Saturday Breakfast in Gaziantep

A wonderful family from Idlib province hosted me for breakfast this morning. There was also خبز, çay, and Syrian coffee of course.

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A knock at the door

Today, I woke up groggily around 10:00am. There was a knock at the door.

There was a man in plain clothes. He asked if there were any Syrians in the apartment. He asked me where I was from and I told him.

He can’t speak English, so he goes to leave. I asked him his name, in Turkish, “Adın ne?”

He doesn’t tell me, but instead flashes an ID  –“I’m polis.” And leaves. Already strange days in Gaziantep.

 

Snow

“Even if you did believe in God, it would make no sense to believe alone. You’d have to believe in him the same way the poor do; you’d have to become one of them. It’s only by eating what they eat, living where they live, laughing at the same jokes, and getting angry whenever they do that you can believe in their God.”

Orhan Pamuk’s Snow takes us to Kars, a ‘small but beautiful’ city in Turkey’s northeast, where the politics of the headscarf intersect with exiles, revolutionaries, poets, assassins, and paramours. The protagonist Ka is the poet, an atheist among devouts, and following a high-profile assassination (is there another kind?) of a school teacher, the city becomes an island by will of a blizzard.

I woke yesterday to a different Gaziantep. School had been cancelled and children were outside playing as emerged from the grogfog. And like in the novel, the snow kept falling, throughout the day and into the night.

The book received a lot of attention. Some of the characters were straddling a line, larger-than-life (or were they caricatures?), politically motivated with a flair for exposition (or were they caricatures?), dramatic personalities (etc).

The book, laboured in its pace, surely was more artful in its arc in the original Turkish. But my host this morning, fluent and read up, told me nay, and that she did not think much of Pamuk (“We have much better writers… but its all about PR.” She did recommend I take the twenty-four hour train out to Kars one day, as she had, to see the beautiful city for myself.

When I got to the gym Hassan, the owner, always with a wry smile, was wearing a Canadian-style toque (with pom-pom). There was football on television and heaps of snow on the pitch. I took çay with some of the lads from Aleppo at Sanko — the mall was unusually desolate.

Trondheim, Norway was clear and the hills of Ankara were snowbare, but the snow fell on Gaziantep, Aleppo, and Hama.

The poet Ka submerges in a Lear-esque madness — on account of a woman, a lust, an eros, of nostalgia, of lifeforce — his mind races past logic. He takes big risks in heated haste.

I hope to avoid this in white Gaziantep.

A period of Aleppo’s history ended. Russia’s ambassador was assassinated at an art gallery on live television. I watched six young Syrians pantomime in Gaziantep’s city theatre. The first twenty-four hours back in Turkey.

A young Spaniard queue-jumped me at Sabiha-Gokçen by chatting a pair of Parisian Lebanese women into submission, then, some hours later, tells me on the tarmac bus to the midnight flight to Gaziantep he just “wants to help, to get medicine to people from Aleppo.” You’ll have plenty of work. He doesn’t speak Arabic or Turkish and he “doesn’t really have connections.” He was thinking Kilis. While I was thinking of Ben Taub and Homage to Catalonia (maybe the cap), I should have been searching myself.

A Turk saw me traipsing through the crisp night and offered a ride I declined. At two in the morning I knocked a door opened. Adnan, beardthicker, heated up the lahmacun. Same shit, different dates, the update.

The pieces that were here before, those seven first-person testimonies, will remain here. More is coming and the plan is often.