorly improvised styropor stands. About everyone smoking, everyone moving. Everybody beautiful in their worn-out dirty grey jackets or their most luxurious designer dresses. Calm, relaxed, friendly, honest, proud, beautiful, sincere, deep, open, curious, wise, happy, unhappy... A veritable nauseating thrill of impressions.

Now another interesting thing I learned to understand and appreciate - with time - is the authentic nature of people around here. People are very deep. And people have a very natural and connected understanding of each other. People are cool - without exception, from the smallest beggar boy to the simplest village woman. It just comes effortlessly to them and on a level that seems impossible for any westerner to ever reach while trying really really hard... I suppose they just don't give too many fucks as some saying goes... so they have plenty left to use all the time. People communicate with their faces, gestures and vision - understanding these on a much broader scale than people anywhere else. They have a deep understanding of moods, maybe that's why all that faking bit is mostly absent from interactions. 'Replaced' by honesty, trust and kindness. A truly shocking experience for the average European (though I strongly hope to be half a notch less superficial than the average ones), still... that level of sincerity was actually quite confusing in the beginning. But then... I did not get the idea too well in the beginning...


I was too much focused on the 'being a foreigner in a strange place' role. A role I would play for quite a while and the more I played it the less it suited me. Funnily enough I wouldn't even consider myself that much strange - being a Hungarian with a couple of hundred years of common history with the Turkish... common grammar, words... very similar kitchen and mentality...


Plus having learned my basic Turkish before arrival already. But it would take a good while longer to get the feel, get the rhythm. Get the mood of the people and be one of them. It took me more than 1 year and 4 month and a trip to Olympos... plus a return back to my beautiful Van, the mountains around, the lake in from of the house that each day reflects the most amazing of sunsets...




 Skylake

Ancient wisdom lies hidden in these mountains, the sun, the earth... And the people born around here have it inside them, reflect it, live it. This deep connection to the earth and truly ancient times is what awakens new life energies now in me that have been slumbering for far too long. Turkey is my new favorite home country. Planet earth - the earth itself in fact - is my new home country. There are no boundaries. No boundaries exist people. 

But this is already another story which I will continue with another time, maybe sooner, maybe later... It's all written there somewhere in the "kader" (fate) I suppose. I only need to overwrite carefully the invisible lines present, there are many more stories I'd love to share...



Akdamar again - can't get enough of that good stuff...



















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4 comments:

  1. very nice description of what happened :)

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  2. Thank you, much appreciated, keep following - new adventures to come! ;)

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  3. Full of emotion. You prove to be not just a good observer but also a very skilled narrator. Excellent domi... please go on...

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Onur!!! I will definitely go on! Need some time to get technical things straight..., but working full speed! Very happy to have you as my reader, new articles to arrive soon ;) Regards, Domi

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