A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Being a Peace Pilgrim, or, An Explorer searching for the Mythical Fountain of Peace

The Cake Worthy of a Sultan

NOTE: The following is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance of the characters in this story to living persons is merely in the wild ımagination of the reader.

Ingrid and I are in Constantinople, in the kitchen of our most generous host.
Though we are merely pilgrims from lands far to west, our host has given us an apartment worthy of a Sultan.
She has also given us dates, fıgs, cakes, and an assortment of foods to sustain us before we continue our respective pilgrimages. Ingrid will be traveling with the caravans on the Silk Route to the Celestial Empire, while I head southward to the Holy Land. Though I am traveling to the Holy Land, I do not travel with any crusading order, as I follow the injunction to love my enemy.
But presently, in the kitchen of our host, I am taking advantage of our host's kindness by filling myself with dates. Though there are servants, Ingrid is tidying up. Her movements suggest that I am in her way.
She spies an ornate cake, also worthy of a Sultan, that has been left exposed to a few desultory, wintertime ants.
" Are we going to do something with this cake?" she asks testily, " Or are we going to leave it out forever for the ants to devour?"
"We are going to share it with the ants," I say, as I am annoyed by the tone of her voice. My response, of course, is meant to intimidate.
"Do you not think that when our generous host arrives, she will be offended by our having left a cake worthy of a Sultan out for the ants to devour?"
"Then I will throw the cake out," I say sharply.
"Do you not think it is an insult to our generous host to throw out a cake worthy of a Sultan?"
"Then I will eat the cake," I shout mockingly, as I take a knife to cut a slice of the cake peppered with three or four sleepy ants. "You see? It is neither satisfactory for you that I leave the cake, or dispose of the cake, so I will simply eat it all myself!" I say this with my mouth already full of cake.
"A curse upon you!" says Ingrid.
"I am eating the cake! I have solved this weighty problem!" I shout, opening my mouth to show Ingrid the cake, as she disappears into her bedchamber.

Peace Pilgrim with an Attitude

I am walking for peace, yet I have had personal struggles on this walk that don't reflect the peace message that I carry.  I have had  many doubts;  I am at times bitter or angry or lost.  Get to know me, and you'll find more restlessness than calm. So what kind of a peace pilgrim am I anyway? What peace pilgrim doesn't possess a palpable inner peace?

Take, for example, the Peace Pilgrim www.peacepilgrim.org who constantly radiated joy and peace while walking for decades around the United States. Take the anonymous Russian pilgrim from the 19th century classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, who, with nothing more than a rucksack filled with bread, wandered happily through Russia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_of_a_Pilgrim
Better yet, take two fellow peace pilgrims; Thomas, the peace pilgrim whom I met in a village on the way to Istanbul, and Stephan, who is also walking for Masterpeace.org.
Both of these men are like happy Taoists, in harmony with the universe, and flowing effortlessly like water around obstacles that most of us butt heads against. While they both have destinations, they seem to be wandering aimlessly, immersed in the present moment. During my brief meeting with Thomas, I sensed that what we have in common, our walking for peace, was overshadowed by the great difference between us; "being peace", in the case of Thomas, and "wanting peace" in my own case. And though I haven't met Stephan personally, what he communicates to me and the world through Facebook is joy, peace, and equanimity.

Not that I don't ever find peace. I insist on taking some time during the day to center down, to sit in silence and to pay attention to the Light within. I sometimes find myself in the present moment, in harmony with all around me, and seeing unexpected difficulties to be on equal terms with pleasant surprises.
But most often I see this walk as a challenge. I am too often thinking about basic survival, long term and short, asking: Where will I sleep tonight to keep out of the rain? Can I get food and water here? Where can I find internet? How can I get a little more money? How will I get to Palestine? What will I do once I get to Cairo?

The Competitive Drive

I often walk through driving rain because I have set a goal for the day that I want to reach, even if the goal is arbitrary. I left a host in Sofia knowing I would be camping in -20 degrees C because I felt I had to move on ("Must... keep...moving!") I went through the Balkans in the winter because I felt that following the coast would be too much of a holiday after the relatively easy summer that I had in the north of Italy.
Even in the north of Italy, though, I pushed hard through the heat to get somewhere I really didn't have to be.
Sometimes I feel I am competing, not with other people but with myself. Can I break my record for distance in a day? For consecutive days walking? For kilometers in a month? For number of days wilderness camping  without a host?  I sometimes feel I am better suited to be a 19th century explorer than a peace pilgrim.

A Student of Peace

Many of the people I have met who know what my walk is about seem to expect of me an example of peace that they can look up to. Some of them seem to be a little disappointed when they find otherwise. They never show their disappointment in a tangible way; they remain as hospitable and supportive as ever, but their initial questions, as from a student to a teacher, often end in words of advice, as from a teacher to a student.

Well, I am a student.

I have already been a student of my hosts, fellow pilgrims, Quakers, peace activists... I have learned from those who suffered in war and those who are making efforts at reconciliation... I am daily taking lessons from  friends and people I meet.

