Another Accident – What a Boar?

Earlier this week I reluctantly got out of bed and looked in the mirror. I think there was a part of me half hoping that what had happened the night before was somehow just a bad dream – but it wasn’t. My nose was just a bloody mess and there were also distinct scabby grazes around my right eye, which would bruise to black over the following days. Looking around at my blood stained sheets and pillow, which I didn’t even try to wash before putting in the bin with a ruined favourite shirt I began to wonder if I should have tried harder to get to a hospital. At the time the torrential rain and the thunder and lightning of the night before, which also knocked out my power had made that decision for me.

Here in Turkey, the poor condition of the roads and the appalling level of driving skill amongst most Turks essentially mean you can almost count out on all your fingers the potential fatal and near fatal accidents you could have been involved in if you drove at anything less than 100% alert, during even the shortest of journeys. “Always expect the unexpected on the roads” was one of the earliest and most valuable pieces of advice that I was given when I first arrived 14 years ago. However, not even that could help me avoid being felled by a herd of wild boar.

Photo by Michael Ransburg

Despite sounding like something from an amusing kids TV cartoon, the damage to my face makes it a little hard to laugh about it right now, although I am sure I will do one day. Just like I can laugh now about some of those other near death experiences from my past: the drama surrounding being scratched by a rabid cat in north Africa, the ridiculous circumstances that led to me being poisoned by a deadly green mamba in Kenya, or when I woke a very angry and venomous Vietnamese centipede, when I tried to put on the T-shirt it had decided to snooze inside. For a while I began to think that I was simply unlucky, indeed my mother still braces herself for news of some incident or other every time I go anywhere. Indeed, she now so often answered any phone calls with “What’s happened?” I try not to call until I can say I am safely home again.

No I am not unlucky – it is more a question of the law of averages. Yes I have had some close shaves many of which I have not even listed but that is more to do with my love for travelling and exploring and because I have seen more places than some people could see in a few lifetimes. Ok many of those places may have had health risks associated with them – I’ve suffered from Malaria, Dengue fever and Dysentery at one time or another; or they may have been regarded as just plain dodgy. But the world is now so crowded that often the most interesting and beautiful places can only be found well away from the usual tourist trails or way off the map like one of my visits to the upper Amazon a few years ago, where the map quite literally said ‘Terra Incognita’ meaning unknown land.

Unless you spend your money on hermetically sealed tours, where every ounce of danger and as many health hazards as possible have been safely pasteurised from your journey, there will always be a degree of risk, be it medical, physical or psychological associated with most journeys. For many people this danger has become an absolute requirement mainly because it is that elevated potential for jeopardy that excites and draws them in the first place. However, you can find danger anywhere. Try wandering around any big city in Africa or South America after dark or even in broad daylight. Although you can still be vulnerable much closer to home, even in the most affluent of neighbourhoods. I discovered this for myself when I was stabbed, knocked unconscious and left for dead in Istanbul almost a decade ago. The thieves secured only a cheap watch and a few lira – almost my life for just £3 or $5 worth of gains.

Returning to the other night – if you have read up to here, then you really do deserve the gory details of my encounter with the wild pigs or Turkey.

Photo by John Beukeboom

Driving home late, trying but failing to beat a thunderstorm, I came upon a herd of about 20 wild boar. There’s nothing unusual in this where I live as they are almost as common as urban foxes are in London. They are considered haram or unclean in Muslim Turkey, so they are rarely hunted for their meat and although the authorities do try to control them through culling some years it often feels like they are everywhere, especially in the late summer when the males or bigger females flip over large metal dumpsters with very little effort to raid the trash inside. That was how I encountered this particular herd partying by an upturned dumpster just a minute from my home. Boars are surprisingly bad climbers so as I approached they ran off along the road, quite unable to escape to the left or right because of walls. So I did what I normally do, as I had done two nights earlier, I just slowed down and drove right through them, because at the point of being passed they usually just double back to their late night feast. However, on this night of lightening and rain-wet roads I really should have been more cautious.

After a few seconds I had passed most of the young and juvenile boar and only had a big wiry male and a nursing mother, heavy with milk, ahead of me when a flash of lightening spooked the female across my path. I braked before I hit her but I was soon lying in the road with blood pouring from my nose and with my scooter pinning my long suffering right leg to the road. As I was lying around a blind bend in the dark I needed to get up as quickly as possible. However, when I heard an almighty shriek and then a lot of snorting coming from the bushes just off to my left I couldn’t understand why the adults had not gone back to their buffet; that was of course until I looked to my right and saw a terrified piglet frozen to the spot just a metre away from my head.

There are some dangerous situations you must definitely hope you never find yourself involved in. One of the worst is standing between a 500lb (220Kg) wild boar parent with deadly tusks and one of its babies. So what do you do if you are lying between them…? You clap and you clap and you clap your hands until your piglet finds its courage and runs to its furious parent. Then, and only then, can you safely stagger to your feet and count yourself lucky that you only ended up with a smashed-up face.


