13.03.2010 10 °C
Have you ever noticed that the things you give up always seem to be EVERYWHERE once you’ve finally sworn them off? Peeping behind corners, hiding behind healthy alternatives, mockingly taunting you into submission? You know what I’m talking about; chocolate hiding behind whole wheat crackers, cake poking its head up behind some apples. Cookies, cookies, cookies, sitting next to the boring unsalted peanuts.
It’s nothing new. Giving up something always heightens your awareness of its existence. Take sweets for instance. Now that I’m not eating any, I seem to have developed a 6th sense for them; a ‘sugar sense’, if you will. If there’s dessert in the near vicinity, I’m like a compass near north. I can smell the bacon baby. I have considered the possibility that a magnetic plane surrounds me, attracting nothing but sugar and chocolate. This theory is a little difficult to verify however. The point is, there’s no escaping it. My living space is invaded by sugar on a daily, no, hourly, basis.
It should come as no surprise then, that two Saturdays ago, I found myself handing out candy and treats by the handful to children in Eastern Turkey, accompanied by a jolly chubby man who goes by the pseudonym of ‘Uncle Sugar’.
If this were a live show, I would sing Alanis Morissette. Because it is ironic.
Here is Uncle Sugar (aka Yusuf), in a nutshell:
Plunged in the middle of Eastern Turkey with no transport and a strong desire to visit the biblical sites of ancient Mesopotamia, my Canadian posse and I decided to hire Yusuf to whisk us about the countryside. On the agenda: Harran, Bazda Caves, Han el Ba’rur, Şuayb, and Soğmatar. Five cities, or hamlets rather, located near the Syrian border along what would have been the silk road, more or less. Biblical highlights: the cave where Prophet Job lived, and the spring of water that cured him of his ills. (I washed my hands in its cool waters, but wasn’t ill at the time, so cannot expand on the legitimacy of its healing powers. I won’t argue with centuries of pilgrims though). Also noteworthy: Harran was the home of Abraham in 1900 BC, and Şuayb was once the home of Prophet Jethro. (Don't worry. I don’t know who that last one is either).
As luck would have it, Yusuf has family near Harran, and knows the area like the back of his hand. Perfect! We had an insider. He introduced us to his numerous brothers, in-laws, and nephews along the way, often stopping by the road to chat with those working the fields. Doubts over the enormous size of his family were soon dispelled when I was introduced as his niece. Everybody we met ran over to say hi to their uncle Yusuf – which is Turkish for Joseph (kind of perfect, since we were in the bible belt of Turkey). PS: it’s not actually called the Bible Belt. I just like to call it that.
In a funny twist of fate, it turns out that Yusuf is the Saint-Nicholas of Southeastern Anatolia. He doesn’t carve toys and own reindeer, or fly and squeeze down chimneys. He rides a small Toyota jeep, hollers when he arrives in town, and hands out store bought candy to every child that comes running. Not only is he generous, he is also fair. Everyone gets three of each flavour, no more, no less.
Feeling perhaps more humanitarianly responsible than I, Leilla felt we should have been delivering bananas, pens, and notebooks to their outstretched fingers. Healthy and educational. Seems logical. But who wants healthy and educational for Christmas? You can imagine the disappointment on their faces the day Yusuf rides into town handing out fruit instead of candy. At least, I can imagine the disappointment on my face if I received a banana instead of a lollipop.
With this in mind, Leilla, Paul and I became elves for the day, standing by with bags of colourfully wrapped candy as a boisterous Yusuf hollered out “ŞEKER!” at each new stop. And the children, they love their Uncle Sugar. It was truly a privilege to be included in this joyful tradition, perpetuated by a man who simply loves to bring happiness to all his ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews’ living around these parts. A true Saint-Nicholas of the Near East.