There is a Buddhist prayer that I find helpful:

When someone whom I have helped
With much hope and expectation
Hurts me, deeply and unjustifiably,
May I regard hım as my sublime master.

Of course, I interpret the role of sublime master to be one who tests your equanimity, and not one whom you obey. And I have expanded the definition of what makes a sublime master to anyone who riles me.
So when the little boys in a frozen village in Bulgaria threw snow balls at the man walking for peace, the man walking for peace, after an initial pause and feeling of being the master, ready to teach the students a thing or two, relaxed, and thought, thank you, you sublime little masters.
Okay, it didn't really happen that way. I stopped angrily, glaring at them, and I nearly slipped on the ice. They laughed, and I stomped off cursing under my breath.
The cursing may have been loud, now that I think about it.
Nevertheless, sublime masters are what they were. Shouldn't I have laughed with them?

Anyway, henceforth, rather than calling myself a peace pilgrim, I'll call myself an explorer, searching for the Fountain of Peace.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Running, Walking, Sorting Things Out in Istanbul; and Another Appeal for Help

Why Run When You can walk?

My host, Bigem, invites me to go for a walk last Sunday morning in a park north of Istanbul. When we arrive, there are scores of competitive runners warming up for either a 4, 14, or 28k race through the woods.
"Do you like to run?" she asks.
"Well...sometimes, " I say. "But not often," I don't say.
"Would you like to run in the race?" she asks.
I haven't run for excercise in years. I am wearing baggy jeans and 13 euro hiking boots. I have been smoking again for several months now. In fact, I am smoking as we speak.
So naturally I reply, "Sure, I'll run."
We walk to the registration booth where Bigem asks whether it is to late to sign up for the race. It is. I conceal a sigh of relief, and we walk some ten kilometers instead, keeping out of the way of the occasional passing runner. It is muddy and hilly through the woods, but I enjoy the walk. I enjoy the absence of the  backpack, and the absence of thoughts of basic survival that accompany my usual walk. And most of all I enjoy Bigem's company.

Why Walk when You can Take Time to Sort Things Out?

Bigem has invited me, Inge, and Inge's friend, Sofia, to stay in her apartment in the north of Istanbul until the 20th of February. In the meantime she has been living with her parents, and she will soon be having a holiday in the south of Turkey.
The night I moved in, I mentioned to her that I needed some groceries; some bread, some spaghetti, and something to put on it. She brought me to the grocery store and we left with a full grocery cart to supply me for a week. Then, when Inge and Sofia arrived a few days later, Bigem did it again. For the very first time in nearly 15 months I am hard pressed to eat everything before it spoils. I haven't felt really hungry in days, as I eat constantly. I hope to stay here for the time Bigem has given me. I need the rest, and I need the time to sort things out as my walk is getting a little more complicated now.

Many Thanks, Again

Meanwhile, once again, many thanks to the people who have sent me money, to those who have hosted me, treated me to a meal or to those who offer encouragement or help in other ways. I have enough money now to last me a month, or longer if I stay at Bigem's apartment and keep consuming her food.
Having left Portugal with 235 euros, I can say without any hesitation that the kindness and generosity of both friends and strangers have got me to Istanbul. My work in return is to keep walking, and to keep speaking for peace (my irrational belief in world peace is my faith) ; to do all I can to deliver my petitions, and to continue on to Cairo for Masterpeace.org.

Another Appeal for Help

And now for another appeal for help, not so much for my day to day living at this time, but for a predicament I would like to share with you.
First of all, my visa for Turkey gives me a total of 90 days in this amazing land of beauty, generosity and history. I have already spent nearly 30 days here. If I am unable to obtain a one year residence visa, I will, by February, have to start marching again, straight south to the port of Alanya where I would hope to catch a ferry to Cyprus, walk to the Greek city of Limassol, and catch a plane to Tel Aviv to continue my walk. Of course, once in Alanya, if not before, I would need money to get to Israel.
On the other hand, if I can get a residence visa, I would have time to walk towards Syria. On the way, if not here in Istanbul, I would try to get a visa for Syria and Jordan, enabling me to walk all the way to Egypt. This is the course I would rather take, as I would then truly be walking to Egypt. I had thought that a Syrian visa to walk through that country from Turkey would be impossible, but the Syrian consulate here has assured me that "it is possible." While I am concerned about the fighting there, I am also aware that it is possible to choose a route to avoid it. As in other places deemed hostile by the Western world, I am sure the people of Syria are as hospitable, if not more hospitable than the average European.

In either scenario, whether with or without a Turkish residency visa, I will need money. Again, without the residency visa I will need money for a ferry and flight to Israel from Turkey and Cyprus after a two month march from Istanbul. This will cost something like 180 euros, not including daily expenses.
To get a Turkish residency visa, and to obtain a Syrian visa, I will need more; probably something like 600 euros. To the best of my knowledge, this would cover the cost of the visas and the money in a bank account I would need to process the visas.
For now, though, the 300 euros I would need for the Turkish residency visa would be enough to get me started towards Syria.

