To Eski Ergani and Ergani.

I walked north along the road to Elazig for about 400 metres, then followed a street going in a north-easterly direction, which was the way I had to go to find the road leading north to the summit of Makam Dagi, the mountain on which the ruins of Eski Ergani are located. I was soon beyond the commercially active parts of Ergani and in quiet residential streets instead, where, of course, women were far more evident than among the shops, offices, lokantas, tea houses and public buildings of the town’s elongated central business district. With the scenery steadily improving as the urban detritus lay behind me, a car stopped and the driver offered me a lift of about 4 kilometres. We climbed steadily and to the west saw the chimneys of perhaps the town’s largest employer, a vast cement factory beside the road to Elazig.

The man stopped the car under some trees beside the road. He was due to meet some friends to eat lunch in a house up an embankment and across an undulating field with sublime views of the mountain summit I was aiming for. I walked with him to the house to enjoy the views and meet his friends. Although invited to join the meal, I knew that if I did I would never do justice to Eski Ergani.

Makam Dagi, Ergani.

Makam Dagi.

I returned to where the man had parked his car. A family had stopped to drink tea before completing the descent to Ergani. They kindly gave me something to drink and we talked about the forthcoming election. A conventionally pious Sunni family, the women in particular admired Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but they took my expressions of concern about the president’s increasingly authoritarian, intolerant and power-hungry inclinations in good humour (there are also worries about corrupt practices, if not by the president himself, then by close family members instead). This said, it was telling that the women stayed some distance from where I stood and I knew that any physical contact between them and me would be impossible or cause considerable embarrassment. I was briefly on the Sunni side of the street, as the dress sense of the women betrayed only too obviously.

I walked up the road delighting in the views around me, then a van carrying a large family stopped and the driver kindly drove me all the way to the end of the road, which is beside a mosque with substantial buttresses of rock rising yet higher on either side. A lot of people had driven up to sightsee, walk, eat picnics, relax with relations or friends or engage in chaste but self-conscious courtship rituals. To protect the pasture, the wild flowers and the fragile rock, an extensive network of steps, paths and wooden ramps made it easy for visitors to circulate. Many people wanted to talk with me or show me around, including the young people in the van that had carried me to the summit, and at one point I was befriended by two female second year university students, one of whom wore a headscarf and the other who did not. The latter dressed in such a way that she would have blended in with a typical group of young female British university students devoid of obvious religious affiliation. In the photo I took of them and a young male friend, she held up her left hand to give the V-sign that has emerged as the sign confirming support for the HDP. Her friend with the headscarf was almost certainly a Sunni – she took great care to conceal her hair and ears – but she joined in the banter and had no objection to being photographed. They both had their photos taken standing next to me and I was told that the results would very soon appear on Facebook. In fact, by the end of the trip I was assured that many photos of me doing different things, including dancing with HDP supporters in Diyarbakir, would appear on Facebook. Thankfully I kept my clothes on, unlike many holidaymakers who find it necessary to strip off when they get to notable destinations.

Makam Dagi.

Makam Dagi.

Two university students and their young male friend, Makam Dagi.

Two university students and their young male friend, Makam Dagi.

The views from the summit of Makam Dagi are superb. Far below is Ergani, but from a distance it looks little better than a concrete jungle dominated by low-rise buildings. The town stands on the edge of a gently undulating plain, but hills and mountains surround it in the middle distance. To the east, a short way below the summit, are the ruins of a church that was part of an Armenian monastery and, below the ruins and just to the north, a small village stands on a gently inclined shelf (I did wonder if the village possessed some of the houses, albeit substantially rebuilt, that once made up Eski Ergani). Some of the houses have flat roofs made of mud, but others benefit from pitched roofs of corrugated iron (the latter, although not as ascetically pleasing as the flat roofs made of mud, are, due to their light weight, far safer if earthquakes strike). Most houses have only one storey and their ground plan is square or rectangular. South of the village are fields, pasture and patches of trees, but to the north are more hills and mountains. It felt like the ideal place to be on a Sunday afternoon and the friendly people with whom I mixed were delightful company. This said, I suspect I was the only foreigner on the summit.

