This note from Sandy Pfunder is a more recent event but
relates back to our service in Turkey:
This past Tuesday night, our Turkish
language class had its last "ders" of the "winter semester".
As is traditional, we meet at a Turkish restaurant for the
last class, and this time we gathered at Atilla's
Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. A young woman who was
waiting on our table told us that she was college student in
Northern Virginia and was originally from Edirne. We
mentioned that a couple of us (Linda Scheffer and I) had
been Peace Corps volunteers in Turkey. The next words out of
her mouth were: "Do you know Bob and Sylva Staab?" Of
course, we said that we did. "My grandfather married them,"
she said, referring (we judged) to the famous village
wedding that occurred some 43 years ago in a village near
----Sandy Pfunder (T9)
[Mis]-using that little yellow
roommate and I were in our first week in Buca, near Izmir,
and had started to teach at the Izmir Egetim Institusu
there....for the first few days we didn't venture outside of
our little house or the school very much, and lived on ekmek
and fruit. Toward the end of the week we decided to brave
the new world of ordering food in a lokanta. So little
yellow Langscheitz (have probably butchered the spelling on
that) in hand, we walked up the street, sat down, and tried
to decipher the menu. After a few misunderstandings, we
finished ordering, and then Jo
Lynn tried to start up a conversation with the waiter. What
she was trying to say was:"Garconluk yaptim" -- since she
had done some waitressing as a part-time job in college.
What she actually said was: "Garcon yedim" --- which caused
the waiter's eyes to grow large, and he walked quickly back
to the kitchen, probably with a confirmed belief that
Amerika was a cannibalistic society. When we looked up the
actual words, we started laughing and shaking our heads, so
eventually he came back to talk with us.
It was a shame that we had our dictionaries with us, since
that was the same day I ordered iskembe corbasi from the
menu. I remember clearly that the first couple of spoonfuls
were delicious. If I hadn't had the dictionary, and had not
looked up the word iskembe, I probably would
have finished the bowl and continued to like it. As it was,
finding out that it was made from portions of a sheep's
digestive tract was too much to adjust to, and I didn't
finish it. Yazik. -- Lynn Maichle
All the words made me
remember one especially embarrassing mis-use of a word. It was early on
in the first year. I went to lunch with all the orta okul teachers. It
was mostly no food, lots of questions (theirs-not mine) and then the
"was my face red" scenario.
One of the teachers asked me about bread, because I had mentioned how
very much I enjoyed the fresh bread everyday from the firin. I think it
was the history teacher who wanted to know, "What is so different about
American bread?" Swallow, search my mind. Did I learn that word? Having
heard a couple of words in Turkish that sounded borrowed from French I
cast my fate to the winds. "American bread is full of 'prťservatifs."
That produced a table full of loud laughter that was excruciating
because no one could stop laughing long enough to tell me what I had
said. When things calmed down, my colleague next to me, (an
avuncular sort of guy), leaned in to me and whispered, "That word means
'condoms' in Turkish". He needn't have whispered. His explanation was
clear from the deep red that covered my face & throat...who knows maybe
even my eyes were bulging.
The experience tripled my motivation in learning more Turkish, as fast
as I could!
Nearly everyone must have had a similar uncomfortable faux pas. Is
anyone else interested in baring their soul?
I remember masses of
hazelnuts spread out in a single layer on the dock in
drying in the sun before being put on a ship. A man with a
rake would turn them from time to time. That was in '63 -
'64. A simpler time.
--David Hopkins (T-1)
You remind me of a similar image three years later in
Giresun, same dock I'm sure, same vision of hazelnuts drying
in the sun, now dried and sacked up ready to transport
elsewhere. But then an inimitable image of an ancient hamal,
many days of growth of beard, face as wrinkled as sin
itself, wearing that hamal wedge they all carried on their
lower backs. He had a huge, enormous sack of hazelnuts on
his 'hump' struggling to the steps at the rear of a flatbed
His face black red from the
heat, sweat dripping steadier than a faucet from the weight
he bore. As he limped toward the edge of the steps leading
up to the flatbed, it was clear he had only one good, i.e.
strong leg. His every step favored that good leg. He got as
close to the side of the steps as he could, grappled for the
iron of the frame, locked his knee as he stepped onto the
step. Then he shifted, kinda of heaved, the weight of the
sack and his body onto his locked leg. brought up his other,
bad leg, next to it, and repeated the process as he inched
step by step onto the back of the truck.
Once on board he hobbled to dump
his sack onto the other sacks that other hamals had loaded
The pain in his face screamed every step he made. I will
never forget...forget the sun, the smell, the
rustle of hazelnuts being raked...but I shall never
the effort that man expended then, that day. The sight of a
hazelnut brings back that memory to me.
