Archive for May, 2011

Terrorists, sceptics and rally drivers

May 25, 2011


The scene is once again a petrol station. One of the staff is desperately trying to teach us a Turkish word. But it’s no use, we don’t understand what it is he wants to get across. He keeps repeating the term until we finally rummage in one of our backpacks for our dictionary. With fond memories of petrol stations and their amazingly kind and helpful staff almost all along our hike so far, we’re now anxious to learn the meaning of the word that is obviously of vital importance to the man. He points at the word in our dictionary: ‘terrorists’. “Where?“ we ask. “Here!“ he replies. We remember having been warned of Turkey’s East before. Something a local from Western Turkey had once told us came to mind: “You as tourists might be safe there. But to us Turks from the West, it would be too dangerous.” We also couldn’t help noticing that the windows of some of the houses were barred. One morning we were quite surprised to observe a man, armed and keeping watch over an open onion field. With a slightly queasy feeling in our stomachs, but aware of God’s omnipotence, we set off from the petrol station. Half an hour later, a white car pulls over in front of us. Three men get out. “Police!” they say. “Where are you headed?“ “To Tarsus.” “Where are you from?” “Switzerland.” After handing us five wet wipes, they get back into the car and roar off. Still affected by the warning from the man at the petrol station, we have our doubts about the genuineness of those policemen. Though in plain clothes, they neither showed their ID nor asked for ours. Also, we’d never seen all police officers get out of their car to question us before. We say to ourselves that next time we must pay more attention and at least memorize the car registration number.

To some Turkish people, we’re the ones to be doubted. “You’ve walked here all the way from Switzerland – you’ve got to be kidding! Where’s your bicycle?” a young man asks us incredulously. “We haven’t got one”, Hanspeter replies. “I don’t believe you!“ he says and changes roadsides. Someone else demands proof. “Show me your soles!“ A scene that reminds us of Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus who refused to believe his fellow disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. He said he would only believe when he saw and felt the scars in Jesus‘ hands and feet. Sometimes the miracles God works are beyond our comprehension. To us, the fact that none of us have been ill in a way worth mentioning and have been in good shape the entire nine months is nothing short of a miracle. Shortly before our trip, Annemarie had to undergo treatment following a knee inflammation. So far her knee hasn’t played up, even during our 50-kilometre stretch one day this past week. Last week there was another miracle, though it was about something more trivial, but a miracle it was. One morning, we were rather involuntarily woken up at 3.30 by our next-door neighbours. Having set our alarm for 4.45, we still could have gone back to sleep for more than an hour, except that Annemarie just couldn’t for the life of her. Around lunchtime, a thunderstorm erupted so we found shelter under the canopy of an office. “Last night was just too short. I need a Coke.” Annemarie said. A mere two seconds later, a man who couldn’t have had any idea of what we had just chatted about stood in front of us holding out two cans of Coke. Dumbstruck we stared at him. God surprises us again and again by His precision work, something we also experienced in Antioch/Antakya, the last major town for us before the Syrian border.

We had been contemplating the issue of whether or not to walk through Syria despite the political unrest for some weeks. From other globetrotters we had learnt that they had no longer been able to secure visas on the border. Prior to our departure from Basle, it wouldn’t have made sense to apply for a visa then since it is only valid for six months maximum. After giving the matter much thought and praying about it for quite some time, we have now decided to follow in Paul’s footsteps of his first journey and take the route via Cyprus. When we, on our first really hot day, got to Antakya, we walked on into town since the first hotel turned out to be too expensive. In the second one, shift handover had just taken place, and the receptionist on duty now spoke good English. In the course of conversation, he told us he used to work in Cyprus. He recommended not to take the more complicated route by coach and ferry but to go by plane. This possibility hadn’t crossed our minds until then, but now mulling it over it made perfect sense. Taking the coach would have meant going all the way back to Mersin as there are no ferries from Seleukia harbour to Cyprus any more. The man was a font of excellent advice on the subject and even organized us tickets at a good price for this Friday. If possible, we will walk the same route that Paul took on the island (Acts 13).

