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, March 31, 2013

"You are refused"; or, Down to Egypt

On the 'Nissos Rodos' bound for Haifa from Iskenderun, the primary cargo consisted of trucks and their Turkish drivers bound for Saudi Arabia. The ferry from Iskenderun to Haifa is recent; the war in Syria has cut off the old trucking route. The only other passengers onboard were two tourists tucked away in their first-class cabins, and myself. As I was the only in third class, I had a third of the 7th deck all to myself. While there were hundreds of comfortable seats, there was no bunk, but sleeping on the deck was comfortable (unlike the ferry from Nador to Almeria a little over a year ago, jammed with Moroccans spread out all over the deck).
The truck drivers congregated in the lounge, playing cards or backgammon, watching films, drinking tea or praying in a little makeshift mosque in the corner. I sat around in third class or topside doing a lot of thinking. Over the past year I've had a lot of advice on how to enter Israel; don't volunteer any information, send my peace books (better word than petitions) to Israel so I don't carry them through, have a specific date for leaving, a detailed itinerary, simply say I'm a tourist, or a strictly religious pilgrim visiting the Holy Land. Don't    imply any connection with Islam or Islamic countries. Don't get angry.
In the end I disregarded every piece of advice but the last. I didn't get angry.
I disregarded this advice because if I am going to call myself a Quaker I'd better think about integrity as much as peace.
As the ship moored in Haifa I was already thinking ahead, about how I would contact my first hosts and how I would get to them, when I was called to reception. I was then directed onto the mess deck where an Israeli security man was already waiting for me with my passport in his hand. Another man stood next to him.
"Why are you coming to Israel?" he asked.
"I'm a peace pilgrim."
The man sighed just a little.
"How long are you planning to stay?"
"One to three months."
A bigger sigh. I knew I was in for a grilling.
He then asked where I was going, and I replied that my only concrete plans were to attend a Vipassana meditation course near the Sea of Galilee, and to visit and possibly volunteer to help fellow Quakers at the Friends International Center in Ramallah. There was a line of questioning regarding these answers.
"Quakers?" for example. Unfortunately, as I was soon to learn, long explanations were impossible. I don't think they know what Quakers are even now, other than some pacifist group in Ramallah.
At this point I was still trying to keep my answers as simple as possible, so I didn't talk about delivering a peace book to Dani Dayan, as I didn't know for a fact that I would do this. But I would raise the issue myself.
Eventually he wanted to know about the people I was going to stay with, and I told him I had their names on a list. I also mentioned that they came from a website called Couchsurfing, and that such hosts had got me all the way from Portugal to Iskenderun.
As I went to my bag for the list of names (it sounds bad, I know) I also pulled out my peace books to show the security men. When I was called back in, I handed over the list of names and my peace books.
"These are peace books I've carried since Portugal. One is for Israeli settlers to stop building settlements in Palestinian Territory, and to respect the autonomy of the Palestinians, the other is for Hamas to resist with non-violence, and to recognize the state of Israel. I have to tell you now that I believe in a Palestinian state, as the only way to peace."
Both guys gave me a concerned look and leaned forward a little to make sure they heard every word.
Now the reader may imagine boldness on my part, and may imagine that I said these words with a firm voice, standing tall, unwavering. But my voice wavered, I was shaking, and I may have appeared to be cringing a bit. No George Fox here.
Nevertheless, all was out, I thought. But for the next two hours or so, I was very courteously and professionally interrogated with tag team rapid fire examination and cross examination. I was impressed, I have to admit. But I was also disappointed. I wanted to tell the truth about myself and my journey and my intentions, but I don't feel the truth really came out. I don't think they wanted the truth. I think they wanted answers that their training has taught them are green, yellow or red flags. "Peace pilgrim" , for example, a yellow flag. "I believe in a Palestinian State", for example, a red flag. And the money I had, or the lack of it, an easy way to justify a refusal to enter Israel.
The interrogation remains a bit of a blurry memory, but they asked me why walk? (It's a peace walk, you know, walking for peace) Why one to three months in Israel? (depends on hosts, money, being able to get into Palestinian Territory or not, possible changes in plans)
what other possible possible plans? (might go after a month in Israel, might stay with Quakers in Ramallah for a while) Why walk? (walking for peace, uh, but did some hitchhiking in Turkey) Did you walk with anyone else? (Uh, with a few people, with my daughter to Morocco...) Where is she now? (Lexington, Kentucky) Anyone else? (A few, but there was this woman who walked with me for three months) Where is she now?