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

The Armenian monastery is known locally as Meryem Ana Kilisesi. According to Sinclair it was built in 1433 “by an influential bishop” of Diyarbakir called Mgrditch Naghash. Of the church, only the base and part of the south side survive, but beneath the church is a cistern with a snow reservoir beside it and “elsewhere beneath the ruins associated with the church is another deep, vaulted cistern”.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

The mosque mentioned earlier contains the tomb of Dhul Kifl, who, according to Sinclair, is mentioned twice in the Qur’an. Local legend describes Dhul Kifl as someone who solved all sorts of difficulties confronting people, illness included. The structure containing the tomb is said to date from the 16th century. It is now integrated into a rectangular building with a corridor. The corridor leads to the chamber containing the grave of Abdullah, the standard bearer of Dhul Kifl, and Dhul Kifl’s tomb is reached from here by a door only a metre high.

As I left the mosque, I chatted with a group of women aged about eighteen to forty. All Kurds, a minority of the women wore headscarves, but the piety of the few did not stop the conversation flowing. Those without headscarves were more than happy to shake hands and joke about the forthcoming election. It was Sunday, normal routines were suspended, the sexual segregation that prevailed in the town below was briefly forgotten and it was therefore an occasion to relax by resisting the restrictions that so often inhibit discourse between males and females in predominantly Muslim nation states.

In some respects, Eski Ergani’s most interesting survival from the past is Zulkuful Suluklari, a large reservoir about 20 metres in length with four compartments positioned above a cliff. To this day it is protected by a vault on three rib arches. Stairs lead down from each of the two doors and water remains in the bottom of the compartments.

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

I returned to the road leading to Ergani and, not long after setting off downhill, the driver of the van that had taken me to the summit stopped to give me a lift into town. Not far below the summit, Hikmet, the driver and father of the family, stopped the van so his two sons, aged fifteen and sixteen, could show me what looked like a cave. But the cave turned out to have been artificially enlarged (a wide “column” of rock had been left to help support the roof) and its mouth was the entrance to what looked like a tunnel. Yet more water was in the tunnel. Were we examining another reservoir? A reservoir or not, this feature, the mosque, the turbe, the church, Zulkuful Suluklari and traces of other masonry, the latter perhaps the remains of the castle, suggest that more of Eski Ergani has survived than I had been led to believe. This said, Sinclair refers to the ruins of old houses, but, unless they are in the village near the ruined church and have been rebuilt, they seem to have disappeared altogether.

Th entrance to the reservoir (?) in the enlarged cave, Eski Ergani.

Th entrance to the reservoir (?) in the enlarged cave, Eski Ergani.

Hikmet and his wife had two sons and two daughters. When we arrived in the centre of Ergani, Hikmet got out of the driver’s seat, asked his oldest son to drive the van with the other family members home and invited me to drink tea in his favourite tea garden. With nothing more of importance to see that day I could not refuse his kind invitation, so we entered the tea garden where every table was occupied by groups of men varying in size from two to almost a dozen. Many of the men were teachers. Tea, some of it with milk, was the most popular drink, but some customers ordered hot orange. Games of cards, okey and backgammon were popular at almost every table, but this did not stop some of the large group of men at a nearby table coming over to chat with Hikmet and me. All Kurds, in common with most other customers in the tea garden, the men at the next table were secular in outlook, either socialists or, in two cases, communists. One man alleged he was an anarchist and a few admitted to sympathy for the PKK. After confirming I was in sympathy with secularism and the HDP, we gave each other the V-sign and I said, more as a joke than in expectation that this would really be the case, “After the election in three weeks time, let’s say goodbye to Erdogan!” This went down well with more than merely those chatting with Hikmet and me, and it proved a useful thing to say in the days that followed, except in the company of AKP supporters, of course.

Hikmet, Ergani.

Hikmet, Ergani.

