Meandering along gently sloping hills in Anatolia
My experience of Turkey was limited to a stopover on the runway in Ankara for refuelling and a week on the beach in Fethiye. But as soon as I read about the Sufi trail track in October 2018 I knew I wanted to participate. It was more intuitive than anything else. Sufism has appealed to me for many years, ever since I saw Sufi dancing for the first time in Cairo in the mid-nineties.
I did not give the small undermining voice in my head, questioning my physical ability or the smartness of participation, much chance. At least not until the time to depart for Istanbul came closer…
Iris and Sedat were waiting at the Sabiha Gokcen Airport. The six of us took off by bus to Emirdag. I had not slept so well the night before and was dosing on the bus. The most memorable part of this trip was the stop at a roadside restaurant loaded, really absolutely loaded with stacks of boxes containing Turkish Delight, pumpkin ones!
Half asleep my brain did not manage to buy some, much to my regret.
We arrived in Emirdağ, place of origin of many Turkish migrants to Haarlem and Belgium. There was even a Haarlem park. My interest was triggered. I started to ponder the question of what it had been like to come from Emirdağ and surroundings and end up in Haarlem.
There were two people in the group that I had not met before. Within 24 hours after starting to walk it became clear that many years ago I had actually been living next door to one. With both, I shared a friend. It was serendipity! A pleasant group feeling and a daily routine developed quickly. It was great fun to have all six of us disappear in a medium sized car with Sedat hurled up between all the luggage in the back.
All along the way, people were so incredibly kind and welcoming. I felt particularly touched when recognising customs and behaviour I knew so well from Yemen, where I lived for 8 years.
We would sit on the floor, around delicious and nutritious dishes displayed on a piece of cloth on the floor. People loved to talk, so it did help to have two Turkish speakers along.
There is something intensely soothing in walking long distances through nature. The slow movement makes it possible to truly take in the environment and detach from the daily attack on the senses. Over the centuries so many people walked that trail before.
The ancient connection to the land and religious beliefs can still be experienced. It ranges from picking plums, apples, raspberries and walnuts from trees along the way or visiting tombs and other spiritual places.
Walking through Anatolia made me realize how little I know about the history of this part of the world: its origins in Central Asia (Mongolia) and the many contemporary speakers of Turkish (dialect) in countries like Kazakhstan. The impact of Greek and Roman presence in buildings and constructions are still there to see.
The Ottoman Empire existed for 700 years and extended from Istanbul to the Red Sea coast of Yemen, to Algeria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, part of Iran to Azerbaijan. The empire fell apart by the end of World War I. It added a new dimension to my memories of Ottoman forts in Zabid and Luheyya in Yemen.
Times are changing: rural people have migrated in large numbers in search for a better life. Many houses are empty, during the week, outside of summer or permanently. Agricultural land is not always cared for any longer…
It was a humbling and uplifting experience to walk through Anatolia. I walked in peace, paying homage to the great Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. For him, LOVE was the religion. Our walk ended at the Mevlana in Konya, where we had planned to visit Rumi’s shrine. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation.
So I will just have to go back!!