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Masseur or militia?

August 9, 2014

I am writing this from the verandah of our holiday home in Kas, Antalya, Turkey. (available to rent, discount offered for readers of this blog)

Better than the view from my office


A couple of days ago we had our habitual pummelling, bending, squashing, pressing, tickling (my feet are ticklish), dousing with hot water, sluicing with freezing cold water… hamam, or Turkish bath. No holiday here is complete without one.

For the last several years, we have always had the same couple of masseurs at the Hera Hotel by the sea front. My son (when he is here) and I used to get Mehmet, an older, bulky, bear of a man, who took delight in our screams and scrunched us. The hamam has changed hands, and this year I (Tom isn't here) got the new man, Ali, a very fit, active, muscular, person in his mid twenties. What he lacked in bulk he more than replaced with strength, and no relief was afforded by him to my more than half a century old body. The high point was when he insisted I relax when he climbed on me and put all his weight on bending my back. It was hard enough to breathe, let alone relax.

But I wouldn't miss the hamam for a moment. In fact, as we left the hotel, my thought was 'should we have another one before the end of the holiday'?

This blog though is not about masseurs, it is about militia.

After we had changed back into our clothes, Ali took me up to the hotel verandah to show me the view; I asked him his name, and whether he was from Kas, and then we got talking. For me, such conversations are always a key point of holidays, however much it makes daughter #2 cringe to see embarrassing dad #1 talk to strangers. I always find something to talk about, but never know what it will be.

Ali was from the Far East of Turkey, and is of Kurdish origin,

Kas is towards the bottom left of the map, near the tip near the G and A of Gulf of Antalya.

We are 500 miles from Istanbul:

And six hundred miles or so from Syria:


We talked about tomorrow's Turkish Presidential Election (if you can find a bookie to take your bet, place it on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current prime minister). We talked about Syria, and he showed us the day's newspaper (a broadsheet, not a red top) and translated a few of the headlines for us. And then we got on to ISIS, or IS, or ISID (as Ali called it).

We looked out to sea, towards Meis, and he said 'we have such a beautiful land, a life to enjoy, but why do they kill so many people?'.

And then he said 'I think I have to go to fight'.

Jane and I both heard Ali say this, and it was hard to be clear on all the thoughts behind it, and writing it now, hard to recall his precise words: but Jane had already found out that he was single, no ties (but clear intentions to have a family: his mother is one of twenty five siblings, his dad one of twenty- Ali said dismissively that the Turks, like Erdogan, only have one or two- our three sounded acceptable to Ali). My feeling was that he didn't want to fight, he had moved to Antalya to work hard and have a future, but with reports in the Turkish press (and we have seen some on of Kurds, Christians and other minorities fleeing ISID's advance and being pushed to the desert mountains, he was saying that he was prepared to, and may do so.

I had earlier asked him if he played backgammon (the game of choice here) and his eye's lit up, he said, 'like a professional' , and when I said I played, he went to find a hotel set, but, alas couldn't find one. But he repeated that he played like a professional so I said that next time we must have a game, but that if he beats me, we must also have a game of satranç (chess) (which also he doesn't play: in six visits here, I have not found any of the locals who play chess).

I hope that Ali will pummel, bend and squash me again next year. And afterwards, I hope we can play backgammon, and presuming he beats me, I will let him off the satranç game: for I will be glad that he has not gone off to fight.


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