Iwas greeted by the mountains; heaped hills of verdant green and smoky blue, etched by the white-walled, red-roofed ropes of small villages. It is unexpectedly beautiful here in the Balkans and it seemed a perfect fairyland to my travel-weary eyes when I stumbled off the plane yesterday afternoon. My exhausted friends and I were greeted by the sparkle of spring sun and the hugs of new and old friends. After almost forty-eight hours of nonstop travel (with a paltry four hours of sleep) we had finally reached a place of rest. It is night now, and I have just arrived home from a day spent wandering the delightfully old and very cobbled streets of this city. Our friends have been generous with their time and car, ferrying us all over the city for an unforgettable tour. We’ve feasted on cheese pastry with sour yogurt, bought tiny hand woven shoes at a bazaar and wandered up to a crumbling fortress to watch a storm amble in over the mountains. It’s been a welcome respite after five very crazy days.
Our time in the middle east was an experience that eludes description at points; it was hot and bright and barren, rich in wonderful people even while confirming every imagination I’ve ever had of the wild desert. In spite of the occassional oasis with its sudden shock of fuchsia flowers and palm trees, it was the people, in my mind, who brought such richness to the place. First of all, the families we visited; faithful and dear, full of great ideas and persistent hope. It was a privelege to speak to them, encourage them in their ideas and work. We were a small, cozy group who enjoyed great discussions over hummus and pita (it is indescribably delicious) during the three days we spent together. They will be in our thoughts so often in the coming days.
Secondly, the native people themselves were generous with friendship and laughter and we made some crazy friends on our long taxi drives to and from the city. In between maneuvering the outrageous roads (or rather, the outrageous drivers) we had some fascinating discussions with our drivers about their customs, beliefs and general outlook on life. Hidayat in particular had us in stitches as he braved traffic to get us in some shopping at the “Blue Souk” in our last available hour. I wish we had hours and some Turkish coffee to continue in talking with Hidayat, even in our few minutes he widened our perspectives and gave us a glimpse into his thought that changes the way I will think about many things in the future.
As for the camels, while not exactly friendly, they obliged us with a rollicking good ride. We slipped into the pink dawn on our second day to clamber onto the humps of some very obliging camels. Roped together (so that none of us would end up on a wild gallop across the sand dunes), they had elaborate get ups of saddles that sat us just high enough for them to nibble at our toes as we swung along. Our guide didn’t speak a word of English, but our garrulous driver had fully informed us to watch out for lizards, other wild camels and the “very poisonous” snakes who left lace-like ribbons of tracks in the red sand. It was a ride to remember. I felt like Miss Rumphius, right down to the nearly plunging headfirst over the camel’s ears when he knelt to let me off. Exciting.
Tomorrow we will begin a new round of talks with the dear people here. This is a place of contrasts; colorful markets and laughing people set in a scene of communist era blockies and precarious old buildings. There is tradition and poverty, richness of history and bitterness of old grudges. I feel like I am walking through dream scapes at times, unable to fully process everything I am seeing. I am storing it away to be considered; the beauty, the cultures, the souls of friends and native peoples. For now, I will bid you goodnight from this sort of travel journal. For now, the cold has come and I will take my own advice, curling up to take a bit of joy before the morning with its new adventures.
Goodnight to you, my friends!