Not walk but drive did a group of rally motorists on the so-called Allgäu Orient Rally. We met the five men from Bavaria/Germany and their old cars in Tarsus (see video). It was with relief that they told us in the town of the Apostle Paul’s birth that arrangements for their alternative route on their way to Jordan had at last been finalized. They had decided not to drive through Syria since the border continued to be closed again and again. Now they were going to Cyprus by ferry. This wasn’t news to us, since we had heard the story before, told with the same relief by another one of their groups from Wedel in Northern Germany. We met them as they were stranded by the roadside after one of their cars had broken down between Mersin and Tarsus. Before we said goodbye, they generously gave us two pears that had been travelling with them all the way from Germany to Tarsus. They were delicious! 🙂

Not from Germany but Switzerland was creative Ursula (see video) who we paid a visit to in Iskenderun. Back when we ministered in Weinfelden, we regularly prayed for both her family and church whom her husband had founded in Iskenderun 50 years ago. As we arrived there at a weekend, we were able to attend the Sunday service. Since the murder of the Catholic Bishop last year, the current young pastor has constantly been accompanied by a bodyguard. Three years ago, not far from here three men were killed because they believed in Jesus Christ. It makes us sad that local Christians live in fear because of their faith, in a place that used to provide refuge for persecuted believers. What’s more, even the term ‘Christians’ was first used in the Turkish city of Antakya/Antioch (see video) [Acts 11,26]. It was from Seleukia harbour (see video), situated not far from the town itself, that Paul, Barnabas and John Mark sailed to Cyprus. The ancient harbour walls are still visible.

A most interesting country boasting a vast variety and quite a number of surprises (see video) along the way lies behind us now. Someone told us that until just a few years back, people here retired at the age of 45. Seen from this perspective, we passed through this country as pensioners. The rally drivers we met in Tarsus told us that a 40-kilometre desert stretch takes them around 10 hours. Since then we know that we can actually take on rally drivers – in the desert. J

Best regards

Hanspeter & Annemarie


New links:

Köfte (see video)

Roman bridge in Adana (see video)





Babam Tschiftschi

May 13, 2011

Fathers are important. We never doubted that. But we had no idea what a vital part our fathers, who are both in their eighties, would play on our walk to Jerusalem. Back in a Greek shop, when Hanspeter simply wanted to buy a 10-euro calling card, the shop assistant instructed him: “And this is where you write down your father’s name.” In Turkey, it seems that it is Annemarie’s father who people are interested in, especially his job. Recently, a woman came running our way shouting in English: “Where are you from?” Annemarie replied: “From Switzerland. Babam Tschiftschi.“ Not that we are fluent in the native tongue, but Annemarie has been using these two Turkish words, meaning “My father is a farmer” for weeks. Obviously happy with this information, the woman smiled, gave us a ‘thumbs up’ in reply and walked back to the cow she was looking after. The expression, which has already frequently come in handy, made its way into our active vocabulary during a photo stop in Turkey. It is Annemarie’s habit to ask people for permission before taking a photo of them, but with snapshots, it’s a bit trickier of course. One man who was working in a field expressed his irritation at being photographed. Luckily, just then a man was headed our way on the pavement, and Annemarie took the chance and asked him: “Excuse me, do you speak English, German or Italian?” to which the passer-by replied: “Italian.” “You see, I’ve just taken a photo of this gentleman, since my own father is a farmer.” she explained to him in Italian. A smile passed over the man’s face, and he was so kind as to act as our interpreter. This seemed to have a soothing effect on the man in the field. “Babam Tschiftschi“ – we  had to keep these two words in mind. Since then hardly a day goes by without us saying “Babam Tschiftschi“ to someone, usually causing lots of sympathetic nodding and smiling all around. Sometimes people would point at our backpacks telling us they are way too heavy. Then we say “Babam Tschiftschi” to which they nod understandingly. One police officer, however, didn’t seem to be satisfied with our reply. After he had offered us cay (tea), he enquired whether we had drunk lots of milk back home. “Yes, morning and evening.” This seemed to please him, since he nodded. We got talking, answering his questions and were quite taken aback when he suddenly said: “Your passports, please!” We have come to realize that the motives for offering us cay can vary. Sometimes it is out of genuine hospitality. Sometimes though, people just want to get a closer look at us and learn more about us. At times we observed how someone, after we had talked to them, turned around or crossed the street to proclaim what they had heard from us to the four winds. It is when everyone across the road seems to be turning their heads to look at us that we know what’s going on. From kids and youngsters we often get: “Where do you come from? What’s your name? Money, money!“ Others try talking us into ordering a meal at their restaurant to follow our cup of cay or get us to buy something in their shop.

One of our favourite foods in Turkey is borek (flaky pastry with different fillings), and we love watching it being prepared (see video). Since it is getting hotter by the day, and even more so as it progresses, we’ve made it our habit to set off earlier than usual and more often than not without breakfast. After one or two hours, when our stomachs start grumbling, we usually either have some borek, hot soup with salad and quite frequently a loaf of bread, occasionally with some yogurt. It seems as if our heavenly Father makes sure we get enough vitamins. There are greenhouses all around (see video), and it seems we’re right in the middle of harvest time. Along the coastal road, we were given fruit or vegetables almost every day: cucumbers, strawberries, bananas, avocados, oranges, lemons, yeni dunyas (Maltese plums), mulberries and some other fruit unknown to us.

