Who says every post has to be a long-winded rant? Here’s a few pictures I took on top of a mountain when we were in Turkey!
February 2011 Update: If you are looking for info on the visas and border crossing itself, Chris has posted about that here.
We were both still sick, but nonetheless on Wednesday, June 16th we bought bus tickets from Van, Turkey to Orumiyeh, Iran. I must admit that deep inside me I was a little uncertain.
The bus left Van at 9:45 am. Tired, a bit hungry (because I’m always a little hungry) and still sick, I struggled to keep my eyes open. I don’t know what it is about buses but they’re always rocking me to sleep. When I managed to keep my eyes open I saw a wonderful landscape unfolding before me. Fields turned into shrubbery-covered mountains that, for some reason, reminded me of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. Perhaps it is from photos I have seen.
We got to the border at 2:00 p.m. Immediately when the bus stopped I folded the headscarf I held in my hands, wrapped in around my head and safety-pinned it under my chin. The man and his family who were sitting by us and had conversed with throughout the bus ride, giggled and smiled. “She says you look like you’re seven or eight years old,” he told me.
“Wonderful,” I thought. “I was hoping to lose a few years in appearance but not that many.”
Chris and I stepped off the bus with our belongings. At the top of a mountain, to the left of the buildings in front of us, were huge billboards with the faces of the past and current Ayatollahs, the religious leaders of Iran. Uncertain of where to go, we hesitantly entered a door way. We were surrounded by temporary walls covered in mirror-like material. A man ushered us to line-up with the rest of our bus to “check-out” of Turkey.
We walked through a hall, or what I like to think of as “limbo” between countries. Obvious westerners, we were ushered through a separate doorway and told to take a seat. Two older Swiss men entered at the same time. They started up a conversation. “That looks good. It’s real natural like, what with Allah written on it and all...” one of the men commented on my headscarf. “Did you wear that in Turkey?” asked the other man. “No,” I replied. “I put it on 5-minutes ago. I have to wear it in Iran. It’s the law.”
Five to seven minutes later the Iranian border guard came back and addressed me as “Miss Laura” as he gave my passport back. That was that. We walked through another door and we were in Iran. Customs didn’t even look at any of our luggage. No scanners, nothing. And everything was done with such a calm, friendly demeanour.
Before I could blink a man was up in my face asking, “Change? Change?”. Confused, I went and stood by Chris for protection. It is impossible to get Iranian currency outside of the country so they were trying their best to grab visitors seconds after entering. What a bunch of sharks! We declined and decided to wait until we got to the city in the hopes of a better rate.
Two hours later we arrived at Orumiyeh, Iran. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were harassed by taxi drivers. I was tripping over luggage, including my own. The space between our bus and the next was so small, that with all the taxi drivers, luggage and passengers, it was frustratingly claustrophobic.
One driver managed to snag us, saying he could take us to exchange money. He took us to a shop outside the bus terminal. A very sturdy, serious looking man sat behind a desk. All around him were stacks and stacks of boxed goods from juice boxes to yard decorations. The man spoke some English, something we would later learn is very rare. He was the man with the power and the money. After learning we are Canadian he quickly said, “Canada is much better than Iran”. Being only 2.5 hours into the country I didn’t feel I was in a position to agree or disagree.
In the last six days it has become very apparent to me that people are not saying “hello” to me, they are not talking to me, or ask me where I am from, they are talking and asking Chris. This state of bystander existence I receive as a foreign woman is quite hard to get used to. Yet on the flip side, men (but primarily women) stare at me without shame. It’s also very hard to get used to that. I try my best to ignore the stares, or to simply smile back.
We had one of our best single days in Diyarbakır, thanks to the generosity and eagerness of one man to share his city and culture with two total strangers. We met Muzaffer while walking down the street, in what seemed at first like just another friendly “where are you from?”
It’s a common enough thing for strangers to stop us on the street and ask. It’s also a part of most of our commercial transactions, as normal as making change or leaving a Lira or two as a tip. “Where are you from?”
“Canada,” we’ll say, and usually it ends there. Sometimes someone might go out on a limb, testing their knowledge of geography. “Toronto?” they might ask, hesitantly. “Vancouver?” Almost no one has ever heard of Calgary.
So when Muzaffer stopped us, we assumed the exchange would be along those lines. Instead we found ourselves deep in conversation, talking religion, politics, learning some Kurdish words, and with an invitation to join Muzaffer on a visit to the local community centre.
As the unofficial capital of Kurdistan, Diyarbakır is a conflicted place in many ways. The population is almost entirely Kurdish, and there are strong feelings of discontent with the way Turkey has treated this region and its people. Kurdish nationalist sentiment is extremely strong and widespread, in a way that only suppressed nationalist movements tend to be. Traveling in Western Turkey, we saw newscasts in virtually every city depicting Diyarbakır and other cities in the east as places constantly on the brink of riots, with dramatic stock footage of clashes between police and protesters backed up with a musical score that would make Hollywood proud. These newscasts superimpose these images with flashing banner text that decries the “Terrorism” of the Kurds and often cut to shots of soldiers’ funerals. Based on talking to people in the western part of the country, these sensationalist news reports are very good at doing what they’re designed to do: generate fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of the Kurds, fear of the breakup of Turkey. Over 30 Turkish soldiers have been killed in the fighting in recent months.
