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Archive for July, 2008

Jim Durfey’s article on India for the Livingston Enterprise

Monday, July 28th, 2008

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Published in the Enterprise July 15, 2008.

Cyclists Dance Confidently on Crazy Roads

By Jim Durfey for the Livingston Enterprise

Indian traffic combines the delicate timing of classical ballet with the haphazard aggressiveness of a demolition derby.  As I careened down the narrow streets of Agra a moto-rickshaw pulled in front of me.  I could have slowed down, but I guessed the driver intended to turn left.  Just before I slammed into the three-wheeled vehicle, it veered in front of oncoming traffic and off the road, just like I expected.

Next, I outran an approaching truck as it tried to swerve into my lane to get around a magnificent bull lounging in the right-hand lane.  The animal, considered holy by the Hindus of India, stood regally in the road, leisurely chewing its cud, as traffic whizzed by it on all sides.  It seemed as aware of its invulnerability as an elk the day after the close of the hunting season.  Unwilling to wait in line to get around the animal, all the cars made a rush for the remaining open lane of traffic.

I found myself adopting the Indian attitude regarding traffic the more I biked in that country.  I also found the rushed chaos of the streets reflected in other situations.  A couple of men in a posh New Delhi mini-mall asked me the purpose of the trip.  Before I could fully answer they had asked me three other questions.  Their excitement at the bike trip  humbled me, but before I knew it they had satisfied their curiosity and strode across the parking lot to the their car.

Western India proved just as excited to extend hospitality towards us as Eastern India, if not more.  A Muslim man in old Delhi bought me lunch for no apparent reason.  He sat silently across from me, eating his own lunch.

I racked my brain, thinking of conversation topics, trying to prove myself worthy of a free lunch.  His children attended a Catholic school run by nuns.  He had already made a pilgrimage to Mecca.  He did business in small pins and clasps.  I ran out of questions as my stomach ran out of space.  Yet, Mr. Atiq insisted on ordered me another piece of baked flat bread, and we sat in silence as I strove to join the clean plate club.

As we parted he shook my hand and beamed with a satisfied smile.  Perhaps, I reflected through the haze of a stuffed stomach, kindness does not necessarily require accompanying conversation.

When we stayed with Ranjit in Uttar Pradesh, he had his sister cook up an entire platter of parantha-fried bread stuffed with potatoes-for us.  He then took us on a tour of village cricket matches.  The biggest, though played by uniform-less young men on the rough ground of a fallow field, had the atmosphere of a Legion game down at the ball fields.  Vendors offered soda water and squeezed sugar can juice on wheeled stands while an announcer gave a running commentary on the game over a battery-powered speaker.

We watched our fill of cricket and then played music while Ranjit oversaw the slaughter of a chicken.  Our mouths watered at the prospect of meat, but before we could get our mouths on savory chicken morsels we had to dance.  The villagers appreciated our slow music, but preferred their own faster-paced beat.

They brought in a drummer who laid down a fast rhythm.  Mustachioed men in tank tops swung their hips around the circle of spectators.  Then it was our turn.  I tried to two-step and gyrate, but the sun had long ago sunk below the mango trees and my energy was low.  As a guest, I was in no place to make demands, but all I wanted was to eat chicken and go to bed.

I had never found accepting kindness so exhausting.  Yet, our experiences continued.  We smiled at crowds of curious onlookers who gathered around us when we stopped in small towns.  We answered every one’s questions as best we could, turned down their offers to drink tea and then gently butted our way through the crowd and back onto the craziness of the road.  I thought longingly of the roads in Livingston, so much calmer and easier to bike on.
We finally escaped the craziness of Indian roads when we reached the broad open highway of Rajisthan.  Four empty lanes stretched out before us.  No horns, no camels carts, no kids skittering into our path.  After half an hour boredom stretched the minutes into hours.  We came to a small town where a road led back into the craziness of Indian drivers and herders and cyclists.

