(This is the next post in a series of two. The first in the series was posted on 5/15/16.)
I was stationed at Incirlik Air Force Base, Turkey, many, many crescent moons ago. Incirlik is in the south of Turkey, about 70 miles west of the Syrian border, and about 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a beautiful area with a clement climate. In fact, it reminded me of southern California, where I grew up.
And just like the lowlands of Southern California, Incirlik was hemmed by tall, snowy mountains, called the Taurus mountains. I love mountains and decided that before I left, I’d make a trip up to those highlands and drink in their beauty up close.
I had a Turkish “friend” who drove a cab, and who always tried to accomodate my wishes (for a fee, of course). He would respond to my requests in pidgin, “No ploblem!”
We got about halfway up the slope on a winding highway. I was just sinking into a reverie, lost in the magnificence of giant boulders, forests, and deep sky, when my Turkish friend pulled into the parking lot of some outpost sort of building. He told me to wait in the car, and that he would only be a few minutes.
Shortly after, he emerged from the building with some man in tow. The man was short, but strongly built. He looked like he was in his thirties. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he had a kind of official demeanor to him. My friend told me to get out of the car. Then he and this man led me about fifty yards away, to the edge of a giant cement culvert that passed under the highway.
I cast my eyes down to a breathtaking drop of about two hundred feet. This was a massive storm channel, and it would be a long way to fall for any careless person. I caught my breath and exclaimed, “Wow!”
My friend was pale and fidgeting. But the stranger appeared quite calm and sure of himself, while gazing off into the distance. My friend cleared his throat and said, “L-let me ask you something.”
His demeanor seemed abnormal. His nervous behavior, the yawning maw before me, and the whole weirdness of this situation, spelled danger. It occurred to me that they were planning to throw me over the railing. My stomach got the collywobbles. I was all ears concerning this question he wanted to ask, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hear it, over my pounding heartbeat.
“D-do you believe in God?”
There it was. After more than a year in Turkey I thought I’d done a good job at hiding my atheism. I knew how being “allahsiz” (without God), was anathema in that culture. So I never spoke of it, and always treated Islam with respect.
But the Turks, and I guess so many others in that region of the world, tend to regard Americans as being godless heathens. Which in my case is very true. And apparently, someone didn’t want any heathens trespassing through their sacred mountains.
I knew what I had to do. I had to convert. It was CONvert or CULvert, for me.
Fuck Allah! I thought. “Yes!” I emphatically answered.
The color quickly returned to my friend’s face. He mopped sweat from his brow and beamed widely. “Of course! Of course! How could anyone not believe in God?!” he effused. “Why, look at these mountains! Look at this scenery! Someone had to create all this.”
The other guy seemed satisfied. He strode back to the building, and my friend and I returned to the car.
We continued our tour of the Taurus mountains without further incident.
Thanks be to God. God is fucking great!