Hikmet was a quiet and very dignified man who, predictably, refused my offer to pay for the tea, but I was able to get away after the third glass. I meandered through the surprisingly busy streets of the commercial heart of Ergani, then went to the pansiyon to freshen up and change my clothes. Downstairs I ordered a late lunch of grilled chicken wings, salad (three small bowls of salad arrived with different combinations of things to eat), bread and very frothy but mild ayran for 10TL. I then went for a rest for an hour or so.

About 5.30pm I left to take a few photos of sights that appealed to my sense of the slightly ridiculous, then went for a haircut in one of the barber’s shops still open in the pazar. After a glass of tea and chats with staff and customers that lasted just long enough to see off an unexpected but brief rainstorm, I went to a pastane for a large bowl of ice cream (the three flavours included one of my favourites, lemon). There I engaged in more conversation, but only with males because females were conspicuous by virtue of their absence. I watched a man who, for half an hour, folded flat sheets of brightly coloured cardboard into boxes so they could be filled with orders of baklava. The owner of the pastane came in and, after we had confirmed that all Kurds were good people and the AKP was turning into a disaster for Turkey, I asked for the bill, but was not allowed to pay it. In fact, I could not go until having yet another tea with the owner.

Outside the barber's shop, Ergani.

Outside the barber’s shop, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastern, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastane, Ergani.

Back outside, the brightly coloured bunting of the different political parties flapped in the wind that had blown away the clouds. It was becoming very apparent to me that the vast majority of Kurds, whether religious or not, intend to vote for the HDP while the vast majority of pious Sunni Turks intend to vote for the AKP. Most secular Turks and Turks belonging to Muslim minorities will split their vote among the secular parties such as the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the mildly leftist Republican People’s Party (CHP), and most people of Greek, Laz, Jewish, Armenian, Georgian and Arab origin will cast their votes for secular parties that are not aggressively Turkish nationalist. Turkish supporters of the AKP probably distrust the HDP even more than the nominally Kemalist CHP because they fear that the HDP intends to break up the Turkish Republic by creating an independent Kurdistan, and suppporters of the HDP probably hate the MHP even more than the AKP because the MHP is the party that is most uncompromising in its expressions of Turkish nationalism. Demographics suggest that the AKP will emerge as the largest single party following the general election, despite Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, allegations of corruption in high places, an economy that is beginning to falter, indications that inflation may soon prove a burden, disquiet about environmental damage caused above all by the construction of yet more reservoirs and the Turkish government’s refusal to aid the Kurds of Syria and Iraq in their war against the Islamic State. But will Erdogan secure the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution so he can massively enhance the power and authority of the president? This looks impossible, and primarily because the HDP should secure sixty to eighty seats in parliament.

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

Ergani has little to commend it other than the pazar, the busy streets of its commercial heart, views of Makam Dagi, a small park with a very unusual water feature made to look like a waterfall, a roundabout with statues in the middle and, of course, the very friendly people, but I like the town, partly for the interesting places to visit nearby, and partly for its unpretentious character. But that evening, as the light began to fade and I stood on a footbridge crossing the road to Diyarbakir with shabby concrete buildings around me and a magnificent view of Makam Dagi to the north, the streets quickly emptied of females, who were already vastly outnumbered by males. The almost complete absence of females in the public domain compelled me to qualify my positive assessment of the town. Moroever, I knew instinctively that if unknown males and females engaged in conversation in Ergani’s town centre as had occurred earlier in the day at Eski Ergani, such an affront to acceptable interpersonal conduct would have attracted looks of disapproval and worse from the many pious males who appoint themselves as arbiters of what is right and wrong in terms of relations between the sexes.

Ergani.

Ergani.

I returned to the pansiyon about 8.00pm and noticed that quite a lot of new plastic doors and windows had recently been installed. Because the windows were double-glazed, when shut they kept the heat in and the noise out. A very fine mesh covered the windows so that, when open, mosquitoes and other insects could not enter. This was very impressive in many ways, but most of the frames of the doors and windows still had on them strips of protective plastic telling everyone that they were products of the “polimer kapi ve pencere sistemleri”. But those same strips of protective plastic told people in Turkish, English, Arabic and Russian that the protective plastic should be removed once the doors and windows had been installed!