The chaos, at first so appalling, now appealed to us.  We had learned how to integrate ourselves.  We knew the intricate timing of the grand ballet of Indian traffic.  After a short consultation, we opted for the more exciting road.

Visa Support

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

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I used to take it for granted when friends of mine from small or troubled countries like Bosnia or Guatemala would tell me how difficult it was for them to travel. I used to feel helpless to their problem and while I sympathized with them, I often wondered what they expected me to do. But as much as we pride ourselves in being thoughtful and empathetic individuals, the disadvantage of others don’t really hit us until they are at our doorstep.

 So now in Europe, the area I was waiting to get to more so than anyone else on the trip (I fell in love wıth Spain once and never got over it), of course I am the one who cannot get in. Irony is a whıte silk scarf. It has the abılıty to tuck you ınto places you dıdnt plan to be ın.

 After waıtıng on lınes for two days, then sleepıng on the sıdewalk ın front of the embassy wıth 20 other people (maınly Serbs, Albanians, and Macedonıans transıtıng though Bulgarıa to vısıt theır famılıes) who’d gotten there ahead of me (I arrıved at mıdnıght),  and after ınvestıng $345 ınto Bulgarıa’s border securıty (i was refused the fırst tıme) so that they mıght be able to make ıt ınto the Schengen Terrıtory by 2011, I can now get ınto Bulgarıa … at least for 10 days.

Onto Serbia - It took two days. Thanks to the pre-emptıve emaılıng of Peter, Jım, and Drew’s dad Rod Spidahl, along wıth my personal emaıl requestıng a vısa dırectly to the consulates and Foreıgn Mınınstry ın Serbia, we were able to get dırect permıssıon from Belgrade so that when ı showed up at the consulate offıce, they already knew ı was from The Bahamas and ushered me ın ensurıng me that ı would have the vısa ın one day.

 So now, we can go as far as Serbia. The rest of Europe ıs questıonable as ı have yet to apply for a Schengen visa. I wıll do all that I can ın order to achıeve thıs so that ı can contınue the trıp.

I hope that vıewers of thıs websıte and followers of thıs trıp can help by sendıng emaıls to those offıcıals they belıeve would be able to assıst. There ıs legıtımacy ın numbers. It ıs easy to dısregard one emaıl, but a lot harder to dısregard 10. I would certaınly apprecıate your support ın anyway.

Nothıng ıs certaın and ı am aware of the dıffıcultıes of securıng a Schengen vısa as a cıtızen of a small country. Europe, like America,  is concerned of ıllegal ımmıgrants and ı am applyıng from outsıde of my country of resıdence. I hope that some day, the world can come up with a better, more balanced and comprehensive way of securıng borders and allowıng people of all countries to travel and explore the world we live in more freely.

 Here is a list of people I am emailing. I invite you to join and write letters of request and support:

FRENCH CONSULATES  SERBIA French Ambassadeur : son exc. M. Jean-François TERRAL  Internet :  Courriel : ambafr_1@eunet.yu; (you have to post an email directly on the website)
 BOSNIA French Consulate Internet :  Courriel :    MIAMI FRENCH CONSULATE Consul général : M. Philippe VINOGRADOFF Courriel :  Sylvie Sebbane
You can contact the FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTRY by e-mail directly, using the below link:

 CONSULATE OFFICE Serbia  Consul General: János Kollár;
HUNGARY EMBASSIES Sándor Papp Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary:  CONSULAR SECTION Bosnia and Herzegovina Consul: Zoltán Juhás 
 Ambassador  extraordinary and plenipotentiary: Imre Varga;
Minister Göncz, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS HUNGARY, receives Members of the Parliament every Thursday from 4 to 5.
Please, inform us about Your intention for private conversation a week before via the following e-mail address:
Head of Consular Department Mr. Mitar Pavić, Counsellor
Krunska br. 9, 11000 Beograd, Srbija
+ (381 11) 303 82 04
+ (381 11) 324 10 57
+ (381 11) 324 11 70
+ (381 11) 324 10 95 <>
Mission members:
Ms. Lepa Babić, Minister-Counsellor
Mr. Salih Bukarić, Counsellor
Mr. Jasmin Demir, Counsellor
Miss Kristina Barnjak, First Secretary
Mr. Elzin Gočobija, First Consular Employee
Ms. Ljiljana Stjepanović, Second Consular Employee
Sven Alkalaj
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and <> +387 (0) 33281-101
BOSNIA Federal Ministry of Culture and Sports Obala Maka Dizdara 2, E-mail:

