Camel Wrastlin’ in Turkey
Camel wrestling is a Turkish tradition that dates back almost 2,500 years. The animals are typically imported from nearby countries and brought to Turkey’s Aegean region, where most of the wrestling takes place. In a lot of ways it’s like a goofier and less-deadly version of cockfighting. Two males are brought into the arena and, depending on who’s running the match, one of two things will happen. If it’s a traditional match, a female will be paraded around the ring and made to shake her ass while the males watch on, drooling buckets of foamy spit in sexual frustration until the female’s owner takes her out of the ring, at which point the males fight each other under the misguided assumption that whoever wins will get laid. If the match adheres to the more contemporary—and some say civilized—way of preparing camels to fight, the owners will pull the camels together, putting them face-to-face until they start fighting. According to Wikipedia, organizers have also “attempted to entangle two camels together or starve the camels to make them more aggressive.” The match is over when one of the camels falls down, runs away, or screams.
But the event is more than just a bunch of Turks sitting around watching camels try to bite each other’s balls off. Like most sporting events, a sense of camaraderie fills the stadium. Thick smoke from the dozens of barbecue fires (some of which are cooking camel meat) wafts between the spectators and fighters, and a steady stream of raki, Turkey’s national liquor, keeps the crowd lively.
I visited a fight recently and was able to sneak into the arena to get these shots—and a lot of camel spit in the face—before being almost trampled and then kicked out by the officials.
World Peace Update
Compared to last week’s French air strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali, this week—world violence-wise—has been a bit of a wash out. If it weren’t for some pissed off Egyptians, Turks, and the never-ending slaughter in Syria, I’d be so bored I’d have probably paid some attention to Obama’s inauguration. Then again, when I think about Obama, I think about drone wars. So that’s always a plus, I guess.
Wijbe Abma Started a Charity in a Syrian War Zone
Kilis, like most border towns, feels like a bastardized, slightly less-racist Wild West: gossip spreads, people pass through, supplies (legal and otherwise) are bought and sold. In this particular border town, however, it feels like that sense of transit is more tangible than in most. Kilis, in southern Turkey, is the gateway to Aleppo, a key battleground in the ongoing conflict in Syria and one of the oldest cities in the world. Unfortunately, with fighting normally including stuff like shells, explosions, and carnage, a good deal of old Aleppo is being devastated.
This border town is also the home of Wijbe Abma, a 21-year-old “freelance” aid worker. He runs Don’t Forget Syria, an idea that started small and has snowballed to a size the founder is not quite comfortable with. It’s one man’s plan to bring aid directly to civilians within war-torn Aleppo. On his first run, he gave out 100 blankets, but his idea was picked up by the press, donations flooded in, and he now has $17,200 burning a hole in his PayPal account, a logistical clusterfuck to untangle, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) trying to sell him flour.
A few months ago Wijbe was a regular student, traveling home from a year of teaching, drinking shochu, and banging out karaoke in South Korea when he found himself in Antakya in southern Turkey, now home to thousands of Syrians. Here a Syrian man from Aleppo told him about his son who’d been killed by regime shelling. They talked about his troubles and what was left of his city. Like many Syrians, confused and angered by the lack of international assistance, he asked: “Why won’t anyone help?” Wijbe decided to stop partying and do something.
Wijbe selecting blankets.
“It started very small,” he says. “I decided to do myself what all of the NGOs had talked about, but none actually seemed to be doing.” The idea was simple; he would walk across the border at Kilis to the makeshift camps in Syria with a couple of blankets in a rucksack, give them out to those in need, and keep traveling.
On arrival, he realized the problem was larger than he’d initially thought. The camp was dismissive and Wijbe began to feel powerless when it became apparent that no one would allow him to choose who to help. That autonomy is something Wijbe takes seriously. “More important than aid that helps is aid that doesn’t harm. The only way you know someone isn’t taking it all and selling it for weapons is to do it yourself,” he said.
Motivated, he left and founded his own aid project, committing $920 of his savings for the first 100 blankets. A Syrian friend tells me he originally bought one and slept under it for a night to test it. He caught a cold for a week, threw it out and found thicker, warmer blankets. With the help of Syrian civilians he took the blankets to Aleppo and went door to door. Each blanket came with a letter, in Arabic, explaining that it came from an individual with a desire to help and show that someone cared. On the way back their car had a dozen rounds fired at it from a nearby army base, which is a novel way of saying thank you.
“Thousands of people took to the streets with banners bearing slogans like “Yes We Ban,” “Don’t Mess with My Links,” “Don’t Touch My Internet, Touch My Penis Instead,” and “Anna Nicole Smith Would Have Been Sad to See This.” Of course, many sported Guy Fawkes masks. There were no acts of violence but thousands chanted creative insults aimed at Turkish officials, most of which followed the tune of popular Turkish football chants but with alternative lyrics like “shove your internet-less modem up your ass”.”
—Turkey Almost Lost its Internet, So People Took to the Streets to Make Sure it Didn’t Go Anywhere