(In Iran... RED FLAG... but she's cycling, see, Belgium to China, just passing through...) Why were you in Turkey? (It's uh, on the way to Israel) Why come on a ship from Iskenderun? Why not fly? (I want to get as close to Syria as possible... RED FLAG) Why Syria? (my original intention was to walk through Syria) Why not walk through Syria? (Uh, well, there's a war, and the visa...) Who did you stay with in Iskenderun? (uh, uh, a Couchsurfing host...) Did anyone in Turkey give you any presents to bring to Israel? (Uh, well... no)(I interpreted present to mean something to harm Israelis)(Of course there were presents! A tambourine, for example) Do you have friends in Morocco? (yes I have friends in Morocco) Do you know what this Arabic comment means in your book? (It's, uh, about peace... I, uh, someone always translated what was written) You had it translated? (Uh, it says things about peace in Israel and Palestine. Uh, not everyone wanted to sign, so the people who signed said only good things) What did the people who didn't sign say? (Uh, they didn't always think Hamas should resist non-violently) What did you tell them? (That Israel has a right to exist, and...) Why Egypt? (I'm also walking for an NGO... YELLOW FLAG... called Masterpeace, they're going to have a peace concert in 2014 there) You're staying in Egypt until 2014? (No, I'll only have a month there) Who are you staying with? (Well, I don't know yet, haven't Couchsurfed there yet) Where are you going after Egypt? (No idea, heh heh, uh, well, I'd like to see my daughter in America, but...) Do you know anyone in Israel? (I, uh, there's this Israeli guy I met and his friend's mother, I met her, and...) Do you know any of the people you'll be staying with? (Just, uh, this guys friend's mother in Negev) What's the name of your contact in Ramallah? (It's just a second, it's here in my book) Are there Quakers in Israel? (I,  uh, don't think so, I don't know) What did you do in Portugal? (I was an English teacher, also I sold hot dogs, see, I made more money selling...) It doesn't seem like that would earn you enough money to walk from Portugal to Egypt. ( I get donations) From who? (From people who support my peace walk) How do you get donations? (Mostly by asking on my blog... look, I'll give you my blog address, I'll write it down...) Find it on this (his smart phone)
"Okay", I say, but I'm really terrified now. I'm shaking, and two or three of them are observing me carefully. Why am I terrified? Because I know they're watching me tremble, and because I am so inept with tiny smart phones or any modern technology for that matter. Even the computer I'm writing on now intimidates me.
So shaking badly, I fumble with his tiny phone with its tiny keys, pressing the wrong keys because only a little monkey could possibly hit one key at a time. I somehow lose the search page, and I hand it to him. He refinds the search page and hands it back. Then I lose the page again. He hands it back again, but is now distracted by another security man's questions. As no one seems to be observing my fumbling, I calm down a bit and find my blog. I hand the phone to him. "Here it is!" I say triumphantly.
He scrolls down.
"Where does it talk about donations?"
I look. My blog looks different on a tiny smart phone.
"It's, uh, on a regular computer it looks different. The donation part is off to the side, and on this there is no side, but..."
"Okay, wait." he says. I wait, scratching something on my back. I've been scratching this thing on my back probably throughout the whole interrogation. I see the security man at the door watching me scratch my back. I stop scratching my back.
Then, a new line of questioning, surely based on what they've seen on my blog.
Why doesn't your family support you with money? (Uh, well, my brother sent me some money when I was in Morocco, see, he's with a big company...) Why doesn't he support you now? (He, uh, I don't want to ask him, I'd ask in an emergency) Why doesn't you daughter help? (She's offered, I don't want to take money from my daughter) I have to ask you a personal question, I'm sorry but it's necessary (I completely understand) Why did your wife leave you? (Well, uh, pfff, you know, maybe she thought I'd left her, I didn't see it that way...) Wait. (okay)
In the interval I am given a chair to sit in. I fidget in the chair. I am observed fidgeting in the chair. I force myself to stop fidgeting. It's very difficult. Facial muscles start contracting involuntarily.
Another man begins asking questions.
What are you going to do after you get to Egypt? (Uh, maybe go to Spain or Greece to work to get money to visit my daughter, get back to a normal life, I think I already answered that)
What's a normal life? (Well, you know, a house, a regular job, I mean I'm working now for peace but...)
Why Israel? (Huh?) Why Israel? How long have you been planning on coming to Israel? (Well, I decided on the walk just six weeks before I left, but I've wanted to come to Israel for a long time) Why? ( I love Israel. I love Judaism. Thirty years ago I wanted to convert to Judaism but a rabbi talked me out of it)
I'm chuckling now but he isn't. Also, another security guy nearby is leaning to hear better.
"Why Judaism?"
"I'm a spiritual person. I was dissatisfied with the Christianity I encountered at the time. I wanted to work on a kibbutz..."
"Are you going to convert to Judaism now? Or to Islam?"
"No, " I say, surprising myself with the first words I've said with a little firmness. "I'm a Christian, a Quaker now."
"Wait," he says, and walks to an unidentifiable briefcase sized silver technological device manned by a woman in the back where the other security guys have congregated. All but the guy near the door. He's observing me. Nice guy, no hard looks, but observing.
The second man returns.
"You said you have maps of your walk?"
"Yes, but only since Italy because I was sending them back to my daughter because of weight, you know"
But he doesn't know or care about weight in a backpack.
"Show me your maps."
I give him the map of Turkey. I show him where I walked with Buddhists for three days.
"Where did you meet them?"
I show him where the village was that I met Thomas.
I show him my route, which leads to Gaziantep, Antakya, and Iskenderun, all around the Syrian border.
"I was only in Gaziantep because of this Japanese guy I was travelling with, he investigates sweets and the baklava there..."
"Okay, wait."

