My body language says it all…
Yesterday was Throwback Thursday on Facebook. One of my friends wanted to see a photo of me when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. A lot of my photos from that time period are in storage in Texas. However, I do have some pictures from a trip I took in June and July 1996. My friend Elaine and I went by bus from Yerevan, Armenia to Turkey and Bulgaria. Our first stop on our trip was in Istanbul. Even though Armenia borders Turkey, we couldn’t go there directly because Armenia and Turkey had no diplomatic relations. We had to access Turkey via Georgia, which was in itself its own adventure.
Northeastern Turkey is one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen in my lifetime. It seriously looks like a fairyland. The above photo was taken not long after an arduous ordeal at the Georgia/Turkey border, just a couple of days after my 24th birthday. We were stuck at the border for most of the day and had spent a lot of time drinking vodka and waiting for the customs people and border guards to let us through. We’d been sitting in a big field near the border that was filled with wildflowers… and little piles of human excrement. Unfortunately, there were no bathrooms at the border, so many people had just copped a squat behind bushes.
Maybe an hour or two after the border crossing, we stopped for watermelon and more vodka. At this point in the trip, we had been traveling for maybe 24 hours. I was tired because I can’t sleep on buses… or at least I couldn’t in those days. It took another two days to get to Istanbul.
Our bus from Yerevan to Istanbul. About half of the seats were taken out to accommodate goods. This bus went from Yerevan to Istanbul every week and was mostly used by people buying stuff in Turkey to sell in Armenia. It was mostly empty on the way to Turkey, but was probably loaded to the gills on the way back.
The man in the first photo was an obnoxious Armenian guy who would not leave me alone. He kept grabbing me and talking to me. At one point, he commented on how fat I am. When this picture was taken, he was trying to bond with me. Just imagine… we’d been on a hot bus for more than a day. He hadn’t bathed, brushed his teeth, or used deodorant in some time (if ever). He was sweaty and reeking of cigarettes and vodka. In the photo, I’m cringing, yet still somehow able to smile.
Another shot of our watermelon break. Notice how the guys are squatting. I always called that the “Armenian squat”. You’d see men squatting like that all over the place. I’m sure people around the world squat like that, but I never noticed it as much as when I lived in Armenia. These folks were pretty nice to Elaine and me. We were the only Americans on the bus, so we were invited to the party.
Back when I was there, Armenians loved having their picture taken. When the guy in the photo saw me pull out my 35 millimeter camera with actual film in it, he insisted on striking a pose with me. I don’t remember the guy’s name or even if he told me what it was, but he was just one in a string of males on that journey who offered unwanted attention to Elaine and me. The funny thing is, we were both looking a bit scruffy during that trip.
Those were the days when I earned $5 a day as a Peace Corps Volunteer, so there was no money for anything other than the necessary and the practical. Moreover, Elaine actually loaned me $500 so I could go with her to Turkey and Bulgaria. After a year spent in 90s era Armenia, Turkey was like a modern wonderland. Aside from the sexual harassment, we had a fabulous time.
You might notice the raw spots on my legs. I think the wound on my left leg was caused by a shaving mishap. I was trying to shave in the dark (had no electricity in my apartment) and I accidentally skinned my shin. Both of my legs were also horribly chafed because a couple of days before we took off for Turkey, we attended a fundraiser for hungry horses at the Yerevan Hippodrome. The organizers let us ride some of the horses. I made the mistake of wearing shorts (which I NEVER did when I rode horses all the time). While in the saddle, I rubbed some of the flesh off my legs. Despite the injuries, that remains a great memory for me, because it was the first time I’d been on a horse since 1990 and I found I could still ride with relative ease.
I have wonderful memories of cantering effortlessly around the ring on a stallion, the very first one I ever got to ride in my lifetime. That experience was well worth getting chafed legs. I remember the guy asking me twice if I knew how to ride. I have never been obviously athletic. I promised him that I did know how to ride a horse, so he let me go. People were surprised by my skills; most of them didn’t know I practically grew up in a barn. Sadly, since that day, I have not been riding. I have also not done any other three day bus trips on no frills transportation. I can’t say that is my favorite way to travel, but it was definitely memorable and special. I’m glad I had the opportunity. I’d love to go back to Turkey now that I’m married. 😉