The Unexpected Pit Stop

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

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In the sleepy countryside in the hinterlands of North-western Greece a few men hailed me from the porch of a restaurant.  I had to ask directions anyway, so I stopped.  They communicated quickly without English that they wanted to buy me a drink.  I was in the middle of a bike ride, guiding my mom safely into Bulgarian, but one ought not be rude, oughtn’t one?

Inside the restaurant, the restaurateur poured me a beer as he excitedly showed us how his son was an architect in London.  He gave us his son’s card and both his mobile and land-line numbers, just in case.

We sat at a table with three men.  Petros, Christus, and Dimitrus.   Christus’ stringy hair fell down his shapeless, bare shoulders.  His chest hair rallied all the way down his pot belly.  It was hot.  The other men pointed at the shirtless Christus, then at my shirt, quite soaked with sweat.  “Take it off!” said their gestures.  “It’s hot!”  I unbuttoned it.

In an effort to move on, I tried to drink my beer quickly.  Ha!  They naturally filled it up again.

me with the greeks

Petros contained his girth, the well-distributed girth of the jolly and formerly athletic, in a T-shirt.  What do you do?  inquired my mom.  What does he do? feined the other two.  They gestured at the table.  Here, he sits, every day, drinking.  Mom gestured at his beer belly.  Shame on you!  They pointed at the beer bottles lined up on the window sill, then directed accusing fingers to poor Petros.  “He doesn’t work,” said the radio DJ, who had shown up out of somewhere.  “He worked thirty years, then retired,” he explained.  Yes! agreed the other men.  Petros agreed too.  “Every day, here I am,” he gestured.  He puffed out his cheeks and framed his face and belly with his hands to mime really grand rotundity.  I don’t do anything, I just sit here and eat, he seemed to suggest.

But wait!  He jumped up, and pulled my mom to the door.  He pointed outside.  There was a bike!  A cheap mountain bike with full suspension.  I ride bike, he gestured, but I ought to ride more.

I tried to leave.  I got up and shook hands, only to find everyone’s ire incurred.  “They are making food, just a bit, very simple, it will be ready soon,” implored the DJ.  I sat down, and he told me how he travelled to the America’s as a radio man on an ocean liner.

In the meantime the conversation turned to politics.  I grabbed bread and tomatoes, and Petros said “Obama” and held out a thumbs up.  “Clinton…down” he continued.  We agreed.  Even though I am reasonably well informed, I often have no idea who leads many of the countries I’ve biked through, yet EVERYONE knows and is interested American politics apparently as well and as much as many Americans.

“Obama…McCain?” inquired Petros.  Who would win.  We indicated we leaned towards hoping Obama might find success in November.  “Bush?” asked Petros.  We indicated our distaste for Bush.  He agreed.  Thumbs down all around.  “Obama,” said my mom, and mimed peacemaking.  “Bush,” she said, and mimed war.  Everyone agreed.  Except Dimitrus.  He sat in the corner under his short hair and shrugged his svelt form.

Petros pointed an accussing finger.  “Fascist!” he proclaimed.  I guess that word has a Greek cognate.  “Socialist!” shot back Dimitrus, indicating Christus and Petros.  “Social Democrat” clarified Christus defensively.

And so it went.  We made merry for the better part of an hour and a half.  I finally managed to turn down more beer and headed for the door, mom in tow.  I managed not to weave badly on the road and soon we wound our way again through Thrace on the way to Bulgaria, thankful for people with enough time to enjoy the afternoon.