-- Pat Kelley (T-8)
First Big Scare in Turkey by Larry Montgomery (T-8)
As Turkey 8 Volunteers, we
finished the 2nd. phase of our Peace Corps Training at
Robert College, as it was then known, in Istanbul. We
were pleasantly surprised to discover, at the end of our
training, that a couple of our volunteers had arranged for
rented buses to take us to our various sites. I'd guess
we boarded these buses sometime in early September of
I'd also guess that there
were probably 4 or 5 of these buses since we numbered
about 200 volunteers and were the largest group of
volunteers to ever descend on Turkey. The buses fanned
out in different directions and we probably boarded with
only minor trepidation as everything seemed to have been
quite well organized.
My bus proceeded south,
since I'd requested a southern city, near the coast, and
had been assigned to one. Whether or not our bus
stopped in Ankara overnight or proceeded directly toward
Adana and Gaziantep and other points south is beyond the
power of my aging brain cells to recollect, and it is
beside the point anyway.
The horror that
occurred along the road from Ankara to Adana, however,
is quite fresh in my mind, and will never be erased or
My guess is that we were somewhere between 3 and 5 hours out of Ankara
heading south at a good rate of speed. For at least a couple of these
hours we had been traveling through what I'd kindly describe as
wilderness or wasteland. Barren, inhospitable terrain that would
immediately evoke compassion in the mind of any sympathetic person,
for any Turkish people that might have to live in these areas, and eke
out a hard-scrabble existence out of this uninviting soil and rock.
of us was prepared for the tragedy that was about to occur. Suddenly
the bus pulled to a stop in the middle of nowhere and whoever was in
charge, either a Turkish guy or a volunteer hollered our a lady's
name. It could have been Joan or Mary or Linda or any name. We
were such a large group that we didn't know everyone.
young lady, girl, was expected to get out of the bus at this spot.
The absolutely amazing thing is that she did! She got out and the bus
roared away in a cloud of dust. Whether there was a dirt road that
intersected with our main road at that spot, where this young girl was
going to be able to get some kind of transportation to some town or
city that was not too far away, we didn't know. There didn't seem to
be any sign of life! As strong as our eyes were at that age, we could
see nothing, no town or even village!
Immediately something came to life and began to grow on that bus! It
was a kind of palpable fear that seemed to possess all of us. We said
nothing and rode on in silence. It is the terror that we all felt
during that ride that gave life to this memory that I'm sure the rest
of us on that bus will always carry it around!
absolutely sure, but I believe the next stop was Adana, the 4th.
largest town in Turkey. Only one volunteer was assigned to Adana but,
you can bet as much money as you have, that quite a number of us
jumped off that bus, in Adana, in the hope that we would be able to
find some kind of direct transportation to our towns. We were not
going to be dropped off in any Godforsaken spot!
day, I've asked around many times, but have been unable to find our
who it was that got off that bus. I've been unable to determine what
happened to her that day. It would be a very nice thing to hear that
she found some kind of transportation to her town. It would be great
to hear that she had 2 wonderful years in Turkey. She should know
that all of us admired her bravery, or sense of duty, or whatever it
was, that permitted her to face the unknown with such courage.
Montgomery, Turkey 8
[Note: The young lady in question did respond and did have two
wonderful years in Turkey. Tebrikler!]
First Impressions by Carol Kocan
About arriving at Robert College... Although a distinguished
institution in its own right, my impression was also not
positive back then. My suitcase burst open on the steps as
it was being unloaded from the bus or truck, causing me
great personal embarrassment, the dorms were our warning not
to expect great comfort in the coming months, and the school
cafeteria was pretty bad. As a matter of fact, it's a
miracle I could ever come to love bamya (okra) or other
Turkish food after a first taste at Robert College.
The school was in a great location however, and we did enjoy the view
and exploring Rumeli Hisar. At the foot of the hill, at the bus stop, I
had my first experience in real conversation when a passer-by asked me
what time it was. I looked at my watch, answered appropriately, and the
person thanked me and walked on. Only then did I realize I had just had
a genuine conversation in Turkish!
That was a good enough sign that there was hope, after all, that I might
manage to get through the next two years.
Community Development by
Chris Smith (T-4)
[Sandy Pfunder's recent piece on his and Allen's attempt to form a
village development cooperative triggered some sympathetic chuckles and
a memory of a failed community development project in Tunceli.]
Scarcely had my site partner, Dave Wesselink,
and I settled into our house along the river in the fall of
'64', when Country Director, Ross Pritchard, and a retinue
of PC staff dropped by for a visit. Though ours were
teaching assignments in the local orta okul and lise, they
didn't preclude community development possibilities on the
side, Ross informed us. What about
sprucing up the little house we were living in and planting
some flowers in a window box or two? And wasn't there space next
to the house for a small vegetable garden? Our place would be an
example of what could be done with dusty backyards, a precursor of some
new Hanging Garden of Babylon along our tributary of the Euphrates
Before we could get started with any beautification, our school
principal informed us we were moving to an apartment complex which had
just been completed. Our third floor space didn't need any fixing up
and there were no suitable spots for gardens or window boxes. Our
community development project would have to take some other form.