A recently completed mosque designed in a simplified Ottoman style stood only 30 metres or so from my bedroom windows and, every so often, I was disturbed by the adhan. Until recently I have had great admiration for the adhan and never felt it was a sound I would tire of or object to. However, in recent years Muslims in many parts of the world have taken to screaming “Allahu akbar”, the opening words of the adhan which are repeated three times, whenever they engage in, or witness, acts of violence that lead to human death or the destruction of buildings. Those opening words of the adhan are now a constant reminder that many people who subscribe to Islam do not value human life and do not respect the products of human endeavour. They prefer burn, burn to build, build and have made life in the contemporary world more dangerous and demanding than we could ever have thought possible. And the adhan? I now find it oppresses my spirit because I associate “Allahu akbar” with the unnecessary and unjust taking of human life and the needless destruction of human resources. I also find it oppresses my spirit because it is never heard delivered by a female voice. I thought longingly of Muslim friends in the UK, male and female, seeking to overturn the ludicrous tradition that only male voices deliver the adhan. This tradition is as ludicrous as the tradition within the Roman Catholic and other Christian denominations that only males can be priests. And we all know where that tradition of male-only priests has led, don’t we? Yes, to the sexual and physical abuse of thousands, perhaps even millions, of young people, male and female.

Ergani, in common with most other places so far seen or passed through, had a lot of police, soldiers or jandarma, but for most of the time these guarantors of law and order remained in their highly fortified camps and compounds, most of which had signs prominently displayed warning that photography is forbidden. In the larger towns such as Cermik and Ergani, armoured vehicles patrolled the streets or positioned themselves at major road intersections, but the presence of police and others was far more apparent in Diyarbakir, still known throughout Turkey as the epicentre of the wild east. This said, in the centre of Ergani a large army camp had been abandoned. The barracks, the stores, the shelters for motorised vehicles, the officers’ apartments and the sentry posts, the latter protected by many sandbags, had a forlorn air about them. Wind-blown litter snagged on the razor wire that crowned the fencing cemented into the walls.

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

Back home, internet articles suggested the following about Ergani and Eski Ergani. Some of the oldest references to Eski Ergani, then known variously as Arkni, Argni, Argani, Arghni or Arghana, are in Armenian archives and, in the 19th century, the town had ten mosques, three Armenian churches (one of which belonged to the monastery, presumably) and a “Protestant chapel”. Modern Ergani’s population is described as 45% Kurdish, 45% Zaza and 10% Turkish. This must mean that 45% of the population speaks Kurmanji, 45% Zazaki and 10% Turkish.

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To Ergani and Hilal.

Mehmet and Cemal had said we would have breakfast together, but, because I had put them to a lot of trouble and expense already, I half hoped they were not in their workshop and office (although I did want to thank them for their hospitality and say goodbye properly). The first visit I made the doors were locked and I therefore assumed they were sleeping in or had something better to do (a relative the night before had spoken about a hunting trip to kill rabbits. I wondered if they had decided to spend the day in the countryside). I walked to a lokanta where the road into the centre of Kaplica joins the Ergani to Cermik road and ordered a bowl of lentil soup, which came with bread, lemon and a small salad full of raw onion. I returned to the workshop and office and found Mehmet and Cemal rather drowsily preparing for yet another day’s work even though it was Sunday. I said I had eaten breakfast and must leave for Ergani, and thanked them for their generosity and friendship. We had already exchanged means to stay in touch.

I returned to the hotel, packed my last few things and spent some time on the balcony watching a small community slowly come to life on the day of the week that should be dominated by rest and recreation. A few adults and children walked slowly past and, if speaking at all, they did so very quietly as if they did not want to disrupt the tranquillity that enveloped everyone and everything. Cockerels crowed and birds sang. The blue sky was cloudless, the surrounding hills were green and the sunshine promised to raise the temperature to about 27 or 28 degrees centigrade. Although most of the buildings in view were devoid of architectural pretensions and wind-blown litter from fly-tipping reminded me of parts of urban County Durham, the morning had started in excellent fashion.