Another Boring List of Turkish Hospitality

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

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Almost one month ago, FBR split up. My mom arrived in Istanbul and was eager to get on the road. In the meantime, my sister and her special male friend Jay had planned to meet us in Bulgaria. You are no doubt familiar with how Pete, Drew and Nakia got stuck in Turkey battling the various Bulgarian consulates. My mom and I headed out on the road, trying to meet Autumn and Jay in Bulgaria. As we made our way out of Turkey we found these folks just as eager to offer succor to travelers as their big city brethren had been.

Escaping Istanbul meant riding through heat and climbing hills. It was a rough introduction to bike touring, but my mom lugged her loaded bike heroically up all the summits and through the terrible traffic. The roads wound a complex web out of the city. I stopped often and asked directions, sometimes biking up or down the road a ways. Inevitably, when I returned, I found Mom sitting in a chair someone had given her and drinking tea out of the crystal glasses in which the Turkish consume that product.

The first night we arrived in Hadimkoy after biking up and down and up and down. Ask my mom. She’ll tell you and tell you. We were beat, or at least she was beat. I didn’t know where to camp. The town seem surrounded by military bases. We know how well camping on military property goes. There was no hotel in the town.

We clambered up the hill out of town. We found a gas station. The attendent, a sober mop-yielding man seemed to be on the verge of closing. He invited us in to use the bathroom, however. When I emerged, having just spoiled his mopping job, he handed me a cup of coffee.

Next door was a fire station. They had a lot of open space for a tent, and firemen of all countries seem to be decent people.

Half an hour after sunset, we rode up to the gate of the fire station and explained in gestures to the bemused firemen how we wanted to put a tent in a corner of their firestation. Before we knew it, we were sitting in the fire station lounge, hamming it up over coffee with all the firemen on duty. Birol, a solidly built man, put down his tea and pointed to his flexed bicep. “America, firemen, strong!” he exlcaimed. The chief showed us pictures of his grand kids. Yunus quizzed me in passable English on the exact route of my trip so far.

jim and firemen

“Douche! douche!” exclaimed one of the men after a while, miming water falling onto his head. “Yes, yes!” my mother clasped her hands together in thanks. She had obviously not yet become accustomed to road dirt. I let her go first, then it was my turn.

When it was time to go to bed, the firemen took us next door to the gas station. Upstairs from the office and convenience store was a prayer room, presumably where truckers or travelers could go to prostrate themselves in private. We lay down on the floor, thankful to have a secure, clean place to sleep.

The next day, a white-haired man in Catalca handed us a bag of apricots and a cold bottle of water. We sat in a park, and he left. What a nice man! we thought. But soon he was back with a steaming plate of sausage and tomatoes. It went well with our bread and cheese. We tried to give him some cookies, but he would only take one as a he had heart trouble.

jim and apricot guy

The bearer of Apricots.

Later, a farmer hailed us from his field. I came to a slow stop as he jogged towards us in jeans, clutching a green bundle. He bounded across the road, handed me a few cucumbers, and sent us on our way with a smile.

To top off our crazy experience, we arrived in another small town in the evening to find several English-speaking professionals visiting from Istanbul.  When we asked them about a place to stay or camp, they urged me to wait just a moment.  Then they whisked me behind the tea hall and into a huge room.  “The quality of this room is not so good,” said one of them, “but you can stay here if you like.”  They had called the head of the village and found the only open room in town for us.  The mosque across the street had a bathroom we could use.

Just as I was about to head to a market to pick up some dinner, one of the men came into the room bearing a huge plate of food.  Stuffed peppers, yoghurt, bread, pastries and tomatoes.  We were speachless.  We met the woman who had made the food (the wife of one of our ‘hosts’).  She of course claimed it was no trouble to make the food and entreated us to eat.  We were almost speachless, but not appetiteless.  We sat down and made short work of it.

our hosts

The providers of food and shelter in Sinekli.  That’s mom in the blaze orange.

