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Turkey 1 Bios

 David Hopkins
2011


The Synopsis
 

I grew up, along with two brothers and a sister, in Winchester, a suburb close to Boston, during the 1940's and 50's.  I attended the Winchester  public schools through high school, and applied to Yale at a time when she was looking for public school students. 

After 4 years there and, by then, 17 years in school, I was looking for a change. The Peace Corps was then very new, very much in the news, very much a "thing to do," and offered a way to do something very different and very far away, and get paid (at least a little bit) for doing it.  So I applied and was offered a position in the first Turkey project. That seemed far enough away, and I signed on. 

(For an account of the next two years,  see below . . .) 

Returned to U. S. via the Orient Express (in the other direction) through Europe to Great Britain for a month-long car tour of London, England and Ireland, thence via Cunard Liner to Montreal, a grand reunion with family, and back home to Boston area. 

Bought a Mustang in October 1964. (Traded it in 4 years later.) 

Joined IBM for what turned out to be 35 rewarding and productive years on about 20 different jobs within the company in New England and in the western Connecticut - eastern New York area. Retired at midnight on December 31, 1999. 

Married Janet Woodruff, November 27, 1965, for what has turned out to be 46 very rewarding and happy  years, and counting.

We have two daughters, both now around 40, one in Connecticut and the other in Seattle.  We have two grandchildren, 7 and 11, in Seattle. 

We lived in eastern Massachusetts for 4 years, southern New Hampshire for 5 years, and in Sherman, Connecticut (on the NY border, population now 4200) for the past 37 years, and  counting. 

We have shared our lives with a series of between 1 and 4 horses during all that time, as well as a series of dogs and cats, along with the occasional goat. 

I have been retired for 12 years now, and counting.  I am healthy (knock, knock) and expect to be active at least long enough to participate in the 75th reunion. 

Now, about  Turkey . . . 

If college was an educational experience in the traditional sense, the Peace Corps was certainly one in a non-traditional sense.  Whereas pretty much all of my life before and after the Peace Corps has been conducted in familiar territory (New England) doing familiar things (school, job, family), surrounded by familiar people (Americans), the Peace Corps was not that.   

Beginning with the intense 10-week training course at the University of Maryland (Washington in summertime!), then traveling far away from the familiar to the exotic setting of "Turkey," and being dropped into a position as an English teacher in the city of Gaziantep in one of the far corners of that country, surrounded by strangers, learning a strange language, amid a strange culture, with strange rules, and surviving all of that for a year, only to move to the very different city of Giresun, in a different far corner of the country for another year . . . those two years remain the most intense, sustained, challenging years of my life. 

There were two main themes to my time in Turkey.  On the one hand, I was a teacher in the everyday society of Turkey, going about the business of finding and occupying an apartment (along with one or two other PCV's), shopping, preparing meals, preparing lessons, conducting classes (with as many as 80 kids in a classroom), giving tests, grading, disciplining, passing the time with other teachers, visiting, running evening classes, running basketball or soccer activities for kids, and so on.

There were the low times:  not being able to find an apartment for several weeks, living three in a room with a bathroom (such as it was) down the hall;  facing a class of 50 or 60 kids ages 12 or 14, with perhaps some idea of how to teach English, but essentially no training in how to manage a class or maintain discipline;  planning, scheduling and announcing an activity or event and having nobody show up; living very near a restaurant that had a very loud radio that played Turkish music all day long to attract customers . . .  being away -- and I mean really far away -- from all that was familiar, with no  newspapers nor magazines nor English radio nor television nor any communication with  that familiar world beyond  the  occasional letter from home  and a once-a-month newsletter from PC Ankara . . .  

And there were the better times:   figuring out eventually how to run a class, and having those 50 or 60 kids all leaning forward, with hands up, learning English;  going to the food market each day with a string bag to bring home lovely fruits and vegetables, and lamb, and whipping up a meal fit for a king;  planning and scheduling and announcing another event and having 100 people show up;  exploring the castle at the center of town, and the bazaar with its tiny stalls for copper-smithing or wood working or leather working or tin-smithing or any of 100 other activities, probably unchanged in its ways for hundreds of years;  visiting a student's family for dinner, or for a day back in his village, using my ever-broadening command of the language not merely to communicate, but to entertain and be entertained . . . telling a joke in Turkish.