So once again, if you would like to contribute in a big way to a drop in the ocean for peace, you can contact me at  la_peripherie@yahoo.com, and type donation for the subject of the message. You can then specify whether you would like to donate the money towards daily living expenses (which I don't really need right now) or for visas or travel expenses. If the latter, I won't use that money for any other purpose. And if I can collect enough, I will do my best to carry my message for peace through Syria.
Please keep in mind that the amounts I have stated are estimates; if I collect more than necessary and you do not wish the money to go towards daily expenses, I will send back what I don't need. If I cannot collect enough for the visas, I hope to collect at least enough to get to Israel via Cyprus.
Thank you, and Peace!

Monday, January 21, 2013

In Istanbul: A Sıgn; Centering Down; Remembering Hrant Dink

A Sign to Sit Still for Awhile

Just a few nights ago I was camping on the outskirts of Istanbul, in a little green gorge surrounded above by small, ramshackle homes and automobile garages. The water in the little brook that flowed past our campsite was  dirty grey, and it stank a bit. I also stank a bit. As always when camping, in the morning it was time to move on.
Today I am in the north part of the city, in a large apartment that I have to myself, stocked with the food my host has bought for me. I now have all  the modern comforts of life. I can take all the hot showers I want, for example. And it seems I will be here for a while, thanks to the generosity of my host, Bigem.

An anonymous  reader of one of my recent posts, responding to my asking for a sign as to what I should do next, asked in return, "What good is a sign if you are blind?"
An offer to stay for an extended period in Istanbul is surely a sign to sit still for awhile. I am not so blind as to reject this offer.
But this anonymous commenter is right; while I am here I will have to improve my vision.
As the blind man said in Mark 8:24, "I see men, but they look like trees."

Sitting Still; to Watch TV or to Center Down?

Inge, in the center of Istanbul, has told me she needs to "center down" for a bit. In order to center down, she may be leaving the center of Istanbul for a little while.
Inge has picked up this Quaker expression for finding a calm, quiet and receptive state of mind from my occasional exclamations that "I gotta center down!", usually made when I am in an agitated state, which is far too often for a so called "peace pilgrim."
I must be careful to use this time I've been given to center down.

Remembering Hrant Dink

While staying with my first hosts in Istanbul, where I liked to sit on the balcony watching the ships going through the Bosporus, we all decided to join the annual walk through the city to remember Hrant Dink.
Our hosts, Akşa and Erçan, met with friends of theirs in Taksim Square, and the lot of us caught the Metro to the street where thousands had gathered to remember the Turkish-Armenian journalist who was shot dead 6 years ago by a young Turkish nationalist. Dink had often criticised the Turkish government for denying the past genocide of Armenians. This criticism was aimed at reconciling Turks and minority Armenians, but resulted in his murder by a young man who opposes such reconciliation.
There is good evidence, however, that this man did not act alone; that some in the Turkish government may have been responsible for his murder; so many, if not most of those attending the walk were there not only to remember Dink, but to demand justice.
As we walked with the crowd towards the office building where Dink had edited for the newspaper Agos, they chanted, "We are all one, we are all Armenians." Dink had been shot in front of the same building, and thousands gathered there to hear speeches and demands for justice from speakers in the offices above. The rain began to fall in time for a moving violin solo, which for me said it all. A man who had worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation had been murdered by those who are threatened by the prospects of peace. But those who want peace were the ones all around me, standing in the rain and cold, and they represented hope in the face of the terrible crime that happened here.

Meanwhile, as this violin played and the rain fell, I was for a minute or two, centered down.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

On to Istanbul: Part Three

Walking to Asia (Well, Close Enough)

Yesterday travel pal Inge had to get to Istanbul´s cheap flight airport on the other side of the city to meet her friend, Sofia, who was flying in from Belgium. I decided to accompany her as far as the ferry across the Bosporus.
Technically speaking, Asia begins on the other side of the straits, so once the ferry had landed I was proud to announce that I had walked from Portugal to Asia.
"But you didn´t walk, you took a boat," said Inge.
However, as I had walked from the port side of the ferry to its starboard side to get a better view of the city,  as far as I was concerned, I had walked to Asia.
Once Inge had caught her bus to the airport, I thought I would celebrate walking from Portugal to Asia by having a coffee. I was shocked when the bill came, which amounted to 5 Turkish Lire, or more than 2 euros, almost half my daily budget. After all those teas and coffees that were on the house during our walk to Istanbul, that is to say, on the European side of Turkey, I decided to catch the next ferry straight back to Europe.