Safety first, and you’d best remember it.

I’d like to end this post on a somber note. Wherever we went in Turkey, we could always count on the police to give us great directions. We could count on our approach bringing a smile to their lips. Then, speaking deliberately they would inevitably determine from our confused explanations where we really wanted to go and guide us patiently on our way. It is the smiles from policemen I first thought of when I learned that three Turkish cops died while defending the U.S. consulate in Istanbul from an attack last week.

The reasons for the attack were unclear.  The motivations of the perpetrators are uncertain, so far as I know.  Maybe they were Muslims, motivated by Islamic “ideals”.  However, after experiencing the hospitality of the mostly-Muslim nation of Turkey, I can only laugh at grand theories about the opposition between Christain and Islamic culture.  To the Turks and especially the police, I have the utmost respect and am indubitably in their debt.

A little bit of pressure

Friday, July 11th, 2008

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I’m back with my negativity just as intact as ever.  But… I do have a bity of good news.  After harrassing the Bulgarian consulate with phone calls and email, they finally issued Nakia a 10 day passport.  It’s short enough to be almost useless for people hoping to bike through a whole country.

From here we have several options.  We could throw in the towel, focus on a Western European visa, or just bike in Turkey. 

The other option is sticking with our initial plan.  I feel Nakia’s treatment has been unfair and unjustified, and it angers me to think what happened with Bulgaria may soon repeat itself with Serbia. 

Despite our frustrations, we remain convinced that most people are good at heart, that talking with people of all cultures and countries is a good way to build peace.  We remain convinced we can cut through the bureaucracy to real humans.

 You can help us convince the Serbian consulate to join FBR in it’s mission and not to oppose us!

If you have a moment, you can email any of the people listed below.  All you have to do is explain you are emailing on behalf of FBR and Nakia and feel that she should be given a visa, as our mission corresponds with the interests of Serbia.

Thanks for your help!

Vladimir Curgus, Ambassador, EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA, Ankara TURKEY 

 Vuk JEREMIC, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 
Mirko STEFANOVIC,Secretary General, 
Branko RADOSEVIC,Ambassador, Assistant Minister, Director General for Consular Affairs and Diaspora,

Turkey Turkey Turkey

Friday, July 11th, 2008

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I have to confess that even after commiserating with Jim’s last blog about our uncertain situation, we are still managing to enjoy ourselves while we wait in Turkey.  Not that the last few days have not had their faır share of emotional ups and downs (with Nakia shouldering the brunt).  Here’s a brief (ha ha) recap of our last few days’ experiences:

June 26, Thursday — After spending the night on the sidewalk with other would-be travellers to Bulgaria, Nakia waits in line while we wait on the curb until 12 p.m. when they tell us there will be no more people admitted today.  “Come earlier tomorrow,” the guard says.  Peter doesn’t appreciate that comment and points out clearly that it would be difficult to come any earlier as we SLEPT OVER THERE ON THE SIDWALK!  His persuasive techniques coupled with Nakia’s threat to get her money back finally allow Nakia to get in to apply.  We sigh with relief and celebrate with icecream and pizza–we have to wait for a week.

June 27 - July 2 — We spend the weekend hanging out with our new Turkish friends and playing music on the street in Taksim Istanbul without complaining when people throw coins in our open guitar case.  At first we are angry about the week wait, but we realize the signs are lining up leading us to focus on music: 

1.) We meet a student named Fatih who hears our music and tells us we have to play on the street!

2.) We are staying in a house full of artists and musicians for the week, who introduce us to their friends who are also street musicians.  We play with them on Saturday night and watch how it’s done.

3.) We have nothing to do but wait in Istanbul for seven days.

4.) Our first attempt to play on the street yields genuine interest, good conversations, and around $100 USD in change and bills!  We are elated…

Our debut on European streets: Taxim, İstanbul 

July 3, Thursday 12 p.m. – We go to pick up Nakia’s Bulgarian visa only to find out they have denied it.  She tries to ask but gets no explanation — only doors closed on her, literally. 

