Rabbi Woznica speaking at Stephen S Wise Temple July 17, 2015

Growing up an American Jew in Los Angeles, I was always told if you ask three Jews a question, you will get four opinions. Last Friday night, I went to shabbat services at Stephen Wise Temple. I began by reading the words below from Rabbi Joshua Knobel about Pioneers and the weekly parsha. Then, I listened to  Rabbi Woznica’s passionate sermon about the issues with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. I included information from AIPAC and the Jewish Federation about their desire for Congress to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, signed on July 14, 2015.

Be Brave and Form an Opinion. Take Part and “remember that while the greatest victories are not won without bravery, they are also not won without risk.” What is your opinion on the Iran Nuclear Agreement? What do you think Congress should do? Are you willing to be vulnerable and share your opinion? What risks are you willing to take?

From Rabbi Knobel about this week’s parsha:

In modern Hebrew, the word ‘halutzim’ refers to the pioneers of the Israeli state, brave souls who, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ventured forth into an unknown, often dangerous land, determined to create a home for themselves, as well as their Jewish brothers and sisters worldwide.

The origins of the word ‘halutzim’ appear within this week’s Torah portion. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, enamored of the land west of the Jordan River, ask Moses’ permission to stay, rather than pursue holdings in the Land of Canaan. In exchange, they boldly offer to lead the invasion of Canaan by serving as the vanguard – the halutzim.

The gallant bravery shared between the Biblical and modern halutzim seems plainly evident, but these two groups share another characteristic, as suggested by their names’ Hebrew root – halatz. In the Bible, halatz refers to genitals (Gen 35:11), while halitzah denotes a public shaming ritual (Deut 25:9). What common thread ties these disparate ideas together?


It appears our ancestors understood that true audacity requires us to expose ourselves to peril. Only by rendering ourselves susceptible to the cost of failure can we accomplish greatness. As we seek achievements as individuals, as a congregation, and as a people, let us remember that while the greatest victories are not won without bravery, they are also not won without risk.

Rabbi Woznica’s sermon from Shabbat July 17, 2015

Rabbi Woznica Assesses The Proposed Deal with Iran from Stephen Wise Temple on Vimeo.

7.17.15 – Rabbi David Woznica’s Shabbat Sermon

 The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Unacceptable Consequences

After 20 months of negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 have reached a nuclear agreement. The agreement fails to halt Iran’s nuclear quest.

Instead, it would facilitate rather than prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would further entrench and empower the leading state sponsor of terror.

Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and is racing toward a nuclear weapons capability. Through its proxy armies of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Iranian regime is supporting terrorists that have carried out attacks on American troops and Israeli civilians.

Click here to read AIPAC’s press release on the proposed deal.

  1. Iran must stop its nuclear weapons program.
    American policy must unabashedly seek to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel and would arm the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism with the ultimate weapon.
  2. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. 
    Iran finances, arms and trains terrorist groups operating around the world. It is the leading sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah, and armed insurgents that have fought U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  3. Stop the human rights violations.
    In the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian presidential election, which falsely awarded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) quelled popular protests by arresting civil leaders, beating and killing peaceful protesters and cutting off internet and mobile access to its citizens.

An Unacceptable Deal iran

Urge Congress to Oppose the Bad Deal with Iran


AIPAC has consistently supported diplomatic efforts to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and we appreciate the commitment and dedication of President Obama and his administration throughout these negotiations. Unfortunately, this proposed agreement fails to halt Iran’s nuclear quest. Instead, it would facilitate rather than prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would further entrench and empower the leading state sponsor of terror.

We strongly believe that the alternative to this bad deal is a better deal. Congress should reject this agreement, and urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal that will truly close off all Iranian paths to a nuclear weapon.

Congress should insist on a better deal.  Contact your members of Congress and urge them to oppose the bad deal with Iran.

Key Points

  1. The proposed deal does not ensure “anytime, anywhere” short-notice inspections;
  2. The proposed deal does not clearly condition sanctions relief on full Iranian cooperation in satisfying International Atomic Energy Agency concerns over the possible military dimensions of Tehran’s program;
  3. The proposed deal lifts sanctions as soon as the agreement commences, rather than gradually as Iran demonstrates sustained adherence to the agreement;
  4. The proposed deal lifts key restrictions in as few as eight years;
  5. The proposed deal would disconnect and store centrifuges in an easily reversible manner, but it requires no dismantlement of centrifuges or any Iranian nuclear facility.

