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Chapter 25: Men's Search for Meaning

Siverek to Şanlıurfa. May 9-10.

Mount Nemrut, whilst not the most popular because of its challenging geography, is supposedly one of the most impressive sites in Turkey. On top of the mountain are great statues of Greek and Persian gods that have survived the weather and earthquakes for over 2000 years. It had felt like an attraction worth a detour.

The more I looked into it though, the bigger the detour felt in terms of time, energy and possibly money. What I hoped to be a cool thing on my way seemed more and more like a big project in itself and I haven't made room for more big projects at this time. It is a kind of experience where the efforts should magnify the reward, not take away from it. Once I decided to drop it and take the faster route in the South I immediately felt my determination return. I had been distracted by the recommendations and the reviews and lost my direction. That was okay, it happens. But I would seize the opportunity to get back on my path, and not look back.

Interestingly, when I later mentioned to Tuba, (see chapter 23), that I had skipped mount Nemrut, she failed to hide her disappointment. The disappointment was not over me missing out on Nemrut and the statues, but in me straying from my path. Obviously, when I spoke to her, I had been reasonably confident that Nemrut followed by Adıyaman and later Cappadocia and Konya was my route, and perhaps I had sounded even more confident than I actually was. I don't blame her for being disappointed in my lack of direction, even if in this case the path that was most in line with my passion project was the simple route and not the scenic one. There is a bigger discussion here on masculine direction, allowing ourselves to explore and yet hold ourselves accountable. A discussion for another time.

Şanlıurfa, or just Urfa for short, is mostly known for the prehistoric findings in Göbekli Tepe and other smaller archaeological sites in the area. Not only does Turkey have countless of ancient cities and temples, it also sports perhaps the most impressive remains from life before civilizations. Anatolia, the peninsula that Turkey largely consists of, is simply an area where people have been plentiful and active under a very, very long time.

At Göbekli Tepe, a good 20 kilometer cycling from City Center on a hill looking out of the planes, I wasn't very impressed at first. The site contain remains of houses that seem to have served spiritual functions based on the giant monoliths with carvings inside them. The findings are significant because they prove that life at around 9,000 BC was not primitive at all, as great collaboration and coordination were required to bring the stones to this elevated place and erect them. Even the location itself seems to have been chosen with purpose. Yet, my eyes only saw what was in front of them: dirt and rocks.

Then, as I stood looking at the biggest of the houses, it dawned on me. For all this time, and probably longer still, man has been searching for meaning. Today we go on yoga retreats, climb over mountains or cycle over continents. 11,000 years ago, they brought stones bigger than men, and carved symbols. Survival is simply not enough, not then, not now. Being alive is no guarantee for feeling alive. In fact, guaranteeing the former might even prevent the latter. I will take to quoting again, this time from a movie epic set in Turkey. The ruins from the ancient city of Troy still lie north of Izmir, west of Bursa, around 200 kilometers each way. The words are spoken by Achilles:

"The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again."

From Eric the not Brazilian (mentioned in chapter 22) I had a tip of a cheap accommodation in Şanlıurfa. Hotel Ugur was the first establishment since I came to Iraq that had a touch of hostel. Shared bathrooms, low price and backpackers. The owner Mustafa was a senior man who had the aura of someone who was as old as the city itself, and had seen trends come and go, empire's rise and fall. It wasn't that he looked ancient, it just seemed that nothing would surprise him or make him upset, as he had seen it all before. Mustafa was also one who seemed to have learned the lesson that fair business is good business. On his watch he wouldn't let neither a tourist, a local merchant nor himself be a fool in a deal. It is hard to imagine the hotel, or the city, without him.

Two of those backpackers were Dan and Luna, on the way to Nepal. Having been in sober cultures for two months, I hadn't had many beers, nor had I missed them. But when Dan and I went out in the Şanliurfa evening, it called for beer. Dutiful as we were, we answered that call.

"Would you say that you are a romantic?", he asked after we'd spoken of our travels.

"Absolutely", I replied without thinking twice.

He looked in the distant, deep in thought. "Yes... In a way, you could say that a romantic is someone that sees beauty in things. And it is epic and admirable with the wandering chronicler that you are trying to embody...". He gave a morbid chuckle and looked back at me. "But it's terribly lonely."

I've been thinking a lot about what Dan said. Loneliness is indeed my biggest enemy, a rival that my tendencies and my nature will always battle against. I don't want to be lonely, I don't want to feel lonely, but I find myself wanting things that bring loneliness with them. This is nothing new, but Dan's way of putting the romantic soul resonated deeply with me. Seeing beauty in the world, in nature and in people is truly what I aspire to do. Sometimes, others putting aspects of us into new words can change the way we look at ourselves, alter what we see in the mirror and transform how we think about that image.

"I really needed this", Dan concluded on our way back three beers and three hours later. "We don't have to figure it all out by ourselves." My sentiment mirrored his in every way. For all the soul searching and self scrutinizing, the heavy stone lifting and the cross continent cycling, sometimes all that's needed is boys and beers. In plural.


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