Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Threshold Of The Unknown


“Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the foolish.” (Quran, 7:199)
* * *

We had a disturbing experience the other day on a Greek island, the name of which I'll not mention.

We came across the scene of a crime -- a minor crime, most likely, though my mind fretted the possibilities of worse.

Upon arriving at the island, we met a Swedish sailor. He told us of a wonderful walk we could do.

“At the end of the street is a path and you walk for about an hour. Then there is a bay and you can take the ferry to the other side. And then you can walk back along that path,” he explained while pointing first the left shore, and then to the right shore of the bay.

The proposed walk starts where the houses end on the left. Note the dark area in the mid-valley. That features later in this story as a centuries-old farm of some sort.
For three days Jennifer and I wanted to do the walk, but we never got around to it. Late in the afternoon of our last day in the bay, we finally cinched the laces of our walking shoes and headed out. The sun was aslant and added urgency to our pace.

The street ended at the bottom vee of a broad rocky valley. No promised path. There was, however a fence-lined lane which looked well-traveled by goats. We followed the lane about fifty yards to a shearing pen with remnants of wool tufts snagged in the fence. We stepped over a gate and followed the semblance of a path. It was the route of the goats, where their hooves roughed the island between the rocks to dusty red dirt littered with a steady trail of droppings.

Sure enough, after another ten minutes of following the ravine’s trough, we came upon the herd.

Either disturbed by our presence or reminded that it was nigh dinnertime, they jostled into motion, eventually forming single file trotting toward the pen as their bells jangled and clanked in dull tolls.

Sheep trundling home.
We marched on, watching our step, less because of the droppings but to avoid a twisted ankle along this rocky “path.”

About halfway up the ravine, we came upon rock walls which might have included the original pen from hundreds of years ago. A large area of several acres was segmented into parcels, and terraced in a way typical of hillsides cultivated for what little agriculture can be sustained.

An abandoned agricultural estate.
Further along our hike, some twenty or thirty minutes from the village, we came upon a small area of cleared rocks about a yard or two in diameter. There were remnants of a bonfire. Surrounding the fire pit were lumps of things, shapeless items I didn’t recognize as anything else than stuff left over from an evening around a bonfire. But on the second sweep, I made out individual pieces of clothing: a down winter jacket, a pair of sweatpants or hosing of some kind, a bag -- stuff half-burnt at the edges of the fire pit.

Something felt wrong about this scene. These weren’t the remnants of a jovial bonfire: the strewn items were too personal. And now on a third, fourth and eight visual sweep of the area, I realized it was not a bonfire that had burned here, but a small fire to burn things, some of the items. Evidence.

Unease filled me, like an off taste that makes you stop chewing after biting into something you expected to be pleasant. With trepidation I squatted near the pit.

I found no stick, so I used my hands to tug on something lying in the charcoaled dust. It was a black plastic bag wrapped tightly around something the size of my fist. The heavy garbage bag had been taped many times to seal it around its contents. But on one side, it had been ripped open.

Pulling the plastic aside with the same reluctance as if extracting something dead from a shell, I pulled out a green velvet-bound book. The corners had been ornately reinforced with metal guards, which now were rusted. A journal, I thought at first. I opened it and saw the Arabic script. Still confused, my next thought was a songbook. And then it dawned on me: a Quran.

Quran with rusted corner protectors. The pages are brown from rust, not fire, even though you can see charcoal from the fire pit it was near.
Quran rescued from being discarded, but too late to be reunited with its owner.
Instantly, the scene was steeped in sinister. Although it was still daylight and warm, I felt overcome by darkness and a baleful chill.

I took the small Quran into the protection of my hand while Jennifer and I continued our walk to the nearby ridge. We speculated what could have happened at that pit.

The view from the ridge was stunning. To the north, we could see the bay of the island’s main harbor. Beyond that, the Aegean. To the west, the sun soft and cloaked in orange. To the east, across a strait: the mainland of Turkey, the Orient, the likely origin of the Quran in my hand.

The eerie yet beautiful landscape contrasted with our disorienting discovery.
On the descent we stopped by the pit again. Again I was reluctant to touch the items lying about. Why are we like that? Just like the dead bird that kids stumble upon and poke with a stick, this was the threshold of the unknown. The unknown is always infused with threat. Discovering the abandoned Quran heightened my sense of reckoning and damnation.