FROM JEWISH FEDERATION by email July 21, 2015:

This summer Congress will be reviewing the Iran nuclear agreement and it is imperative that our elected officials hear our voice. Below is our statement on this matter of national security. Please contact your member of Congress today — the time is now.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joins with Jewish communities across the country in urging Congress to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, signed on July 14, 2015.

The proposed agreement with Iran is not a partisan issue; it impacts the security of the United States, the stability of the Middle East, the future of the State of Israel and the safety of every Jewish family and community around the world. This Iran deal threatens the mission of our Federation as we exist to assure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad and mobilize on issues of concern.

Our Federation wants a diplomatic solution that ends Iran’s nuclear program. We recognize the efforts of the Administration to reach such an agreement. We regret and are gravely concerned that the proposed agreement allows Iran to remain a threshold nuclear state, does not allow for “anytime, anywhere” inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, and offers immediate rather than gradual sanctions relief without requiring Iran to address the military dimensions of its nuclear program.

The proposed agreement releases Iran from arms embargos in five years and ballistic missile sanctions in eight years. Iran’s past behavior gives us reason to be concerned that these deadly weapons will be shared with terrorists including Hamas and Hezbollah and will hasten the creation of an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.

As Americans and Jews who yearn for peace and are invested in the future of our children and grandchildren, we must voice our concerns about an agreement that will destabilize a fragile region. We encourage members of our community to raise their voices in opposition to this agreement by contacting their elected representatives to urge them to oppose this deal.

Congress has until September 18th to review the agreement. That means that by acting promptly, you can start the Jewish New Year knowing you made your voice heard when it counted.

Thank you,

Leslie E. Bider
Chairman of the Board

Jay Sanderson
President & CEO

‘Where will you be at the end of your trip?’
‘If everything goes as planned, I’ll be watching the sun set over glorious Palangan.’

These were my thoughts two days before heading to Iran. I had shared them with one of my closest friends. I knew that I had a long way to go and I had doubts as to being able to reach the final point, which was also the pinnacle of my voyage. The period spanning between landing in Tehran and riding the taxi from Qom to Hamedan had been more colourful, adventurous, and amazing than I had hoped. I had gone through a theft, I had made new friends, I had met many kind people, I had experienced some of the most stunning sights of my life, I had had my first wow, but I was ready for more.
The night before the ride to Sanandaj felt like Christmas Eve and I was as eager to get the gift Santa had in store for me as a three-year-old. Following a bumpy start and no bus ride to the East, we managed to find a shared taxi and it ended up being the right choice. I had been offered the peace of mind to sit in the back of the car and rest my eyes on the surrounding mountains and hills. Kurdistan felt surreal, bright and it seemed that someone had been playing with watercolours all through the region. Middle East? How about Central Asia, for a change? Like the breathtaking heights and drops reassured us a few minutes before reaching the bus station. A Silk Road flavour, carried by the winds from up North, lingered on.
The dust of Central Asia was also present, amidst the negotiations underway. There was no way I could let go of one of my greatest travel dreams and miss out on Palangan. Marcel and I were so damn close. Money did no longer matter, not that it ever had. Hands were shaken, an advance was paid, and the ride was on. 4:00pm, which would have given us enough time to see it at sunset. The hours to the start time went by. I felt anxious and curious and excited and… I don’t know it anymore. I just know that it was all over too fast, like rafting down a waterfall you’ve been dreaming to your whole life. We ate strawberries and I had tears in my eyes all the way through. At a point, our driver stopped: we could see Palangan from there! I climbed to get a better view, faster than I had ever done it. I froze, switched on my phone camera and started to take pictures.
‘Watch out!’ I felt the strong arm of our driver grab me. And I realised that this aloof attitude of his was only a mask. He was not a bad person and he certainly was touched by my dedication for his native lands… I had tears flooding my eyes and I had not cried for or been touched like that by a place for a very long time. The winding road took us down, as we approached Palangan speedily. I had thought about this moment, arranged and rearranged the pieces, characters, times of the day in my mind. Yet it always felt remote and cosy.
The reality was different: on a Friday and a holiday, the village was apparently no longer unknown, at least not to locals. Two thousand of them. Smiling, bidding me welcome, taking pictures with me. All dressed in bright and pastel colours, relaxed, and laid-back. We watched the beautiful turquoise river practically inviting us to paddle down it someday while tasting some savoury Kurdish snacks. It may feel strange to say this about Iran, but I really felt incredibly free, not even minding the hijab. More pictures and conversations followed, as we waited and waited for the sun to set and for the lights to be turned on in the rocky terraced houses. 8:00pm was our curfew and we had to make a run for it.
The sun had definitely connived against us, this time around. Which leaves room for Part 2.

