Mardin, children among the decay of civilization(s)
I need a little more time to know for sure how I feel about Jerusalem, so I’m going to catch up on a place that definitely deserves more attention than I’ve given it. Mardin.
Mardin felt like the sentinel of civilization, sliding slowly off its hill on the edge of Mesopotamia. The few small crags between it and the Syrian Plain show sharp stones to remind the works of man of the geometry of time, which has been destroying the aspirations of civilizations for millenia here. And always that ancestral plain, forming the background to every picture, conversation, life.
Mardin itself is significantly destroyed, even as it is maintained and even grows. Rough-hewn stones make up the bottom strata of most buildings, with modern cinder blocks perched on top; my money is on the stones to outlast this age as well. It was easy to imagine a future where something buys tickets to walk where I did…
The streets are a labyrinth that twists and climbs the hillside, often passing under ancient structures in dank tunnels of broken rock and empty cigarette packs. If there are stairs, the center is likely a washout of rubble, presumably from the water that occasionally falls on this dusty city. I stepped over garbage, ancient paving stones, and more garbage.
The peak of the hill is capped with an ancient citadel, ghostly and mostly ruined from what I can see, with never a hint of motion. I was assured that to approach it was a sure death sentence, for the military still occupies the haunted height.
I wandered the slopes of Mardin each day, passing mustachioed men on colorfully-dressed mules who yelled at me not to take a picture, and clusters of women in colorful swaths of cloth who similarly refused my gestured requests for photos, though with smiles and giggles. I would have no proof of human habitation if it wasn’t for the kids.
I never had to walk far before high-pitched voices would cry out “Hello!” I would answer back “Hello! How are you?”
Answers ranged from giggling, to staring, “What is your name?” or “Thank you!”
My second day I found myself swarmed with a particularly interested pack, answering and asking the name question over and over, to the point where I started to wonder if I would ever escape. But they also knew “Goodbye!” And after yelling it to each other a few dozen times, I was walking alone again…
For about 9 seconds. Then the three most persistent girls appeared again. “Hello! What is your name?”
They had been asking me something in Kurdish, getting gradually louder in frustration at my continued inability to speak that language. They must have found someone who knew the word, because the three started asking “Money, money!”
I bought them each a tomato instead. They ran away giggling, and the shop keeper gave me a thumbs up. I love Kurdish people.
“I need a little more time to know for sure how I feel about Jerusalem” sounds kind of ominous! I’m planning to go to Israel in a few months, but only to Jerusalem and some Arab towns. Your Tel Aviv comments convinced me not to spend time there. I don’t want to comment on the political situation, but the Israelis I have met on various travels outside Israel have rather worn me down with their sense of privilege…maybe I haven’t met the right ones?
Mardin was pretty when I went a few years ago, but a bit too intent on making money generally.
There are definitely lots of things worth seeing in the country, and lots of great people, but I found the psychic atmosphere to be a little…turbulent. But as always, it’s the negative that stands out the sharpest. I hear the kibbutz experience provides a good counterweight to the latent aggression found in other spots, and big cities are always the least mentally/spiritually healthy places. Next time, I’m heading for the desert.
I’ll be curious to read about your trip.
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