Cermik.

Cermik.

I settled the bill with the woman who owned the hotel with her husband, then walked to the Ergani road. I chatted with an overweight young man with some sort of special need, then a minibus pulled up on its way to Diyarbakir via Ergani. My large bag was consigned to the back of the vehicle and I sat among the men at the front (females occupied the seats at the back). A little banter helped pass the time, but I was keen to concentrate on the attractive scenery: hills, distant mountains, a meandering river, rich pasture full of wild flowers grazed by cattle, and less fertile pasture at higher altitudes grazed by sheep and goats.

The minibus arrived in Ergani and I began looking for a hotel for the night. After a little hesitation and some help from men working at an oto lastik, or tyre repair, garage I opted for a rather old pansiyon with a lokanta on the main road between Diyarbakir and Elazig that charged 30TL for the night without breakfast. I was given a room at the back of the building so it was quiet after nightfall. There were three beds in the room, all of which had come from a hospital. This meant that they were very solid and comfortable to sleep on. I had a TV, two small towels and a bar of soap, and the toilet and washing facilities were a short walk away, a walk taken in plastic sandals provided in each room for the guests. Amazingly, hot water existed all day and night. Water had to be thrown over you with the aid of a plastic jug, but, all things considered, the place was okay. The room was reasonably clean, as was the whole place, and the staff were very friendly.

Ergani.

Ergani.

It was not yet 10.00am and I had only two goals for the day, Hilar to the south-west of Ergani, and Eski, or Old, Ergani to the north. Because a visit to Eski Ergani required an ascent by road of the mountain overlooking modern Ergani and lots of people would drive along the road most of the day to enjoy the panoramic views and the fresh air at the summit, I decided to go to Hilar first. Getting to and from Hilar would probably confront me with more challenges than getting to and from Eski Ergani.

To get to Hilar I had first to walk through a commercially vibrant part of Ergani lying to the west of the Diyarbakir to Elazig road. I then entered one of those shabby and more marginal parts of Turkish towns where, although houses and apartment blocks outnumber business premises, they have been built in a dispersed manner with patches of rubble-strewn land between them. Thus, even relatively small Turkish towns spread far more than they ought to, not unlike small towns in the USA, in fact, but in ways usually far less visually appealing.

I had almost reached the very last buildings blighting the landscape when a car drew to a halt and two men offered me a lift of about 5 kilometres. We crossed the railway between Diyarbakir and Elazig where freight trucks lay along two sidings. A little further along, at a junction where the road to Hilar branches to the right, I was dropped off. I walked about 1.5 kilometres through gently undulating countryside dominated by fields, pasture, wild flowers and distant hills, then a man stopped to offer me a lift to Hilar. Once at my destination the citadel rock and tomb chambers lay to my right, as did a small car park, and to my left was a portacabin. The portacabin provided shelter and accommodation for the men employed by the museum in Diyarbakir to look after the site and show visitors around. When one of the men approached me I reached for my wallet to pay the admission fee. “No fee,” he said, “Admission free. Welcome. Would you like some tea?”

Citadel site, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

What followed the glasses of tea was remarkable. The man showed me around the citadel rock and tomb chambers nearby, then he assigned a younger companion to walk me along a delightful path that led past large rounded rocks and many wild flowers to a shallow river. We waded across the river before entering a large area of gently undulating grass with yet more flowers. Access to the undulating area is restricted by a rectangle of fencing, the gates of which are usually kept locked. Inside the fencing are many rectangles and squares made from rock indicating that an early village dependent on farming thrived on the site. Archaeologists believe the village was occupied from roughly 7250 to 6750 BCE.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

 

Sinclair describes the citadel rock and tombs in the following manner:

Citadel rock of small town. Classical to medieval periods. Rock-cut chambers, probably pagan Syriac (classical period)…

The town appears to have been s. of the citadel… Other knobs of rock stand up out of the alluvial silt. There are two groups of chambers. One is east of both the modern village (Cayonu) and citadel; the chambers are in a line which runs n.-s. as a general direction, and are entered at the bottom of a low cliff. The other group is sw. of the citadel.

