From the Marmara to the Aegean.

October 14, 2017

 

I had a flight to catch at 8:05 PM, this was the big day, the day of my move out of Istanbul,the megalopolis to Ayvalik, the village. I love Istanbul, in a way I miss it already but Istanbul tends to suck a lot of energy out of you and after four and a half years I am ready to get nourished by my environment instead of drained by it so here I am, on the road.

My knowing of Ayvalık came to me a little less than a year ago. I was sitting at my favorite cafe and Metin, the hairdresser turned waiter, connected me with a woman who was sitting next to me. She is a teacher, engineer and an artist. We were chatting away, I told her how the city was wearing me down and she mentioned Ayvalık to me. She showed me pictures from the internet. That night I could not sleep. The images from that town swirling madly in my mind in a repetitive loop of a dream. Two days later she sent me an email, she had found an artist residency in Ayvalık online that I could apply to. This would be amazing as I could live there free of rent and free to create. I applied, they replied, scheduled an interview, I went to the interview, then… I never heard back from them. Which I thought was quite rude for these high falutin’ dudes in HR and other big time businesses living on the expensive side of town.  From then life went on its crazy way and gradually Ayvalık kind of disappeared from my radar.

Fast forward 6,8 months later and you find me on a back packing holiday along the Aegean Coast in Turkey, fate had it that we landed in Ayvalık. The first night the dizzying dreams came to visit me again. This time I am facing a wall and I am trying to make a bas-relief; a sort of sculpture that comes out of the walls, Romans and Greeks used to make a lot of those. In the dream I cannot achieve it, and I keep asking over and over: “how can I make this? Who will show me?”

2 days later while walking along the village’s streets. I heard a voice: “ Are you looking for a place to stay?” I turned around, there was a man at a second floor window of one of those typical stone houses.

“No thank you I already have a hotel…” I walked about 10 steps then stopped. “I don’t need a hotel now but I would like to move here”   … I turned around and the man was still there so I walked back and I started to explain to him that I may be looking for a place in the fall – winter… he invited me in to chat. He is a man in his sixties, an artist, trained at Istanbul University in sculpture, he played music for years, he went to India, he is wide awake about the strange ways of our world and is all for kindness and sharing and caring for the earth. We got along great. He lives with his family, his wife and his 11-year-old girl.

Then he said: you want to see the room?  For sure, I replied.  So we walked out of his kitchen into the garden and down a couple of steps into the lower floor. As we walk in, right in front of us is a big, beautiful bas-relief.  I was astounded.. I asked him : “Did you do this?”

“Yes” he replied

“Could you show me how to make this?”

“Yes.” He replied.

I knew then that this was going to be the right place. We chatted some more and agreed on the details and I said “see you in mid-October”

So on October 12th I had a flight on Pegasus Airlines from Istanbul to Edremit. Rebeca kindly helped me carry my massive luggage to the shuttle bus that was going to take me to the airport.  It was slow going through the rush hour traffic.  The bus stopped and admitted a few more passengers, suddenly a row had started in the back of the bus.  Two men, one in a suit, bald and with a voice that had been extinguished by cigarettes and a younger one.  I am always amazed at the frequency of these brawls in Turkey.  The driver separated them, had the old man sit in the front of the bus on the sidekick seat next to him.  The old man and his rusty voice went on and on and on talking endlessly.  We finally got to the airport.  At the airport little things started to slip and slide;  first at the check in machine, the one I tried to use didn’t work, then the second would not read my passport,so after all this I went to the counter to checked in my baggage. My suitcase was 7 kilo overweight.  I had planned for this and thought that by removing the clay I had put in there the bag would be light enough so I started to open my bags right there in the middle of the check in line and I realized that I barely had about 4 kilo of clay… I was madly trying to find the heaviest things out but somehow everything seemed light. I took out my paint tubes, a notebook, I was sweating, trying to be efficient, I was hoping it was enough and closed the suitcase.   After closing the suitcase I realized that in the bag that contained my paint tubes was the knife I had just bought again ( I had to give up the one I had before at a previous security check as I had forgotten I had it with me) so that meant that I had to give it up yet again.  Sigh.  I was trying to keep an eye on everything, my passport, boarding card, bags, guitar… it was a bit hairy.  I put the suitcase back on the scale and I still had 2 kilo overweight.  I gave up and asked how much it would cost and that was 18 lira. I pulled out a 20 lira bill but they only take credit cards so I fumbled in my wallet for the card.  The only remedy to anything in this world it seems; money. When that was done I had to gather my stuff, and while doing that I managed to lose the 20 lira bill I was going to give the cashier.

Thinking of doing the wise thing, I had chosen the ticket option that cost 40 lira more, this option, as the web site congratulates you, should be the” beginning of smart savings.” allowing for a 20 kg piece of check in luggage, a choice of seat and a sandwich;  simit with white cheese (which would cost about 4 lira) I would have done better just paying for the suitcase as now my extra fees added up to 60 lira.