We sit with thick anxiety as we brainstorm our options over lunch.  After making several calls and spending some time online, we decide to leave Istanbul for the border town of Edirne at 5:45 p.m.  By 7:30 we are out of the city and shopping in a small town for our usual bread, yogurt, and jam dınner with tomatoes and cucumbers when we are invited to stay at a house.  Doa, a twenty-eight year old career woman with great English, invites us to her beautiful country home suggesting we can camp in the garden.  We have a hot shower, tea, pleasant conversation, and breakfast with the Dad (an uncommonly proud Turk with a warm heart) before we continue into a beautiful sunny summer day.


July 4 - July 7 — We pedal up and down big hills.  The first day we are hailed by some construction workers while we stop to gaze out across the Black Sea.  They give us three of the “constructıon worker lunches” — chıcken, yogurt, peach juice, bread, rice pilaf — and big smile.  We eat with a couple of them and are on our up-and-down way.  We camp in the woods.  Then we camp in a field.  A friendly cafe owner gives us utensils to eat our watermelon, coffee, and finally Turkish books as a souvenir (mine is seriously bigger than most Bibles but I managed to stuff it in my pack after smiling thank you).

July 8, Tuesday — We make it to Edirne border town just before 12 p.m., when we understand the Bulgarian consulate there closes for applications.  We are hopeful after Netzy’s conversation with the Consul a few days earlier that Nakia’s visa will be no more than a two day affair.  I call at 11 a.m. along the road to make sure they know we’re coming, but am warned that no visa can be issued if Nakia doesn’t hold a visa for the next country on our journey.  Boom–pıt ın the stomach.

At the consulate the story is the same.  We spend the day trying to call and do research about our optıons.  If not Bulgaria, then what?  Greece says you must be a Turkish citizen to get a visa from them at their consulate.  Germany says the same.  We are tired and frustrated, but not without hope.  I am reminded of a parable Jesus tells from Luke 18 about a persistent widow who gets justice finally from an uncaring judge.  The moral of the story is to be persistent in prayer, because God is not uncaring like the judge.  We pray.  A few moments later, half-way through lunch we are greeted by a middle-aged man with a moustache and a good-natured frown.  He speaks to us in Turkish and we respond as best we can.  He is interested in our musical ınstruments, and before I know it he has me by the arm and is towing me across the square toward some unknown destination.  “See you later,” I call to Nakia and Peter as I am hurried away.  The man turns out to be a music shop owner who wants us to play at a bar, I think.  My Turkish is slowly improving out of necessity–but cannot actually be called Turkish because I can make no real phrases.  After about an hour I figure out that we should meet him at 7:00 p.m. and call a bar we will go to later to play music.  Okay–it’s like a scavenger hunt, and we’re getting the clues.  “Go to the music shop at seven and get the next instructıons.”  Seven hours later at 10 p.m. we are playing completely plugged-in at a music pub, and people are digging us.  We meet a young man who is also a musician and speaks good English.  He helps us find a host family.

July 9, Wednesday — Nakia and Peter manage to get in to the Bulgarian Consulate (a significant achievement in itself in our experience) and apply for the “quıck” visa–2 days– for 120 Euro.  Ouch.  But this is our path and time now is of the essence. 

We are able to spend the day using internet at our friends office to contact anyone we can think of who might be able to pull some strings — Bulgarian officials, US senators, Moms… you name it.  We wait to hear the news on Friday.

 July 11, Friday (a.m.) — I finish up this blog in the apartment of the Kahya’s as we wait for breakfast and wait for 12 noon to find out about the elusive Bulgarian Visa.  We have been treated as family here, having a place to wash clothes, sleep, shower, and sharing traditional Turkish meals with the family twice a day.