The Rousing Speech that Became a Whimper

Meanwhile, going back to day 9 of our 12 day walk to Istanbul...
The past three nights we had spent as guests of a security guard/ tea house owner/ possible doctor, as guests of the City of Saray, and as guests of a small village, the name of which I have forgotten, but no matter, let it represent the typical Turkish village. At least on the European side.
Having gotten spoiled by all of this hospitality, I was resolved to spend this night as someone´s guest as well. No more wılderness camping or sleeping in abandoned houses.
So at the end of the day we headed to a tea house in a rather large village to find our next host.
Unfortunately, we were pretty much ignored in the tea house, and no offers came when I made my signals: walking far, very tired, need a place to sleep.
Outside the tea house we sat down.
"Maybe its because we´re not soaking wet from rain. The past two days we´ve been soaking wet. We don´t look pathetic enough."
Inge said nothing.
So I came up with a plan. Inside the tea house there had been a young man playing cards who had said, "Hello, how are you?", just like that, in English.
I would return to this man and ask him for help. He would be happy to help me in any way he could. I would ask him to get the attention of everyone in the tea house. Once they were all listening, I would make a rousing speech. I would tell them all that Inge and I needed their help, that we had walked very far, that we were very tired, that we needed a place to sleep. I would tell them that their countrymen had been very hospitable to us, and that we were grateful. I would tell them that I was sure they would help us in the same way their countrymen had.
The young man who spoke English would translate, and we would be offered a place to sleep, if not several places to sleep.
While I didn´t tell Inge my plan, I did say, "I´m going in there to find us a warm place to sleep."
She smiled just a little.
I strutted in and went to the young man who spoke English. He had just been dealt a hand of cards, but  hadn´t picked them up yet. Perfect timing.
I said, "You speak English, right?"
He shook his head no and picked up his hand.
"I really need your help," I said.
He and his three friends continued their game, ignoring me.
I scanned the tea house, and unlike recent teahouse we had been in, everyone was minding their own business, which is a bad thing when you are looking for a place to sleep.
I returned outside.
"Well?" said Inge.
I shook my head, no.
"It´s getting dark," she said.
In desperation I walked to the place closest to the tea house. It was a butcher. I almost went in to ask for a place to sleep, but some instinct told me not to ask a butcher for a place to sleep.
I walked to the next place, a small diner. I entered it meekly, went to the man behind the counter, and did my signs: walking, tired, need a place to sleep.
I was sure he would be angry or indifferent as he was busy. Instead, he nodded yes, and called over a young lady who spoke English. I explained in English what I normally explain in sign language, but a bit more eloquently.
"We can help you," she said. "There is a wedding hall you can sleep in."
And so we had another roof over our heads.

Camping in the Suburbs

Let it suffice to say that the following night we kept it simple and camped, even though we had a village in sight.
Our final night before reaching Istanbul, we were already on its outskirts, in an industrial zone/ suburb. I tried the mosque, asking about its misafir hane, and we were sent to the next mosque with a name. People at the next mosque sent us somewhere else down the road to find the man whose name we had. as it was getting complicated, and getting dark, I asked a tea house owner, using my signs, which you should know by now if you have been keeping up with this blog. However, for the newcomers: walking far, very tired, need a place to sleep.
The teahouse owner treated us to tea, and I am grateful for this, but we still needed a place to sleep.

I will now digress by writing about the navigational skills of Inge, my travel buddy.
Much of my walk, until Inge took over as navigator, had been a sort of fumbling in the dark regarding navigation. I had once found myself on a wild boar path in the thorny wilderness when I was supposed to be on a nice secondary road, for example. Or in an industrial zone junkyard with big aggressive junkyard dogs snarling at me, being held at bay with my walking stick (really just a stick for holding dogs at bay) when I was supposed to be on a quiet country lane.
It had only taken Inge a few days, way back in Slovenia, to realize my navigational ineptitude when she took over as navigator with my consent.
And now, in an industrial suburb outside of Istanbul, with the sun going down, having failed to find a roof over our heads, Inge took over.
"I know where there is a green zone to camp in," she said.
We turned left down an industrial backstreet I never would have turned down had I been alone. We passed  small dilapidated industrial zone homes. We passed open sewage. But then we found a green zone; a place to camp undisturbed in the industrial outskirts of a city with 13.5 million people.
If I hadn´t argued with Inge about our going a few euros over the budget that day, we would have slept as peacefully as if we were in a country meadow.

So what Now?

So the next day we walked into Istanbul, and we found our hosts, and we settled into an apartment overlooking the Bosporus.
And as I sat on the balcony watching the ferries and ships and seagulls I looked at the hills to the south, across the Sea of Marmara, thinking I should be headed in that direction as soon as possible. Egypt is due south from Istanbul, and a coffee in Istanbul, at least on the Asian side, is half the day´s budget. I cannot delay, I thought.
But then I thought of Thomas, the peace pilgrim that we had met in a small village a few days earlier.
To find a little inner peace I would have to slow down, he had said.
Yet I am restless.
On the other hand, I could use a break, having walked to Asia from Portugal, never mind the ferry.
But then I can´t spend any money. What does one do in a city like Istanbul if one cannot spend a little money? Walk around? Sit around? Write a blog all day?

After Valencia, some 9 months ago, I bought a harmonica when I was down to my last 30 euros thinking I would have to busk for money. Since that time I haven´t had to busk, but I have learned one song. Maybe I could play that one song over and over to earn money?

Anyway, I will at least take enough time here to think, to wait for a sign. I shall not panic, charging southward. Instead, I shall meditate a bit.
And I  won´t order any more coffee.