About the author:  Olivia-Petra Coman is a history postgraduate student and experienced traveller, always thirsty for adventure.
She travels the world to discover its hidden treasures, she dreams to get to the historical sites she’s only explored in books, and she hopes to make a difference through her work and vision of the world around her.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

IMG_6232(c)As the fourteenth country of the forty three that we would visit on our drive from Australia to Scotland, Iran was exciting and new; experiencing so many different ways of life in such a short period of time though we were becoming very used to adapting to cultural habits that we would usually find uncomfortable and social norms that ordinarily we would consider wrong or rude. Having already been in Iran for a couple of weeks I was becoming somewhat used to the ordeal of covering myself from head to toe, despite the dry summer heat, but on arrival in Tehran I wasn’t quite prepared for a ride on the metro.

There were women’s only carriages and uni-sex carriages on every train, as would be expected. Most women travelled on the women’s carriage, but there were always a few travelling with the men for whatever reason. For ease of navigation, and of course just for the sake of company, I chose to board with my male companions and ride the uni-sex carriage on our first metro outing.

After we squeezed on to the already packed train, another hoard of travellers forced themselves on. The density of people traffic on the Tehran metro is certainly not something that can be compared to anywhere ever in Australia, but having previously caught public transport in Paris, Shanghai, Bangkok and plenty of other world renowned busy cities, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this. I was lifted from the ground by the force of the crowd and breathing through the stench of BO, breath and aftershave was certainly a feat.

At one station the wave of bodies jostled and swayed and I realised that a man whose face I couldn’t see because of the other men standing between us and the fact that my head was awkwardly squashed to be facing the other way, had his arm which had been tangled up in the throng and wrapped around some other torsos, strategically resting on my body about 10cm below my chin. Unable to reposition myself in the slightest there wasn’t much I could do about it, so for the few minutes until the next station I stood there with this stranger’s hand conveniently cupping my body part until the train halted at the next stop. The crush of bodies violently surged as the carriage doors opened and the hand was washed away along with the bodies which had surrounded me, only to be replaced by a new rush of commuters. I decided to give the women’s carriage a go on our next trip.

The women weren’t quite as smelly or as pushy and there was marginally more space. Where the men’s carriage had felt cold and faceless, the women’s carriage had an air of frivolity and liberty about it. They were all very jovial with each other; it felt as if the whole carriage was occupied by one group that was travelling together. I was still stared at, but more out of interest than disdain – at least that’s what I’m happy to believe. I really enjoyed the sense of community and freedom that I saw in these women, the single sex train carriage being their sanctuary. I never travelled with the men on the train again.

About the Author: Eilidh Robertson: Originally from Scotland I now live in Australia, and amidst a variety of jobs my adult life thus far has revolved around travelling. I’m doing my best to experience the untouched corners of the world as much as possible and my most recent trip was an overland roadtrip by car from Australia to Scotland. Find me on Facebook or check out my blog.

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Glasswork craftmanship at its best. These windows are some of the many found throughout the Nasīr al-Mulk Mosque in Tehran, Iran.

A nearby mosque on the way to Abyaneh. Mountains are the typical backdrop to many small villages like Abyaneh.

An Abyunaki woman wearing traditional clothes. The clothing usually consists of a white long patterned scarf and a black skirt.

Traditional brick-colored houses in Abyaneh.

View of the terrace from the inside of a mosque.

Side view of the terrace, overlooking the mountains, orchards, and trees.

One of the walls of the Khaju Bridge in Esfahan, Iran. Bullet holes on this building are reminders of the devastating effects of the Iran-Iraq War.

A typical dining restaurant in Iran. Most restaurants have an outside courtyard and a restaurant inside. The courtyard is reminiscent of the decor of small restaurants in southern France.

A clear contrast between Muslim proper attire, a chador for adults and a small head scarf for little girls.