Of course there were many, many other questions, and I did have a few chances to clarify, but I never really had a chance to coherently explain what I was doing. Answers were followed by more questions that led to other answers in a different direction. Many questions were asked in a different way, but I sometimes answered differently because I heard a different question. Real clarification was impossible. The truth was never discovered by these guys. I am certain of that.

I was later told by the man who'd asked the most questions that I would now have to pass a security interview (What had I just gone through?) by a uniformed woman who had been chatting with her colleagues for most of the time I'd been there.Then, if I passed the security interview, I'd have my bag searched, then I'd be in Haifa once the bag had been checked. I saw this as a positive sign. I'd satisfactorily gotten through the most difficult part. I was in!
As I sat waiting for the next security interview, the other passenger couple that had been hidden away in first class was having its interrogation. They sat at a table. Their interrogator was laughing with them, then after a few more minutes of amiable chatting, off they went to Haifa.
The uniformed woman then approached. My interrogators had been firm and a bit scary with their questions that implied the worst of me, but they'd also had amiable qualities. This woman, however, was a block of ice.
"How much many have you got?" she asked.
"Three hundred dollars."
"That doesn't sound like enough for three months in Israel, does it?"
"Well, as I've explained, I've had donations and hosts get me this far, and...."
"I'll ask."
And off she walked. She chatted and laughed with her colleagues. After some twenty minutes, she said from a distance, "You're refused."
I thought I was going to collapse.
"Refused. You're refused."
I sat for awhile, trying to think. She chatted and laughed with her colleagues.
"I really didn't have a chance to explain about money..."
"You explained enough, I'm sorry, you're refused."
More chatting and laughing.
"Isn't there anything else I can do?"
One of her colleagues shook his head, 'no'. I appreciated the look of sympathy on his face.
"Nothing, sorry," said the uniformed woman. No sympathy there.

What never really came out was that kind, peace oriented people have taken me into their homes for the past year and a half, and that the same kinds of people were going to do the same in Israel; that people continued to send donations, and these donations, ranging from less than a euro to 400 euros, kept supporting me; that I was getting by on a tight budget and that the 300 dollars I had would last me for a month; that my Vipassana course was free and that in itself gave me two weeks in Israel.
I personally know two Catholic religious pilgrims who walked through Syria and Jordan, and into Palestine and Israel, with absolutely no money.
So, money?  No. I believe I was just too much of a naive peace freak wanderer for the Israeli authorities. "One to three months, depending..." Too much time to wander around finding trouble, joining undesireable NGO's or worse, they must have thought.

I was very surprised they had no interest in who my peace books were addressed to, and what I intended to do with them. It was only the comments inside that they took an interest in.

I wish I could have had an audience with them; twenty minutes of uninterrupted speaking, followed by questions. I know that isn't the way it is, but they would have learned the truth that way; that Quakers are not their enemy, but worked to save persecuted Jews during the Second World War. They would have heard that in my talks about my peace books, I have much more often spoken the case for Israel than otherwise. Nearly all of those who have signed only one petition have signed for Israelis to stop building settlements, but not for Hamas to use non violent resistance. I have repeatedly argued for non violence on the part of those Palestinians fighting for justice in the Palestinian Territories. I have repeatedly argued that Israel has a right to exist, and that choosing sides has nothing to do with peace. They would have learned that I stay with all people who give me a sincere invitation; that I do not choose sides, and that I believe peaceful dialogue is an important step in peacemaking. Indeed, one of my Israeli hosts was a settler in Palestinian Territory. My time from Portugal to Morocco, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and now Egypt (where I disembarked) hasn't been spent nodding yes to anti-Israeli sentiment or anti-Muslim sentiment. I know about the Inner Light in all of us, and I do love Judaism, and Islam, and Buddhism. I understand the better part of communism and anarchism. I understand the better part of capitalism.