Turkey: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

This morning I watched a couple of Talking Heads on an American News TV channel once again openly criticise Turkey for not doing enough to help the Kurds or stop the march of the Islamic extremist group, which now calls itself Islamic State (IS). Of course, neither objective could be gained easily or in isolation from the other as they are essentially the same thing. This would only be achieved (according to the commentators sat in their comfortable TV Studio 8,000 miles away) after Turkey did one dramatic thing… invade Syria. However, this potentially disastrous situation did not arrive yesterday, it has been bubbling away for years, largely ignored by the rest of the world until it finally reached crisis point towards the end of this summer. So it isn’t just Turkey’s problem. It is a problem that the whole world should have been seriously addressing for at least two years now.

More than a year ago I twice highlighted the complicated position that Turks find themselves in as its neighbour Syria continued to implode. At that time the rest of the world seemed quite happy to simply stand by wringing it’s hands or criticising Turkey for not getting involved, despite the fact it had accepted countless refugees. In the months that followed, as with most modern crises, the fall-out from Syria was largely forgotten once some Governments had made themselves feel a little better by sending a few million dollars to get the desperate refugees through a cold winter. However, the ultimate consequences of the worlds inaction to deal with the true cause of the disease last year, instead of its symptoms, has now exploded spectacularly in their faces.

Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

In my post The Noisy Neighbours I described the push and pull and conflicting loyalties and expectations that existed within the regions many ethnic groups, who more often than not lived on both sides of many different international borders. I also described in The UN Veto Waltz, the total failure of the UN to do anything, mainly because of both China and Russia’s willingness to use their Veto to protect the Syrian Government and their own military or economic interests in the region, while Bashar Assad continues to murder his own people.

In the west, where News is packaged, politicised and then dumbed-down for an increasingly disinterested social media generation, governments have tried to pigeon hole everything as either black or white. Nothing was so true when it came to dealing with a resurgent Islam in the wake of 9/11. Bush’s War on Terror turned out to be little more than crude revenge and if he had his way may well have been called something like: Time to Sort These Muslims Out. So is it any surprise that Turkey, with its own Islamist leaning Government, can appear a little wary of the motives of the western powers. Or that it sometimes comes across, despite having the 2nd biggest army inside Nato, as reluctant to get more involved.

So we now read headlines like ‘Could Turkey be about to return to the bad old days of armed conflict with the Kurds?’ Some would say that with troops on the streets, curfews for the first time in 22 years, protests in almost 30 cities and state buildings attacked – that the situation is already dangerous and escalating fast. However, in a country of people raised as political as well as ethnic chameleons, nothing is ever what it seems. Yes there is fighting within the Kurdish community, between Turkey’s Islamist Hezbollah group – which backs Islamic State (IS) – and supporters of the PKK, the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is vehemently opposed to IS militants, but, the main protests and the fiercest anger is still directed at the Turkish government. Some Kurds now feel that Turkey sees them, rather than IS, as the true enemy. They are also furious at Turkish troops blocking them from crossing over into Syria to fight with the Kurdish militia there, the YPG. Many also believe that Turkey would be happy to see the fall of Kobane if it means Kurdish hopes for an autonomous entity in Syria went up in those flames.

As I said earlier, most of these tensions could have been eased a year ago if the world had dealt with Assad then. But that ship sailed a long time ago, particularly as there is now, astonishingly, a ground swell of opinion, even within the US and Europe that these issues and the stopping of IS can now only be achieved if an alliance is made with the murderous Assad. And despite this sounding about as ridiculous as the Allies siding with Hitler at the end of 1945, just to stop the spread of a new threat – Stalin’s Red Army; in many world capitals it seems to be the only show in town. Therefore it should come as no surprise that many Turks now view the situation as devil if you do, devil if you don’t. So is it any wonder that they hesitates on the border?

Photo by scrolleditorial

For now, Turkey refuses to budge and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated this week that his country would only get more involved in Syria if the US-led coalition also targeted President Assad’s regime, as well as IS. He also said a no-fly zone had to be imposed to halt regime air strikes and help cope with the refugees. The US state department reiterated that the coalition was focused for now on IS alone. So Turkish troops are unlikely to spring into action.

Turkey turned against President Assad early on in the war, betting he would fall quickly. But in so doing, Ankara was widely criticised for taking an “anyone but Assad” policy, backing armed groups, which became ever more extreme. However the Turkish government have, it appears, only just woken up themselves to the threat posed by IS – mainly after the group kidnapped 46 Turkish citizens in June, holding them for more than 100 days. But critics believe Ankara is still not serious about tackling the extremists. “For us, the PKK and IS are the same,” President Erdogan also said this week. “So it is wrong to consider them as different from each other.”

The bitter legacy of conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish minority goes a long way towards explaining Turkey’s inaction in Kobane. So Ankara fears helping the Kurdish militia in Syria, which is closely allied to the PKK, itself still labelled a terrorist organisation by the West. Some 40,000 people have been killed in the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey since the 1980s, and although a peace process with the Turkish government was launched recently, it remains fragile, particularly after Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, said if Kobane falls to IS, it will spell the end of the peace process.

So is it any wonder that Turkey refuses to listen to the rest of the world, when the worlds own in-action has not only exasperated the Syrian war and allowed IS to fill a very dangerous power vacuum, but has potentially caused even more unnecessary chaos within Turkey itself.