A typical bazaar in Tehran, Iran. Children tend to help their parents sell herbs, candy, and run the local shops.

This post was written by polyglot and perpetual wanderluster Eva Rosales of Hyperfluent. Follow Eva’s adventures and learn new languages on twitter and facebook.

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One of the tombs of an Achaemenid king at Naqsh-e Rustam. All four tombs are carved out of the rock face.

A pool view of the Eram Garden.

The colorful patterns of a mosaic at the Eram Garden.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan is surrounded by small fountains. Considered once a pivotal stop in the silk trade, Isfahan is also home to the blue mosque known as the Shah Mosque.

The walls of the Shah Mosque.

The intricate and meticulous ceiling at the Shah Mosque.

The inner walls of the Shah Mosque have intricate patterns such crosses above.

The main entrance of Saadi’s tomb. Revered as one of Iran’s most famous Sufi poets, Saadi’s specialty were his odes and personal anecdotes.  

Saadi’s tomb in his mausoleum. Tradition says that when a person touches the tomb he or she makes a wish. Many Iranians hope for good fortune and good health.

See what else I was up to in Iran next week in A Taste of Immortality – Part 4.

This post was written by polyglot and perpetual wanderluster Eva Rosales of Hyperfluent. Follow Eva’s adventures and learn new languages on twitter and facebook.

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While in Persepolis, a city located in the Fars Province of modern Iran, I was transported back to the Achaemenid era, an era more than 2,500 years old. Each pillar of this ceremonial palace resonated the labor set out by the first king of Persia-Cyrus the Great. Crowned the “King of Justice”, he was capable of conquering half of the world without changing the religion of the people who he ruled over and once and for all united Iran. It was at Persepolis that I saw the “Gate of All Nations” in all of its grandeur and awe. This wall depicts how Babylonians, Phoenicians, Mesopotamians, Macedonians, and Indians all lived together in harmony. The recurrent theme throughout these chiseled drawings was the depiction of the lotus flower. The flower itself consists of twelve leaves, one for each month of the year. Most importantly, the Cyprus-the symbol of immortality was also carved; always green and never dry.

Panoramic view of Persepolis from the cliff behind.

From Persepolis, I ventured to the city of Esfahan to see the Imam Square, Pasargad, and the Imam and Sheikhlotfolah mosques. In Esfahan, I stayed at one of the most beautiful hotels- the Abbasi Hotel. Nestled amongst traditional mosaic Iranian carved walls and a large pool reminiscent to the one at the Narenjestan Palace, it is simply breathtaking. The Imaam Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to more than 508 years ago, is lit up by the Shah Mosque. Located on the south side of the Imaam Square, its vibrant shades of yellow, blue, pink and inscriptions of the Q’uran bring life to each crevice of the mosque.

Life in Iran for me didn’t only resonate in the historical buildings and museums but also in bazaars. One of my favorite things to do was to shop for herbs in the local bazaars. A bazaar is one of the most important public areas in Iranian culture, a gathering ground not only for daily interactions amongst friends but also political thoughts. Carpets, jewelry, perfume, and thousands of other trinkets marked the interactions between neighbors and friends, whilst old men played chess for hours at a time. Every morning, I looked forward to seeing the tiny and delicate miniatures of Okhovat Pour Rasoul, an Iranian who crafted Iranian historical sites and battles unto camel bone and learning about the art of Iranian hand printed cloth from Reza Sedighi Fard. Both of these men intensely labored, sometimes for two or three days, demonstrating the long tradition and the superb craftsmanship of Iranians.

Next, I ventured to the holy city of Qom. About two hours away from Tehran, Qom is a city inherited by sayyeds- the religious descendants of the Prophet Mohammad. It was through small gatherings with locals that I discovered that Qom is a very alien yet familiar place for many Iranians. On one hand, familiar in the sense that many Iranians visited a shrine or family burial sites when they were younger. On the other hand, alien in the sense that Iranians quickly realized beggars waited for them outside of many burial sites.

Stone carving of the Babylonian warriors at Persepolis.

One of my final stops on my trip was a stroll in the village of Abyaneh. Traditional houses made of brick seemed so far from the busy hustle of Tehran. This city is a very deserted place but its mere existence and archeological sites began breathing life some believe in 500 BC. During the Persian New Year, or Nowruuz, villagers celebrate by building fires in front of their homes. Most homes have two door handles, one for women and one for men. The New Year holiday marks the beginning of spring, the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar, and a holiday celebrated by Zoroastronists. Known as one of the birthplaces of Zoroastrianism, this peaceful village blossoms throughout the month of March.