Accepting hospitality from, and having dialogue with those who oppose Israel doesn't make me Israel's enemy. In Egypt, I will often find myself trying to convince people that Israel is not their enemy, just as, I suppose, I would have been trying to convince many Israelis that Palestinians and Muslims are not their enemy. The enemy is fear.
Shalom, salaam , peace.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our Arrival in Antakya

In Hatay,or Antakya (ancient Antioch) Shu and I are at the home of our hosts, Ozgur and Muhammad, who are working for a humanitarian organisation that gives assistance to Syrian refugees. It is twenty past one in the morning, and they are still doing the paperwork that is required of them after a day in the field. Muhammad crumples a piece of paper and throws it in an arc towards a little basketball hoop on the wall. The paper ball hits the rim of the hoop and falls to the floor where other paper balls are scattered. Though the two  of them work in the field distributing things like coal, blankets, diapers and food coupons during the day, and though they work sixdays a week doing paperwork until late at night, (Sundays being reserved for paperwork only) they keep their spirits up with the knowledge that what they are doing is essential. They also have a good sense of humor. When a nagging colleague who only speaks Turkish phones them repeatedly during their `off` hours, they have me answer the phone in English, then later they have Shu answer the phone speaking Japanese. Finally, the phone calls stop.
The organization that Ozgur and Muhammad work for isn't allowed to work inside the refugee camps, as this work is reserved for government employees inTurkey. But there are many unregistered refugees outside the camps, and NGO`s, which are not really legal here, are tolerated by the goverment to deal with these unregistered refugees.

Shu and I spent the first part of our last night in Gaziantep at the bus terminal, as we were unable to find a host. While there, a spontaneous Kurdish celebration broke out in the parking lot, with traditional music and dancing. A Western man with a backpack and long hair joined the dance to the amusement of bystanders. I spoke to him afterwards and discovered that he was a Slovenian who was on a journey for peace. He had tried to get into Israel and was denied entry. When we met him he was on his way to Iraq, and he was going without a visa. Somehow I believe his journey will succeed, even if he doesn`t get to where he wants to go.
At 2am we presented a bus driver with a paper written by Baris, from the guest house in Antep, which explained what we are doing. The bus driver took us onboard and we rode to Hatay free of charge.

Arriving at 5am in Hatay, the first man I saw was in Saudi Arabian garb. Hatay itself has a Middle Eastern atmosphere, and I felt that I had almost arrived at my destination after 16 months on the road. I overcame the emotion I felt and Shu and I made our way to Hatay`s center. At noon we collapsed outside a mosque on benches and slept until the muezzin woke us up a few hours later.

In Hatay I spoke about non-violent resistance with Ozgur, who is from Istanbul, and Mohammad, from Aleppo in Syria. Both of them are personally committed to peacemaking, but Muhammed is skeptical about non-violent resistance. The resistance in Syria began as a non-violent movement, he reminds me, but after 8 months of heavy losses in a one sided battle, the Syrian people took up arms. Though he agrees that violence begets violence, how could he ask his people to resist without arms?
The situation in Palestine is not the same, but I remain silent. Though Muhammad says nothing about what he has witnessed and suffered in Syria, I know that he left Aleppo only five months ago, and that his brothers are still there. I find it impossible to preach to him.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Adana and Gaziantep

In Gaziantep, Shu and I have arrived without any idea of where we'll sleep. He's here for serious confectionay research; Antep is known for its quality baklava. I'm here hoping to find a way to volunteer to help Syrian refugees. But after an interesting day of hitchhiking from Adana, we're  homeless. At the police station we're directed to a mesafir hane, or guest house, and there we're immediately treated to a hot meal of chickpeas and rice. Later Abdullah, a teacher of Koran at a nearby mosque, invites us to stay with his family after he has given lessons at the guest house. While waiting for him to finish, I meet one of his students, Bariş.  
Bariş hears about my story, then tells me he was named Bariş, or Peace, because he was born during the First Gulf War in Adana, where the US air base there flew sorties into northern Iraq.