 The Kahya family: Naciye, our adopted mother, Volkan (far R), Aşkim a close friend, and Gurkan (back center)

 It has been emotionally draining turning through hope and uncertainty like the pages of the latest Harry Potter novel, but there is this thread of glistening hope and direction and blessing–as strong as steel–leading us along the way.  Whatever happens today, I am grateful to be a witness and recipient of such generous providence and unexpected adventure here in Turkey. 

As for our next step… TO BE CONTINUED ~~

FBR On the Skids

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

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In short, it’s all because of Bulgaria. 

 For every country we’ve gone through, FBR has needed visas.  Until Bulgaria, we got the visas without much hassle.  The Turkish visa we bought right at the airport.  It only took up a quarter of a page in our passport. 

As Americans, Andrew, Pete and I don’t even need visas to go to Bulgaria.  In fact, we will travel visa-free for the rest of the projected trip…if the trip continues, that is.  Nakia, as a Bahamian, needs a visa for Bulgaria and the rest of the countries we want to travel through. 

So far she has spent more than two weeks trying to get a Bulgarian visa.  She spent one day at the Bulgarian consulate in Istanbul.  The next day she returned earlier with my mom and spent the whole day there.  She couldn’t even get into the building.

That same night, she and Pete and Drew returned to the Bulgarian embassy, sleeping pads in hand.  They camped out on the street.  When they arrived at 12:30am, twenty-some people had already formed a line.  They spent a long night on the street next to a busy road amongst a growing crowd of would-be transitors through Bulgaria.  When the consulate opened nine hours after they queued for it, the guards didn’t let anyone in.  By 12:00pm (when the gate closes), not even twenty people had been admitted.  Peter and Nakia forced their way to the front of the line.  Nakia demanded her money back.  The guard let her in and she managed to apply for a visa. 

 Seven days later she learned her visa was denied just before having the door slammed in her face. 

In the meantime, I had started biking with my mom towards Edirne, Turkey.  She visited with the Bulgarian vice consul at the consulate there, Georgı Vodenski.  He seeemed pleasant and said Nakia’s initial denial was due to a misunderstanding.  He promised he would issue Nakia a visa in one day as soon as she arrived.  I informed the rest of FBR, and they rushed to Edirne from Istanbul.

 My mom and I, eager to see more country and meet my sister and friend in Bulgaria, continued across the border.

When Nakia arrived at the Bulgarian consulate in Edirne today, Mr. Vodenski reversed himself.  He refused to issue a visa to her, claiming he had forgotten she first needed a visa for a country beyond Bulgaria. 

Nakia has 10 days left on her Turkish visa.  It’s unclear whether we can extend it or not.  Obtaining a visa for Western European countries like Greece for people from small countries like the Bahamas is infamously difficult. 

Just as we were getting back together, FBR might have to split up again - this time for good.

Visas and regulatory red tape might be necessary.  It’s unfortunate that they now threaten to derail our mission of understanding the world better and grass roots peace spreading.  It’s also unfortunate that they’ve done so through Bulgarian consular officials who, saving my mother’s single apparently pleasant conversation in Mr. Vodenski, have treated us in an uncommonly adversarial manner.

In the battle of bureaucracy and good will, it looks like bureaucracy is delivering the death blows.  So it goes.

We’re all brain storming solutions.  As I write this I’m tired and stressed, even though I haven’t been involved in the visa shenanigans lately.  Perhaps things aren’t as bleak as I’m making them out to be.  We’ll keep you updated.  In the meantime, let us know if you have any high-level contacts in the Bulgarian government.

Jim Durfey’s article on Nepal

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

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NOTE: I’m afraid I repeat below what we have discussed previously on this blog.  If it doesn’t bore you you may want to start doing memory exercises.

Published in the Livingston Enterprise June, 2008.

 Refugees Role Model Proves Useful For Cyclists 

 By Jim Durfey

From TV, I knew what refugee camps looked like: ramshackle tents planted among filth overrun by sallow, malnourished children.  This camp was different.  The homes, though packed closely together, were tastefully structured of bamboo strips.  The dirt streets were clean and full of well-fed though curious folks who called after us “Hey brother, where you go?” or “Hi mister foreign biker man!”

