People were on fire to save ancient Hasankeyf from the Ilisu Dam Project. The two prime movers of this 2007 protest, Guven Eken of Doga Dernegi and Ozcan Yüksek, editor of Atlas Magazine, organized a conference on the train. With my scanty Turkish, I couldn’t follow the conference but I drew the passion on the faces as the train roared into the gathering dark.
It made me ill to think that in California they were just then beginning to dismantle dams, as harmful to the ecology. But here, it’s not just ecology, it’s irreplaceable world history. In the middle of the night, indigestion kept me up to see a full moon on the loneliest train station in the world. Was it called Sapak?
As we racketed across rural Turkey, I drew dozens of tiny thumbnails. Each image flashed by in a second, complete and perfect.
A woman tugging at a sheep, a door in a hillock, a long mud-brick barn, olive trees and grassy knolls and forlorn dusty riverbeds, sad bridges unused;
I drew sheaves of poplar trees, tiny houses, orchards everywhere.
The very air was full of essence of apricots. Here, the rivers have water.
Next day: a row of people standing next to sacks full of potatoes in a field, a flock of turkeys, a flat-topped mound with a rectangular cut in it and trucks drawn up: an archeological site.
A long line of goats walking along the bottom of a cliff, and in the dawn, the full moon showing a different face.
Near Mt. Aegeis, the highest point in Turkey, we racketed past mesas and ramparts of stone jutting out of the dry grassy hills.
A giant, many-pointed black rock loomed near a green hilltop community. Its citizens in antiquity must have believed that the gods lived there.
Spectacular vistas shot past: jagged peaks soaring into the clouds and dizzying glimpses down bottomless canyons covered with cedar trees.
Stunned, I stopped drawing and just gaped along with everyone else on the train. We stopped to see a hand-cut tunnel near the tracks, so old nobody knows who cut it.
None of this can be seen from the road, only the rails. A sudden thatched roof on a terraced hodgepodge of brick and wood near some olive trees, and the whole family out taking the sunset air, a little boy and girl up on a cistern, waving.
Near Diyarbakir, the copper casts blue shadows into the rust of the mountain towns.
We had been warned that malcontents might attack our train in this area, and they did: several windows were hit with rocks, the shatterproof glass spiderwebbed behind the posters that said THE HASANKEYF TRAIN.
Buket saw the malcontents: three little kids. In the dining cars everyone drank coffee and tea and ate kebap and grinned at the waiters and charged their telephones at the outlets. By now many of us women had bright scarves over our flat sweaty hair. By the end of the trip these had bloomed into fantastical headdresses. We felt bonded for life.
Rocking the Cradle of Civilization in Hasankeyf NEXT: 7 LITTLE GIRL DRUM