In Adana we stayed at the house of a former US Air Force aircraft mechanic, Eric, and his Turkish wife Emine. Eric served in many places around the world, including the airbase in Adana. We spoke as two US military veterans might be expected to speak, about what we did and where we served, but we also spoke a great deal about the prospects for peace, and we both agreed that there are better alternatives to military action. We both have faith that people are basically good, and this faith leads to the conclusion that peace is possible. Eric and Emine were hospitable people and good company. I think we'll meet again.

Bariş has a German friend who is involved in helping Syrian refugees here, thousands of them restricted to camps apart from the city. She is in Istanbul, though, so I'll have to wait for Hatay to do my part. Even there I may not have any access to the refugees, and only be helping from backstage. But I am looking forward to meeting Sister Barbara, also from Germany, once I get there. My friend Selda from Ankara has arranged for me to help out alongside Amnesty International and other volunteers with Sister Barbara. Meanwhile, Shu and I are again looking for a place to stay tonight in Antep, and tomorrow we'll hitchhike towards Hatay.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Shusaku Hayashi and the Traditional Confectionary Research Company

Looking for Rumi, Finding Shu

Before going to Konya, I did a lot of ruminating on Rumi, or Mewlana as he's known in Turkey. I thought I might find more than his tomb there; I thought I might find a Sufi master to guide me with a word or a gesture before I moved on towards Iskenderun.
While my host in Konya, Huseyin, was indeed a student of Sufism, and while he did give a little insight into Rumi's wisdom, it wasn't Sufism that I discovered in Konya, but another guest of Huseyin's named Shusaku Hayashi, or Shu, as he calls himself.
Shu and I are now hitchhiking together towards our respective immediate goals; Iskenderun for me, where I'll be catching a ferry to Haifa, and Gaziantep for Shu, where he'll be immersed in confectionary research.
One common goal we have is the city of Hatay, where I'll help with other volunteers to aid Syrian refugees, and where Shu will, again, be doing lots of confectionary research.

Every Step is a Step for Confectionary Research

While my aim is peace, there are many places I have gone that are mere waystations to my ultimate destinations of Palestine and Egypt. But for Shu, no matter where he is, confectionary research is the goal.
An example of this is the middle-of-nowhere town of Ereğli, located some 50 or 60 kilometers east of Konya (not to be confused with another town of the same name on the Black Sea). I managed to find a host in Ereğli for the sole purpose of breaking the haul from Konya to Mersin into two parts. Ereğli meant a bed and a shower rather than a tent should we be unable to get a ride all the way to Mersin from Konya; pure logistics. For Shu though, anyplace that he finds himself he's at work for his Traditional Confectionary Research Company. I suspect that if we did end our day wilderness camping someplace, Shu might find the nearest habitation to continue his work.
So in the middle-of-nowhere, dusty town of Ereğli, while I thought about finding a cheap kebab to fill my belly, or took the occasional photo, Shu popped into every sweets shop he came across to investigate the possibility of finding something he hadn't found before in the confectionary world.
He hadn't found much success in dusty Ereğli when our host there, an English teacher named Buğra, suggested he look into Ereğli's confectionary specialty, Köpüklü Helva, which is a white semi-liquid substance that tastes a bit like liquid marshmallows. We went together to a small confectionary shop where the stuff was produced, and I watched as Shu asked questions, took photos, tasted samples and took notes for the better part of an hour. He had hit the jackpot after investigating several other shops and finding what he had already photographed, tasted and took notes on in other parts of Turkey.
As Shu put it, "I can find something new everywhere."

Two Different Approaches to Peacemaking

In the end I did manage to do a little peacemaking in Ereğli. A fight nearly broke out on the street between a motorist and a man on a scooter. A nearby street vendor and I got between the two antagonists, but the man who had been on his scooter was especially determined to whack the offending motorist when I demanded from each of them whether they weren't both Muslims, and therefore brothers (actually, the idea was communicated with sign language and the question "Müslüman?" posed to each of them). They paused, then went their own ways, the angrier of the two muttering under his breath.
In one conversation with Shu, I told him about a time when I was 11 years old that three older kids wanted to beat me up. When they came to the apartments where we lived at the time, in Hawaii, I cowered by the window, pointing them out to my mother. She promptly brought out a tray of chocolate chip cookies and milk to serve them, and they never bothered me again. Shu embraced the idea, and he is now Hayashi Sensei, Master of a non-martial art based on serving pastries and sweets to those who would harm you. The attacker is completely disabled, and quickly becomes your friend.

