|That evening in Diyarbakir we were hanging out in a cassette tape shop sampling Kurdish music. Many of the more prominent Kurdish artists are based in Europe due to the Turkish history of suppression of Kurdish culture. Until recent years, tapes were smuggled in. It's freer now. Tapes are distributed openly and many are now produced in Turkey.
The tape seller called out from his spot behind the counter. Immediately, a boy appeared at the shop's open doorway. After a quick verbal exchange the boy ran off, moments later returning with tea for the three of us. Hard as we tried, rarely did we pay for a tea in this part of the country.
At this point we had listened to quite a few tapes. The shopkeeper was patient with us but our attempts to describe what sorts of music we liked were getting us nowhere. Again the shopkeeper called out into the street. A man crossed the road and entered the shop—stuck out his hand and in English asked, "How can I help?"
Ali was born and raised in Diyarbakir but now spends much of his time across the border in Kurdish northern Iraq. He works in security with the UN. With his translation services we soon selected a couple of tapes to purchase. "Have you eaten," we asked Ali. Yes, he had, but would love to sit with us while we ate. And by the way, he had friends with a great restaurant just around the corner.
Ali returns home about once a month from his base in northern Iraq—just five hours by car. He's met a lot of international government and press people serving as a security escort and translator. He proudly showed off a sampling of his collection of business cards. Then told us about the horrendous car accident he'd been in—showed us the scars. Hours of brain surgery; his companion had died.
Direct buses from Diyarbakir to Erzurum—our next destination—were fully booked for the next few days. Se we ended up making the full-day trip in three stages—each time the bus companies saying it couldn't be done. We made it in about the same time that a direct bus would have taken and for about the same cost.
In Erzurum we would try for the coveted Iranian visas. When we left town a few days later we expected to be back within a couple weeks to explore a bit more in eastern Turkey before continuing onward—to either Iran or Georgia. But it wasn't to be. Our request for visas to Iran were turned down and our alternate route across Central Asia proved unfeasible due to the reality of approaching winter and the coup in Pakistan. Less than three weeks later we were on a plane out of Istanbul.