The Homecoming

“Oh my God, Turkey!? … why would you want to go to Turkey? Haven’t you heard of the film, “Midnight Express”? Such were the expressions of surprise and disbelief from my former work colleagues when I announced, back at the beginning of 1992, that I was going to spend a summer in Turkey. It still amazes me that a Hollywood film could have caused so much trouble, creating an image of the country that would have an effect on tourism for years. Lucky for me, I had family in Turkey who were quick to assuage my fears about coming alone… and who had nothing but good things to say about the country and her people. Had it not been for these folk, my parents would never have allowed me to buy a ticket headed for Istanbul in the first place, let alone “wing it” in getting myself onto a connecting domestic flight, and boarding an airport shuttle bus destined for the city of Izmir. I was somehow supposed to stop that shuttle bus along its route, using the word, “otogar” – at which point in time, I would be catching a ride for the final leg of my journey… or so I thought!

Fast forward to the day of my arrival, I flew from Istanbul down to the coast with very little trouble and, with not a penny of local currency, proceeded to board the shuttle bus which took passengers into the city. As luck would have it, within 5 minutes of sitting myself down, I had met the manager of a Bodrum hotel, who paid for my bus ticket and who stopped the bus, grabbed my suitcase, and said that we had arrived at the “otogar”. We hopped off the bus and then proceeded across a busy highway, in the centre of which lay a double-sided, steel barrier dividing the north and southbound lanes – which of course we straddled and crossed. me coming up the rear. Having climbed over these divides, and reached the side of the road, this fellow then walked me into the Pamukkale Bus ticket office and began negotiating the amount of my ticket fare in the only currency that I had with me at the time, US Dollars. After some discussion with the men behind the counter, some of which sounded a little heated – I’ll never know what was said – my “knight in shining armour” announced that I would be paying a certain fee to the cashier and that my bus would depart in 30 minutes. He then shook my hand, wished me well and was gone – back across the highway to flag down a bus heading into town. I stood there in wonderment, taking in all that was going on around me and feeling the excitement of the past 30 minutes quietening down within. Following an uneventful five hour bus ride, in which I was offered nothing but smiles and kindness from fellow passengers, I arrived at my destination. My cousin, anxious to greet me, whizzed over to the bus station on a fat-wheeled moped and asked me to hop on behind! I pointed to my suitcase, and she waved her hand as if to say, “we’ve thought of that!” – and promptly made a request to her young son that he follow us along to a specific point on the town quay. I rode with the wind in my hair for the first time that day (I had been wearing a hat up until the bus ride from Izmir),and my suitcase was trundled along at top speed behind an enthusiastic second cousin, happily reaching the other end of the quay in one piece. Within a few hours, I found myself caught up in a love affair of everything Turkish – the sights and smells of the bazaar, and of restaurants cooking garlic dishes for early diners, all mixing with the sweet smell of pines and salty air. There were men with lemon cologne wafting from their newly shaven faces and women with dresses that appeared simple and yet colourful against a backdrop of castles and stone buildings. It was enchanting, and these days I reflect upon the whole experience as an absolute gift. It was my blissful homecoming – if ever you could come home to a place you’ve never seen.


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