Turkish Border

I was on a bus from Bulgaria to Istanbul Turkey. A long bus ride, the distance eludes me. I had met a girl from the USA. I think her name was Amy. We were the only english speakers on the bus and as it is traveling we became fated travel companions. Neither of us spoke Turkish. I would learn once I arrived in Turkey.

It is a night bus and the views of Bulgaria are few. We watched the sun go down, a dramatic firey red ball accentuated by the haze of industrial pollution. The night had been peacefull. I tried to sleep but the excitement of Istanbul raced through my brain. Constantinople capital of the East Roman empire, the Crusades, Stories of travellers like Richard Burton visiting. I had just travelled through eastern Europe. The battlegrounds between east and west, Europe and Asia, Christians, Muslims, Byzantium. I am travelling through history. Places that held empires, powerfull kings wealth and civilizations that rose and fell Millenia before Canada was even discovered.

The driver makes an announcement in Turkish, the conducter a little eastern european man with short greasey hair brushed with a single swipe of his hand, cigarette permanently fixed to his lip, “passport”, “Toourkesh bourder”. I start rumaging for my passport. The bus stops. The driver steps off with a passenger list I had signed my name to earlier. Some time passes. The driver returns, some directions are made in turkish and everyone gets off. He is waiting for Amy and myself as we step off the bus. “Over here” he says. I always have some apprehension in my belly when going through borders. But it is a warm starry night. You can even see stars with the lights from the border checkpost. He leads us to a seperate checkpost. The guard in here has a big grimace on his face, a requirement for anyone anywhere that ever wants to be a border official. He is a big man in khaki official type uniform. Tanned olive skin, dark eyes and a well shaved face that would host a thick beard if he let it. He gestures for Amy to go first. US passport. He checks the picture, punches some numbers into the computer. Kawump, goes a stamp $60 please. “Steep for a visa”, “but to be expected”, she mutters.

I am not of the same thinking. $60 is steep for me, thats almost a hundred Canadian! Yikes, I put my passport down. I am not sure if the visa price for a Canadian is the same as an American or not. The big man with the grimace looks at the passport, looks up at me. He says “Canada?” I answer. “Yes” smiling pleasantly. He looks at me, looks at the picture. He picks up the phone makes a call with an air of uncertainty. He puts down the phone and says “wait just a moment” There is no one else in this line, just us North Americans. We wait. I look over at the fray of people around the line up for Eastern Eurpeans. Nuts. 15 or 20 minutes go by and no call back. The guard dials up the phone again. No greeting he quickly says some words and hangs up giving the recipiant no time to reply. He looks at me. This time he has this real genuine look of goodwill on his face. Looks at the passport, Kawump, there goes the stamp. He slides my passport over to me. I am looking at him intently for the price. I ask “how much”, his hand raises over the passport on the table like a card player refusing another card. He shakes his head. “Nothing” I say. He looks up at me with an expression I will never forget. Yet I have a hard time describing. Sort of an appreciative giving look, flavours of happiness but with a uncomfortable streak in it, a streak I didn’t understand. He says to me straight and strong , confident like a soldier in control. “Canadian peace keepers saved my life in Cypress, you go free.” Then his eyes lowered as if to bow as best he could from his position of authority. He holds his eyes low respectfully. “Thank you” I answer. He looks up and nods and in that instant I understand the uncomfortable streak, it was fear. He pauses as I look at him upon the realisation. He looks at me again, I like to think he knows I understood his fear and replies. “Thank you Canadian man”. I smile he smiles and as I turn away I am completely choked up with emmotion.