The other day I received a card in the mail from my niece, Eilish.

The cover:

The letter:

The word for word translation based on my lower-intermediate knowledge of child-language:

To Joseph, I know you are in Turkey ’cause no you. I miss in you I. Love Eilish

The reply:

Dear Eilish,

thank you very much for the card.

I miss you, too.

Yes, I am in Turkey.

One day I will return to Australia and then we will see each other again.

Love Joe

Very Busy At Work

With the boss away, catching up to do from the just gone holiday, and several time-intensive student files, I am very busy at work this week. Reflecting this, I have yet to write up the Syria trip on the blog and the number of emails to deal with in my personal email account has snuck passed 40.

Oh yeah, happy Australia/Invasion Day!

Syria: What Fun And Adventure

9 am this morning I arrived back in Mersin. The 400 km journey from Aleppo took 18 hours instead of the expected 8. The journey to Aleppo’s duration was 16 hours and involved a hike. In between the adventures were 3 fantastic days. I am damn tired now so I will write my in-depth Syria report later this week.

Hajj and Kurban Bayrami (Sacrifice Holiday, Eid-ul-Adha)

From Thursday to Sunday is a four day holiday called “Kurban Bayrami” (in Turkish: Sacrifice Holiday) or Eid-ul-Adha. Throughout the Islamic world millions of sheep, goats, cattle and other animals will be killed and the meat eaten and distributed to the poor. Tonight I am off to see Toygun in Adana on the way to Aleppo (again) via Antakya.

This time of the Islamic calender (it varies slightly for each Gregorian year) is also the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudia Arabia. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every Muslim who can afford to, should do at least once in their life.

This year, along with two million others, my boss is taking his parents-in-law on Hajj. They are on a three week trip arranged by the official Turkish Hajj agency. If my boss had his way he would have chosen a 10 day trip through a private agency. In Turkey (and probably in other Muslim countries), people who have been on Hajj are traditionally called “Haci” (pronounced: Haji).

The BBC News website has several informative links:

About Hajj

Eid-ul-Adha In Pictures

Your Say on Hajj

As is said in Turkish: Kurban Bayraminiz Kutlu Olsun!

The Last Of The Persimmons

There were no persimmons in all but one of the neighbourhood fruit and vegetable shops I passed. The season for this year is as good as over. To satisfy my hunger for this gorgeous fruit, I bought the remaining 4 kg from the one shop with any persimmons left.

1 kg has already entered my mouth either straight or in a yoghurt smoothy. One cannot get enough!

A Disruptive Future

From Our Own Correspondent is one of my favourite programmes on BBC World Service radio. From Our Own Correspondent consists of stories written and presented by BBC correspondents from all around the world.

A recent story contained very interesting views on future trends. A couple of futurists argue the Internet will massively disrupt life.

I can relate personally to almost all of the predictions made including the prominence of the Internet, reduced reliance on cars and increased inner-city living.

Here are a few quotes:

Most of the time the future is just like the present, but a little bent.

That, say William and Julie Draves, is dead wrong.


We parents do not understand our children, say these educationalists, for good reason. They understand the future and we do not.

Read the whole article.

Good Turkish Chocolates

My boss just came back from Izmit this morning. With her, she brought some delicious Turkish chocolates. The chocolate and caramel covered hazelnuts are addictive. They come in white and normal chocolate varieties. The chocolates are of the “Bolci” brand, made by “Deniz Pastahanesi” from Bolu, a city midway between Ankara and Istanbul. Delicious!

Friends and Email

On the 23rd of December I sent out my irregular email to my friends, family and basically anybody I have been in touch with and whose email my address book recorded; in total, around 500 emails.

I loved receiving all the replies, some from people I was not in contact with for more than two years. Thank you all very much!

The only ‘problem’ is replying to each and every email. I have now got down to 20 or so emails left in my inbox. To those I haven’t replied to, please be patient – your reply will come.

Without email (and the blog) I don’t know how this network could be maintained. Besides the fantastic gift of friendship, one never knows when one can help or be helped.

Recently, via a request from Flic, I helped convince a Chinese AIESEC trainee convince his family that Turkey was safe to come on a traineeship.

A few weeks ago, the second level .SG (Singapore) domains were released to the public for the first time. I saw this as an opportunity to register some great domain names for sale or development. After registering them I realised the domains required a Singaporean administrative contact. I had three days to find one before the domains would be taken away and I was about to leave on a holiday to Syria! No worries, I SMS’ed Hui in Singapore and she was happy to help. Thank you Hui!

Friends are fantastic and email is a great way to keep them in touch.

Rosemary In Mersin Province

A protocal was signed to increase rosemary production in Mersin province (as distinct from Mersin city). That’s fine for rosemary, but what I’d really like to see is basil produced. In my opinion it is a crime that basil is not widely eaten here. It’s about time I called the food cops to rectify this!