The Quest, and How it Came About

Shu, who is from Kyoto, had a successful confectionary business going in Tokyo when the disastrous earthquake hit in 2011. Business dropped dramatically as a result of the earthquake and the following after- shocks, so Shu packed up and went to France with the idea of doing research on sweets and pastries there before returning to Japan to re-start his business. But in Mulhouse, after working as a grape picker and in a kitchen for 8 months, he decided his 6-day-per-week schedule left him with little time to do the confectionary reasearch he had wanted to do. Though Shu had never been an avid cyclist, he purchased a touring bike with an ambitious idea; cycle from Paris to Shanghai, researching local sweets along the way. Then, once back in Japan, his plan is to start a new sweets shop featuring sweets and pastries that he discovers on his quest.
Shu's quest has so far taken him from France to Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and now Turkey. In Turkey Shu has been backpacking and hitchhiking rather than cycling, the country too vast and rich in a culture of sweets to pedal through it. His bicycle awaits him in Georgia, where he will continue The Quest through Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. In Japan he will arrive with tales of baklava to enthrall his listeners (and customers).
Shu also writes a newspaper of his own creation, 'The Pastry Times', which can be found online and in print in Japan (circulation: 2000 copies per month). He created the paper while in France; after running out of money in Georgia he used newspaper subscriptions and advertising fees to help fund his journey, along with donations and funding from sponsors. He expects to complete his mission this autumn, launching his new business when back in Japan. Shu has also been contacted by publishers who have seen his newspaper to write a novel.
At 24, Shusaku Hayashi is well on his way.

For more on Shu through Facebook:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hitchhiking, Examples of Peace, and Thanks

The Camaraderie of Hitchhiking

In Konya, home of Mawlana Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes, it is getting too late in the day to think about hitchhiking back to Ankara. It is also unlikely that four of us will get a ride, but we climb with our Konya host, Huseyin, over a few small hills to take a shortcut to the highway. I'm not at all worried though, because I am happy to be travelling with three friends, regardless of the outcome.
The day before I had hitchhiked with my second Ankara host, Selda, to Konya. The plan had been that I would go on towards Iskenderun from there while Selda caught a bus in time to go back to her job as a teacher the next day. Selda had felt that I would discover something important in Konya, and she wanted to be there with me when it happened. But Konya had been a bit of a disappointment; just another city full of featureless apartment blocks and shopping centers one might find in Cleveland. The central feature of Konya, Rumi's tomb, had been swarming with tourists, and while there was no apparent sign of Sufism but for the Sufi or Rumi themed tourist traps, a hard fundamentalist streak does run through the city. What did become important for me in Konya, however, was the cameraderie I found in the hitchhiking trip itself.
Instead of remaining in Konya, then, I had decided to hitchhike back to Ankara with Selda. Huseyin, who is a student of Sufism, then decided to join us as we ate at a small diner before setting off. Shu, a guest of Huseyin who is on a journey from Paris to Shanghai to sample and collect local pastry recipes, also decided to join us at the last minute. The idea of four of us on the road with such reckless spontaneity had me giggling over my food.
So the four of us are standing on the highway surrounded by the bleak landscape of central Turkey with our thumbs out, and the sun is getting low. But before long we catch the first of three rides that will take us all to Ankara. Our last ride, which we catch in the dark, has us all crammed into the driver's cab of a lorry. At a weigh station the driver tells us we all have to get out to walk the 100 meters to get to the other side of the weigh station as he is at his maximum legal weight. It is all great fun.
He then takes us to Ankara where Huseyin goes his own way and Selda, Shu and I catch a minibus to her flat. Two days later Shu and I hitchhike back to Konya again to pick up his bags, which he left at Huseyin's. Once again we have started late in the day, and just as it is getting dark, a coach stops on the highway for us. Selda, who is seeing us off (and helping us to catch a ride) tells the driver we haven't got the bus fare, but Shu and I are invited to ride the bus to Konya at no charge. We say our goodbyes to Selda and ride in comfort to Konya, with complimentary crackers and coffee served along the way.
I can't imagine any coach in the US or Europe stopping on the highway to pick up hitchhikers. Turkey is truly a hospitable country.

