The co-driver was constantly turning his head around and explaining that he was a businessman travelling the world. On business. He listed all the countries he visited so far. Since English wasn’t his forte, he was only sticking to listing countries. I don’t understand how it is possible that his English is not good because he is always on the road. Naturally, he also said he would come visit me in Varaždin. And the driver? Well… based on driver’s car, I would say he was even a “bigger” businessman than his co-driver. Secret businessman. No bragging. Businessman in the background. Since car’s performance features did not allow the driver to drive below 120 km/h, we reached Istanbul in two hours.
It was 10pm. They took me to the nearest tram station, gave me ticket money (after all, they are businessman) and explained how to get to Suleiman. Suleiman (not the Magnificent one) was a young man at whose place I would spend the following two nights. Imagine this – he is not a couchsurfer. How did I get his details? Well, it’s not important. I would need one whole paragraph to explain it. From a friend of a friend… it’s actually not relevant.
Due to my budget of 10.000 HRK necessary for my 2 year long journey my goal is to spend as little as possible throughout the day. If I am not organized well enough when it comes to food, as for example now on this three-day journey to Turkey, I mostly don’t buy food because there is no place to buy it. Often, I find myself outside of inhabited areas where there is nothing at all. Therefore, on this three-day journey to Istanbul I spent only 70 HRK.
It was Saturday evening and Halloween. Suleiman organized it all. Meeting his friends, meeting other friends, going out, town, club…. everything. Club entrance and beer and in 2 minutes I spent 70 HRK. The same amount of money which I spent in the last 3 days. Well, bravo, Tomica. Really, bravo. So, what now? Shall I be drinking this one beer until morning? Shall I run away? What shall I do?
I spent two days there. Not at the bar. At Suleiman’s place. I never went out during these 2 days. Journey up to here made me so tired that I could only lie down and recharge my batteries. Monday arrived, I packed my bag and left Suleiman’s place. To be more exact, I went only 300m away to a CS who invited me to visit him via Couchsurfing website. I created an open couch request for Istanbul and this guy offered to be my host. Host’s name is Ghawzan. He is a teacher of Arabic and English language. He was born in the capital of Syria, Damask, and four years ago he moved to Istanbul. He is definitively a record holder of hosting people at his flat. He told me he stopped counting after reaching number 150, but based on some calculations he must have hosted around 300-400 people. Well, this man loves hosting. He doesn’t just love it, he adores it. This “passion” of his never lets him be alone at his place. During my stay at his place there were 3 more fellow travelers. At one point, there were six of us and each one of us was from a different country. However, there was no sign of the Turk. Every night we used to have endless discussions, sometimes even too many. John (the American) always started with political topics. This dude slept throughout the day and woke up at 9pm and then he started talking about war, army, Congress, Syria, masons, conspiracy theories. Come on, John, it’s already midnight. You can’t change anything from this room. Tomorrow, I’ll wake you up at 6am so that you can go to sleep at 9pm. Ghawzan (our host) had a little more love in his talks. He talked about his Syrian culture which was always our evening topic. His home is filled with unbelievable peaceful energy. Calmness is in the air. On the ceiling above us there was a big picture of Masjid al-Haram, the largest and the holiest mosque in the world. It is located in Saudi Arabia, in the city of Mecca. Also, it is one of the main and holiest sites of Islam where once a year a couple of millions of Muslims go on one of the largest pilgrimages in the world. Ghawzan has been there 5 times so far. When he talked about it, every one of us would start gazing at the picture… Lost in thought.