Of course the flight took off late. In the last month I have taken 7 flights and 6 of them have been seriously delayed for one reason or another.  Arriving in Edremit I felt good, I was almost there with one more bus to take.  I should arrive in Ayvalık in about an hour!  Yay! I got my heavy suitcase, loaded my large backpack and guitar on my back and put the small back pack on top of the wheeled suitcase and headed out.  It was about 10 PM an hour late from the scheduled 9 PM.

Looking out all around, there were no busses. I asked the security guard who said to me: There are no buses coming to the airport at this time, they will start back at 8 am tomorrow. And on the road? No buses. He replied. I saw taxis, I asked a driver:

“How much to Ayvalık?”

“100 or 130 tl.”

Ouch… too much money. I desperately looked around for something to appear, a good Samaritan who would share a ride…

Nothing, no one.

“Shit.” I mumbled. Everyone was quickly leaving the premises all smiles grabbing and hugging their relatives and family members.  Soon the place was deserted. I could now hear the crickets, feel the cool breeze and the silence wrapping itself around me.

“OK… lets get comfortable then. I grabbed the sleeveless vest that the beautiful Alex had just given me a day ago. My hoodie, my scarf… I set up my backpack so I could sit on it so not to be on the cold cement and thought : “that is going to be a long night”. I then wrote a text message to Levend, my host in Ayvalık, to let him know not to wait for me. I didn’t give him the details as I didn’t want to worry him.

There were two taxis still sitting there, with their little 4 cylinder engines running and emitting their distinctive clicking sound. The driver was outside and looking at me.

“He’s waiting for me to give up and pay.” I thought. “but I will not give up. I can live for days on this taxi money. I can wait it out.”

Finally he got fed up with waiting and he walked up to me.

“Araba gelir mi?” (there is a car coming for you?)

“Nope” I said. And then he asked again and I said no again.

“I can make it 100 tl for you.” he proposed.

“No thank you. I will wait.” Then he said:

“There is a dolmuş (mini-bus) coming on the main road. You have to walk up to the asphalt, it will take you to Ayvalık.”

“Oh really?” I said. He then left. I pondered staying here with the certainty that a bus will come, albeit in 10 hours from now, or heading up to the road with its uncertainties. I was in no position to wander around with all these bags and weight to carry. I had to make the right decisions or I would risk a really tiring adventure or even failure… but there should be a dolmuş, for sure! Right?

I took my phone and sent Levend a second text message telling him that I was on my way there but I didn’t know what time I would arrive and not to worry. I loaded all the stuff on my back and headed out in the night.  The wheels of the suitcase making my coming known to the world, I walked up to the main road which was  about 500 meters to the road. There I chose a spot in the light and waited. Big trucks flying by, some cars, it’s pretty quiet. I was thinking that in the end, taking the bus from Istanbul to Ayvalik may seem longer but it may be the easiest way to travel, at least you get from downtown to downtown… none of this weighing bags-charging fees for extra weight-having to go through 2 or 3 security checks-disrobe or be patted indiscriminately-losing things at security checks-having to deal with airlines that are always late-having to book a room in a hotel and being told you’ll be reimbursed only to be told that they are not responsible and leaving you 200 Euros poorer-Oh and also pay grossly overpriced food while prisoner at the airport like paying 4 dollars for a bottle of water that costs 50 cents… and on and on… with the bus, you get on with the food you wish to carry and the suitcases you can carry.  They are luxurious, quiet and fast. Unless I cross one of the oceans, I think I will stick to the roads in the future.

So there I am around 10:30 PM in the dark night on a Turkish highway waiting for a miracle dolmuş to appear. Instead of that a woman appeared. Long coat, scarf on her head and some bags in her hands. I decided to approach.

“Are there any dolmuş coming at this time?”

She dove into a very fast paced information packed reply in Turkish that left me only understanding Midnight and 1 AM and not much else. Teşekkur ederim I answered (thank you) and I waited next to her thinking she was waiting for a dolmuş. Not long after that, a brown small sedan pulled over, she opened the door and got in. I heard something about the woman (me) standing there and going to Ayvalık and other things I didn’t understand.

“Come in!” the man said and when I hesitated they both said “Gel! Gel!” so I grabbed all my stuff piece by heavy piece stuffed it all in the car and sat in. They were heading to Burhaniye as we were speeding down the road I thought maybe it would be better to stay on the road and catch the dolmuş.  I have memories of having to hike back to the highway from downtown and that can be a long way on foot.   I said

“Maybe it would be better if I stayed on the highway…” as he was turning off the highway.

