It didn’t take long for me to not be terribly fond of Arabic men. Furthermore I amended by behaviour by avoiding them; refusing to make eye contact and crossing the street rather than pass them (seriously, one once pushed me out of his way quite literally into the gutter).
It’s challenging to realise you are making judgements on race. More challenging to realise that it’s not wholly unreasonable. I wondered how it’d be received but I was commended for my honesty and ability to be self-critical. Significantly, I was able to reread my thesis and ask myself whether what I had written was formed by what were arguably a few isolated events.
Still, when it comes to telling stories the physical stuff tends to be a bit more exciting!
So how did I find myself in the middle of nowhere, alone with a man with a handgun?
It was my first day in Cappadocia. I was staying in a village called Göreme after a twelve hour bus journey extended by four hours due to the bus breaking down. This occurred after I’d got up at 4am and by the time I checked into my hotel I’d been up for 32 hours. I’d taken a couple of valium on the bus but this merely achieved my not caring about the delay rather than sleep. I took a (cold) shower and changed into a sundress. I was tired but also somewhat wired and really hungry. I took a walk around the village then stopped for something to eat.
When I got back to my hotel, the girl who’d checked me in gestured quickly and introduced me to her brother who ran the hotel with her. He spoke English and we resolved the issues with the tour I had missed. He then asked me what I wanted to do that afternoon.
It’s hard to turn down hospitality.
I was a bit vulnerable. I was sleep deprived and had already exhausted what the village had to offer. There were no taxis to be seen. While a tourist destination this was rural Turkey. You stay in a cave hotel, you go on organised tours and then you leave. Head away from Cappadocia and you find a place where women still get stoned to death for looking at men the wrong way. Just because you’re drinking raki in a sundress doesn’t change the fact you are enjoying a pocket of freedom in a Middle Eastern country.
I was pushing boundaries and for the last 34 hours had felt at the mercy of the Turkish men deigning to look after me. Part of the thrill of travel for me is how my boundaries shift and change. I used to struggle to relax in public but in Cambodia I fell asleep on the metal roof of a boat surrounded by people. I woke somewhat startled but only because my travelling companion Trev had covered me in his silk blanket (to protect me from the sun) and I thought I was dying in a hot air balloon which arguably is an easy mistake to make.
I got the next boundary wrong I think. I say I think because I wasn’t hurt and instead had an amazing experience. But it was wrong because it could have gone so horribly wrong.
Did I want to shoot beer bottles? I laughed and said maybe. Did I want to go for a hike and see some temples? I’d just had a cold shower, eaten some flatbread and was thinking I had things pretty good, I’m backpacking on a budget, hell yeah I want to see some temples.
He said to sit and drink some more tea and we’d go in a bit.
Of course there was a part of me with doubts but I was also going stir crazy. I’d been stuck on a bus and was now stuck in a tiny village until tomorrow morning when I was to be picked up for a sun rise balloon tour (yes, this costs over a week’s accommodation in a hostel*).
And the crucial thing was... I like guns. When I was fifteen and an air cadet I got my marksman badge. Thirteen years ago I’d been pretty good and I was keen to try again. And perhaps because I’d handled rifles, I wasn’t overly scared of them. That was my mistake. I assumed we’d been talking rifles.
We went in his car. He opened his boot, grabbed some bottles and headed out to position them. It was hot and it was beautiful. It felt like another planet far far away from the real world and real life. He pulled out his rifle and loaded it. It was gorgeous. The rifles I shot with the RAF were serviceable, black. They were tools. This rifle was a thing of beauty, a much loved and cared for form of polished wood and shining metal. My desire to hold it can only be described as lust. Even now as I recollect it I feel a pull that wishes I owned it, could caress it and could feel it explode in my grasp. Firing that gun was like a hot affair that scorches your soul and demands revisiting in the quiet pleasure of recollection.
I was handed the rifle. Barely had I absorbed its texture before my blood ran cold as my companion pulled a handgun from the car. It was a strange sensation because usually holding a rifle you feel quite powerful. But it is a far inferior weapon at short range. I had said I didn’t know how to shoot because I knew I could use a refresher but the truth was that I had a loaded weapon and knew exactly what to do with it. I also knew just how long it would take for me to move and shoot was it necessary.
Nothing bad happened.
As it turns out I’m still as much a marksman as I was as a teenager. Scared as I was by the handgun, I was seduced by the rifle. My companion was impressed and offered me a go with the handgun.
They’re heavy and the kickback is intense. With a rifle you take it into your body and I have strong thighs; I can take it. A handgun’s kickback is localised and I didn’t feel in control of it. Perhaps I was scared of it. I don’t see rifles as fighting weapons. For me rifles are about target practise and shooting animals (not that I’ve ever hunted myself) but handguns feature in episodes of CSI, they get used for shooting people.
It was an amazing afternoon. I saw incredible private churches off the tourist trail, sights that my companion had discovered himself. He estimated that only a small percentage of Cappadocia’s treasures had been found. But the whole thing was marred by the fear that it was a game, that at some point he’d turn the gun on me and rape or kill me.
Nothing bad happened.
But I changed nevertheless. That afternoon made me realise that not only did I have a fiancée who loved me but that I had stepchildren who were anticipating my return (ok, their presents from my trip). In a way I never felt towards my mum and brother, I felt I had a duty to stay safe for the people who relied upon me.
Three boys with guns. Three boys I’ve eaten bulgur wheat with. Three boys who changed me forever.
I say boys because I’m just a girl. These are just stories (true as they are) and this is just life.
It’s challenging but I’m hooked!
Incidentally, my friend Hussein got in touch after the first part of this blog. He’s invited me and my family to visit him in Iraq. I think the boy’s mother might take issue so my plan is to go with just the husband. One day.
What’s the worst that could happen?
* And I’m pretty flash and have a private ensuite room (albeit with cold water).