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Chapter 34: Agent of Change

Kaş to Köyceğiz, June 2 to 3

On June 4th, I would turn 30 years. In some ways, it felt insignificant - I had already postponed any party to my homecoming. At the same time, there was great significance. My whole journey is, in a way, an anniversary crisis project, an intervention to mark the end of something old, the beginning of something new and the transition in between. On my last night in Kaş on June 1st, there had been a small celebration with a cake and Greta, a German roommate, had encouraged me to set some intentions for this upcoming decade. The point of doing so is to exert some direction of ones life, to choose a path in line with your vision rather than simply walk the one that is the most comfortable or accessible in the moment. As I cycled the 113 km to Fethiye on the following day, I thought about what such intentions could be and decided that they would be developed throughout the remaining journey home.

After a night in Fethiye I immediately continued to Köyceğiz where I would be taken in by Mustafa, a friend of Tuba back in Diyarbakir (featured in chapter 23). The moment I met him I was struck by how good-looking he was. I couldn't put my finger on what it was but I just knew that most women back home in Sweden would find this man attractive. I didn't think more more about it then as I installed myself and went to buy more spare tubes from the local bike shop before it closed for the day. When I returned Mustafa had cooked me a great pasta of his own recipe, and I recalled Swedish Tinder profiles declaring "cook me a good pasta and you're mine". I smiled to myself but didn't say anything. Men usually don't say that sort of thing to other men they just met, or perhaps that is just me.

Köyceğiz is located by a big lake that connects to the Mediterranean. After dinner we took a stroll down by the waterfront. The town had the look of a tourist magnet with the seaside walk full of bars and restaurants, but a charming local vibe with families and elders taking the opportunity to get out once the temperature finally started to drop. There was even a music festival where a senior choir performed classic Turkish music. When we sat down I was soundly beaten in two games of Backgammon, and I gained a new appreciation for the game.

As a dice-based game, I had up to this point felt that winning or losing in Backgammon to a large extent came down to chance, too much so for my taste. By the middle of the first game, I realised too late that Mustafa had caught me in a trap. I knew how to calculate short-term tactics in the game, but it was clear then that there was long term strategy as well. After a few more moves it seemed inevitable that he would win barring an incredible streak of lucky die rolls by which I wouldn't feel like a winner anyhow.

"Alright, well played, this one is clearly yours" I said and started to pick up the pieces, impatient to apply what I had just learned.

"Wait." Mustafa rearranged the position, and showed me that it might not be decided just yet. He was favoured to win, but by holding my ground and wait for the opportune moment, there was still chance that I could set him back and turn the game around. That chance was not great, but big enough to give a shot.

If life has taught me anything, it is that one of the most important aspects for our attention is agency. To what extent do we have it and when? What do we do when we know? My all time favourite guideline in life, the Serenity Prayer, reads:

God grant me...

The Serenity to accept that which I cannot change

The Courage to change that which I can

And the Wisdom to see the difference

In the game of Backgammon, I learned that day that I had more agency than I thought, more power over my position than I had realised. My choices mattered, and whatever the outcome there would be lessons from it as I had taken active part in shaping it. The right thing, as well as the respectful thing honouring the spirit of fair competition, was to play to all my outs, and give Mustafa the best I got while there was a fighting chance.

Later on, we were joined by Mustafa's friend Emre, his dog and a round of beers. Both men worked in school, Emre as a musics teacher and Mustafa as a teacher for kids with disabilities. Both of them had moved to Köyceğiz from eastern Turkey - Kars and Diyarbakir respectively - but Emre said he didn't like the people much at his current job. "In fact, I don't like humans in general", he laughed and patted the dog. Obviously such a thing is only said by the most loving ones, which I could sense in him from the moment he sat down.

"You watch out or I might tell your principal about that", I joked while taking a sip. Emre chuckled, amused. "No worries, she doesn't like humans either" and I almost lost my drink, laughing while feeling that this time it might actually be true what he said.

Both of them were singles, way into their 30s. Knowing they were Kurds, I could guess what their mothers were saying. "All the time when I speak to her, she keeps asking me when I am getting married", Mustafa complained. He got something hollow in his eyes. "Women today don't want just a good guy with a good heart. They ask me if I have a big house, a big car or a big salary and when I have neither, they do not care that I am healthy, that I look after myself and others and live a simple, happy life."

"Bro, you're living in the wrong country", I replied and shared what my first impression had been of him. The emptiness in his eyes was replaced by deep thoughts. Progress. "Hell, when the girls also hear you're a special educations teacher, they know you are nurturing, patient and know complexity and depth in people. They'd jump on you instantly." He lit up a little. We were getting somewhere.

Had I been more humble I would have stopped there or before, for really, who am I to be giving dating advice? But right or wrong, I sensed that I had been convincing enough to make him receptive, so I confidently pushed on. He had felt about love life like I had about Backgammon - that it was a game of luck, and that his dice had been low-rolled. Truer is, in my not very humble point of view, that while there is a great deal of chance involved there is always the opportunity that it tips in your favour but if, and only if, you are still in the game and trust that the right moment will present itself.

But there is more. In Backgammon, the dice roll as they will and cannot (should not) be manipulated. But in life, when coexisting with others, the dice can be loaded. Believe they are loaded to roll low for you, and they will be, for who wants to be with somebody without hope? But believe they are loaded to roll sixes, and more often than not, it feels like you're a winner no matter the result. For men especially, fortune from people really does favour the bold, in dating most of all. I told Mustafa all this, and that I was sure that his dice were heavy loaded to the high end if only he gave it a shot, and why not with foreigners?

The pep talk had effect. There was spark in his eyes now, and he started talking of possibilities, rather than failures. His fate had changed from sealed to open. His marriage status had gone from "not" to "not yet". I do not have the power to change peoples' lives. But maybe, just maybe, I can help them feel that they do. And as long as there is that chance, no matter how slim, I will take it every single time.


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