“Hayır! Hayır! Hayır!” was his reply. ( No! No! No!) Knowing how the Turks have a tremendous fear of bad things happening to women who are alone, I could not argue. They dropped me off at the bus stop right in the center of town. Another woman was waiting there. She was cross-eyed and at first I had wondered if that was going to be a bizarre encounter but no, she was just a regular person waiting for the mini bus. Her bus showed up about 30 minutes later. I looked at my phone and saw that it was almost out of charge. Damn, it always seem to work this way when you need them. It rang. I answered.

“So you have arrived by now?”

“No, I am waiting in the middle of Burhaniye”

“What???”

I told him the whole story above.

“Where are you?” I told him where I was.  He went on to search the internet then informed me:

“There is an otogar (bus station) 750 meters away from you. There is a bus at 3 AM and it is 30 tl to Ayvalık. ”

“Hmm I will wait here a little longer, the mini-bus should show up by midnight.” It was 11:30 or so. A little while after a dolmuş showed up, I asked the driver:

“When is the dolmuş for Ayvalık coming?”

“There is no domus for Ayvalık coming.” He said unequivocally.

“Oh. Thank you.” Otogar it is then, i picked up my things and started in the direction of the otogar. As I was crossing the road a young man was walking by, I asked him if I was indeed in the right direction.

“Oh, no! It is neither this or that way, it’s over here and maybe 1.5 or 2 km away.”

“Oh.” Then he started to talk really fast and I could not understand him. Finally I got that he was proposing to walk with me to the otogar. So we set out in the night. All the streets were deserted, so quiet, when I looked up the sky was illuminated with stars. I started to think that this was all not so bad.  I find that if I look at nature, any situation is never as bad as the mind makes it.

“So what is your work? Are you married? How old are you? Where are you from? When did you move to Turkey?” As we walked he asked all those questions. I would reply and then there would be silence. I started to ask him more or less the same questions back, to help time go by. His name was Ibrahim, he was an engineer, he was 25 years old. When he asked my age he just stared at me.

“You don’t look like it.”  He said.

“I know.”  I answered. We took a break by one of the fountains and my phone rang. It was my friend in Istanbul.

“Where are you now?” he asked and I told him and passed the phone to my guide. They chatted a bit and he gave me the phone back.

“Call me when you are at the otogar.” he said and we hung up.  We resumed our walk in the dark, quiet night.  Suddenly it appeared in the night out of a turn, a brightly lit building. The bus station.

“Thank you so much I said. It was a small thing but it was really important to me.” He was looking at me with a strange look. He said I was a strange woman. I smiled and said “I know.” The lack of ability to communicate via words was stopping me to say something appropriate for goodbyes.

“Thank you” I said again. We hugged and I went my way not looking back.

Inside everything was brightly lit by very white light, each of the desks of the main bus companies manned by one person. My phone rang again, my friend it was.

“So where are you now?”

“At the bus station.”

“I looked online and there are no tickets at this time, maybe you should go and ask them.”

“Yeah but it’s difficult to be understood.”

“Go to them and give them the phone.” which I did. We talked like this to 4 different company reps, finally the last one said that I might be able to get on at 1 AM if the driver agrees to make an unscheduled stop on his route for 10 or 15 lira. So the man told me I could leave my bags and relax while I waited. There was a small cafe, I went there as I was ravenous. He started to make toast. I got some ayran (yogurt drink) and waited. It looks like his grill was cold as it was taking forever to get ready.

Suddenly the man from the company came to me and said : Lets go!

“I have toast coming!”

“OK, take your time and get it!” and to the man in the kitchen I said:“ I must go!!”

“I’ll put it in a ‘to go’ package!” I paid him and ran to the bus. They took my luggage and put it under and I climbed in and we immediately got on the road. Oh my, it looks like I will make it after all! I ate my grilled cheese with the appetite of a lion. Then found an electrical outlet on the bus, plugged my laptop and plugged my phone, which had gone dead in the mean time, to charge. Then I called my friend again:

“I am on the bus!”

We quickly made our way to Ayvalık’s bus station. I asked the driver how much for the ride? He said 15. Do you have change? I asked as all I had on me was a 10 lira and a 100 lira bill.

“What do you have?” I told him. “Oh give me 10! it doesn’t matter!” he said a bit roughly. I gave him and got my stuff. I looked around , there was one taxi and one man had gotten in. “how much to Ayvalık?” I asked.

“Oh my friend is coming, I have a fare now…” and he took off. I went inside the station to see if anyone could tell me about the dolmuş.

“Yes, yes, there is one, he’s down there, waiting..” I went back out, walked in the direction of the mini-bus and a man was waiting there, I asked him if he was waiting for the mini-bus.

“No, my wife is coming. You can ride with us.”

“Oh! Thank you.”

They dropped me off at the Ptt (post office) Which I knew was close to my destination. I grabbed all the stuff and started to walk one more time in the deserted streets. I found the right door pretty quickly. Levend opened and we hugged. I had made it.

 

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