Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"I love the English!"

It's not a statement we often hear, and even now we are tempted to disbelieve this man. He has started talking to us as he washes himself at one of the fountains before entering the Ulu Camii (Big Mosque). We are taking photos of the courtyard and the call to prayer has just reverberated around us. The man is an English teacher and he explains that he has just returned from Bodrum working with Thomas Cook over the summer. We express our embarrassment at the imagined daily summer scene on the streets there : bright red beer bellies, fags and tats - and that's just the women. But he assures us that the English are great tourists - so polite and they tip well. Not like the Poles and Russians who arrive at the bar in the morning and just shout "Beer!" at the bartender. We are not tippers so I feel slightly more embarrassed. And then he asks why we are visiting Diyabakir. He didn't think the English were interested in historical sights or ruins.
There are a few other tourists we pass in the bazaar, but not many. It's not so long ago that the army were fighting the PKK in the streets here - which is hardly a way to attract the tour groups. The city is enormous though - over 600,000 and probably growing. We were told that the army have cleared villages out in their long battle with the PKK and so there are many rural migrants. On our ride in we drive through a modern busy city with parks and smart cafes. There is a real mix of people on the streets and many young men and women trying to look cool and trendy - all drainpipe jeans, converse trainers and gelled hair. We stay in the old city which is encircled by huge black basalt walls - a throwback to Byzantine times and a reflection on it's important location in times past. The city has been fought over many times. On the main road running through are two surviving caravanserai or han. One is now a hotel but the other has shops and a cafe in its courtyard and is a great place to escape the heat and the noise and bustle. But off the main road the backstreets are unpaved and scruffy and very poor. It reminded us of Morocco - with a modern town built next to the old town. Small annoying boys would run up to us shouting hello money money - fairly rare in Turkey - and I wondered if this was what our English teacher has been teaching them to learn. There aren't many sights and we seek out churches built by Syrian Orthodox, Chaldean and Armenian christians. The last is abandoned and derelict but the others are still used by a handful of families.
It's still Ramadan and we go to eat along with everyone else at 6.30pm. Our restaurant is packed when we arrive and deserted when we leave. The locusts have gone and the staff are mopping up the debris.

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