With the tips of my fingers I tugged at a black lump. It was an inexpensive lady’s handbag. I picked it up and looked in. It was musty and empty. Nearby was a pair of velor sweatpants clumped between the rocks. Whatever took place here, took place months ago. This was not a fresh event.

My mind wandered through the possibilities of what happened.

A woman was separated from her handbag and at least some of her clothes. We can assume that among the belongings there was more than simply the Qu'ran, but those things were gone. Was the woman robbed elsewhere by local hoodlums who hiked up here to examine their loot? That seems unlikely since they would not have brought her winter jacket and sweatpants up here. Was the woman lured up here and robbed? Did a worse fate befall her here?

One can assume that whatever occurred here, it was not investigated by authorities. Otherwise, the Qu'ran would not still be here, half wrapped in plastic. One cannot help but worry. What befell this woman who lost her dearest possession: her Qu'ran, something she took great pains to protect? Who protects their Qu'ran by wrapping it in thick plastic and crisscrossing that package with tape? Perhaps a person who had to travel lightly with only a few treasured belongings through perilous conditions. Perhaps a refugee.

* * *

A few weeks ago, during one of our first legs along the Turkish coast, I was testing our various electronic equipment including Phoenix’s NavTex weather system. NavTex is not just a weather-report system similar to America’s NOAA weather radio, but it is also the official notification system of all navigational information including changes, warnings and rescue alerts.

I was pleased to see our NavTex receiving all the bulletins properly. I scrolled through them and saw one of particular interest: Mariners were advised to avoid an area close to where we were because rescue operations were underway around a ship in distress.

A few days later I came upon a news report on the disaster. A boat smuggling migrants from the Turkish shore to a Greek island had sunk, and 61 people drowned. The death toll included 12 men, 18 women, 28 children, and 3 babies. Rescuers were able to save 46 people. Most of the people aboard were Syrians and Palestinians fleeing their troubled homelands.

You can read more about that tragedy here.

I try not to think too vividly about human horrors because once such images lodge in my mind, they haunt me during off-guard moments throughout the day and in metamorphic forms in my dreams.

Yet, in my mind’s eye, I can see the flotsam drifting southwards long after the cries gurgled to silence: a coat, suitcases, a black handbag. They washed against the rocks.

It was probably a bunch of boys who spied it while seeing who could throw rocks the farthest. They clambered down, fished the items out of the sea, and took their bounty up to their regular hangout, the pit. They rummaged the pockets, opened the handbag, found some foreign currency, and divided it evenly amongst themselves. They dared each other to open the plastic package. 

The lanky guy spit backward over his shoulder, grabbed the package from his buddy and tore it open. Without pulling out the book, he cocked his head this way, then that trying to determine what it was.

“Just a book,” the pimply-faced one said, craning his neck to see.

The lanky guy put his thumb to the edge and pried it open just enough.

“Quran,” he said and threw it away from him as if it was suddenly too hot.

“Quran?” asked the third.

“Leave it,” said Lanky. “Let’s go. I’m hungry.”

* * *

The God of Jews, the God of Christians, is the God of Muslims. In the 7th Century, this God revealed to Muhammad 114 chapters of verses over the course of 20 years. After Muhammad’s death, the verses were compiled into the Quran.

The Quran, according to Wikipedia, acknowledges that the original Christian or Jewish texts of the Bible were authentic divine revelations. In fact, “Moses is mentioned more in the Quran than any other individual. Jesus is mentioned more often in the Quran than Muhammad while Mary is mentioned in the Quran more than the New Testament.”

It seems there are several options for an abandoned Quran. Again, according to Wikipedia, it can be left free to flow in a river, kept somewhere safe, burned, or buried in a remote location. I suppose I could also leave it at a mosque.

Is this, in fact, a Quran? Perhaps, as a friend tells me, it could possibly be a Hadith or "accompanying text" to the Quran.

1 comment:

judymac said...

I hope you'll ask someone if it is the Quran.....If it is you will do what is best to show its due respect, because that began when you rescued the book..