My Hosts in Ankara; Two Different Examples to Follow

While in Ankara I stayed with two hosts, Serdar and his family, and my now very close friend Selda.
Serdar is a Blackhawk pilot in the Turkish army, and one of the gentlest and kindest men I've ever met. While he is prepared to fly in possible combat situations, what he enjoys the most as a Blackhawk pilot is flying rescue missions. I asked him what he thought about the possibility of military action in southeastern Turkey against Kurds or Syria, and he replied he wouldn't volunteer to fly such missions, but he would do what was expected of him. Nevertheless, he agreed with me that war was never a good solution, and he listened carefully to my argument that many non-combatants suffer from any military action. I argued that if I were an Iraqi father who had hated the regime of Sadam Hussein, but whose family had been killed as a result of 'collateral damage'  by those who would rescue me from that regime, I might just decide to take up arms against my rescuers. Serdar is married and has an 8 month old son, and he could only nod in agreement. He and Buğu, his wife, were more than happy to sign the petitions I am carrying. Ultimately, I see Serdar as a man of peace, especially because of his gentle nature. We may both have difficult jobs, but I have learned from Serdar that a hard job in no way requires a hard exterior.
Selda is a 25 year old teacher, and the most selfless and peace oriented person I know. She is a vegan for ethical reasons, and in everything that she does, she considers the possible negative effects of her actions. As we rode to Konya the first time with a truck driver, she pulled out all of the food she had packed for the trip to share with him along the way. Then she pulled out her Turkish copy of 'The Little Prince' as a gift for his daughter. The truck driver, in turn, gave me his prayer beads, and I frantically searched for a gift to give him; I finally decided to give him the big coat that had been given to me by a host in Italy. This coat had gotten me through Bulgaria, but I no longer had any use for it. Selda lives according to the philosophy of a gift economy, and her actions motivate others to follow suit. When we parted, she loaded me up with gifts and food, and I now share all of what she gave me with hosts and drivers who give Shu and I a ride. How can I do otherwise with Selda's example? Since I left Ankara, Selda has arranged for me to work with volunteers helping Syrian refugees in Hatay. After several months of self-doubt, she has re-motivated me to do what I  set out to do 16 months ago. Selda is the perfect example of what a peacemaker should be, and I'm eager to follow her example.

Thanks Again

Just one more thing: once again, many thanks to all of you who have encouraged me and helped me through your generosity, hospitality, and financial support, especially when you have been aware of the self-doubt that I have gone through recently. I am again committed to peacemaking.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On Fear, Courage, Quiet Desperation and Shangri-la

Back in early December, in the frozen, dreary, town of Ihtiman, Bulgaria, I bargained with the hotel clerk for a room. I had just spent the previous night with a dog in a tent at -20 degrees Centigrade. The dog almost hadn't made it, and one of my toes was still numb and purple at the tip. I was going to splurge a bit on this day to keep warm.
The bargaining got me a room for cheap, and included the dog. The carpet was badly stained, the TV didn't work, and I was thrilled to be out of the cold.
Inge had called me earlier in the day to see if I was still alive. She had also gone through a hard subzero night with her own dog in a tent some 30k ahead of me. Now I phoned her to see what her situation would be on yet another frozen night. She was camped again, under a highway overpass, and it was warmer, she said. Maybe only a low of -5 or -10 degrees this time, as she had got to a lower altitude. She was concerned that there were men walking around nearby, but felt sure that the worst case scenario would amount to robbery and not rape. I told her I'd call her again later, but she later SMS'd me to tell me not to call her; the men were near her tent and she wanted to be as quıet and discreet as possible.
I spent the night warm but unable to sleep. Between the cold Inge was exposed to, the guys creeping around her tent and my inability to communicate with her, I was too worried to sleep.
But Inge got through the night and cycled on the next day.

Inge had clearly been afraid that night, but she'd camped while I'd found a hotel.
Inge had revealed many fears to me the many months we'd travelled together.
She revealed her fear of water, and how she overcame it by learning free diving; her fear of her life in Antwerp going in a bad direction, and how she'd overcome that by travelling. She revealed her fear, her terror, even, of loneliness, and how she was still overcoming that by travelling alone, on a bicycle, in Bulgaria, Turkey and later in Iran and Pakistan. She revealed her fear of failure and how she overcame that by always moving forward. She revealed her fear of the unknown and of danger and how she overcomes those fears with in-depth  research and, again,  by simply moving forward and facing those dangers when they are unavoidable. Inge also does rock climbing, so, though she has never mentioned it, I am absolutely sure she is afraid of heights. Inge is afraid of spiders, and camps among them, and with them.
An aside: curiously, Inge has no fear of scorpions.
I share many of the same fears that Inge has, but I believe I am generally not as afraid on my journey as she is on hers. For example, spiders don't scare me. Much. Or at least I am not as willing to confess it. Maybe I have less to fear.
I will confess I am terrified of spilling a drink filled to the brim of the glass, and I shake and do in fact spill the drink because of this fear. Inge has no such fear. She can carry all kinds of drinks filled to the brim and not spill a drop.
But I digress.

