Friday, June 28, 2013

Friend Machai recounts her 8 month bicycle trip through Africa and Turkey

Wow!! So much catching up to do! I want to let you know why I quit writing when I was in Uganda last May, tell you how I got to Turkey, and tell you why I’m back in Turkey now…the last year has been quite a journey in more ways than one!
Shortly after I wrote from Uganda last May 2012 my riding partner, Bob, was in a very serious bike crash. He was very lucky to be alive, but had serious trauma and was recuperating for several weeks before he could get back on the bike. During those weeks we were taken care of in Kampala, Uganda by a ‘couch-surfer’ ( who had a wonderful house and garden, but unfortunately the electricity rarely worked and the internet worked even less…so getting on-line became nearly impossible. At the same time, we found ourselves at a dead-end in Africa because of visa requirements and civil unrest in any direction we could chose. Bob had been to Turkey several times before and loved it, he suggested we fly out of Africa and go to Turkey where the livin’ (and biking) was easy. 8 months of riding in Africa had really taken its toll on both of us. Though we had had incredible experiences and wonderful hosts all along the way, it was still Africa…there wasn’t much food by our western standards, it was hot and usually dirty and often there was no running water or electricity – even in large cities like Nairobi. As soon as Bob could travel we left Uganda and flew to Turkey.
Sometimes when you are in the middle of a situation, you can’t really see it clearly, you need to move on before you realize in hind-site how difficult or traumatic it was. When we flew to Turkey we had an overnight lay-over in Doha, Qatar. The hotel the airline put us in was exquisite! When I entered the dining room and saw the buffet laid out with incredible food all the way across the wall my eyes welled up with tears! FOOD!!! REAL FOOD!! I hadn’t realized how much I’d been missing having meals that we would consider ‘normal’ in the U.S. Tears involuntarily rolled down my face. In most of Africa they subsist on a cornmeal ‘mush’ 3 meals a day. Along with a plate full of mush you might get a chicken leg and a tablespoon of vegetables or tomatoes…And this was no hormone-raised plump butterball kind of chicken leg…this was one skinny lil’ chicken that had precious little to eat himself! …he had the kind of legs that belong on a hollywood model. There wasn’t much there…and when I say a tablespoon of vegetables…it was no more than that …just one bite. Still in every country they shared generously and I want to acknowledge our hosts for taking us in everywhere we went, they were open and giving with everything they had.
Still, by comparison Turkey was a paradise! I can see why Bob thought we deserved it after the tough slog through Africa…
Turkey was green and lush with gardens and ample delicious food. Prices were awesome because the exchange rate was good and the people were open and friendly inviting us in for tea several times a day as we rode past. People would see us riding and wave us in calling, “chai, chai” or “tea, tea”…even though they didn’t know any English and we didn’t know any Turkish we would mime and sit in awkward silence wishing we could communicate more…just smiling and nodding our heads. Often there were tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese served along with the chai…and eventually we would ride on. We got so many offers for chai we had to turn them down lest we get nowhere in the day!
We started in Ankara, Turkey – the capital city. I loved it! Being a Parks and Recreation major in college, I so appreciated the sense of aesthetics and encouragement of recreation. There were beautiful landscaped parks everywhere…with fountains, small carnival-like rides were nearly free, there were lakes with paddle-boats, and exercise stations to promote health. Unlike in the U.S., it is a cultural ‘norm’ to sit outside and play backgammon, drink tea or just visit. The streets and parks are full of people…
And of course there are ‘ruins’ of castles from up to 1,000 yrs. ago dotting the landscape. We rode north out of Ankara to Samsun on the Black Sea coast…there was a fabulous Turkish family that took us in (actually several fabulous Turkish families took us in on several occasions!). But this family in particular had a father and son who both played soz, a traditional Turkish instrument with 7 strings. They invited the extended family over to meet us and we had a magical night sitting on the balcony overlooking the Black Sea with the father and son playing soz and the daughter showing me traditional dances…it was an experience of a lifetime!
Another thing I love about Turkey is the entire country is one big vegetable garden. Nearly everyone has a garden including fruit trees, melons, and vegetables…often there are even edibles planted in the marginal areas between the road and a gas station or other commercial business…there were watermelons growing alongside the highway in several places. I’ve rarely seen ‘grass’ here in the way we have it everywhere…they seem to only have it in medians of highways or other places where food can’t be grown. I really like this aspect. A stark difference to Africa and very different than the U.S.
We went north to Samsun on the Black Sea coast and then rode the entire coastline east to Georgia, the former Soviet Republic. It was simply fabulous! Riding along the sea everyday…swimming…the mountains come down to the sea all along the coast so to our right we always had mountains…to the left the sea. This was actually very similar to the South African coast. Several times we would wait at the bottom of a mountain road until we could hitch a ride on a truck and we’d ride up the mountain, get off and coast for miles down to the sea. Often waterfalls would surprise me as I would fly around a mountain corner and suddenly be hit with a cool blast of misty air and the sound of rushing water. I would glance up in time to catch a glimpse of the water tumbling down the mountain before I disappeared around the next turn. At first I would stop and go back and phtotgraph them…then after awhile I realized there were going to be lots of these. Life just doesn’t get much better!
Once we ran out of coastline we turned south into the true mountains of Turkey where even in August there was still snow that hadn’t melted from the year before…in fact, soon it was snowing on us! We hiked and camped in the mountains for about two weeks and it was exquisite. The turkish people were very open and friendly every where we went.
By this time it was getting to be late August and I was feeling the need to get home. My business needed me and I missed my children and grandchildren. I took a bus from Kars, Turkey to Istanbul and flew home on the cheapest ticket I could find…which happened to be round-trip. I wondered if I would use the second half of the ticket and told myself if I didn’t nothing lost – it was still the best price I could find.
Back in the states I visited my family, but really felt I needed and wanted time alone. This trip had changed me and changed my life…I felt like an alien in my own world. For 2 months I rarely left my room except to work and take care of general everyday living. Sometimes I would just sit for hours…I don’t really know what I was ‘doing’…but I felt like I needed to be doing it and I was able to give myself that time and space.
One of the main things that really touch me was the experiences I had in Uganda which I look forward to telling you about very soon…
Thanks so much for reading!  I love hearing from you, so please write or connect with me on facebook.  Much Love to you all…

Dear Machai,

I just got back from six weeks in Mexico, four of them leading teenagers on "Yucatan Adventures."

While "catching up" on email, I was delighted by your recent blog post from Turkey.

Your "ground zero" view contrasts starkly with the latest vilification to  lather The Good Christians. 

Currently, The National Lunacy is frothing over Islamic "inbreeding" --- the latest installment of The Right Wing's demonization of a billion and a half people. 

As it happens, inbreeding also characterizes many Jewish cultural practices. 
Here's Wikpedia's page on "Cousin Marriage" -

Someone said "If the devil didn't exist, we would have to invent him."

I think Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney put it best: "In politics, madame, you need two things: friends, but above all an enemy."

Above all, an enemy.

Just pick one. 

The enemy du jour.

Not long ago, our retired general friend commented: "It seems we haven't fought a good war since World War II."

To conclude...

It is enlightening to read (or re-read) Hofstadter's landmark essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." 



PS I am happy to report Lino is well. We traveled together five days in northern Yucatan. I very much like his wife, Cecilia, who, like Lino, is a "deep campo" Vera Cruz country girl. She is also a writer.

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