Our arrival has been greeted with reception after reception, the instant we crossed the border. Shouts of Allahu Akbar filled the air & as I drove past the crowd 2 bags of fruits were swiftly pressed into my hands. I was asked to represent Malaysia at a press conference where I expressed the utter shock & outrage Malaysians felt at the attack on the Mavi Marmara & we were here with 6 vehicles & 12 volunteers. We also called for the Egyptian govt to allow for a successful end to this humanitarian mission.
Then we were off & some 2 hours later made a kebab stop:) Lamb kebabs, borek, muffin, ayran & water were generously handed over & after a quick meal we were off again only to stop 2 hours later at the outskirts of Istanbul. Here a bigger reception greeted us. This woman came by my window, handed over a stalk of carnation, rummaged through her bag & wrapped a bracelet around my wrist. Another came & hugged me, holding tight & whispered dua in my ears. I know no Turkish but knew what she was saying; that we have a safe passage, to send her salam to Gaza... There was so much emotion in her voice & grip that it reduced me to tears.
Then it was headlong into the madness of Istanbul traffic. It was tough keeping up with the convoy & we just happened to be behind my favourite boys; the Birmingham boys, who uncharacteristically led us the wrong way. But having a couple of Turks in their vehicle proved to be their saviour & IHH, our local host came to our rescue after a couple of phone calls.
We got to the sports complex, parked & were then whisked off to dinner, on foot. We were by then quite exhausted but we kept each other's humour up & the walk was pleasant enough. Dinner was lentil soup, salad, rice with chicken & the customary baklava.
George Galloway was there & we were later joined by the President of IHH who also the commander of Mavi Marmara. He received a hero's welcome & rightfully so. At our table was Meral, a young woman who was also on board the Marmara, but I'll save her story for another day.
By the time we called it a day it was close to 1am. Tired, exhausted, sleepy we were nonetheless thrilled to be in Istanbul. After all, all through our trip, we were repeatedly told, "wait till you get to Turkey."
And how it was worth the wait.