The Journey series
This weeks Mustard Seed begins to recount how my meagre budget stretched from the Iranian border all the way to Vancouver, BC.
According to the plan my sister and I conceived before leaving home, our van was our means of transportation for a meandering round trip from London to Iran, our lodgings along the way, and the bank in which the funds to see us home from London were locked. Those plans changed. My sister sat safely home, our van sat abandoned in Iran, and I sat on a rock barely free of Iran.
I took stock of my assets – a small satchel of clothes and toiletries, $365 US currency, and my wits. Even if I could afford them, there were no taxis, bus terminals, train stations or airports anywhere near the Gurbulak border crossing. There was also nowhere within miles to find food or shelter. Staying put was not an option. That left two alternatives, walk or hitchhike. Walking did not preclude hitchhiking so I walked, sticking out my thumb each time I heard a vehicle approach from behind. I walked until well after dark before anyone stopped.
I greeted the transport truck driver with one of the two Turkish words I knew, merhaba – hello. I have no idea what his long reply meant. I did understand the gesture he finally offered for me to board. I used my other Turkish word, tesekur – thank you. Once underway I asked, "Istanbul?"
He shook his head and replied, "Ankara."
Ankara was about three-quarters of the way to Istanbul and, I reasoned, offered better prospects for continuing my journey than did the middle of nowhere. As we went along he learned I spoke English and only two words in Turkish. I learned his two words of English – no English. I introduced myself with gestures and he replied in kind that his name was Ahmet. Completely disregarding our language barrier, he spoke non-stop as the truck rumbled on. He would often peer over with a look that was clearly a search for any sign I might have understood his rambling. Undeterred, he continually pointed out the window at one thing or another and, I suppose, explained something about whatever he had pointed to. All I could do was nod. He had a stash of sandwiches under his seat from which he'd draw and share one occasionally. We'd stop for gas and he'd return with two coffees. I'd offered to pay but he'd decline.
The next evening we pulled in behind a warehouse. "Ankara," Ahmet said with a big smile and a degree of finality.
I thanked him and attempted to exit. He shook his head, waved his hand, and patted the dash. I understood he wished me to stay in the truck. I didn't have any urgent plans so I waited. Ahmet disappeared into the warehouse for several minutes before returning with another man. He motioned for me to come out. Ahmet introduced Deniz and, nodding, said, "Istanbul."
"Merhaba, Deniz," I said as we shook hands.
Deniz patted his chest with both hands. "I Istanbul," he said. Ahmet motioned for me to follow Deniz.
Deniz had a bright red truck with yellow flames painted around the grill and blue pompoms strung across inside the top of the windshield. There were lace curtains, tied with tasseled cords, bunched up in the corners. Pictures of, I assume, his family were plastered to the dash, sun visors, and roof of the cab. The austerity of Ahmet's truck hadn't struck me until I found myself amidst the adornments of Deniz'. I was sure the frilly bits were his wife's contribution. I found myself contemplating the décor of Deniz' cab in contrast to the sandwiches under Ahmet's seat.
Deniz played Turkish music over the radio and sang along in a not unpleasant voice as he drove. We stopped once for gas. He too returned with a second coffee for me, again refusing reimbursement. Despite the strong Turkish coffee and rather lively tunes, my fatigue overtook me. Deniz shook me awake in Istanbul outside the bus terminal. We shook hands firmly. He smiled and waved as I got out. I made it to Istanbul. I was back in Europe without even the smallest dent in my budget.
"Tesekur, Deniz," I said. I also offered another silent tesekur to Ahmet.
Next week: Bus Trip.