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.

D-Day Legacy

Part 1
D-day LegacyI was working as a first mate and chef on a beautiful sailboat in Corsica. It is hard work and long hours. It was after midnight and I was still cleaning the galley when Hans one of the guests poked his head in and gave a slightly drunken hello.”Grab a bottle of wine off the rack. Take a break and come socialize on the deck”.

The conversation starts to slow down as the wine settles in. The night sky is amazing and we are sitting under a blanket of stars. “So you are Canadian?” I knew he knew this, so I am wondering what this means. I continue to stare at the sky. A moment later without any response from me he continues. ” I never met a Canadian before.” This is an older business guy who does transactions all over the world. How can he have never have met a Canadian? I ask him. He says “Well yes I have done deals with Canadians, had them in the room but never sat and talked with one.”

Strange I think to myself. I don’t really have a response. I sit quietly enjoying the wine waiting for the inevitable. Why is he telling me this? The pause in the conversation enables me to take in the smell of the ocean on a warm mediteranean night. This sure beats cleaning the galley.

“My dad was killed in the war by a Canadian.” he throws out. This attention grabber has me scanning his face for his demeanor on the topic. “Whoa”, I am dumbfounded. “you have never spoke with a Canadian because of this?”. “Ya” he says. A little uncomfortable. After a very long pause, my mind racing as to what must be going through his mind. Fifty five year old memories. I don’t think either of us was ready for that.

“Tell me about your father” is my response.

“I don’t remember him well. I was young, but I have a memory of his face. He was an experienced soldier, he had been in the war for several years. About 2 days after we found out he had been killed in Normandy a letter arrived addressed to me. It had been mailed before the battle. He said everyone knew the allies would be invading. They didn’t know where exactly. He told me everything will be fine. “We just hope that we don’t get the Canadians landing on our beach. They are fierce soldiers. They attack with little support and have to fight for their lives because they have nowhere to retreat to. That comment hadn’t meant much until a couple years later I found out that he had been stationed near the town of Courseulles where the Canadians landed. Known as Juno beach to the Allies.”

I think to myself. This short exerpt in a long letter has stuck with Hans 55 years, dramatically changing his life. There is no expression to describe my astonishment. I didn’t know what to say. It is quite intimidating to instantly become a one on one ambassador of Canada under the circumstance. “Wow” I say in a calm contemplative fashion.

“I never really felt comfortable with the thought of Canada after that. Times have changed, enemies have become allies. Old hatred thankfully lost. Yet I have always felt uneasy. And now I meet a Canadian while on holidays.” he says.
“Have you been to Normandy?” he continues.
“No” I say.
“You should go to Normandy, I go once a year. Last year I visited a Canadian cemetry from that battle. It was near where my father died”
“What was it like?” I ask.
He looks at me, he holds up his wine glass in salute like he has finalized a decision. ” I am not going to tell you. You must see Normandy for yourself. Many lives have been changed from what happened that summer. You should visit battlefields and cemetries of all the nations. It is history, yours and mine. You should go.”
“You are right Hans, I will go to Normandy” I answer. “There is something to learn there.”
“Good” he says “lets have some more wine, I want to know more about Canada. Do you play hockey?…”