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Where in the world is Sheryl?

Subject: #5 Funny Stories, etc.
Date: September 27, 2008 11:53:01 AM PDT

Hello from Van, Turkey.

Since I have no friends here to occupy my evening, I am sitting in a smoky internet cafe. On the up side, they bring you tea while you type.

A 3.5 hour minibus ride though more fantastic mountains and gorges brought me to Van, which sits on a lake and was the site of the 1915 Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks and denied by Turkey to this day.

Same checkpoint routines - maybe 4 of them this time. The soldiers stop the minibus at the checkpoints and collect IDs from all the passengers (all Turks must carry their laminated ID card which has their name DOB, and the city they live in), and my passport. Once everyone had to get off and open their bags. I had to go with the soldier into a trailer and fill out a paper asking for my passport info, address, travel destination, mother and father's names. etc. It is not at all intimidating or scary - just procedure. Another day in the wild East of Turkey.

Every time I email I think of more interesting things I should have mentioned. So here goes.

In Iraqi Kurdistan there were no towels in the hotels. I carry my own small pak towel. They always have soap, however. No toilet paper, though, which is not a problem for me - I am a big fan of the squat toilet and water system - and there is most always running water or a bucket of water even in public - hah - toilets. In Turkey, they have towels & soap and sometimes little shampoos and often breakfast. Turkish toilets are the sit-down type with a neat little water spigot that points right at your butt from inside the seat and you can turn it on or off as needed. The public toilets - if you can find any - are generally squatters. It is important to work out the Turkish for Men & Women so you end up in the right one.

It was green as soon as I drove over the border into Turkey. In fact, it is cool and earlier we had a huge downpour. Quite a change from 105 degrees in Iraq. I have one scarf on my head and one around my neck. No AC in the hotels here but all the Iraqi hotels had those nice wall-mounted units controlled w/a remote. I never used them but in my first hotel it came on by itself in the middle of the night and I could not turn it off. Between that, the very dry air, and all the cigarette smoke (mostly in hotels, teahouses, and internet places), I have had a cough and major snot nose but have not felt sick as one might from a cold. Nor have I had any stomach problems despite everything I eat and drink including tap and river water, I am sure. Today I tried some chi kofte - raw minced meat with lots of spices - a specialty of the area. It was very good.

On the minibus ride yesterday when we stopped to pick up tea, I wandered around the village and a teenage girl motioned me to follow her when she saw my camera. She took me to watch a lady baking bread in an in-ground earthen oven. It was really good! Then we went to see some women sitting on the ground making cookie things. One woman was cutting rounds in the dough with a glass, others were sprinkling a cinnamon-nut-sugar mixture onto them, and others were pinching them closed in half-moons. There were not any cooked ones but I tasted the sugared stuffing - delicious!

I have met many really nice, interesting young people and they all say there is nothing for them to do. When school is in session they study and they study for exams to gain entrance to university or job placements. But there is no social gathering places or things to do besides hang out with friends - no movies, bowling alleys or the like. I think that is why they are psyched to have a new person to hang out with for a little while. It

Funny stories (gross-out factor in one of them).

Fat ladies - In the taxi from Dohuk, Kurdistan to the town before the border, I was squished into the back seat between two very large women who bickered loudly the whole time. The driver and I kept rolling our eyes at each other in the rearview mirror while the man in the front seat snickered. It was bickering like old friends or mother and daughter do - not mean but loud and biting. Needless to say I was happy to get out of that taxi.

Lovelorn - As most of you know, I do nothing to attract male attention at home let alone while traveling in Islamic countries. But invariably, I become the object of affection of many young men. I think for lack of female friends or contacts, a couple of the hotel guys have professed their undying love and been really sad - to the point of tears - when I left. Even when I explain that I am old enough to be their mother. It is not at all threatening and quite harmless but annoying because of their immaturity. I end up going straight to my room rather than hanging out chatting.

Find me a wife - Several times I have been in what seems to be a friendly conversation with guys in and then they start asking if I have any friends and whether any of them would marry them so they can come to America since visas are not readily forthcoming. They do not seem to understand that someone who barely speaks the language and has relatively few skills would not be a great catch for my friends, who tend not to be looking for husbands anyway.

Pooper scooper - Here is the gross one but all travel includes toilet humor or stories of some sort. I returned to my hotel in Dohuk after being in another city for a few days. I had a different room in which the toilet did not flush. I did not know this until it was too late. I was leaving the next day and did not want to leave a bad impression that Americans had filthy toilet habits so I did what anyone who has a dog is familiar with. Insert hand in plastic bag, pick up poop, and I took it outside the hotel to a trash can on the street. Problem solved.

Swarmed by school kids - In Hakkari, I went with Fatih to visit his school when the afternoon shift of young children was getting out (the older kids go from 7:30 to 12:30 and the younger kids go from 12:30 to 5:30). I was immediately surrounded by a swarm of first to 4th graders who all wanted their picture taken - some enough to push others out of the way. I felt like a piece of bread in a swarm of ants. The beauty of digital cameras is you can oblige everyone who wants their picture taken and delete them later.

Sleep at my house - Mehmet`s mother wanted me to stay at their house after we rode together on the minibus. She and others who have offered mean it out of genuine kindness and hospitality but it is hard work struggling to communicate. I prefer to stay at hotels rather than in homes as I can have privacy to read, write, and edit pictures rather than feel obliged to chat or try to without much common language. Also, I like to come and go at will and alone and that is not easily done when staying in a home.

Yahoo not working? - Ok, so I am a technology idiot. The first night in Sirnak. Turkey, I tried to use my Yahoo and could not log in. I tried and was repeatedly asked for my login and password. I figured Turkey was blocking Yahoo or something, which I know, is untrue, but I could not figure out what was wrong and the guy in the cafe was no help. The next night my bright English teacher friend Fatih pointed out that the letter 'i' on an English keyboard was in a different place on a Turkish one. I had been using a similar character but not the one in my password. Mystery solved.

Enough for tonight. Up early tomorrow to visit a 17th century palace - an amalgamation of Seljuk, Ottoman, Georgian, Persian, and Armenian. It is 2.5 hours away and the minibus leaves at 7. Fortunately I can get breakfast early at my hotel.



Sheryl Shapiro is a freelance writer and photographer based in Boulder, CO.