The disk paused for a moment and then turned over in the cassette player, again blasting the same fiery songs we had heard for the last six hours. The truck player pointed to it roughly and resolutely exclaimed “turkey” responding to our nods with a satisfied grin. The Turkish flag dangled over the dashboard, and the stained carpet I sat cross legged upon in the sleeper cabin of the truck added to the ambiance.
“Turkey” was the only evident English word the driver spoke. I spoke neither Turkish nor French which the driver grudgingly accepted while continuing to call me “mademoiselle”. I had hoped my years studying Spanish would provide that much needed link, but it was not the case. In desperation my brother pulled out his rusty high school German skills, and though we drove through Germany beyond his recognition of “guten Tag” they fell flat. Regardless of the impasse we had reached I know this; Turkish beer is the best there is, Turkish music is unbeatable, and when it comes to Turkish soccer nothing compares. His name was Ahmed, and his two daughters and wife saw him only every three months as his job was to transport cargo throughout Europe. We relied on our innovation to communicate and when stick figures on the side of a rusty truck taught us all we could know we relied on lessons words couldn’t speak.
My brother and I had spent significant time hitch-hiking in several countries throughout Europe when we met him. The generosity of our hosts was sometimes overwhelming and more than occasionally embarrassing. Ahmed reached new heights and it was a personal struggle not to reject his hospitality. My prideful spirit resisted his continuous benevolence, yet I found there are lessons beyond the scope of self reliance. When hunger overwhelmed us he pulled the semi-truck into a lot and we unloaded expecting to grab the fruit snacks and packages of nuts out of our backpacks. Instead he pulled down the storage bin of his truck revealing a full kitchen, complete with propane stove which he pulled down and insisted I, as the woman, used as a stool.
The meals cannot go without mentioning. Feta cheese was sliced into thick portions and loaded along with tomato slices onto pungent bread. Our next meal consisted of eggs scrambled into a tomato paste he mashed upon his make shift cutting board. Bread was dipped into the self spiced mixture to create a filling and surprisingly delicious fare. As night had obscured all he unscrewed reflectors from the bottom of the truck which revealed a tiny light ideal for the illumination of his tiny kitchen. Every element of his habitat, though it was merely an outdated semi-truck, was perfectly honed and orchestrated for efficiency.
That night I slept in his sleeper cabin while my brother and our host struggled to gain comfort in the rigid front seats. I stayed awake for some time unsettled by the selflessness such a stranger had shown two kids hitch-hiking off of the autobahn. By the time we parted I had begun to deeply question my own programmed view of the world where each human takes care of himself first and foremost. Without intending to gain anything but transportation between the Netherlands and Berlin I had experienced enough to devastate a lifetime of comfortable thought.
We stepped down from his truck just outside the town of Magdeburg and finally retrieving our phrasebook from our backpacks made a feeble attempt at pronouncing “tepekkiir” to which he laughed, waved, and drove away. Through our brief interaction I realized my inadequacy at allowing others in beyond a superficial level. Though I had experienced previously the challenges and rewards of communicating across a language barrier the day I spent with Ahmed gave me a new understanding of the interconnectedness of human beings. Such a small glimpse into his life has lead down a path focused on artfully constructing an existence for myself in harmony with my environment and with the human race.
Arundhati Roy entered my life during a period of cultural draught. My high school had much to be desired when it came to diversity or varying perspectives. I had attended Seventh Day Adventist private schools since preschool and knew very little outside the scope of the fundamentalist outlook. Seeped in an institution run by white males, prohibiting any unorthodox behavior or thinking such as homosexuality, and raiding students of music and books not approved by the administration I was overdue for my initiation into the real world. Arundhati Roy’s book “The God of Small Things” was a meaningful element in my integration.
The book “The God of Small Things” depicted the childhood of two twins growing up in the south Indian state of Kerala. Though it beautifully describes internal horrors they grow up with I was primarily struck by the beauty in their world and in each individual. Throughout my childhood I was bombarded with images of non Christians as riddled in sin, incapable of the moral and ethical fiber that was afforded only by the grace of God. Although I never believed fully in their orthodoxy I admit I was struck every time I found such clear and irrefutable evidence of merit outside of the context of Christianity. Moreover I was struck by the bitter taint of humanity I viewed within the religion.
What began as a fascinating novel left me reeling and with an intense desire to understand humanity. I began with a goal to break down the mystery behind non-Christian religions and soon owned a copy of the Koran, the Baghdad Gita, several Buddhist texts, and a score of novels relating to religions and spirituality. What I unfailingly found in each book was an accumulation of wisdom. I found, along with small differentiating details and rare particulars with which I disagreed, that each had merit, value, and relevance to my life.
Three years later I am far from finishing my search but have expanded it to encompass more than religion. I believe each human has positive and negative attributes and no polarized vision of the world can see the beauty inherent in every element of an individual. In the book “The God of Small Things” societal bigotry against the “untouchables” prohibited love and tore the lives of the characters apart. In my own life I have seen such intolerance have lasting results.