When spring-cleaning for this holiday takes place, Iranians literally shake their house or “knouneh tekouni” by completely cleaning their house, purchasing hyacinths or tulips, and purchasing new clothes. A ceremonial table called a “Haft-seen” is placed in every household. Typically placed at the entrance of the house or in the dining room, it is adorned with seven dishes, which stand for the seven angelic heralds of life. Amongst these heralds we find: rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty. Dishes are garnished with sabzeh or sprouts, wheat representative of rebirth; samanu (wheat pudding) representing the sophistication of Persian cooking; seeb (apples) representing health and beauty; senjed (jujube fruit), whose fragrance is said to make people fall in love; seer (garlic) which represents medicine; somaq (sumac fruit) symbolizing the sun and the conqueror of evil; and serekh (vinegar), representing age and patience.

The Persian New Year or “Nowruz” Haft-seen ceremonial table.

When I left Iran I didn’t just leave the land that bore birth to Googoosh and her famous lyrics, I also left a land suspended in time. Beyond Tehran’s walls depicting martyrs during the 8 year Iran-Iraq War, its enclosed gardens known as Pairidaeza, the busy traffic, the illegal satellites on rooftops, and festive music during Nowruuz, I left a land where history never deserted its people or any cultural marking. Clearly, Iran deserves its clout in the international stage, not only for its remarkable hospitality offered by both young and old, but also for its ability to invoke a sense of immortality to all those who visit it.

See what else I was up to in Iran next week in A Taste of Immortality – Part 3.

This post was written by polyglot and perpetual wanderluster Eva Rosales of Hyperfluent. Follow Eva’s adventures and learn new languages on twitter and facebook.


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“Everyone walks through life but it is those who look to learn from people coming from different walks of life that travel the farthest.”

Typical “qahveh-khaneh”-a gathering place to drink tea or coffee. Traditionally male, this particular qahveh-khaneh is in open-air and was open to all those who looked for a calm place to sit down and enjoy the lazy afternoon in Jamshidiyeh Park.

True learning for me is something that happens in gradual steps not something that I acquire at a first glance. For this very reason, when traveling to Iran became a possibility, I was ecstatic. All I knew of Iran at that time was that it lay geographically next to Afghanistan and that prior to the fall of the Shah in 1979, it was one of the most European minded countries in the Middle East. Its golden age of shaping foreign policy in the 70’s and its influence during WWII was something I had only had the opportunity to read about in textbooks. I only truly grasped how extensive and rich Iranian culture really is when I traveled to Iran. Far from its interactions with the Portuguese empire during the later part of the 18th century and its cultural peak during the Safavid Dynasty, I discovered an Iran preserved in time, an Iran that warmly offers a piece of its history and intricate social fabric in its people and in doing so bestowed a sense of immortality upon me.

Bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea, Iran’s geographical setting boasts of the Zagros Mountains from north to south and its grain and wheat fields in cities like Shiraz. Its friendly population of a staggering seventy million demonstrates daily its respect and profound devotion to Islam in their everyday clothing. For one, all women must wear hijabs and long-sleeved shirts and pants. I, for one along with all the women who traveled with me on the plane, remember putting on my hijab five minutes before landing. At airport checks women and men always made separate lines. For me, this wasn’t strange because I had lived in the Middle East before; however I never had to wear a hijab. Honestly, I quickly forgot that I even had hair because I was more intrigued by sightseeing in Tehran. Not only that but I only ever saw my hair right before going to bed. Walking down Tehran at night was one of the most colorful scenes I witnessed. Women, especially young women wore colorful hijabs, ranging from blue to green and fuchsia. Something that also caught my attention while shopping was the fact that most mannequins in Tehran had band-aids on their noses- a sign that shows just how popular and prominent plastic surgery is in Iranian society. Likewise, the recurrent and intertwined symbolism of Islam is apparent in every crook and cranny in Iran. For one, the color green can be seen throughout Iran. Not only because the color itself symbolizes the power and importance of the Q’uran’s teachings but also because it is displayed in the colorful flags of local elections in various cities across Iran. This further shows how Iran like many Middle Eastern countries’ politics and religion are intertwined and are almost if not impossible to separate.