Nevertheless, it should be obvious by now, despite my digressions, that I am writing about courage, and not about fear.
It should be obvious because while Inge is terrified of the water, she managed to face that fear, and she  learned to freedive, and this is courage.
And the greater the fear, the greater the courage required to overcome it.
So let me translate this sentence: "I believe I am generally not as afraid as Inge", to this, "I believe Inge is more courageous than I am."

Along with much encouragement, there is sometimes the discouraging word that is shot at the pilgrim, the traveller, the seeker of Shangri-la. Let me now address those authors of discouragement; all the caged, comfortable masses of men living in quiet desperation, and let me ask them not to impart their cautious wisdom on the travelling seekers of the world. Let those men not accuse the seekers of the world of running away from responsibility when 'responsibility' is merely a synonym for 'quiet desperation'. Let them not accuse the seekers of running headlong into danger when it is in facing and overcoming fears that Shangri-la is found.

Abandon quiet desperation and seek Shangri-la, ye masses of men! Begin by acknowledging your fears. Then learn how to face them. And let my friend Inge, the travelling seeker, show you how. bikenomadism.wordpress.com


Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Strangers

“Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don't know and trusting them with your life.” 
― Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star 

Way back in November 2011, when my daughter and I had been walking for about a month, we looked for a host through Couchsurfing in Seville. A young man named Mohammed was unable to host us because he was too busy studying there, but he said his family would host us once we got to Tangier.
Sure enough, in Tangier we stayed with his family for a week. In that time we all became very close friends, communicating in very poor Spanish, comparing our faiths (Islam and Quakerism), and exchanging cultural ideas. Said, the father of the family, taught me how to read and write in Arabic ( I have forgotten it all!). Olivia had some lessons in cooking. We both had lessons in humility. We were perfect strangers to these people, and not only did they take us in, they treated us like family. I know that any time I am in Tangier, I can go to this family.
 There is something about certain strangers you meet on the road, whose kindness and trust in you create a bond that rivals or even surpasses the natural bond among families.
In fact, many of the strangers I have met on the road these past 16 months have become family to me.

But the story with Mohammed is not finished.
When my daughter returned to Portugal from Fes in January 2012, she first visited Mohammed in Seville.
Then, almost a year later, as I entered Turkey, Olivia told me that Mohammed was now studying in Izmir, and that if I should go there, I had a place to stay for as long as I liked. Instead I went to Istanbul. While in Istanbul I decided to visit nearby Izmit as there was another Masterpeace pilgrim named Leanne  there. Once in Izmit, Leanne told me that a guy named Mohammed had passed through, and that he was hithhiking around Turkey. Mohammed, the very same Mohammed from Seville and Izmir, somehow knew I was coming to Izmit, and he left a little money for me. So the young man who couldn't help us in Seville has helped me out again over a year later in Turkey. While I know Mohammed's family in Tangier, I still haven't even met Mohammed.

I was given a lecture through e-mail not long ago that strangers will always be strangers, and that family is all we have in this lifetime. But the irony is that strangers have become very close friends of mine on this walk, while family, for the most part, has become more distant. This may have something to do with the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt, or it may be that my American family sees walking and surviving on the kindness of strangers as irresponsible or degrading. Most likely, however, is the fact that family has expectations on other family members that strangers do not have. The strangers who have become my friends have helped out from a simple desire to help.

Meanwhile, I have left the organic farm near Kandira, visited Leanne and two very kind hosts in Izmit, and moved on to Ankara.
I have heard from everyone that Turkey is a hitchhiker's paradise. Indeed, when hitchhiking to Kandira a week ago,  I believed this to be true, as I had several rides on a quiet country road. Naturally, I thought, hitchhiking the busy route from Izmit to Ankara would be a cinch.
It wasn't a cinch. I did get halfway to Ankara on a single ride, complete with free lunch from a perfect stranger, but I had to wait for several hours to get the ride. I also walked a good 10 or 15 k that day, and finally had to catch a  bus to get the rest of the way to Ankara.

I'm now here in Ankara with a stranger turned good friend and a wonderful family of strangers fast becoming friends. I'll soon try hitchhiking again towards Konya, the home of the ancient Sufi mystic, Rumi.
As always, I will be depending on the kindness of strangers.