Friday, January 18, 2013

On to Istanbul, Part Two

I Wasn´t Always a Quaker, You Know

This morning after my Turkish coffee with cookies, a breakfast I have adopted combining Turkish and Northern Italian custom, I sat on the balcony of our host´s apartment overlooking the Bosporus. The view reminded me of my navy life when I was young for three reasons: fırst, it is a view that is similar to the many wintertime Mediterranean ports of call we made, with the freighters, tugs and ferries, the seagulls, the stiff breeze, gray sky and low city skyline; secondly, the ship I was on back then, the USS Tattnall, a guided missile destroyer (I have always admired the honesty of calling such ships "destroyers"), had made an historic visit to a Black Sea port of the Soviet Union in 1975, two years before I joined it, and it would have had to pass the body of water I was now looking at; and third, while attending a navy course to be an Enlisted Intelligence Assistant, we had been told there were American intelligence gatherers living in apartments just like this one whose only role was to identify and report on all the ships passing through these waters. I remember that when I´d heard about that, the romantic notions I´d had about intelligence gathering vanished. Istanbul and the Bosporus, I´d thought, would be far more interesting without the intelligence gathering.

Challenge Not Accepted

So there we were, just about a week ago, Inge with her bicycle and I with this monkey on my back containing all my worldy possessions, trudging towards Istanbul with its intelligence gatherers, presumably now more high tech than in 1980. We were still on the rolling plains, though the emphasis was becoming more and more on the word, "rolling" than on "plains". And the rain came down again.
By about 3 pm, as the rain began to come down harder, we were passing another village when I  suggested we try to find a place to stay there.
Inge said, "In three more kilometers we´ll be at another village. We can try that one."
At times Inge likes to "push the envelope" as test pilots used to say.
Rather than accepting her challenge to charge forward, I stumbled and reeled, limping and hunched over. My face may have expressed a readiness to cry. She had pity, and we took the little side road into the village.
Once again, we entered a tea house, hoping for the warmth of its wood stove and of its patrons.
We were immediately rewarded when a man arranged for us to stay in the village´s misafin hana, the place provided by the local mosque for wet and weary pilgrims like us to take refuge.
The room we were given had two sets of bunkbeds, a fıfth bed, a table with chairs and a heater. The luxury before us made us sigh with relief.

The 0630 Wakeup Call

Since starting out from Edirne, our daily morning wakeup call had come from the ubiquitous muezzin´s call to prayer. At times very distant, on this morning the call was quite loud as we were adjacent to the village´s mosque. I have begun the habit of lying in bed, taking in its hauntingly beautiful sound as a short meditation before rising. On this morning I noticed shadows flickering on the wall, and rolled over to see the high flame from Inge´s portable stove in the darkness. She had arisen before the call came, and was warming up the stove to make our coffee before turning up the heat to a small blue flame.
In my groggy state of mind I watched Inge standing there, staring at the flame and otherwise surrounded by darkness. The muezzin´s melodic voice, the flame and Inge´s trancelike attention to the flame gave me the impression that some ancient ritual was taking place. I was absolutely mesmerized by the scene.
Then the call ended, and Inge quickly turned up the heat, put on the water and turned on the lights.
The spell was broken. Another day had begun.

It´s Destiny, but What does it Mean?

I believe in destiny.
On this walk especially, there have been far too many coincidences not to believe in destiny.
The destiny that I believe in, I also believe comes from God. If that makes me a fool, then I am happy to be one.
While staying at our luxury room in the misafin hana in this tiny village between Edirne and Istanbul, a man told us that a German peace pilgrim had stayed there the night before.
Because of the rain the previous day, when he would have moved on, I thought we might catch up to him somewhere on the road. I thought he might be saner than we were, stopping somewhere when the rain came down instead of marching through it.
Sometime around noon, after we had forgotten about the German peace pilgrim, I suggested a break in a village we were passing. At the tea house, once we had told our story, we were told that the very same peace pilgrim was staying in that village´s misafin hana. A man went to fetch him, and after a while he appeared at the terrace of the tea house.
He was about my age, and was wearing snow boots like the ones I had recently gone through Bulgaria with, then given to a man with a horse cart on the plains after I had bought new, 13 euro Turkish- made hiking shoes. I had thought I was crazy to keep walking with heavy, cumbersome snow boots when the snow was far behind. He also had some sort of colorful tassles dangling from his sweater, which gave him the appearance of a Western Tıbetan Buddhist.
The three of us went inside for more tea.

Several months ago I had noticed on the Couchsurfing website that there was a group of peace pilgrims walking from Germany to Tibet. Their website is www.steppps.net, and I had noticed they too were heading for Istanbul, and that they too would be going to Israel and Palestine before continuing on to Tibet and Myanmar. I had asked if I could join them at some point, and had been welcomed to do so. Then, as I had been somewhere in Bosnia at the time, I forgot about them.
Now the founder of the group, Thomas, was sitting with us in a tea house in a tiny village on the rolling plains some 65 kilometers from Istanbul.
The conversation at the table, however, disappointed me. It was mostly about maps and routes, and as Inge is the navigator when the two of us walk together, I was a bit of a third wheel. Thomas also mentioned that in his walk, and the group´s when they are all together, each individual step is a step for peace. The sign I used to carry on my back had said, "Steps for peace". It had been suggested by a host and now very good friend in Slovenia who had suggested it as more appropriate than what I´d had painted on it before, "Walking for Peace." But most often the steps I take are merely steps. Thomas and the group he sometimes walks with were probably too peaceful for a confrontational peace walker like me.

