As a Goleta boy, I get my strength from the ocean and my vision is most clear in nature. Living in a concrete jungle has had its toll on me, so I decided that I needed to go to the Mediterranean. With all of the distractions I have had while being in the capital city here in Turkey, I almost forgot how much I needed some sand and dirt in my life.
These have been some major distractions. Let me just list a few of the big ones that have happened while I have been here. On January 21, 19 Al Qaeda operatives were arrested and two large weapons deposits were found in Ankara. In late February, an attempted 2003 coup was uncovered and more than seven high-ranking military officials were summoned for questioning. On February 27, the biggest protests and general unrest in Ankara and Istanbul in the past 50 years highlighted discomfort with the current economic system. On March 3, the Turkish government pulled its head ambassador from D.C. indefinitely, for “briefing,” on account of a House committee’s decision to officially recognize the 1914 Armenian genocide as an actual genocide. Lastly, some archeologists just unearthed what they believe to be the oldest civilization ever found. This 11,000 year old shrine is shaking the very foundations of what humanity has thought about its history. All of this is happening right now, right here in Turkey.
Back to the sand and the dirt. As I write this, I am on a bus from the Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya heading back to highrise and car infested Ankara. I was invited to chair/direct a council at this year’s Model United Nations Turkey. Having already had two years experience as a chair with Santa Barbara’s very own WestMUN, I jumped at the opportunity. The fact that the conference was taking place in Antalya, a quaint town nestled up against the Mediterranean, made it really easy to make the decision. My options for getting to Antalya were simple: an hour flight or a nine-hour bus ride, and naturally I chose the latter. Not only was I going to have the opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time in my life, I was also going to get a change to get out of the city and see what the Turkish countryside looked like. I think the correct term is “fucking WOW.”
The landscape was quite literally easier to fall in love with than a 23-year-old woman with a Ph.D., skills in the kitchen, and her own place, who sports a pink Kobe Bryant jersey. When I saw the rolling hills with every shade of green grass you can imagine, on the way out of Ankara toward Antalya, I immediately was infused with an emotional boost. Moving into the valleys of central Turkey I got a first-hand view of where all of the amazing fruits and veggies I have been eating come from. Every little town we passed sat peacefully within its natural setting.
The mosques in the countryside were quite different from those in the city. In urban Ankara, the mosques, for all their magnificence, are small when compared with the skyscrapers and high rises. In the countryside, however, the mosques tower over the villages or are given their own space in nature right outside the villages. Some were fairly large, but the most impressive one I saw was a single-room mosque no bigger than your average single-car garage. It was placed by itself about 200 meters from the rest of the city; its cute little dome and minaret were the only attributes that made it possible for me to recognize its religious significance. A young man that I met on the bus was practicing his Spanish with me and pointed it out in Spanish, using the suffix “ito” which in Spanish deems a noun small in size: He called the mosque a “mosquito” which of course brought a smile to my face.
As we moved into the mountain regions of Southern Turkey, the towns looked as if they had literally burst out of the earth at the same time as the mountains, when the earth was still forming. What perplexed my mind was the juxtaposition of the heavy mining processes that were going on throughout the mountainside, with what looked like a series of attempts at re-forestation: Hundreds of acres of mountainside had baby trees or little plots of dirt unearthed and waiting for life to be planted.
The ride down the mountains and into the coast was amazing. Seeing the Mediterranean for the first time was dream that became reality. The sea immediately gave me the perspective I had been longing for while living in the city. The development that I have been discussing over the past couple articles—which I had thought was representative of Turkey as a whole—is only confined to the cities. Except for the solar panels that I saw on about 70 percent of the homes in the villages we passed, the countryside looked as if it hadn’t changed in centuries. My only hope is that these little villages remain, for if Ankara and cities like it represent the mind of this country, these little towns are the heart, and heart is always more important than mind.