(More excerpts from the journal of Gökhan Yilmaz, aka “The Lord of the Sky”)

You might remember me, Gökhan Yilmaz (aka, The Lord of the Sky). Our man James wrote about me some time ago (“Lord of the Sky,” December 2016), back when I was leaving Istanbul for Kazakhstan to escape my military service. We still keep in touch, so at his request I thought I’d update you on my exploits.


On the train to Taraz. Bright spring day. So you’re probably wondering if I’ve given any thought of returning to my beloved Turkey. Hell no, bro. Although there is some news that now you can pay some money to avoid military service. But who’s got money? Not me.

Still just getting by in Astana, keeping my head above the water. Learning to speak Russian, teaching English (private students), playing my guitar by the river occasionally.

Anyhoo, … We’re heading to the southern border to renew my residency. Every thirty days I make this useless trip. We used to be able to do it in Petropavlask, up near the Russian border. But they closed that one, most likely because of the Syrian refugees, so now you have to go on this long-ass trip to Taraz down near the Krygysztan border.

A long way to go just for the authorities to sign the papers, then I get another 30 days’ residency.

Guess you might like to know more about Taraz. Hold on, let me lay a few Wikipedia facts on you … So Taraz, bro, was basically an ancient city on the Silk Road from China to Europe, that is until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th Century. Maybe it should have stayed destroyed, if you ask me.

Later, during Soviet times, the city was “modernized,” with chemical plants as well as phosphate processing works. A lot of these places were shut down after the collapse of the old Soviet empire, but many of them have now been re-opened. Plus you see a lot of other new buildings. Good for them, I guess.

Other than that, there’s not much else to say. I’m not exactly thrilled to be going. Been here too many times before and it never gets any better. You would think it must be exciting, being an ancient city and all. Trust me, brother. I’ve been coming here every 30 days for the past few months. Not much to see except a lot of mausoleums. A fucking city of the dead. Can you believe that? I came to Kazakhstan to find a new life, and here I am having to report each month to a City of the Dead. Once again – Irony, everyone!


Anyway, the train stops at a junction on the Talas River. The view is pretty standard, central Asia. A flat, mid-sized city (population: 300,000 or so), surrounded by the Red and White Mountains. Lots of clean-looking new buildings, as well as mosques with cobalt blue roofs and blue-tipped minarets. Whoo-hoo! As I said, real exciting.

The poliçe station isn’t very far away. I know the terrain, after so many trips, so I’m in and out pretty fast, with a fresh 30 days.

There is one other piece of business, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to tell. This city is like the weed capital of Kazakhstan. It’s dirt-cheap and the quality surprisingly good. Last month in a bar in Astana I met this guy who owns a coffee shop in the city center. Gave me his number and told me to look him up when I get to Taraz.



Well, in this part of Asia, weed and Muslim culture are a lot closer than you’d think, bro. A lot of people around here smoke it. I’ve seen them. It’s not really legal, but nobody asks any questions. Everybody’s high.

Last time I was here, I had to sleep overnight at an Internet cafe, and these fourteen-year-olds came in to play Counter Strike, and theywere smoking, so …

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t smoke the stuff anymore – not for a year now. I quit that and cigarettes, too. Trust me, bro: you quit smoking, and all those people disappear. The unreliables, I mean. There were too many of them in my life.

But I need money, as always. I’m thinking of just getting enough to take back to Astana, where I can unload it pretty easily. The money would get me by until this summer, when I’m hoping to start a new job. This guy is setting up a design company and he wants me to manage it. Anyway, I figure what the hell, right? Adds an element of adventure to my trip – and what’s life without a little risk?


For a while, I was teaching at this language school in Astana. But the place was run by a bunch of fucking crooks. I quit about a month ago, and since then have got by on freelance – private teaching. Feels good to be free, but it aint easy. If I can just survive until summer then the new job will start, and then I should be in the clear.

And I’ve finally got my own place, a small apartment in downtown Astana. It’s got big windows with a view of the smoggy center, purple wallpaper, a big bed and a wardrobe. I sent our man James a couple of photos and he said it looked like Raskolnikov’s room, lol! Well, maybe. I wouldn’t kill my landlady over this place, she can have it ha ha! Don’t be too hard on James – when he knew me back in my Istanbul days, I was a lot like old Radya! These days, the only things we have in common are poverty and the fact that we both speak Russian (well, as I said, I’m learning).

Those were crazy days, back in the ‘Bul: living day to day, dodging landlords and the notices in the mail telling me to report for military service. There was no way I, the Lord of the Sky, was going to end up in Syria getting my ass shot at by Kurds or ISIS. I had better things to do in life. As you might recall, my family are all split up – my father in Kazakhstan, living his lie, and my mother with relatives in Canada living hers, neither of them really giving much of a shit about yours truly. So I packed my bags and split for Astana.

