The days here compress into non-ordinary sequences of needs and occurrences, each linked together, not by the normal elapsing of time, but by events. Almost all the movements and decisions we’ve had to make since leaving Istanbul for Van – three days ago? four? five?- have required, not only a high tolerance for change, but a flexibility and acceptance that is out of usual experience. Truly, my felt experience is that I’ve been here, in Van, for seven …eight days maybe, when I know that is not so. We’ve been on the ground here in Van for three days (and I had to confirm that with Ted, who was also not sure for a moment). Today is Sunday, November 13 and it is about 3:00 in the afternoon. We are, as I write this, in a building in Van that was identified soon after the first earthquake, as the Disaster Center. We are waiting until about six or seven, when it is dark enough for us to make our second delivery of coal to neighborhoods, which we have identified as being in need of heat. What is soon to become a very desperate need? It is beginning to get very cold in this environment, one that is already harsh by its nature. Many of the shelters are inadequate but may have to last through much of the winter and many people are very poor. Fear about going into buildings to sleep is very easy to understand.
I began to try and write couple of days ago, but the demands of the environment, the difficulty of actually remembering sequences of things that happened and the necessity of what seemed to be constant movement, made it difficult to write something that was coherent. I started with trying to log travel movements, what I saw, who I saw, the landscape etc., but this felt like a tourist travelogue and it seemed silly the more we progressed into the real issues on the ground here in Eastern Turkey. I have abandoned that attempt.
It will have to be enough to say that we arrived in Van late morning on Friday, November 11, spent a night in Istanbul after the flight from the States, took a domestic flight to Mus (a small city two hours flight from Istanbul, about 180 kilometers Northwest of Van), spent a night in Mus and then, early next morning, took a very hot (heat in the bus turned to HIGH and no windows) bus ride to Van. The plan had been for us to be met at the depot by someone who was to help us out but… no one there. We had come into a massive confusion of yelling people, mounds of luggage, buses and cars and taxis (all running), police and soldiers patrolling the area.; no English speakers anywhere, and no clear direction.
Ted finally connected with his friend, Tunc, who called some friends in Van and we were found by Malik Durmaz, a young search and rescue volunteer who comes from Encis and spoke English well enough to allow communication. He understood quickly who we were and what we were doing. He is a university student, studying for his Masters in Psychology who also started a search and rescue club in Istanbul a few years ago. The Lions Club is sponsoring him in his studies. He provided one of the critical needs we constantly have here: a translator with the ability to communicate our words in Turkish. With his intelligence and savvy about what was going on, he was like a Turkish angel that arrived out of the fog.
Tunc also called some associates in Van, Muhammed Ates and Halis Yaman, who came to the bus depot and attempted to help us rent a car. The attempt failed because there were no cars to rent (Ted had reserved a car before he left but…). We decided to try some friends of Halis to see if there was someone with a vehicle who would be willing to drive for us. We waited with these Turkish men, on a quiet, dusty street outside the house of one and were offered many cups of tea (chy) from a small, vertical stove that was brought out onto the street edge for us. This is the generous standard of Turkish hospitality. A car with driver showed up after a few phone calls and we made arrangements to hire him and his car for the duration of the FRF effort. As of this writing, Velle is still with us and has become more than a driver. He is an ally and a partner in decisions. He has brought us to his family tent, an extended family of about 24 people, where we again had tea and were stared at with much interest for a half hour or so. He and his family knew of a tent in the same compound, which we could occupy (with an electric HEATER) and offered it to us. That has been our sleep area for the past two nights and we hope to have it until we leave.
I have to leave the chronology now. There is so much more to tell but this letter already feels too long. I will tell you though, that Fuel Relief Fund purchased 82 tons of coal yesterday- good quality coal- and we will donate all of it before we leave.
Last night we made our first delivery of coal bags, to lots of households that, earlier in the day, were in a neighborhood we had targeted as being in need. We began at about 10:30 p.m. as requested by relief officials. There was about four inches of snow on the ground, it was quite cold and it was still snowing. Our first drop was to what is clearly a neighborhood existing in extreme poverty. The bags of coal should keep a lot of families warm and they sure need it. It is very late and we are all extremely cold and tired. I hope to report on tomorrow’s delivery in more detail in my next letter .
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