Today I received a gift through the mail from the inspiring author and adventurer Levison Wood. His book – An Arabian Journey– is sitting on my desk as I write, calling me to stop everything and luring me to enter those mountains of the mind that lie within its pages. It’s been a great week for virtual travel and it began on Monday with a trip to Siirt in south-east Turkey with my Sufi friend Musa. As ever, Google maps and Skype allowed for some astral flying, and after a short tour of the over the rumpled folds of this distant landscape, we landed in Musa’s homeland.
“So, how’s lockdown affecting you?” I asked. Musa is a journalist by trade and usually travels to and from his preferred desk at the London Library on his trusted Brompton bike, giving him plenty of opportunity for street-photography along the way, so I assumed he would be feeling the pinch. Not so. Musa told me how his childhood in Siirt was marked by the conflict between government forces and Kurdish militants. The daily 5pm curfew meant that apart from going to school, and weekend outings to his grandfather’s pistachio orchards to the south of the city, he was largely confined to home. Even on this virtual visit, almost two decades since he left for university he and I were not free to roam through Siirt as the little yellow figure of Google’s street view was barred from entering those parts of his hometown which still remain under strict government control.
Musa talked with passion about how, as a child, all social activity centred around the small fountain and the pomegranate tree in the courtyard of the family home. He clearly felt happy there, and safe. By contrast, beyond the wall of the garden lay the threat of bombing and conflict and I began to see that for Musa, being confined within a warm and loving household with a deadly pandemic raging outside wasn’t so novel after all.
Unlike Musa and many others who have sought safe haven in the UK, for most of us this will be the longest we have ever lived without the freedom to travel where we choose. But even now, COVID cannot truly confine us. Looking for a connection between this week’s two journeys of the mind, I picked up Levison’s book to check the index for a mention of ‘Turkey’ and with a single leap from one page to the next, had landed in Syria…The pages are calling me and I must go … Adieu
We are Pilgrims – Journeys in Search of Ourselves by Victoria Preston is available from all on-line retailers and Kindle.