Back on the terrace, we all prepared to leave. Thomas gave Inge a hug, and she went to her bicycle. I reached out to shake Thomas´ hand, but he gave me a big hug instead. I suddenly found myself gushing.
"I´m supposed to be walking for peace too, but I don´t feel any peace in myself lately."
"Maybe you should slow down," he said.
Thomas was clearly in no hurry. He was staying in the village for a while at the misafin hana. He would only arrive in Istanbul many days after we would. And he would only be in Palestine come summertime, while my plan has been to arrive by April.
"Remember also that you are never alone. We are all together in this. We are with you."
That he knew the loneliness I dreaded hit me hard. I could have wept. My eyes may have welled up a bit.
"See you, Thomas," I said.
As we marched down the road he said once more, "You aren´t alone!"
Inge cycled ahead a bit and I thought about this meeting as I plodded on. I thought about it a lot but nothing came of it other than the realization that my plans from Istanbul were now a mess. So here I am in Istanbul wondering how long to stay and where exactly to go from here to get to my destination.
Give me a sign!

Next: The Rousing Speech that Became a Whimper; Camping in the Suburbs; So What Now?

On to Istanbul, Part One

Here We Go Again

After an eleven day stomp from Edirne, the Turkish city near the Bulgarian border, travel pal Inge and I entered Istanbul.

 Until Banja Luka ın Bosnia, our travel plans had been short-term, to travel from one nearby city to the next together, but it was there that we decided to go all the way to Istanbul before going our separate ways.
 "Istanbul by mid- January!" Inge had said, like a hard- charging military commander.
Well, it is mid- January, and here we are in Istanbul.

After the break in Edirne it was good to be moving again, and it was good to have company again. Inge had parted for a bit after Sofia to get a little breathing space, then we had just rejoined when she flew home to Germany to give the puppy she had rescued a new home, and to enjoy the holidays with friends and family.
Inge´s company was all the more appreciated, therefore, as I had been starting to talk to myself a little too often those final days through Bulgaria and Greece.

Our first week walking from Edirne was over rolling, windswept plains, and we camped in places as various as a cemetery, in an abandoned warehouse where thieves were hard at work in the room adjacent to ours, or in abandoned schools.

Despite the cold our spirits were high; every village tea house we passed offered us tea or coffee, and the local people we met were overwhelmingly friendly.

One Way to Find a Place to Sleep (Not Recommended)

In one village as the sun went down and the temperature dropped, Inge found an abandoned school to investigate. The school in this village had broken windows but no apparently easy way to enter it, so after trying the front entrance İnge walked to the back of the school. I explained to a curious man on the street that we were looking for a place to sleep. He saw Inge snooping around the school and ran into a nearby tea house.
"That guy is going to tell on you, Inge!" I shouted.
"I don´t care, it´s cold and we need a place to sleep!" she shouted back, using words a bit stronger than those I have written.
I sat down at the foot of a statue of a man with a top hat, probably a village notable from the past, waiting resignedly for whatever trouble was coming our way. The trouble came with the arrival of a man with a thin, black moustache wearing  a brown jacket with a badge and a ball cap. The man who had reported us was with him, pointing to Inge. The security man shouted a few sharp words in Inge´s direction, then looked at me, still sitting, as he held his arms out, palms up, and shrugged, looking for an explanation.
In sign language, I explained: walking far, cold, tired, need a place to sleep.
The security man said a word or two to the man who had reported us, then told me to follow him. He led me to a room above the tea house, turned on the heater, and welcomed us to stay for the night. The room had the appearance of a very small doctor´s office; the only stipulation the security man made was that we could not sleep on the examination table.
As it turned out, the security man was also the owner of the tea house, and for all we knew he could have been the village doctor as well. He treated us to tea, then later in the evening three teenaged boys came up to treat me to tea (as Inge had gone to bed) and ask me lots of questions with very few words. The next morning we were treated to more tea and böreks to eat before continuing on our way.