Citadel rock. It consists of a ridge of upstanding rock perhaps 100 metres from n. to s. The s. end is broader and taller, and the rock slopes downwards to the n. where it ends in a smoothed platform. From the w. side of the ridge issues a narrow arm, which then curves round to the s. and broadens into a second knob similar to the s. end of the main ridge… At the s. sides of the two southerly knobs of rock we can see steps carved into the steep rock slope. These probably served to support walls: date perhaps Hellenistic. There are pear-shaped cisterns at the main rock’s s. end and about half way down its length. Against the main rock’s w. side, towards the n. end, stairs descend to a well: these would have needed to be protected by a cross-wall. There are also rock-cut cisterns just opposite the s. end of the westerly arm…

Easterly tombs. Those which are genuinely tomb chambers have low entrances and sockets and a latch-hole for a stone door… Reclining figure, probably a man. He leans on his left arm, which is supported by a piece of natural rock left uncarved. To right, a standing figure, probably a woman, wearing a tall pointed cap with long trailers either side of her head. Apparently wearing a skirt. Above man’s legs, Syriac inscription…

South-westerly tombs. Five pear-shaped rock-cut cisterns. Burial chamber, many panels carved in rock nearby…

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hial.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

As for the large undulating area immediately north of the river, the site is far larger now than when Sinclair wrote about it in the 1980s, but much of his information is still relevant:

Almost the only occupation of the mound was that of an early village farming community. The limits of the occupation are not far outside 7250 and 6750 BCE. The community grew wheat from the very beginning; however, if did not breed animals until towards the end of the occupation. Before that it hunted: for the most part the evidence for hunted animals fades out where the domesticated animals’ remains begin to be found. Obsidian and stone tools have been unearthed… There were crude, probably unbaked plates of clay. Some necklaces (malachite, etc.). Raw copper fragments beaten into pins, hooks, etc.

The two central and most important phases were those of “grill-plan” and “cell-plan” buildings. The former was a long house, the northern end of which had a substructure of stone foundations in a close-set grill-plan (in other words, several parallel walls within the rectangle of walls bounding the room), on which a wooden floor would be laid. This was followed by a pebble pavement, and at the s. end were the foundations for two or three cell-like rooms. The cell-plan rooms were shorter. Within a rectangle of stone foundations the interior was divided by other stone foundation walls into cells, thought to be small to live in. Cell-plan houses are certainly later than grill-plan houses, but it is not certain that grill plans were abandoned when cell-plans were introduced, and in any case the latter look like simply a version of the former better calculated to hold up the floor. Some bodies were buried in the cells.

The earliest known occupation is repeated by several house types, including a round or ovoid plan. There were two “broad-pavement” non-domestic buildings. In them rooms surrounded a court: pilasters on the walls facing the court… In another building, the “skull-building”, there is a pit in the otherwise well-paved floor of each room, and various human bones or parts of skeletons piled up in the pits. Purpose unknown.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

 Only two other people, a married couple, bothered to walk to the fenced-off area north of the river, but a steady flow of men, women and children came to look around the citadel rock and tombs. Some visitors then drove along a dirt road between the river and the rocks to the north of the citadel to consume large family picnics in pasture sparkling with white, yellow and purple flowers.

I returned to the portacabin to chat with the man who had first shown me around. We walked once more around the citadel rock picking up litter as we went. I then said I had to leave for Eski Ergani and began walking along the road toward the junction where I had been dropped off earlier in the day. Less than 100 metres from the car park, a couple in a large air conditioned car (the husband was a helicopter engineer of Turkish origin. He and his wife lived in Diyarbakir, where he worked) stopped and drove me all the way to the edge of Ergani, from where I walked to the Diyarbakir to Elazig road.

The man with whom I picked up litter around the citadel rock, Hilal.

The man with whom I picked up litter around the citadel rock, Hilal.