On the other hand, during all this I also spent a good deal of time reading, particularly about East and West. One of  the trunkful of books the Peace Corps provided for us was by Herbert J. Muller, at the time a professor of English and Government at the University of Indiana.  He had earlier taught at the University of Istanbul.  He wrote a series of  books, including The Loom of History and Freedom in the Ancient World, that served to introduce me to the broad and fundamental differences between Eastern and Western civilizations, the slow but steady evolution and spread of "western" civilization during the past 2500 years, and the incessant friction between East and West. 

Turkey was, of course, an ideal place to be exposed to these ideas, because it was -- and continues to be -- the clearest and most prominent example of a people, a nation, working to contain, to understand and to resolve the differences.  Until the end of World War I Turkey was that most "eastern" of civilizations, the Ottoman Empire.  Beginning with the founding of the Turkish Republic it was a most aggressive adopter of all things "western," especially a secular, constitutional government  rigidly separated from religious influence  and with a determinedly  capitalistic approach  to its economy.  (Not all of that is quite so true today, but in 1962 it seemed very much to be the case.) 

I was largely ignorant of  that history at the time, and of  the policies of  the government, and of the ins and outs of politics of the time.  But I was very much aware of the day-to-day details of this.  I saw how people lived, how they behaved  hour-by-hour and day-by day,  how they behaved  toward one another,  how they earned a living, how they thought about things.  I spent time with the teachers, most of whom had been educated in Ankara and Istanbul, many in Europe, and who were very much "western," or wanted to be western, in their thinking and in the conduct of their lives. I spent time in the near-by villages, with the families of students, where life was conducted, in most ways, as it had been for a thousand years before. 

And I spent a good deal of time traveling around Turkey, visiting the sites of ancient and not-so-ancient civilizations, both "eastern" and "western"  --  Hittites, and Trojans, and Ionian Greeks, and Romans and Byzantines and Crusaders and Seljuk Turks and Ottoman Turks.  Antioch, Ephesus, Halicarnassus (site of the Mausoleum of Seven Wonders fame), Pergamum, Konya . . . and Istanbul, home to them all.  

This exposure -- through the books I was reading, the places I was visiting and through the minute-by-minute observations of daily life -- to the differences between East and West, was fascinating to me at the time, has been the strongest and most persistent residue of my time in Turkey, and has provided an invaluable background against which to assess the struggles going on today around the world.   

After Turkey, after the Peace Corps, life was less intense.  I came home, got a job with IBM, married Janet and together we brought up two daughters.  The job at IBM lasted for 35 years. Since retiring I have helped Janet run her newspaper business here in Sherman, Connecticut, and helped the Planning and Zoning Commission manage some of the affairs of the town.  I spent a part of most days the first three years of retirement reading about the human neural system, and  contemplating and writing about the subject of consciousness. (I intend to return to that subject, someday.) 

Through all of that neither Turkey nor the Peace Corps was a major part of my life; but Turkey, especially, was always there, and I have marveled at the increasing presence of Turkey and things Turkish in our lives here in America.  I read whatever crops up in the newspapers about developments there; in recent years that has grown to be an almost daily occurrence.  At first rarely, but more and more frequently in recent years I have met Turks in the course of everyday life: a Turkish systems engineer working for IBM in 1968;  a family at the airport waiting for a plane to visit their relatives back home;  the manager of a local liquor store (half German, half Turkish) who sold me Yeni Raki and advised me on the several Turkish restaurants within an hour's drive of the country town of  Sherman;  Turkish students at Yale. Turks showing up on NBA basketball teams - even my own Celtics.  America's young soccer star, Freddy Adu, playing for a bit with Rizespor (or was it Orduspor). Diana Taurasi playing for Fenerbahçe.

Janet and I traveled back to Turkey (she had visited there in 1963) as a part of the Arkadaşlar 40th reunion group in 2002.  The change was amazing, impressive. I wrote up a 40-page account of that trip and of all we observed.  Suffice it to say here that the Turkey of 1962 was much closer to 1922 than to 2002  --  the Turkey of  today (at least as far east as Gaziantep) is modern.  

And, it is "western."  Whether it stays that way, entirely or not so entirely, whether it becomes part of Europe or not, or turns eastward or not, or finds a place astride  those vast differences between  East and West, will be a continually fascinating saga  to watch in the years ahead.

 



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