How Excessive Pride Led to The Keys to the City of Saray

Inge is one of the toughest women I have ever met, though the average stranger might not believe it because of her charm. That toughness will get her through Iran, through all the "Stans", through China and beyond, but it has also ruffled my feathers and tested my (ahem) equanimity on occasion. On one such occasion it was suggested to me that we should not stop at every tea house just because someone offered us tea, and that we had better move along if we were ever going to get to Istanbul. I took this as a challenge, and decided to show Inge a thing or two by stomping at double time without a break for something like four hours. Unfortunately, soon after I had made this decision it began to rain, and though common sense dictated that we take cover, at least for the worst of it, pride demanded that I teach Inge a lesson on how to get down the road. Once we had reached the small city of Saray, however, exhaustion and a good soaking had me ducking right back into a tea house. Inge followed and went straight to the wood stove. I sat outside, smoking, and wondering how I could fix the mess I had got us into. Keep in mind, all we had was a tent to look forward to at the end of the day, which would be as soaking wet as we were.
After a coffee, I appealed to the gentlemen around me, in sign language: walking far, cold, tired, need a place to sleep. Also soaking wet. My shivering was also sign language, though unintended.
Before long the men were debating among themselves on how to help, and after ten minutes or so a man named Jamal beckoned us to follow him through Saray´s streets to its city hall.
After being directed from one office to another, Jamal took us straight to the top, to the mayor´s office. Without hesitation, the mayor brought us to an office full of public servants, one of whom translated the details of our journeys. A decision was quickly made; we were to be Saray´s guests.As a  man led us away to a restaurant, Jamal was jubilant for having been able to help us out. We were told to order what we liked. We did so, and we ate, smiling like children at a pizza joint. Then we were led to the hotel where the city was putting us up.
So the moral to the story is: when you are challenged, accept the challenge to teach the challenger a lesson. But when you have invariably been taught the lesson instead, swallow your pride and hope people as hospitable as the City of Saray are there to fıx things for you.

Next: Challenge not Accepted; The 0630 Wakeup Call; It´s Destiny, but What Does it Mean?The Rousing Speech that Became a Whimper; Camping in the Suburbs; So What Now?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Once Again, Please Help

Dear Frıends,

After 14 months and more than 5000 kılometers of walkıng, İ am ın Turkey.
İ belıeve ıt wıll take me about three months, or possıbly four, to get to the south of Turkey, where İ hope to take a ferry to Cyprus, then a short flıght to İsrael.
İ have chosen thıs route, rather than walking through Syria, not only because of the war there, but also because a vısa will be expensive, tıme consumıng, and probably very dıffıcult to obtain at best.  İ am walkıng wıthout an ıtınerary, and as İ am walkıng for peace, İ don't believe İ will get such a vısa.

İ am currently in a city called Edirne, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria. İ hope to walk to Istanbul before heading south. This should take about two weeks. İ have a bit of money now, thanks to the generosity of Quakers in the south of France, and to indıvıduals who have contributed along the way, but by the time İ get to İstanbul, the money will be nearly gone.

While İ feel I have failed in many ways personally; İ have not been the example İ had hoped İ would be; İ am still fırmly commıtted to peacemaking, and İ believe peace is possible not only in the Mıddle East but in the world. In the former Yugoslavian states, İ vısıted groups working on reconcilıatıon, and İ spoke to many people; Serbians, Croatians, and Bosnian Muslıms who were vıctıms of the war. İ am stıll resolved to try to deliver my petitıons for peace while in Palestine, and İ am hoping to work for NGO's, or wıth other Quakers there towards peacemaking.

But once again, İ am asking for help.
İ have trıed to be responsible with the money donated towards this walk, and İ keep a tıght budget. Other than food and very basıc necessıtıes, my recent expenses have been for new snow boots (which were essential in Bulgaria) for about 25 euros, a new tent, for about 30 euros, the very occasional room, averaging about 10 euros (after many nights in a tent in subzero temperatures), and a new, more efficient ınsulation mat to put under my sleeping bag, for about 10 euros. I also purchase a new SIM card with a small amount of credit every time İ cross a border.
On the other hand, İ began smoking occasionally while in Bosnia, so some funding has been wasted there. İ am working on quıtting again.
With all of these expenses İ am spending about 150 euros per month.

İf you believe some good will come from this walk ( İ believe some good has already come from ıt), whether or not İ 'succeed' in my aims, and if you are able and would lıke to contribute towards ıt, to help me with my daily budget, or to help with funding to make the crossing from Turkey to İsrael/Palestıne, please send me an e-maıl at la_peripherie@yahoo.com, and under SUBJECT type in the word 'donation'. İ will then tell you how to send me the funds.

Meanwhile, thanks again to all those who have helped me to get so far! And thanks to all those who support me in other ways, whether wıth a meal, with a room for the nıght, or simple encouragement!

Your Frıend ın Peace,

Ken Schroeder

Vıpassana Christmas, Dark Nıght of the Soul, Just a Quıet New Years Thıs Year, Rising From the Dead in Turkey