Syria Continued

Following on from Hi From Aleppo.

Besides Alicia , I met many other interesting people in Syria:

Sasha, the middle-aged Russian journalist who added a shot of gin to her morning Syrian coffee at Saint Simeon’s. On the tour we also visited Krake Shamass, the Valley of Death at Qatura, the Basilica of Muchabk (next to a military area) and a hilltop temple with statues that bore a passing resemblance to Mount Nemrut in Adiyamon Province, Turkey. The area we visited was full of rocks, similar to Ireland’s Aran Islands. At one place I fell and I was very lucky my hands hit the rocks the same time as my nose, causing grazes but nothing more. The day after the tour Sasha was hand in hand with a local ‘tourist-hunter’ at a cafe near the citadel.

Dominic, the recent Arts/Law graduate and Bombers supporter from Melbourne who had previously helped Texas death row inmates. He came to Aleppo from Beirut where, the previous night, he had visited an over the top, outrageously expensive and hip nightclub. The 10% alcohol beer imported from Denmark did not tempt Dominic on this occasion.

Rick, the Vancouverite travelling with his wife. They are graphic designers visiting the Middle East after studying arts courses in Italy and Greece. Rick told a great story about meeting a CIA agent on a Greek ferry. The agent didn’t tell Rick that he was an agent, just all his movements, speech patterns, looks and circumstances lead Rick to this conclusion. After this story I guessed that Rick was from Vancouver. He asked me, “How did you know?” I started telling him “Because of your speech, the way you walked, etcetera.” And then I told him he had previously stated he was from Vancouver!

Sameer, the tour driver and brother of the hostel owner, Ussama. In the hostel and on the tour to settlements north of Aleppo we chatted about almost everything including the pressure to get married in Syria, the potential for illness from the stone quarry dust and the border dispute between Turkey and Syria. The Syrian government still officially recognises Antakya (Antakia) and Iskenderun (Iskandaroun) as part of Syria.

Click on the map to see a larger version.

Intriguing, hey?

Selam and the other hostel workers.

The Italian couple, the female of whom illustrated children’s books. With them I chatted about the political and media situations in Italy.

Antje, the German lady who Alicia had met in Lebanon. Antje was fresh from being entertained in the Lebanese mountains by a Maronite (?) priest and his family. One evening the three of us ate dinner at an Aleppian restaurant. The local red wine tasted like dessert wine and the bottle was placed in an ice bucket but the kebabs were good!
The next morning we eventually made it to Aleppo’s Christian Quarter where an old truck with angels on the back grabbed our attention. The truck looked as though it was a hearse. At one stage church bells intermingled with a neighbouring mosque’s call to prayer.

The Japanese couple I shared the taxi ride from Aleppo to Antakya with. The man was in the middle of a two year Arabic language learning stint in Damascus and the woman had previously visited Egypt 6 or 7 times but never Turkey or Syria. At the border, dozens and dozens of passengerless Turkish buses were waiting to cross into Syria. I guess they were going to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to help with Hajj pilgrimage logistics. Antakya bus station (otogar) seemed very quiet. I guess cars weren’t constantly tooting their horns like they were in Aleppo.

Other random points:
* The streets of Aleppo teemed with soldiers in uniform, particularly on the holiday Friday
* I found a fresh sugarcane juice shop near the Christian Quarter
* One shop in the souq (bazaar, pazar) sold fresh ginger
* The weather for the whole trip was sunny but cool
* With the clear weather, the views from the citadel were much nicer than on my visit two years previous
* For myself or other people I brought back from Syria sweets, biscuits, Saudi dates, flat bread, two spice mixes, pita bread, Arabic coffee, cashews, almonds, shell-less pumpkin seeds, a small can of pineapple and duty-free bottles of tequila and vodka. Most of these items were either unavailable or more expensive in Mersin.

News Stops Between 01:00 and 06:00 AEDT?

On ABC’s Just In News page, there is no news from just after 01:00 to 06:00 AEDT (Australian Eastern Daylight Time). This must be a relatively new development as previously the Just In page was updated consistently, as news happened, 24 hours a day. I guess this change is a response to budget cuts. Check the time on the news articles in the Just In Weekly Archive for yourself.

Unfortunately, a very recent Just In news article says eight people are still missing in the wake of the bushfire on Lower Eyre Peninsula. I hope they are still alive.

Bushfires In South Australia

I am back from Syria and will write more about this later.

Via BBC I discovered news on fatal bushfires near North Shields, Poonindie (Penindie) and Wangary, north of Port Lincoln, South Australia. I went to high school in Port Lincoln and I hope the best for the region. It is sad to know 8 people have perished trying to escape the bushfires in their cars. What a horrible way to die. For coverage, including graphic bushfire images see ABC News Online.