Ghawzan also had a lot of other stories to tell. Stories about couchsurfers. How wouldn’t he have so many stories after hosting so many couchsurfers at his place. Here is one of them. Once upon a time, Ghawzan hosted one girl called Elisabeth. She had a couple of large travelling bags which Ghawzan had to carry up the stairs. After he brought the last bag and put it on the floor, out of the blue Elisabeth told him: “You know, I am Christian. I don’t want to have sex with you.” Ghawzan said: “Ok. That wasn’t my intention at all”. ???? Days were passing by, but Elisabeth didn’t want to go out of the flat. She told him that she escaped from her family in Australia where she was born and that she applied for a work visa in Dubai. Ghawzan explained to her that she shouldn’t even hope to get the work visa there since she is a woman and there they don’t give these types of visas to women. She was still very persistent and hopeful when it came to this issue so Ghawzan gave it all up in the end. One month passed by and Elisabeth was still at his place. Ghawzan’s culture doesn’t allow him to ask the guest about his/her plans to leave. Therefore, he changed his tactics. He told her that the next day he urgently had to leave somewhere on business by plane. Naturally, she told him she would wait for him at his place. After that, he explained to her that his mother would soon come to his place and it would be awkward for him to have someone else’s girl at his place. “Wait. You want me to leave your place?” “Well, YEEES!!!??? But, don’t worry. I found a place for you. My friend will take you in.” And, that was the truth. He found a place for her at his friend’s but he didn’t explain to him that once Elisabeth set foot at his place, it would be difficult for him to get her out of his place. However, this friend wasn’t as good as Ghawzan and after a week he told her to leave the flat. She called Ghawzan to tell him she was coming back to his place. Ghawzan quickly locked his place and went to his parent’s place. Ghawzan’s friend knew a local priest and asked him if he would be able to accommodate a girl for a couple of days because at that moment she didn’t have a place to stay. The priest, of course, agreed to accommodate her. So, Elisabeth went to church. One day she locked herself in the bathroom where she was shouting for hours and she didn’t want to get out. After that, someone called the police. It was probably her. Soon, the police came, for the first time in church history, and they knocked on the door. Because of unseen disgrace which Elisabeth caused to church, the priest told her to leave. After that, no one knew where she went. Of course, we joked that one day she would knock on Ghawzan’s door again. There. This is one of the stories. Would you like one more? 🙂
There is an interesting fact related to the serious Turkish view on politics. A week ago we had to turn clocks back one hour. Normally, here in Turkey they do this two weeks after we do it in Croatia. One day after this was supposed to happen they had presidential elections. So, instead of turning clocks back one hour on that night, or, if they were so bothered with this, they could have moved the day of elections…. but noooo, they delayed this time change for one week later. One week I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with time. Something just didn’t fit and I couldn’t figure out what. Time on mobile phone and laptop changed automatically that night because they didn’t know that on that particular day there would be presidential elections. There was always one hour missing from my time.
Before coming to Istanbul I didn’t know it was so big and full of people. With 17 million of inhabitants and around 5-6 millions of commuters, I started feeling slight pressure in my chest. I think I even started feeling a bit claustrophobic even though I was outside in the open. The town is beautiful but it is simply too big and too restless. In every street, on every square, in every mosque, on the road… there are just too many people. Here I realized that after Istanbul I would have to change the strategy of this journey. In the future I will avoid such towns and focus more on smaller places. Smaller towns. Even villages. Because this is just too much.
Somewhere among those buildings there is the Iranian Embassy where I had to hand in my visa application. The search didn’t last long but I had to spend two whole mornings in that building. Only the following morning a lady at the counter explained that visa application was not as easy as I imagined. According to a new regulation I had to fill in a form which can be found on official webpages of Iranian Embassy after which one of the agencies came to my rescue. They sent all my data to Teheran. Naturally, I had to pay 450 HRK for this because they don’t do it for free. Two-three days later I should get an authorization code to my email and only then I could go to the Iranian Embassy and hand in my visa application together with this code. After handing in the visa application I would have to wait a couple of days and then I would get the visa in my passport. Waiting for the visa to be approved here in Istanbul would take a bit too long. So, I applied for visa online and chose one of the 4 listed towns where I could get the visa in my passport. This town is close to the Iranian border and I would have to get there together with the authorization code in three weeks. Yes, quite complicated. This whole process disrupted my future plans. I had to stay in this country for one more month. But, this was all my own fault. I could have done this in Zagreb. But, why in Zagreb when I can do it in Turkey? 🙂
The town is too big to get out of it to hitchhike so I decided to hitchhike here in town, not far away from Bosphorus bridge. After finding the right spot I pointed my thumb up and immediately I found myself in trouble. Trouble on two wheels. A policeman on his motorbike started coming closer. He stopped right next to me. He got off the bike and started explaining something in perfect Turkish. He took out his mobile phone and wrote “Forbidden” and tried to explain the meaning of this word in Turkish. Suddenly, a TV crew reporting on traffic came down the sky exactly where I was standing and exactly at that moment. The reporter asked me: “Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?” I replied: “I’m Tom from Croatia and I’m not doing anything, just hitchhiking!” The reporter turned towards the camera with his microphone and started translating what I had said. In the meantime, the policeman stopped a bus full of people, said something to the driver and led me inside the bus. All along I was followed by TV crew. In the end, I think they successfully reported on traffic.