I won’t claim to be an expert on this situation, or all of the historical causes, or who’s right and who’s wrong on any given issue, but I do know that the Kurds have as legitimate a claim to autonomy as any other ethnic group, and that Turkey’s efforts at assimilation and suppression of Kurdish nationalism and Kurdish culture have often been brutal. The Twentieth Century saw a longstanding guerilla war between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish military. Executions and atrocities were carried out on both sides, and a guerilla war is still being waged in southeastern Turkey. Collective punishments have been commonplace, including withholding much needed funding for economic and community development. For years the Turkish government banned Kurdish language and even forbade naming children with Kurdish names. Even the name of the city is contested: officially it is Diyarbakır, but to every Kurd within it, is known by its Kurdish name, Amed.
So perhaps Muzaffer’s hospitality is one way for him to defend the heritage he and all Kurds hold so dear. Aside from just being a good guy (which he certainly is), showing foreigners around his city is a way to show off its Kurdish roots. It is an explicit acknowledgment that Kurdish culture is unique and distinct; Kurdish hospitality sincere and genuine. For us it was both fascinating and enjoyable, to see Amed through local eyes. We saw live music in both newer and older traditions, toured some of the city’s 6km of old walls, and enjoyed dinner, tea and plenty of conversation before capping the night with a few riddles. Thanks again Muzaffer!
For the first time in my life I have had people ask me where I’m from and when I say Canada they shrug their shoulders and say, “Where’s that?” After 5.5 months I am officially homesick.
Although some of my homesickness might be brought on by the fact that my entire body is aching, my eyeballs hurt and my head is pounding. To say the least, I’m glad I brought Imodium. To make the situation even worse, Chris is also feeling like this. I hope we get on our feet soon because we should jump on a bus and head into Iran. Right now we’re in a city called Van which is very close to the border. To get here we took a 7-hour bus ride from Diyarbakir where we spent two nights and had a wonderful adventure.
We’ve had people ask us throughout our trip if we are homesick, but honestly until recently I wasn’t. Lately, all of my dreams have been about home. I didn’t think I would feel homesick for Canada, especially in Muslim countries because I spent 10-years of my life in Saudi Arabia. For 10-years I heard prayer call, and felt the sweltering heat that makes you sweat just from standing in it. I loved it. It was home from age 8–18.
When my dad retired from the company in Saudi we of course moved back to Canada. I didn’t feel Canadian. I felt like a visitor. I didn’t own a winter coat, or even more than a couple pairs of socks. Everything was strange, quiet and cold. I use to walk down 17th Ave looking at all the people having a good time inside the warm bars. One of them even had a palm tree painted on the window. (Everyone is always wishing or thinking they’d be happier somewhere else.) I was homesick for Saudi and lonely. Of course I eventually made friends in Canada. I found a family of them in University and even a husband! I learnt the ways of being Canadian. I got use to putting on a sweater, a hoody and then my winter jacket before going outside. Although it took me about six years to finally admit I shouldn’t be wearing a skirt in January.
So here I am, in weather where I don’t need a winter coat or even a sweater and for some damn reason I’m homesick for Canada’s seasons and many of its other attributes. I’m homesick for how green and lush trees look in the summer time. I’m homesick for the freshness and crispness of our air. And for bathtubs, and toilet paper in public restrooms. I’m homesick for a big, thick Alberta beef steaks. I’m homesick for Taber corn and perogies. I’m homesick for pork roast. I’m homesick for different varieties of food like Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, etc. I’m homesick for a washer and dryer. I’m homesick for a kitchen. I’m homesick for having more than 5 shirts and 2 bottoms as a wardrobe. I’m homesick because I don’t have a home.
I’m guilty of wanting to be somewhere else on –30 degree days in Canada, but now that I have been away for 5.5 months I know that it takes seeing and experiencing other places to remind me that my home is Canada. That it is a fantastic place to live. I guess it turns out I’m more Canadian and feel more Canadian than I ever thought I was. I look forward to coming home. In fact, I might just kiss the ground when we get back and take three week vacations to hot destinations.
(I apologize for the quality of the photos. They were all taken with our small point-shoot.)
Currently Chris and I are in a hotel room in Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey. I thought I could post a bunch of random photos for you guys to enjoy. They cover all sorts of different things and times during our trip, including our Sahara trek, Italy, Morocco and Turkey.
We plan on heading into Iran in three days and apparently Internet is very hard to come by, so I’ll try to get a few posts ready to be published automatically throughout the next week. I promise we will try our best to let you know how it’s going and our where abouts in Iran. I know how nervous some of you are about us going there, and how jealous the rest of you are. Ha, ha.
Anyways, for now, enjoy these photos. Ciao! –Laura–