Sayer dates from the Khuzestan Province are sweets used to welcome guests.

The first place I visited was the Saad Abaad Palace and its museum complex. It was astounding to see and learn about Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last of the monarchs of the Pahlavi monarchy. The once inhabited rooms showed the modernized outlook of his father Reza Pahlavi; from the toys he bought Mohammad to the fact that he was the first Iranian price who received formal education abroad. Educated in French while attending boarding school in Switzerland, Mohammad advocated a European sense of lifestyle that he once proclaimed led to his belief that, “when Iranians learn to behave like Swedes, I will behave like the King of Sweden.” During his rule, he not only granted women the right of suffrage but also made education available to many Iranians.

In Shiraz, I visited the sacred tombs of the poets Hafez and Saadi in the Musalia Gardens, the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, the Narenjestan Palace and the Eram Garden-a World Heritage Site. All of these sites, especially the Eram Garden have special significance for Muslims in Iran. The Iram Garden is a garden depicted to look like a garden in heaven. Shiraz is considered to be more liberal than the rest of Iran’s cities as well as the mecca for silk carpets, Chinese silk, and where you can drink the best “Anar” or pomegranate juice.

Famous silk carpets in Shiraz. Carpets such as this one range anywhere between 3,000-15,000 dollars.

See what else I was up to in Iran next week in A Taste of Immortality – Part 2.

This post was written by polyglot and perpetual wanderluster Eva Rosales of Hyperfluent. Follow Eva’s adventures and learn new languages on twitter and facebook.

I drove across Turkey in 1976 in a Ford Econoline van with two friends and a few new acquaintances, on the way from Athens to Kabul.  Some of this trip’s highlights have been related elsewhere, but events in Eastern Turkey stand out, even after all these years.

The western portion of the country is a marvelous place, full of ancient ruins from a variety of civilizations that still bask in Mediterranean warmth.  And by and large the population is friendly and hospitable.

1) The tourist’s image of Turkey: a land of ruins, sea, and sun – Photo by KG Herring

We didn’t linger in Anatolia very long.  Frankly, everyone in the van was paranoid.  The movie Midnight Express had yet to be released, but we knew the details of its reality by heart.  Turkey was famous a country where travelers did not want to be stopped by the cops while in possession of drugs.  No.  Turkish jails were rumored to be black hellholes worthy of the Oliver Stone screenplay that eventually described them so well.

So we made our way east and north as fast as possible, keeping away from the tourist routes.  In retrospect this was a shame; we missed many glorious sights.  My parents, who in these matters were usually smarter than me, traveled extensively in Anatolia and its surroundings, even buying in Izmir a beautiful carpet that now graces the living room of my house.  The rug is a Hereke, named after the group of villages that have traditionally produced large carpets for mosques and royal retreats.

2) The Hereke carpet in our Seattle home

But carpets are not the focus of this story.  After spending a few days in Istanbul, a city we considered huge, unwieldy, and extremely polluted, with overhead street wiring hazardous enough to electrocute half of its population in a heavy rain, we departed for more distant lands.

On one memorable occasion we arrived in a small village, whose name I have long forgotten, quite late in the evening.  We were tired, hungry, and the village had gone to bed for the night.  We did find an open store and stopped to ask about accommodations.  Word of our arrival spread like a fire in New South Wales.  Soon the entire population of the town woke and gathered.  A restaurant was opened for our enjoyment, the local police showed up to join in the festivities, and soon an epic arak-drinking contest began.  Everyone concerned felt it a matter of honor and duty to swallow as many shots as humanly possible.  I used to have a photo of my friend Renée, drunk and hugging an equally inebriated police officer, she sporting his uniform hat on her head, he grinning like he’d just married the finest white woman in all of Asia Minor.  The hospitality of these people was truly astonishing, one of the finest examples of a true welcome I have ever witnessed.

At last, well after midnight, the party ended.  Rooms were provided for us above the restaurant and the village retired, soused and sleepy.  We slept like tranquilized babies and woke fresh in the morning to continue our journey, pushing ever eastward.