The bus driver was responsible for me and he never took his eyes off of me. He already started looking suspicious to me. Every time I moved, he immediately reacted and started saying something in Turkish. I really didn’t know what the policeman had told him. As soon as the driver relaxed, I disappeared in the crowd. Suddenly, the whole town conspired against me. Or maybe it was all just in my mind. They saw me hitchhiking; they were coming to me and waving that no one would stop because this was Istanbul. “Hitchhiking… nooooo…. Istanbul”. Hmmmmm. Finally, after a while, a man speaking English approached me and said: “Look. I know hitchhikers and I understand your view, but, dude… you are not going to hitch a ride here. Never. First, because you are in town and you need 30 km to get out of town… Second, everybody is in a hurry. They don’t even notice you. There is a website on Internet called BlaBlaCar and there you can find someone going to Ankara. Some will drive you for free, others you will have to pay a certain amount of money.” I listened to him. I registered and found a ride. A couple of hours later I was waiting for Can C and his white car. This guy asked me to pay him 40 TL (90-100 HRK) for 500 km long ride to Ankara. I accepted. And again I broke my vow on hitchhiking. Sometimes one just needs to accept defeat.
Eshane and her roommate are from Morocco and 4 months ago they moved to Ankara. After they got more familiar with the town, they decided to start hosting people at their flat. I was their first guest. What an honour! This honour was crowned with one of my performances. I again came into their flat at 2am. And girls were again looking for me in the streets. I think this is stronger than me and I will stop worrying about it. The girls were waiting for me with wonderful warm dinner on the table. And what can I say to that? In the future, I will start crying if anything like this happens again.
Saturday evening we spent at home. Instead of going out on Saturday, we were sitting in the room and discussing various topics. Eshane and her roommate (I forgot her name) are Muslim. They have been following Quran since childhood. I don’t know a lot about Islam and Muslim customs (except for Mecca, for now) so this was the perfect night to find out more. I listened to their special talk on Islam for three hours. They told me Islam forbid them to leave their families for no special reason. One really needs good reason to leave home, to leave their family. One of the reasons is education, whereas the other one is job. They left for job. Even if you find a job in the same town where your family lives, it is better to be with family in the house rather than in a separate flat. So they say. They told me they prayed 5 times a day and every prayer lasted around 10 minutes. One early in the morning before sunrise, one in the morning, one around noon, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Maybe this sounds like giving a lot up in our everyday life, but in these girls’ eyes one could only see love and purity. I think they never hurt anyone or said anything bad about anyone. I wish there were more people like this in the world. When one of them started talking, another one would add something and finish the sentence.
They told me about Ramadan. From what happened inside their minds and around them during Ramadan. One of the main reasons for posting this text is compassion for people who don’t have a lot. Also, for people who don’t have anything to eat. One other reason is families gathering up during Ramadan. These gatherings are never as intense as they are during Ramadan. They would gather in the afternoon for an hour or two before twilight and prepar dinner together. Biiiig dinner. These moments when the food is prepared and served on the table and you feel hunger inside because you still cannot eat for some time…these moments are the most intense ones. Then, slowly compassion for others creeps up. And after that – gratitude for having food to eat.
One more night that kept me up thinking….