Back in March I was in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, not far from the Syrian border. Though I had been heading for Iskenderun to catch a ship to Haifa, I'd made the detour to Gaziantep because I was hitchhiking with 22 year old Shusaku Hayashi, from Japan. We'd met in Konya, and had decided to hitchhike together towards south central Turkey; in my case to catch my ship, in his case to visit Gaziantep and Hatay to visit local sweets and pastry shops. My mission was to deliver peace petitions in Palestine, his was to collect local sweets recipes from Paris to Shanghai.
Shu fulfilled his mission in Gaziantep by sampling baklava in various parts of the city. In spite of the fame of that city for baklava, Shu had decided the baklava there was second best; he'd had better in Bosnia. We stayed that first night there as guests of a teacher of Koran, who we'd met at a Muslim guest house. The second night we spent in a bus station until getting a free ride on a coach to Hatay.
I mention Gaziantep because I've just seen on CNN that there is now a US military presence near the city to protect it from Syrian missiles. The reporter made no mention of baklava.
As CNN is the only English speaking channel I can get here in the German village of Neuhonrath, I've seen almost nothing but Syria in the news. The emphasis is on the possibility of US military involvement there. There is not so much news about the Syrian refugees, who amount to about 1/3 of the country's population.
I'm here in Neuhonrath, which is not far from Cologne, clearing an overgrown yard, and getting paid for it. Not only am I earning a good wage, I'm working as many hours as I want to work, unsupervised. I also have a room of my own in this house, and all I can eat. I should have enough money to get to Syria once I'm finished here.
Many thanks to my travel buddy Inge, who I walked with through the Balkans last autumn, and later on to Istanbul. She arranged the work for me. My 'boss' is her dad, Patrick, whom I met once before in Asenovgrad, Bulgaria.
I never did get to Paris.
I was supposed to meet my friend Brad there. We'd taught English together in Portugal, and at an International School in England. After not seeing each other for several years, we were going to cycle to Syria together, from Paris.
At first, Brad wanted to cycle south from Paris, through Italy, as he has a strong aversion to cold weather, and even September can be a bit chilly north of the Alps. As I was in Italy at the time, I had suggested that Brad could cycle south to meet me there. My going to Paris would be the wrong direction to get to Syria, unless I meant to cross America and Asia after Paris. But Brad wanted us both to start from Paris. As I liked the idea of cycling in northern Europe, and as I wanted to visit Inge, who was in Belgium, I agreed, and I cycled towards Paris.
But Brad has a strong independent streak in him, and he is elusive. When I was walking through the south of France a little over a year ago, Brad and I had agreed to meet in Marseilles. He was going to walk with me for a while. I'd wanted to go north from Nimes, through the Alps into Italy. Because of the possibility of cold weather in the Alps, Brad had wanted to get to Italy by sticking to the Mediterranean coast. I agreed, and started walking towards Marseilles. But then Brad was unable to do the walk for various reasons, so from Aix-en-Provence I'd headed north again.
So now, a year later, we were going to meet in Paris. Brad already had his bike, and seemed excited to go. He told me we'd stay with friends of his in Paris before setting out. But when the hosts he'd arranged in Paris fell through, I suggested we meet in Reims, where I had a host. Instead, Brad cycled southeast from Paris, to Dijon. I sensed he still wanted to go south. Nevertheless, I then headed towards Antwerp to find work, and to visit Inge. As our plan was to cycle through northern Europe, I thought Brad could meet me there. But Brad cycled to Basel, Switzerland, where I'd just come from. He then cycled into Germany, to Bavaria. He was logging 150 kilometers a day. Brad was cycling like mad. I suggested to Brad that he cycle north to meet me. He suggested I meet him in the Czech Republic. I started to think we might eventually meet at the Syrian border.
However, Brad is stalled for a bit now in Munich, as he's become ill. His message to me sounded urgent, that he needed to get to a doctor. He's been cycling through a lot of rain, cold rain, and is now paying the price. Maybe I should have heeded his request to cycle south.
Brad, if you're reading this, let me know how you are.
Meanwhile, I may be here in Neuhonrath for another week or so. I like the work; simple, manual labor sets my mind free. I like seeing the results. Other than the thousands of kilometers I've left behind me, I haven't seen tangible results from my work unless it's been on a farm or in a garden.
After I leave Neuhonrath, I'll go back to Antwerp, where my bike is waiting, to do some maintenance on it. And after that? At some point in the near future I'll be cycling towards Syria, and not away from it. But right now I'm a little tired of planning my trip and worrying about where I'll stay next or whether I'll ever raise any money for the refugees, so I'll just say that tomorrow I'll be clearing an overgrown garden.