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Turkey 1 Bios

James Bertenshaw


My Experiences In Turkey and Afterward

In the summer of 1962 , I was accepted into the first Peace Corps Program designated for Turkey. I had just received a BS in Forestry and the Peace Corps seemed an ideal place to use my forestry knowledge. Two of us had signed up for what we initially thought was Borneo, but turned out to be the first group headed for Turkey. We were in a small subgroup (ultimately eight) designated as “agricultural workers”. After training with the teachers at College Park that summer, the eight of us were sent to Puerto Rico for additional “boot camp-like” training. I still remember how our indoctrination into Turkish language and culture suffered in that tropical, Spanish-speaking atmosphere. Helping us keep our Turkish focus was Özer Sömez, who you may remember as one of our teachers. Özer Bey turned out to more of a playboy than a teacher.

Approximately a month after the teachers, we arrived in Turkey, had some in-country training and were sent to Mersin in the south. Unlike the teachers, Me and the Boss we didn’t have fixed Working in the Woods positions, but were merely assigned to different agricultural agencies. Two of us went to the Turkish Forest Service, but they didn’t know what to do with two foreigners with weak language skills. For about a month we worked surveying a plantation near the town of Tarsus. At the beginning of the winter rainy season, I went up to Ankara to try to find a more productive job. I ended up working at the Forestry Research Institute in Ankara for the rest of my time. I worked for Şerif Alemdağ , the director of forest management. Most of my work centered around gathering field data for a yield table for Scots pine. The work took me into the forests of northern Turkey from Bolu to Sarıkamış where I did a lot of tree measuring on field plots we set up. The work took me to some interesting places though transportation to the woods was sometimes a problem. At one time it even included horse riding.

For part of the time I worked with a Turkish Forester. As he didn't know English, this was good for my Turkish. I was one of the first volunteers to get permission to travel to eastern Turkey. In the process of hunting for suitable stands of pine, we even passed through Kars and Erzurum. During the winter, I did statistical analyses in the office at the Forestry Research Institute in Ankara. Once during a slow period, I acted as a driver for Terry Nichols. Twice during my tour, I took a month to travel, once to Europe and once through the Middle East to Syria, Egypt and Israel. My experiences in Turkey will always be memorable, and later lead to friendships with Turkish students at University.

After I returned from Turkey, I obtained a Master of Forestry from the University of Michigan, and later a PhD in plant physiology from the University of California. For many years I worked at UC doing research in forest soils and plant nutrition. My work also involved independent field studies of forest regeneration and mine reclamation. I retired in 2004 and presently live in Richmond, California.

In 1984, I returned to Turkey as a visitor. I was interested to see what changes had taken place and to see parts of the country which I had not had a chance to visit before. I was surprised at how much change had taken place since the sixties. I actually got lost in Ankara, and in Mersin got off the bus in a part of town I didn't even remember. In Mersin, I found the house we use to live in and had an interesting chat with the couple who lived there. While traveling around the country by bus, I noticed that tractors had replaced farm animals. In Ankara, I visited with old friends who had been students at the University of California. In addition to spending time in Istanbul, I visited many of the tourist towns along the Aegean coast. This trip proved enlightening as it showed how much change has taken place in Turkey. 

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