As soon as people moved into the new apartments, and it happened fast,
they generated garbage. The drill was to toss the stuff down the slope
in back of the buildings. It seemed unsanitary, unaesthetic and
'un-American'. Here was just the project for two callow, would-be
community developers fired by hyper-civic zeal.
In short order we discovered Tunceli had a garbage collector. What did
he do? He collected the garbage of the city's few well-to-do residents
who lived along the river, where we used to live.
When we discussed the matter with the Mayor, he agreed the new apartment
buildings should have a large garbage barrel that could be collected
when full. Give him 15 days and he'd have one in place.
Fifteen days passed and no barrel appeared. We returned to the Mayor's
office and reminded him of his promise. Sorry, he'd gotten distracted
with other business. Give him another 15 days.
The second 15 days passed and still no barrel. Dave and I returned to
the Mayor's office and laid it on with a trowel. The kids would get
typhoid, other cities would think we were backward, etc.,etc., etc.
Thoroughly exasperated, I'm sure, the Mayor said he'd have the barrel in
a day or two.
Sure enough, a large barrel showed up outside the apartment complex. We
dutifully dumped our garbage in it and noticed some of the other
residents did too. No doubt they'd been asked to humor the Americans
through this little crisis.
Dave and I took off that weekend for some shopping in Elazığ
feeling pleased with our community development success. When we
returned, the barrel was gone. Fellow-residents told us it had filled
up and been collected. They weren't sure why an empty had not been left
in its place, but perhaps one would turn up in 15 days.
That night Dave and I had a good laugh over our folly. It had taken us
more than a month to get the message: we were the only people who
thought the garbage was a problem. When we observed the dynamics of the
heap more closely, we had another laugh. Chickens and dogs ate
literally all the food scraps. Metal, glass and plastic containers that
could hold water were collected by kids for that purpose. Even most of
the paper was salvaged. With all that recycling going on, there really
wasn't much of a heap at all.
I hope our Turkish friends had a good laugh on us. We were impatient,
overbearing, insensitive and ignorant when we should have been just the
opposite. Perhaps a short course in community development would have
helped us. Maybe remembering our manners would have been enough. That
our hosts put up with us so good naturedly is a tribute to their manners
and to the quality of their friendship and hospitality.
Chris Smith T-4
Hugh O'Neill by Sandy Pfunder
Perhaps the most memorable evening I spent in Turkey was
with my site partner, Allen, and fellow Turkey IX volunteer, Hugh
O'Neill. Hugh had been my roommate during training in Portland. He was
about eight years older than I and had been a professional social worker
before entering the Peace Corps. He was an extraordinarily funny man
with an infectious laugh. He also had a sharp tongue and did not suffer
fools gladly. His use of the Turkish language was creative and
colorful, but disconnected and utterly ungrammatical. He said he took
pride in having been officially certified as incapable of learning a
I only dimly understood Hugh's official assignment. He taught social work
in some government organization in Ankara. Much more fun, he chose to live
in a gece kondu neighborhood called «in «in. Allen and I were in Ankara for
some official reason in early May of 1966 and we met him at the end of his
work day. We boarded a city bus and rode together for about 45 minutes into
the hills outside the city. From the bus stop we walked through a
neighborhood of small, flat roofed mud brick houses separated by unpaved
streets. Hugh's house was like the others; it had a bedroom and a living
room, with straw mats on the floors. He had electricity and running water.
We sat around and had a leisurely conversation while Hugh cooked dinner. We
had just finished eating when there was a loud knock on his door and a high
pitched call, "Hoo Yoo!" Hugh explained that the Turks had some difficulty
pronouncing his name. A bevy of village ladies entered the house and made
shooing signs to Hugh, our first indication of his fundamental skill in
using and cultivating non-verbal communication. Hugh turned to us with a
twinkle in his eye. "We have to take a walk," he said.
So we walked out into the neighborhood. Hugh showed us three apple trees
that he had recently planted. Each was about eight feet tall, about two
inches in diameter, with a couple of spindly branches and about twelve
leaves. He said that they had been difficult to plant, since he had to
borrow a pick axe to break through the hard packed earth. He recounted that
one of his neighbors had asked him why he was working so hard to plant
trees, and he had explained that he liked shade. During the next half hour
of our meandering through the neighborhood, Hugh expressed surprise at
finding two more newly planted trees that he said had not been there the
previous week. I remember his saying: "What more could I ask?"
