You gotta have faith…

by tkos on August 17, 2012

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I believe in religion about as much as I believe in Star Wars. There’s a lot of special effects and an interesting story line but some people take it way too seriously.

But I believe that everybody has a right to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Be it talking snakes & forbidden fruits, immaculate conception, weekly total world creation or the Jedi Force. It just doesn’t really matter to me, whatever floats your boat and puts a smile on your dial. If it doesn’t get in anybody else’s face, then that’s just groovy.

We’ve been cycling through predominantly Muslim countries for a few weeks now. Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria and now we are half way through the middle of Turkey. The Muslim world hasn’t really had an effect on us to date, except for the blaring of the ‘call to prayer’ in the early mornings. If anything, it has been somewhat of a sideline, until now.

The E80 highway cutting through central Turkey from West to East has taken us through a few larger towns, a few kind strangers homes and the odd cheap hotel. But now we find ourselves in a situation where the sun is beginning to fade, yet again, and we have nowhere to sleep. So confident we are though with the hospitality of the Turkish, our plan is to simply ask a stranger to sleep in their home in the next town we ride into. Complete and utter blind faith, or stupidity depending on how you look at it.

We cycle into the small village of Refahiye. I can’t even pronounce it and couldn’t spell it if I didn’t look it up, so needless to say, it’s not a booming town. No hotels, one main street with a couple of dusty tracks branching off, we approach the first ‘non axe murdering’ looking person we see.

‘Hello!!’ Kimmi exclaims, all bright eyed and cheery as such. ‘Hotel?’ she asks, looking around with a confused expression, although knowing full well there is no hotel and this is just a devious plot to gain an offer of accommodation in the mans home. The man just looks confused.

He ponders for a moment and indicates that he’d like us to follow him across the road towards a small shop. We follow with intrigue as we contemplate the unknown destination as to where we will lay our head this evening. He raises his hand in a police like halt as we draw to a still. He indicates he wants me to follow on foot and Kimmi to remain behind. This is a little unusual and I start to review my previous criteria of people and should perhaps raise the bar a little higher than just ‘non axe murdering’.

Behind the shop, a simple and basic, yet somehow majestic mosque stood proudly before me. This was to be our home for the evening. We were going to sleep inside a mosque. He looks at me for confirmation and I excitingly agree. I feel proud to be invited in such a holy place where I will probably snore and scratch the night away. The man and I return to get Kimmi and the bikes and find her the entertainment of the local elders. ‘We’re going to sleep in a mosque!!’ I exclaim to Kimmi and her face brightens. It’s something a little different and we don’t need to talk to anybody about our trip for a day in broken English and charades. Bonus.

The local elders began to argue with the man though, all in Turkish. They start pointing at the road out of town and suggesting there is a hotel a further 25km East. It was already dusk and our hearts sank as we were fast being kicked out of town. Our man piped up for our defence and told them old men what’s what. No idea what he said, it was in Turkish. Either way, it looks like we are staying, despite the whole town not really approving, but definitely all of them knowing.

The openness and generosity of Islam

We drop our bags and wash ourselves in the outside sink, where they wash their feet before prayer.  It’s time for dinner and the small shop we were paraded in front of earlier make fresh lahmacun. It’s Turkish pizza but I’m allowed to eat it because we are in Turkey.

Kimmi and I are beaming about our new found real estate. We know it’s a little controversial but we continue to beam anyway. We engage in some pleasantries with the lahmacun man and he even lets me video him a little. Nothing like flashing expensive video equipment in front of poor people. It makes such great video.

We munch down on our lahmacun and charade out our cycle journey across the globe to great delight, or polite, to the three locals in the shop. And then in walks an Imam. Now if you don’t know, an Imam is an Islamic leader or teacher of a mosque and local community or like an Islamic version of a priest or a monk. Picture long robes, a well folded piece of material on his head, a long long wiry beard and a mug shot of America’s most wanted and you’re pretty much there. He knows exactly who we are and where we are spending the night. And he has come to check us out.

The first thing he says is ‘Christian?’ This is a tough question to answer, because we are not Christian. And the only thing worse than Christians to Muslims are the Jews. And we’re not Jewish either.  But the only thing worse than the Jews to Muslims are those evil, Satan worshipping atheists. Which is not great, because we are atheists. This is a little awkward.

‘Christian? Islam? Judaism?’ The silence fills the air as Kimmi and I desperately search for an answer that will appease the Imam, yet not taint his mosque with our non-believing, unguided, faithless views. ‘Australian!’ I try, but Kimmi looks at me like an idiot. My attempted humour was a little lost on the Imam also. His polite smile straightened and his eyes pierced through me. We dodged the question for as long as we could, using the lack of English/Turkish as a reason to be so stupid. Finally, after about twenty minutes of confusion and frustration, Kimmi had had enough.

‘No Christian!’

‘No Islam!’

‘No Jew!’

‘No religion!’

Oh shit. She had just told the Imam, the man that looked after the mosque that is our refuge, that God doesn’t exist. Not just his God, but everybody’s God. That’s the message of the Devil. This is much worse than showing off with a video camera.

The Imam remained expressionless and without saying a word or motioning a gesture, stood up, turned around and walked out.

A few hours later, the Imam came to the mosque and silently passed me a note. He had used Google to combat the translation issue and hoped that we would find our path soon and to not be afraid as we sleep. It was a little late for that.

And in the morning we responded with a note of our own, thanked him for being a kind stranger, suggested he ‘like’ us on Facebook and left him a melon.




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