The going got more sketchy as we made our way into the arid mountains of Eastern Turkey, after a brief overnight stop in Ankara to visit Ataturk’s tomb, a rigid monument to grandiosity and the cult of personality.  The road passed through increasingly dry terrain, and after a couple of days we found ourselves in a rugged, desolate landscape, devoid of greenery or people.  We had heard that this stretch of Turkey was dangerous to travelers.  Bandits regularly descended from the hills at night to waylay big-rig trucks, hippie vehicles, and any other traffic they could find.  Often drivers vanished without a trace, and nobody thought alien abductions were the cause of the disappearances.

3) The road east: Photo by KG Herring

So we made a decision to turn north and head to Trabzon on the Black Sea.  I liked the idea.  Located near the edge of Turkey, not far from the border of Iran and Russia, I imagined we might glimpse views of the Caucasus Mountains from the shoreline, and be embraced at an ancient crossroads of humanity, where great armies had passed over the centuries, warring with one another as Europeans clashed repeatedly with the cultures of Asia.  Besides, I had never seen the Black Sea, and of course wondered if the body of water would indeed look, well, black.

We arrived in Trabzon in the late afternoon.  Our first night there, we headed east of the town and camped on the beach, a most unsatisfactory arrangement.  The weather was cold and damp, and the beach sand had the consistency of a dirty landfill.  Furthermore, the Black Sea looked gray and the water was cold.  Of the legendary Caucasus Mountains, little could be seen except some high peaks that drifted in and out of a dank fog.  Perhaps they were in Georgia, then part of the Soviet Union, or they could have been in Turkish territory.

The second night we elected to find a hotel in town, somewhere to warm up, take a hot shower, and sleep in a warm bed.  On one of Trabzon’s main streets we found an inexpensive place to stay.  But for reasons no longer recalled I didn’t like the feel of the place so I elected to sleep in the van for the night.  The others haggled with the owner about the price of the rooms and came to an agreement.  The cost of a habitation was on the expensive side, considering the quality of the establishment.  It seemed like the kind of place where bedbugs and cockroaches might rule the late hours.  The van, with its basic interior of bench seats, at least would provide a relatively clean space to stretch in my sleeping bag.

The following morning I woke early.  None of my friends had yet appeared from the hotel, which was across the street from the van.  I hadn’t yet seen Trabzon’s harbor, so I took a walk to the water’s edge to move my legs and shake the sleep from my bones.  The port proved to be a disappointment, with only a few shabby fishing boats moored at the docks and dirty water lapping at a rocky patch of beach.   At least here the Black Sea was black, probably more from pollution than from a poetic visual perspective.

Returning to the van, I noticed that a group of men had gathered around it.  Not thinking clearly and still groggy from lack of sleep and coffee, I thought little of the peculiar scene and continued slowly toward the vehicle.  Suddenly one of my friends opened the rear sliding door and shouted, “Jump in, quick!  We have to get out of here!”  I reacted with startling speed and raced to the van, throwing  myself through the door.  Something was seriously amiss, that much was clear.

No sooner had I climbed inside than my friend slammed the door shut.  The group of men around the van, I quickly discovered, had not gathered to pay us their morning respects.  They were screaming at the driver, who yelled back in return.  Suddenly a Turk opened the driver’s side door and dove inside, knife in hand.   The driver wound up and punched him in the face, hard enough to send the the man flying back out of the van.  Then the other traveler in front reached into the glove compartment and grabbed the 12 gauge starter pistol we carried.  The men outside began to rock the Ford, trying to turn it on its side.  Our redoubtable navigator leaned over our driver, opened the window with amazing speed and fired point-blank into the crowd.  “Floor it!” he screamed, and the van took off like a vehicle  in a Steven King novel, possessed with demons.  The crowd ran close at our heels.

Dazed and baffled, I demanded, “What happened?  Why are these men so angry?”  The van continued to accelerate and was now doing close to 100 kilometers per hour on the busy street.

“We got into an argument about the price of staying in the hotel.  The owner wanted to double the rate he agreed to last night.  We said no, so he ran outside and called to his friends to come help him make us pay.”

“Jesus,” I said.

“We refused and they became even angrier.  They were going to kill us!”

“Holy shit!”  I added, now bewildered.  My aimless walk to the harbor might have been the last walk I ever embarked on, had I not returned to the van in time.

“We wondered where you were.  What the fuck were you doing?”

“Um, just taking a morning stroll to the water.”

“You could have got us fucking wasted.”

“Sorry, how was I to know?”

Meanwhile we had now escaped downtown Trabzon.  We fired a few more rounds for effect from the starter pistol, our collective adrenaline pumping like acetone in a cocaine factory.