We talked with a number of his neighbors that we met on the street. They
were articulate and interesting. They had all come from villages, seeking
better education and better job opportunities. They explained the practice
of helping newcomers to find or build shelter. They viewed themselves as a
community, and they took pride in their neighborhood. Their conversation
suggested that they were highly motivated and upwardly mobile. To the
extent that Allen and I had had our own images of the gece kondu prior to
that evening, they bore no resemblance to what we found.
When we returned to Hugh's house, our dinner dishes had been washed, and a
basket of clean laundry had been exchanged for whatever the ladies had found
that looked as though it needed washing. The neighbors clearly were very
fond of this guy and took good care of him.
We sat down to chat, and there was another knock at the door. This time two
school-age kids came into the living room. It was time for the weekly
sign-in and sign-out of library books. Hugh explained that he had bought a
collection of Turkish books for the neighborhood kids but insisted that they
devise and administer their own system to keep track of the books. He said
they all agreed that it was necessary to number the 75 or so books, so each
one was given an individual number, ranging from one to about 30,000.
Hugh told us that one time one of the books had been stolen, and the kids
asked Hugh what he was going to do about it? Hugh told them that he wasn't
going to do anything. It was their library. It was their problem. A few
days later, a sheepish young man knocked at Hugh's door and gave him the 30
kurus that he said he had made reselling the stolen book.
When the "library" was ready for business, a couple of dozen kids who had
waited outside were admitted to the living room. Incoming and outgoing
books were duly logged, and then everybody left.
We had time for a bit more conversation before Hugh walked with us back to
the bus stop, where Allen and I caught the bus back into town. We were
quite sure that we had seen a master at work that evening.
P.S. I saw Hugh a number of times after Peace Corps. He always had
something fun and funny to say. . Hugh died in 1998.
Photos of Hugh O'Neill
Sandy Pfunder (Turkey IX)
Bread by Sandy Pfunder (Turkey 9)
In the mid-sixties, a staple of the diet of Black Sea coast
villagers was corn bread. But nothing like and corn bread
that I had ever eaten. The villagers raised large
quantities of what we would think of as feed corn, husking
the cobs after harvest in the fall, then drying the cobs in
an oven, removing the kernels for storage over the winter.
As needed, the dried kernels were taken to the village mill
and ground into a rough corn flour. Corn bread was made
from a wet dough consisting only of corn flour, water and
salt - totally unleavened.
The 'loaves' were roughly triangular, about the size of a frisbee and
nearly two inches thick. They were baked on top of a large round,
slightly convex metal disk that sat on a trivet in an open fire in a
small pit inside the house.
The resulting loaves were heavy, vaguely reminiscent of a small discus.
The corn bread itself was as heavy as it looked and felt. It was eaten
in a variety of ways - broken in chunks into warm, sweet milk or into a
bowl of yogurt or into a bowl of cabbage soup. When eaten plain, it had
to be chased with liquid of some sort. It was very filling, which was
obviously the idea. To a Western palate, it was vaguely tolerable when
it was fresh, and it definitely did not improve with age.
My landlord, Ali Bekir, and his wife, Ayse, were wonderful people. They
were probably in their sixties and lived next door with one of the
landlord's sons, his wife, and two young children. The landlord's wife
was your typical grandmother and took particularly good care of us. I
rented a two-room house from them for a monthly payment of 25 Turkish
lira (then worth a little less than three dollars), and the house came
with a fresh liter of milk or yogurt nearly every day, often delivered
by the landlord's wife. Occasionally, she would bring us some fresh
baked corn bread. We would eat some of it, but there was always plenty
left over. We tried giving it to the landlord's dog, but that scheme
was foiled when the dog began taking chunks of corn bread back home to
store for future consumption.
One morning when grandmother brought some fresh corn bread, my site
partner, Allen, and I looked at each other and decided that we just
couldn't face it. So we didn't eat it that day. By the next day, there
was no question of eating it. But what to do with it? Turkish village
houses simply didn't generate any garbage or trash. Anything edible was
fed to the dairy cows, so there wasn't a place to take it and dump it,
even surreptitiously. We clearly had a problem. Then we had a
brilliant flash - the wood stove on which we did our cooking! We revved
up the fire, tossed in the corn bread in chunks, and sighed with relief.
About ten minutes later, a knock at the front door. It was the
landlord's wife. "I smell burning corn bread," she said.
"How is that possible?" we asked innocently. "What you brought us
yesterday was so good that it's all gone." We couldn't lie to
"That's very strange," she said, turning to walk back to her house,
shaking her head. "I could swear I smelled burning corn bread."
Thereafter, when we had excess corn bread, we buried it.
Sandy Pfunder (Turkey IX)
Note: Memories of Turkey is a regular
feature for stories by RPCVs who have served in Turkey. Check back
regularly for new stories.