That was more than a year ago. Yeah, guess I’m trying to grow up a bit. Twenties have flown right on by, will be staring at 3-0 before long. That’s why I’ve been trying to clean up my act, get some of the no-hopers out of my life. Getting rid of the weed seems to have helped. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s different in places like California or Amsterdam, but in this part of the world – disregarding what I said about the weed and culture here – before long you find yourself in some bad, or at least questionable, company.

Not much has changed on the family front. Father still has his business (or so he says) here in Kazakhstan, but he and I haven’t talked in a long time. Mother I still hear from occasionally. She’s still living with relatives in Canada, by the Great Lakes. So really, it’s still just me, the old Lord of the Sky, like my man Axl Rose says, “The way we’ve always been before.”


As far as the meeting goes with this guy today, I’m not getting my hopes up too high (no pun intended, as you Americans say!)

I mean, I know the score. Realistically, I can probably do this for a few weeks, a couple months at the most. The problem isn’t getting the weed. I can even transport it on the train back to Astana no problem. I mean, just get 10 grams or so – which is literally a handful – and put it in my luggage.

The problem would be back in Astana, when you start to sell it. I studied economics at university, bro. It works like this: the law of exponential growth. You start with 10 grams, and then the next week you want 50 grams, then 100 and so on. But the more you do that, the harder it is to stay off the radar. You don’t know who your customers or suppliers are necessarily. Sooner or later, one of them points you out to the guys who control the local market, and they rat you out. Then some covert guy comes and visits you and you end up in a stinky Kazakhstan jail. You end up on an episode of “Banged Up Abroad,”telling your sad tale and crying like a bitch in front of the camera. It really sucks to be you then.

So what is the point of having a product if one cannot sell it? That’s what I mean by the risk. I have just enough local knowledge that I can stay small and sell it just until summertime, when the new job starts. Enough just to pay the bills, nothing more. All I need is ten good clients, and I can make two grand per month, and I already have those lined up, guys I used to smoke with. I don’t see them anymore, but trust me, bro, Astana is not Istanbul or L.A. They’re not that hard to find. Back when I used to smoke, I used to get a lot more people than that high for free, so I have a pretty good network built up. Ready to line up and be counted. Capitalism! No mercy, no remorse, my horse!


I get a text from my guy. Says there’s been a change of plans. Don’t meet at the cafe. Instead, we’re going to have dinner at the Barkhat Hotel. It’s a really nice place, a handsome stone, three-story building with a good reputation. Hope he’s buying dinner, cause your Lord of the Sky is trying to watch his budget!

I arrive a little early, and order a vodka in the bar. The barman is an old guy who just sat and watched horse races on the TV. Na zdarovye! The rest of the place is empty, quiet. Maybe the place got busier later.

Ah, the old Silk Road! Guess back in those ancient days horses were a big commodity. The Chinese wanted the horses from Europe to fight against the Mongols, and the Europeans wanted spices and silk from China. Nowadays, things have changed obviously. I know I should be more sensitive to the history, the traces of antiquity and all that, but seriously, dude – this place is fuckin’ dead!

My phone beeps. It’s my guy. Says he can’t make it today. Am I free tomorrow?

Dude, I have to get back to Astana. Got to finish writing this English essay for this college kid in my apartment building. Have to put the references and stuff in, too. That’s a solid hundred bucks, at least. I text the guy back, maybe next time I’m in town. Sorry, he says. See you next month. Right, next month.

The barman asks if I want another vodka. Sure, why not? Got a long train ride back later. I take a drink, and scan the empty bar. How does it feel to be on the old Silk Road, you ask?

At the moment?


As you can see, I’m just looking for a way out, bro.


Don’t know.

Definitely not back to the ‘Bul, you know that by now. Do I ever miss Istanbul? Not really. Sometimes I miss going to Fenerbahçe matches in Kadıköy – marching along with our army of dark blue and gold team jerseys. “Fenerbahçe! La-la-la-la-la!” But nowadays, I have even learned that life without football is still pretty good. It’s all about finding solitude and inner peace. Not goals and nets and kicks, know what I mean, bro?

As I said, lately I’ve been seeing things differently. Unchanging rule of life, bro: If you choose to lose yourself, you will drift away. Maybe it’s best to just stay away from the stuff altogether

And I got some friends over in China, it’s just over the border to the East. As they say, Go East Young Man! We’ll see. Well, why not? They say we Turks originated from Central Asia, were nomadic people. Why not continue the tradition? I, the Lord of the Sky, have always been a nomad.

Until next time, bro. Gotta go and get that train back to Astana. Maybe next month, with our man James I will see you here. Be here! Or be a deer in the headlights, man!


James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher living in Istanbul.