Mouikumar Maga, a pastor at the refugee camp welcomed us into his home after we had parked our bikes inside his bamboo church. It was our first day in Nepal.  As we crowded into his small home we wondered what the rest of the country would be like, if already on the first day people were being so hospitable. 

We sat on a handmade bamboo couch in his living room. A crowd of curious onlookers assembled outside.  They reached in the window to push back the curtains for a better view of the strange visitors.  Meanwhile, the pastor served us an obligatory cup of chai and questioned us insightfully about our journey. 

Finally we had a chance to ask Mouikumar about his own situation.  He explained that most of the thirty thousand residents of the camp had lived there since 1992.  At that time they and other ethnically Nepali people were expelled from Bhutan after demanding the government respect their rights an ethnic group.  Since then they had called a few acres in Nepal home. 

Though they reside in Nepal, that country refuses to grant them citizenship.  Even those who want to return to Bhutan are refused entrance.  Thus they have become non-citizens, perpetually in limbo with no place to go.  To resolve the situation, Europe and the U.S. have been and plan to absorb all the refugees.  Despite the helplessness of their situation, the refugees remained high-spirited.  They also proved the notion that those people with the fewest possessions are the most generous.

We had crammed ourselves and our instruments into the small living room.  The pastor himself was an accomplished guitarist, so our conversation naturally turned to music.  As a crude oil lamp puffed smoke and photons into the small space, we traded songs.  We sang one in English, and then crowd in the living room, guided by the pastor, sang one in Nepali.  In between songs the pastor’s two-year-old daughter, her initial shyness wiped away, tried to strum our guitar vigorously.

At bedtime, pastor Mouikumar showed us to his own room and told us to sleep on the bamboo beds.  We protested, asking “Where will you sleep?”  But it was no use.  That night we slept fitfully, but were often awakened by sounds from the nearby houses.  Bamboo, while sturdy, doesn’t block sound.  Through the haze of sleep, I heard babies cry, couples converse, and the elderly wheeze into wakefulness in the early morning.

One week after staying in the refugee camp, we found ourselves in the Himalayas, trying to make our way to Kathmandu.  Tired of big roads, we pedaled an alternative route that put us on small paths.  These roads made even the most infamous of Park County’s wash-boarded tracks seem smooth.  Huge jagged rocks attacked our wheels and joints.  I enjoy a good workout, but it was all I could do to push my bike up a few of these steep, traction-less paths.

To make matters worse, we had run into a touristy area.  Children observed our approach from hundreds of yards and stood in the road, waiting for us.  As we passed, they outstretched their hands and panted after us, begging. 

On downhills, we could outrun them. On uphills, however, we were stuck listening to their entreaties.  I’m accustomed to begging from the destitute, but these kids were well-dressed and had families rich in land.  They had been trained by other, less conscientious travelers to look on foreigners as distributors of chocolate and pens, not as people worth talking to or learning about.  They only looked at us with greed.

The children’s response depressed us.  We missed having the potential for connection that had proven so enjoyable at the refugee camp.

One afternoon, my situation came to a head.  My biker shorts had begun to chaff in the most unfortunate place.  I was pulling the trailer through the heat of the day and the road, which had already climbed eight miles, promised plenty more uphill.  I was trying to reason with a heard of panting children demanding chocolate.  My foot, infected from a recent wound, throbbed.

A less than satisfactory situation, I suppose, but on reflection I had little to complain of.  I was in the middle of an amazing journey.  I had left my country by choice, and could return any time I wanted.  I looked at the out-of-breath children hungry for chocolate, and realized they had no authority to dictate my attitude.  I adjusted my biker shorts and attacked the hill with renewed vigor.  I had resolved, in cheerful Bhutanese refugee fashion, to enjoy the rest of the climb, no matter what happened.