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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Kırkpınar2017, what a treat!



It was morning alright, though the minarets of Selimiye Camii lay under clouds.
‘This could well be a good sign, the sun won’t be that piercing.’
I first found out about Kırkpınar while watching ‘Globe Trekker’ and promised myself to be in that arena, at least once. I waited not 5, but 6 years! There was rafting in Bosnia, then Iceland, then again rafting in Bosnia, then a wedding – not mine, by the way –, and then a flat that needed to be furnished. However, 2017 came with no excuses. Nothing could stop me, not even the car accident having occurred 10 days before the departure to Edirne!
By the time the winding and whitish stone bridge showed the way to Sarayiçi Island, the sun had managed to break through the clouds and the whole setting started taking me back, some centuries or so. After all, it was the 656th edition! Ah, the oldest festival in the world and I was a small part of it! Many of the sellers of food and various items from around Turkey were oozing a lingering tradition mixed with a natural state of just being, characteristic to the nation. Being hospitable. And kind. And welcoming.
Online tickets were quickly exchanged for the real deal but the minutes seemed to pass too slowly, still, for my feet; they were very eager to step inside, animated by the persistent sound of the drums.

My gut did not mind that there were so few women around or that I was the only blonde for miles. It was a man’s world and that became even clearer when I entered and shrugged on my search for a seat with my eyes fixed on the oily bodies.

‘Oil wrestling, huh?’
In tallish grass, under the direct heat that the audience had been spared of, there were several opponents trying to defeat one another and expose the adversary’s umbilicus to the sky, as a smiling guy some seats away explained with the help of an online translation tool. Olive oil was making their sturdy bodies shine.

At first, you’re so overwhelmed that you don’t even know where to look or how to do it because there always seems to be one move or one moment that you’ve disregarded. And then, you start learning how to watch it and understand. You’ve never seen so many bottles of water drunk at any sports event. You’ve never seen so much determination in any athletes; even if the sun and the effort seem to clearly be defeating them, they hang on – persistence rather than quitting is the option. And you’ve never seen such a passionate audience before: whistles, joy, cries in disagreement. 

Wrestlers enter by categories and help oil each other up as they wait the call to start – I also understand that and I smile when I notice the competition’s mascots now making centre stage.

I realise that I am on somebody else’s seat, so one of the kind guards leads me to my front-row seat. Wow! [and I am talking about the view] In no time, the thoughtful gentleman seated next to me strikes up a conversation and in a mix of Turkish and English we manage to find out each other’s names. By a twist of Destiny, I am surrounded by the fans from Antalya.

‘This is Ali’, I am told by the same jolly man who tries to make me understand that he’s related to him. ‘Büyük şampiyon.’
‘He is loved alright’ I tell myself after seeing him traditionally salute the audience and being loudly cheered on. I try not to lose sight of him; it is actually hard not to – as I suspect he’s around 2 metres tall.

I realise that I’ve also become passionate about everything happening around me and drawn magnetically to know who’s winning and losing on the field. I would like to know some Turkish and ask some more questions about the başpehlivan [chief wrestlers] competing. My neighbour seems to read my thoughts and, as I spot two blonde Turks all geared up in their kispets [leather pants], he tells me they’re twins. It turns out I am not the only fair-skinned person there!

It’s well in the hours of the afternoon, but I don’t feel hungry or tired or even hot. My new-found friend has been spoiling me with pastries and apricots, sharing what he had on him with me – even the tissues and a fan. I love these people! This is the pure kindness that I am searching during my travels and I’ve always gotten a big slice of it here in Turkey.

Before deciding to leave and lock the powerful feelings of joy somewhere inside of me, I watch the last fights. Some men have been struggling to achieve victory for tens of minutes now. The audience is quiet but any sudden sign of possible ending gets them restless.

Their favourite wins again.
I say goodbye, thank the men that made me feel like family, and go down the stairs wondering who the champions are going to be the following day. Accompanied by the sneaky feeling that makes me smile again, as I now know for sure that what is meant to be will always be. I’ll be back.   

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