Once, a small lorry stopped right in front of us. A woman and a child got off and studied our backpacks. At the same time, two young men emerged from the driver’s cab and ran down the length of the load area towards us. They picked up 16 cucumbers and held them out to us saying: “Here you go!“ Quite overwhelmed, we replied: “Thank you! This is rather a lot, though. We might not be able to carry them all.” “Yes, you will. Please take them.” “But it’s way too much!” It was no use. The men had already climbed the lorry again and off they went. Actually we had wanted to break for lunch a little further into that day’s stretch, but looking at our cucumbers we decided we might as well have a bite to eat there and then and lighten our load. Using a variety of facial gestures and sign language of sorts, we desperately tried to palm off our cucumber surplus on the woman with the child, but to no avail. She would not have it. So each of us stuffed a couple of cucumbers into our backpacks, and felt we had no choice but to leave the rest on the bench, much to our dismay. We had hardly walked a couple of steps, when a car stopped beside us. The driver asked where we were headed. He introduced himself as ‚Dario‘, and we got talking. We were amazed by his story. He and his family had been travelling the world for many years. Since their two children were homeschooled, there was no need to stay put in one place. Occasionally, Dario worked for three months to make a living. Now that their children were taking up their studies at university, they were forced to settle down for a short spell. The family, who up till today gets by without a mobile phone, invited us to visit them in France some time. When we said goodbye, we remembered the cucumbers we had left behind. Being a travelling family, they could easily relate to our dilemma and accepted the vegetables gratefully. And we for our part were thrilled that God had given us so abundantly that we were able to share.

Only three days later, we had a similar experience. We were walking along the road, when suddenly a motorhome pulled over. We were thrilled when we saw Paul and Monika, whom we had met back in Selcuk, emerge from the vehicle. What added to our excitement was that just a road bend ago, a woman by the roadside had, having caught our attention by calling out „Gusa, gusa!“, held out many green fruits. We couldn’t have possibly eaten them all on our own, so now we had again an opportunity to share the blessings we had received with someone else. And this way Paul and Monika got to know a new kind of fruit. To us, encounters such as these are no coincidence.

Another time, in a shop, the assistant threw in two cucumbers for free with the fruit juice we had just bought. We stored them in our backpacks. Two hours later we stopped to have some soup. Rather atypically, it didn’t come with a salad. We remembered the cucumbers in our bags and marvelled at the way God had taken care of our necessary dose of vitamins at the right time. We’ve found that fresh vegetables are a vital supplement to the – to our taste – rather sticky white bread in these parts. We’ve come to call it “foldable bread”, since it can be conveniently folded up and easily stowed away in a backpack. Whenever we get to a town, we look out for the more nutritious wholemeal bread. When staying at Heidi’s house, who is from Germany, we were treated to a delicious homemade one. We had met her at church on Palm Sunday. That day we were engrossed by a short conversation we had had with a young Turkish woman in Antalya (see video). “Why do they call it Palm Sunday?“ she had asked. Hanspeter explained that one week before his crucifixion, Jesus had entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The crowds had welcomed Him cheering: „Hosanna!“ while waving palm branches and paving the way before Jesus with them (Matthew 21). “I’ve spent my entire childhood in Germany, but no one has ever explained the reason for Easter to me. I only knew that it was customary to hide eggs.” This set us thinking. Except for a couple of tourist resorts, the creed can be heard from loudspeakers five times a day even in the tiniest of villages here, while in Europe it seems that not a single word is lost on the central festival of Christianity.

We enjoy the fact that our hike allows us to spend lots of time talking to Jesus. He is the One who brings colour to our lives. We have also found that it is the kaleidoscope of experiences that adds zest to our day-to-day lives. Much like a woven scarf that becomes more beautiful with each new colour added (see video). Sometimes we marvel at new, wholly unexpected discoveries. Only recently we realized that goats and we have something in common: Just like we at times, they neatly deposit stuff that has been cleared away from the middle of the road in the kerb (see video). J

Our heavenly Father has given us so much these past few months. Our hearts are filled with thankfulness towards Him, but also towards our earthly fathers and mothers, our praying friends, our sponsors and everyone who has lent a helping hand!

Have a colourful spring!

Best wishes

Hanspeter & Annemarie