And so that was that.  We had been attacked but managed to escape.  Had the Ford stalled before we left the city, we would have been thrown in jail or worse.  Surely the blast from the starter pistol, shot into the throng of men from only a meter away, had caused serious bodily injury.

But we carried on and soon forgot about our brush with disaster.  Such was the way of travel in those years.  A few days later we stopped in Erzurum where we were treated to some of the finest Turkish food to be had in the country, and we delighted in the sight of the famous Cifte Minareli Medrase, one of Turkey’s architectural gems.  The people of Erzurum proved kind and helpful.

But we experienced a final negative encounter at the border between Turkey and Iran.  Before arriving there we had wonderful views of Mt. Ararat, its volcanic cone soaring into the heavens, and I thought of Noah and Gilgamesh and the Native American boat survivors who washed up near the summit (depending on which version of the world-wide legend a person chose to believe) long ago during one of Earth’s great cataclysms.

4) Mt. Ararat from Yerevan, Armenia: Photo by KG Herring

At the frontier we halted behind a long line of commercial trucks that plied the route between Europe and Asia.  Slowly the line advanced, and soon we saw a Customs and Immigration shack on the side of the road.  We wondered if we would be able to check out of Turkey before nightfall, when the border probably closed until the following morning.

A Turkish border guard opened the door of the mud-brick hovel and lurched in our direction.  Dressed in a slovenly uniform, with half its buttons missing and the fly unzipped, he staggered to the van.  He had his hand on his sidearm, a large and nasty handgun.  Leaning into the open window on the right side of the van, arak fumes emanated from his breath into the interior as if he was exhaling gasoline.  “You!” he barked.  “I want woman!”

“Excuse me,” the English driver said.  “What may we do for you?”

“Woman!” he repeated, waving his free arm through the window in the direction of the three women travelers.  “I want!”

This was bad news.   He had absolute power at this lonely outpost.  The truck drivers would do nothing to interfere with his authority.  “Well,” our driver said, “we can offer you a nice carton of cigarettes.”  He pulled a long box of Rothmans from under his seat, kept there for such emergencies.

“No.  You give me woman. I take.  Bring back later.”

I had an idea.  We also carried with us several bottles of Johnny Walker whiskey to use as informal bribes should an unpleasant situation demand a “gift.”  “Listen,” I said, holding up a bottle.  “Let’s go back to your office and talk.  We can have a drink and discuss matters of mutual interest.”

My friend Steve now said, “Yes, sir.  Wouldn’t you like a taste of good American whiskey?”

The border guard assumed a befuddled expression.  He’d planned to have his way with one of our female passengers, but on the other hand, American whiskey was a tempting offer.   Before he could answer, Steve and I exited the van, bottle prominently displayed.  I took the bold step of putting my arm around the official and gently led him away from the Ford to the Customs House.  “It’s a cold day,” I said.  “A drink will do us all good.”  I didn’t dare look back at my other companions.

So we entered the man’s office and sat down.  He had a metal barrel he used as a stove and heater.  Taking a jug of alcohol or maybe straight petrol, he poured it into a metal hole on top.  The fire roared and I still wonder why the thing didn’t explode into a fireball.

And so we sat and chatted, perhaps for two hours.  He turned out to be a simple fellow, if not exactly likeable.  But we sympathized with his plight, stuck here in the middle of nowhere with the great mountain of Ararat as a forbidding backdrop to his station.  He told us of his family, far away in another district, and how he seldom saw them. He told us how little he was paid, and how the truck drivers treated him with disdain, while his superiors demanded ever longer work hours with diminishing pay.

Finally Steve and I became nearly as intoxicated as our host.  We rose to our feet and engaged in a group hug with the Turk.  Tears streamed down his cheeks as he bid us farewell and safe journey.  The two of us returned to the van, weaving and slurring, beaming with the conclusion of what might have turned into an ugly scene.  Very ugly.

And so our Ford Econoline departed Turkey.  We jumped the queue and drove to the Iranian checkpoint.  Steve and I positioned ourselves in the rear seat and prayed that the booze on our breath wouldn’t be noticed by less alcohol-tolerant Iranians.  Turkey fell behind us, a land of startling contrasts and fascinating people.  The question of right and wrong as related to our actions there, both in the legal and moral sense, is one for which we have no answer.