I was waiting for the bus at the station in Gaziantep when you came up to me.
“You should close your backpack,” you said, noticing my zip was open about three inches.
“Thanks,” I said, and closed the gap.
We were about half way to Urfa when the bus pulled over. A Turkish guard came through and the passengers handed over their identity cards. We were about 30km from the Syrian border. Far enough away for me not to be concerned, but close enough to warrant random identity checks on domestic buses. I was going to Urfa for the day. I planned to be on a bus back to Gaziantep in a few hours. In my rush to leave the house this morning, I’d forgotten my passport. It was with the rest of my luggage at my CouchSurfing host’s place in Gaziantep.
I handed over the only ID I had – my Tasmanian driver’s license. The guard took it, but as expected, he came back on board. As I tried to explain why I didn’t have my passport on me, you got out of your seat near the front of the bus and came up the aisle.
“They want to see your passport,” you said.
I told you what I’d been trying to tell the guide. I didn’t have it. I was only going to Urfa for the day. I pulled out the few items in my backpack – a camera, mp3 player, notebook and a jacket – in an effort to prove my story. You spoke to the guard, who seemed sympathetic, but ordered me off the bus anyway. You came too.
I stood in front of five Turkish guards and retold my story. They were nice enough, but intimidating all the same. I was by the side of the road somewhere between two Turkish cities. I was alone. I had no passport. The only person I knew in the area – my host – was on a plane to Istanbul. You stood next to me.
The guards let me back on the bus to Urfa, but I spent the rest of the trip worrying I would encounter the same problem, and perhaps less understanding guards, on the way back to Gaziantep. I considered jumping on the next bus back. I was too stressed to enjoy Urfa now.
As the bus neared our destination you came back up the aisle.
“What are you doing in Urfa?” you asked.
“I don’t know yet. I just want to see the city.”
“Please do not understand me, but I can show you my city, if that is OK with you.”
You were concerned I would misunderstand your intentions. A reasonable assumption in Turkey. I looked at your kind eyes and the wedding ring on your finger, and took you at your word.
“That would be great. Thank you.”
You waited for me when the bus arrived at the station and we walked down the road to catch the bus into the city centre.
You had visited Antalya and had been on the bus for more than 12 hours. You didn’t sleep well. I told you I would be fine to explore on my own if you needed to go home to sleep, but you insisted. We stopped by a kebab shop where you left your bags with someone you knew. You told me you could leave your bags at any store and they would be safe. The staff would make sure nothing happened to them, even if you didn’t know them. Then you took me to the travel agent so I could buy my ticket back to Gaziantep. You didn’t want me to have any problems at the bus station later and thought it would be easier to buy while you could translate for me.
You had a camera with you and we talked about photography as we walked towards the old part of the city and into a small bazaar. You called your wife to tell her you wouldn’t be home straight away. I asked you about the conflict in Syria and you told me how you once felt sorry for the refugees, but no so anymore. ”They are taking jobs from Turkish people. We need money, but the Syrians will work for food.”
We walked to balikligöl, the Pool of Sacred Fish, and bought some food to feed to the carp. I’d seen photos of the pool but didn’t know its significance until you told me about Abraham. Legend says he was born in Urfa and fell in love with the King’s daughter. As punishment he was thrown into a fire. The flames turned to water and became the pool in front of us.
We chatted as we walked though Gölbaşı Garden and visited the teashop your brother works at but he wasn’t there. You hadn’t seen him in a while. You’re not that close anymore. We climbed the path that leads to the castle, stopping at a tea shop half way up. We sat in the sun and drank tea while you told me about your family. We looked at the view and you pointed out interesting things in the city. I asked you questions about Urfa, about Turkey and about your life. I told you about my parents and my sister. You were shocked they were happy for me to travel alone.
I was beginning to feel hungry and you suggested a place back in the city. I mentioned the kebabs in Adana, supposedly the best in Turkey, and you laughed and said the kebabs in Urfa were better.
We bumped into some people you knew. I heard you tell them I was from Australia. I’m sure they were confused why I was with you, but they smiled at me kindly. One of them spoke English and asked me what I thought of Urfa. I told him it was lovely and that the people were nice.
On the walk to the restaurant we stopped at a pet shop so could ask them about hamster cages. You wanted a pet. Next door was a souvenir shop and you bought me a key ring - a plastic green carp with Sanliurfa written on it. You handed it to me and said it was to remind me of Urfa. It was ugly, but the gesture was lovely. It’s now hooked onto one of my backpacks.
I insisted on paying for lunch. You argued. A lot. You said it would be insulting if you let me pay. I was your guest. I told you I wanted to show my appreciation and it was important that you let me pay.
You walked me to the bus stop so I could get back to the bus station. One was pulling up as we crossed the street. I jumped on while you told the driver where I needed to get off. The bus drove off almost straight away. I didn’t have time to thank you properly. I didn’t have time to tell you how much I enjoyed your company. I didn’t have time to tell you how you’d turned an ordinary day into a wonderful experience. One I’ll never forget. Even if I can’t remember your name.