Nine lives of Mardin

Mardin is a town, where we were juggling on the rooftop, at the bazaar and on the main square, in the small streets and in the social circus center.

While Flying Carpet orchestra was playing wonderful music we were jamming like crazy with Luther, American juggler. A good way to make friends, we agreed. Later I was invited by Baghdad circus manager to perform in Iraq. Seriously? No doubt he was impressed by my bicycle.

In this post I want to share my experience of living and working as a teacher and artist for a few weeks in Artuklu, the old town of Mardin, on the hill above endless Mesopotamian plain.

During the weekends Mardin got flooded with visitors, mostly from Turkey, but remained calm in the week. You can find some tips what to do and where to go here, but I focus more on my personal thoughts, impressions and feelings.

Every morning Ibo, my thin and friendly guide and photography enthusiast, was texting me if I want to join him wandering the narrow streets.

He took me into various and often hidden artistic workshops, kite workshop I loved the most.

He was always wearing a blue shirt and dark trousers. While we were walking to Deyrulzafaran Manastırı, beautiful Syriac Ortodox monastery, he explained he’s been wearing the same-looking clothes for last 20 years and local children sometimes want to take photo with him, a legend. But he has many sets at home, he concluded. That day there was a storm, the only rain I had in a month.

Şehmus, a 12 year old boy, knocked on the door of my hostel. He was dedicated to juggling and we trained together for hours. We did partner juggling and I was surprised how fast he was learning.

For several days of the week he didn’t go to school and we had some serious talk with other trainers and him. After my show in Sirkhane social circus center he asked me to stay for a minute and performed a beautiful little improvised act just for me. I was touched and thankful.

The other day I was walking around with Refik, Fatma and Elif from circus heroes group of Sirkhane, we held workshops for children together at weekends.

I listened to their stories of refugees, wondering how is to live without a document, studying without knowing of your future chances, dreaming big. And smiling all the time. What a privillege is to have European passport, struck me.

I continued to perform and develop my Pocket juggling street show. I could easily take a wallet from the stranger’s pocket and keep it till the end of a show.

But taking cats in the pockets I loved most! There are six pockets on my blue costume – place for six different stories and lives.

A girl, who was asking me for money on the first days, started to wait for me on the street with her improvised juggling props.

First time I ate çiğ köfte, a raw version of meatballs, was in Istasyon, the new part of Mardin. Mohamed, a boy who showed me the way to Sirkhane center there, invited me to his house.

His mother prepared a meal and he was rolling çiğ köfte into the leaves of salat pouring over black pomegranate sauce. Vegetarian and delicious.

My favourite place in Mardin was definitelly bazaar with its narrow labyrinth lanes. Anytime I could find a new passage, peeped through a secret door or got surprised by a donkey carrying goods.

There were early mornings with prayer calls in the air when I was observing peaceful light on the yellow fasades of old palaces and pomegranate trees.

Or I was sitting on the wall of madrassa, historical Islamic school, above the sounding city in the night.

I encountered many interesting travellers, we drank wine on the roof terrace sharing our thoughts, stories and laughter. Sometimes I felt like a host, playing music on my speaker and feeding Rosa, our roof cat.

During my free days I couldn’t wait to take my bike for a ride. I got lost among the tombs of ancient city of Dara, carved in rock walls.

I felt all the eyes upon me in Savur, little Mardin, barely known to tourists.

And finally I found the oasis in remote Xurs village, where I could stare into greenery, waterfalls and tobacco transport by donkeys.

Lying on the pillows above river surface I was reading a book, drinking çay after çay and sharing grilled fish with a bunch of cats. They have many lives, as Mardin.

On my last evening in Mardin I was invited to Şehmus and his sister Elif’s home. He showed me his broken bicycle and after dinner with the family, we were eating sitting around the cloth on the floor with TV in the background, he baked colourful chips for me to taste.

Neighbor, a refugee from Syria, came to visit and was making jokes we should marry with Elif. She said herself felt like an old woman by the age of 37 because of the stress war had caused. She made me repeat her words of prayer and kissed my hand at the end.

Embracing me strongly Şehmus didn’t want me to leave, tears were dripping out of his big brown eyes. I was standing in the hall, overhelmed with emotions, and kissed the top of his head.

In Mardin I found my new home for a while. I wish I could return one day to meet again all these lovely young people, my friends.

Text and photos by Uroš. Additional photos by Ibo.