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Chapter 23: Mixing It Up

Mardin to Diyarbakir. May 5-7.

Being done in Mardin, I again wasn't sure of whether to go southwest along the Syrian border for a more direct approach, or northwest to Diyarbakir which would keep options such as mount Nemrut open for later. I had tossed bottles with messages in the streams of the ether, and once one of them was answered I accepted immediately just as much to have a heading as to have a place to stay. And so, I set of to my next host Ferat in Diyarbakir.

Up to this point my problems with the bike had been confined to flat tires, but now the combination of heavy rear and weak gear started to take its toll. I had a detached spoke that I changed before leaving Mardin, and over the next two weeks multiple issues started to emerge including imbalances in the wheel causing an ever so slight wobble and a broken support for the bag rack that required welding (although seeing the welding up close was admittedly a very satisfying display of fire and light). The very moment I write this I have another three spokes off, all in the back. The problems themselves are annoying when they come, but the worries for future breakdowns are worse. I have been lucky so far but at this rate its a matter of time before I'm stranded in a bad spot.

For someone that talks a lot about facing fear, I start to realise how difficult it is to face threats that are not just imaginary, but proven to be real. When I think of such threats that are both real and truly life-threatening, as I have seen for others through my journey... let's just say that my big words of "forward in fear" start to feel hollow. I might get better at facing unfounded fears, calling the ghosts of the mind for what they are: ethereal. But what will I do when what looks back at me is solid and overwhelming in force? The truth is that I know nothing or facing real danger. For that, I can only call myself lucky.

A few days prior, I had never heard of Diyarbakir, which says a lot more about my knowledge than about the city. In Kurdish it is called Amer, in Roman it was called Amida, and "Diyarbakir" ("city of copper") is an early example of turkification in location names. It was soon evident to me that Diyarbakir is, and has been for millennia, a grand city of great significance. Halfway from Mardin, or rather the ancient city of Dara, there are ruins of Zerzevan Castle built by the Romans in the fourth century to overlook the exact road I was cycling that day, an important trade route in ancient times. It was my first real sight of remains from antiquity empires in Türkiye, with many to come. My interest in history is limited, but structures that have stood the test of time, if only partially, do capture me. For history buffs, I cannot think of any one country that have continuously been so relevant, and so dramatic, as Turkey.

After changing yet another punctured tube I finally made it to Diyarbakir, went straight to my host Ferat and found out that this guest experience would be quite unlike any other on the journey so far. Predictability is not the name of the game when traveling like this, nor is it what make up great stories. It is a sacrifice for a life rich in adventures, and one I make gladly.

Ferat, elementary school teacher and father of two, rents a second apartment in the same neighbourhood as he lives with family. It is his man cave of sorts, much more well kept than the term might suggest but still intended for his passions: hosting travelers, mainly cyclists like himself, and mixing music. Here he, and myself for a few days, could enjoy the wine from his own vineyard out in the countryside, bond over common interest and learn from our differences. He would come after family dinner, spend a few hours and then respectfully return before bedtime. Other than that, I had an apartment all to myself. When engaging on sharing platforms, it becomes evident what abundance of resources there are for us all, if only we make good use of them together. I had requested for one night but ended up staying three, using a rare opportunity to do mundane things such as grocery shopping and cooking for myself. They are everyday chores for most, but for me it is a nice change of pace to feel normal.

Diyarbakir is the largest Kurdish majority city in Türkiye and unofficially seen as the capital of the Kurds. While exploring the town I was fortunate to do so with another new friend. Tuba showed me around the town, both the old and the "new". Throughout east Turkey I have seen many large residential areas erected recently and rapidly, making them visible outliers in a historical environment. Some of them, encountered later on journey, are purposed to accommodate families made homeless after the earthquake in 2023. Other, such as those in downtown Diyarbakir, have replaced homes destroyed not by nature but by man. The 2016 siege of Sur, one of many violent clashes between Turkish military and Kurdish militants, largely destroyed the entire Sur district and displaced over 300 000 people. Diyarbakir has long been at the center of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

While the city carries a touch of darkness, both in modern history and in visual appearance - many old town buildings are striped in a deep gray tone - and the clouds in the sky had a similar colour those rainy spring days, I for one was very pleased with my mini break. The opportunity to get a taste of the creative arts of my new friends was particularly intriguing and inspiring, no only of Ferat's music but also of Tuba's short stories. Like me she's an aspiring writer and one day, Insha'Allah, we will be able to enjoy the full works of the other.


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