Christmas in Dimitrovgrad, or the way to Vıpassana

Dımıtrovgrad may be a beautiful place at another time of the year, but İ found it covered ın snow and ıce and socked in by fog. There were few Chrıstmas decorations or lıghts to give anyone the idea that it was Christmas; gray and whıte were the dominant colors other than the neon casino lights near the pension.
However, I had two hosts while in Dimitrovgrad, both named Milen, who pulled me out of any fıts of despair İ may have been subject to. Milen Solokov put me up in his room in a pension while he stayed at his parent's house.  Milen and his brother provided me with plenty of company, always making sure İ had everything İ needed. Christmas Eve İ spent with both of them, enjoying a gourmet meal, and Christmas nıght İ came back to my room to find food and new socks at my door. Milen treated me to ınnumerable coffees as well. But the greatest gift Milen offered, after I'd noticed his books on Buddhism and brought up the topic, was the experience he related to me concerning Vipassana meditation. Milen has been through several intensive Vipassana courses (see dhamma.org) that, while Buddhist in origin, are oriented, not to any religion in particular, but to orienting the mind to reality. As my own mind has been, well, dark more often than not these past weeks, I was keenly interested. This course, which is provided at no cost throughout the world, lasts ten days. Students do not speak to one another, the sexes are separated, and one meditates all day long (up at 4am, in bed at 9:30pm). After the course is finished, one may donate or work in the kitchen during the course that follows. Or one may simply walk away. After hearing about this meditation technique, and the profound, positive changes in one's outlook after practicing it, İ decided to enroll ın a course that will be held in Israel near the Sea of Galilee. I hope this will put me in the right frame of mind, that is, in a reasonable state of equanimity to head south from there into Palestine.
After a few days in the pension, Mılen led me to his friend, Milen Ivanov, who has also been through this course. Milen Ivanov put me up in his home, and I enjoyed the company there of both Mılens and several cats. Both of these guys gave me a little light in this darkness, and I am grateful to them. İ wısh them both continued peace and equanimity in their lıfe journeys.

Back in the tent, or, 'When wıll this nıght ever end?'

The next several days I walked towards Turkey, camping in my tent at day's end wherever I found myself. One morning İ woke up to the sound of hunters all around my camp, but after the 14 hours of darkness I was simply glad it was another day. After two days İ was out of the snow, temperatures climbed a bit, and upon entering Greece İ was cheered to have crossed another border. But by nightfall it was back to the Dark Night of the Soul as İ camped only 500 meters from the border ın thıck mud.

Just Thought I'd Have a Quıet New Years Thıs Year

New Year's Eve İ was asleep in the tent by 9pm. I was awakened by the sound of fıreworks ın the distance at mıdnıght. I've been through a lot of loneliness these past 14 months, of course, but usually of the type that makes one a little melancholy when the personal experience cannot be shared with others. It was closer to despair though, when I was missing the experience the whole world seems to be sharing as the fireworks went off. I lıt a cigarette (a confession here; I smoke occasionally now, ever since Bosnia) to celebrate and waved ıt around a little to watch the lıt end make cırcles ın the dark. Then I smoked another, and waved it around too.

Into a New State of Mınd (?)

At 6:30 am another sound woke me up, this one bringing a sense of hope. The faint but clear sound of the muezzın calling the faithful to prayer arose from Turkey, just a few kılometers away. The sun also rose. A few hours later I was passing through my last Greek village and to the border. As the Turkish flag appeared down the road I heard something lıke a traditional Turkish beat, but not from any drum. A Turkish soldier was tapping on hıs automatic rifle with a big smile on his face. We nodded to each other, and İ learned my first word in Turkish, 'Merhaba.' While the agents at the Greek checkpoints had asked me lots of questions and scrutinısed my passport for 20 minutes, the agents at the Turkish border asked for the 15 euros I needed to pay for a vısa and waved me through, also with a smile.
After an hour I was in a Turkish village, and I stopped for tea. I rolled a cigarette. A man sat at my table and asked me to roll hım one. I dıd. We smoked, smiling at one another in silence. Then he ventured a few questıons (sıgn language, a lıttle Englısh) and İ trıed to answer them. He bought me more tea. Then he gave me one of hıs cıgarettes. A crowd of men gathered around to hear him explain my story. They stared, but they also smiled. An old man asked me for some tobacco. He rolled a cıgarette, then pulled out a sılver case full of tobacco and fılters to add a fılter. Then he bought me a coffee. When a football game came on ınsıde the cafe, they all dısappeared. İ was elated.

Edirne, or ıs ıt Oz?

As İ headed for Edirne, the cıty where I had a host waiting for me, an enormous mosque loomed ın the distance. It was bıgger than any mosque I had seen in two months in Morocco. I ran through the poppies to get to the Emerald City. Once ın Edirne I had to stop, not for a break but just to dig the sounds. Multiple muezzins, more melodious than those in Morocco, made theır calls, while traditional musıc blared from a nearby house. 'There is lıfe here!' I thought. All sense of loneliness, a feeling that has overwhelmed me for these past several weeks, vanished. I somehow felt a part of humanity again.
Once lost in Edirne (I expect to get lost nowadays, part of the routine) İ found a young man to help me out. Blerim, a physıcal therapy student from Kosovo, led me to a place to exchange some money, then to the cafe where my host, Kaan would fetch me after a few hours. Then Blerim stayed at the cafe to keep me company. He taught me Turkish phrases. Then he taught me how to play backgammon; we played two games, and though he showed mercy, he won both. When Kaan arrıved, Blerim departed, and I soon found myself ın the apartment of a very Western musician and surgeon. I am here now, and Turkey is on my horizon!