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Christmas in Turkey


 

For Christmas 1965, my site partner Allen Neill (Schauffler) and I agreed to make a large plum pudding and contribute it to a Peace Corps celebration in Trabzon.  Because there would be a large crowd, we decided to triple the recipe that we had found.  We bought the ingredients -- flour, suet, sugar, molasses, raisins, dried fruits, nuts.  We had a large, round aluminum cooking container with a lid that seemed just about the right size.  What we needed was an even larger container, so that we could steam aluminum pot with the pudding in boiling water.  Several days before Christmas, I set out across the village with the empty aluminum container, looking for something big enough to use as a steamer.  I tried several houses, but no luck.  At the home of the former muhtar, I finally found a huge copper kettle large enough, but it turned out I couldn't lift it.  Fortunately, the old muhtar had a son that was a giant of a man.  He hoisted the kettle onto his shoulder and carried it across the village for me.   

On December 23, we put the huge kettle on to boil and started mixing ingredients at the crack of dawn.  What we hadn't realized was that, when you triple a recipe for plum pudding, you multiply the steaming time by a whole lot more.  Throughout the day, we kept sticking broom straws into it, and they kept coming out all gooey.  Around midnight, we called it quits and decided to let the fire burn out.  The thing cooked a total of nearly 20 hours. 

Next morning we were up early.  We had a large village basket full of holly and evergreens to bring with us.  We put the plum pudding into the basket of greens and walked the 8 km. down to Tonya.  There, the basket with the greens went on top of the minibus, and the plum pudding (about ten pounds of it) went on my lap for the hour plus ride into Trabzon.

We checked into a hotel and left the plum pudding*.  It was a warm day in Trabzon -- the first day of Ramazan.  We met several other CD volunteers who had come in from villages in Macka, another sub-province of Trabzon.  We had previously discovered a favorite restaurant near the meydan in Trabzon, and we all headed there at mid-day.  After nearly three months in the village, our Turkish was OK but basic.  We found the doors propped wide open, and the proprietor sitting at a table in the otherwise empty restaurant.  Mustering all of my linguistic abilities, I asked him:  "Lokantaniz acik mi?"  He looked at me.  Then he looked past me at the open doors.  Then he looked back.  "Evet," he replied, "Aciktir."  And he paused.  "Fakat maalesef, yemek yok."

That evening there was a large gathering of volunteers, including Turkey 8's from up and down the Black Sea coast, most of whom we hadn't met before.  I think I remember meeting Sambra Neet and Teeny Posselt and Tim Nulty.  We had met Madeline Paul, who was a Turkey 4 volunteer in Trabzon, and we knew Judy Tharinger, Stephanie Strelkauskas and Peggy Comeau (Turkey 8's).  There were a couple of Turkey 6 nurses who worked at the large hospital in Trabzon (Maureen Hughes and I'm blanking on a name).  And there were others whose names no longer come.  We all went either to John and Cathy Gallivan's house or to CARE rep. Terry and Margaret Grant's house (I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember which), and then several hours later to the Santa Maria Catholic Church for midnight mass.  That was our first encounter with Father T, who subsequently became a great friend.  It was also first meeting with a bunch of the guys from Boztepe, the small Air Force base in Trabzon.  Mass was followed by a party at Father T's house, which I remember as somewhat depressing.  Since there were no dependents allowed at the base, most of the guys there were not at all pleased to be spending Christmas in Turkey and therefore got very drunk.

On Christmas day the PC celebrants headed for Rize by minibus.  I remember that it was almost 70 degrees.  Several of the volunteers there hosted a dinner.  We stayed overnight in an inexpensive hotel and returned to Trabzon the next day, and from there back out to the village.  Perhaps others can fill in details of Christmas in Trabzon and Rize.

When we got back to the village, I had to prevail upon the old muhtar's son to come back to my house and get his copper kettle.                
                                                  
 --Sandy Pfunder (T-9), Çayiriçi Köyü, Tonya, Trabzon

*The plum pudding, by the way, was entirely consumed by the celebrants.  My recollection of the hard sauce is more vivid.  It was created (as I watched) by a German cook from the Boztepe Air Force base, who used startling quantities of ingredients, including an entire bottle of either rum or bourbon.  That in turn probably explains the popularity of the pudding.
 

The flow of notes on this topic moved me to look into the pile of letters people saved for me.  I recently uncovered a bagfull I hadn't ever looked at since I wrote them.  The very first one I pulled out included the following paragraphs (fromGiresun, December 30, 1963):

"Santa Claus came to town today, with a vengeance.  Tom (Blake) met the man in charge of Tumpane Company in Turkey during his travels last summer. Tumpane is the private company in charge of supplying U. S. Armed Services bases around the world.  The man proposed a Christmas present of instant coffee in return for a letter about Peace Corps activities in Turkey.  The letter must have been good, for the man sent not only 3 big cans of instant coffee, but a large box full of American canned and packaged goods  -- deviled ham, Kellogg's OK's, candy, puddings, cookies, cake mixes and icings, oatmeal, spices  --  everything!  Even a carton of Viceroys - and neither of us smokes.  You should have seen the foolish grins on our faces as we stacked it up.  We almost felt guilty - but kept down the feeling.

"It's properly winterized here-abouts; the worst the local folks can remember in years. We actually had snow for Christmas. It only amounted to a half-inch or so, and it melted away in a day, but the ground and the roof-tops and the hills around the city were nice and white for Christmas Day.  We even had a Christmas party; the French teacher and a couple of others had us over Christmas Eve, stuffed us, and presented us each with a little China Turkish tea-pot and a tea glass and saucer.  And she made the
presentation in English, which shows what kind of a teacher I am.

"Thus hath Christmas passed in Giresun.  Quite pleasantly, for all that I had 7 classes that day."

I looked for the same kind of thing from the previous year, and found this about Christmas, 1962, in Gaziantep. Larry Fisher, Tom Blake and I shared an apartment on the ground floor (one flight down from street level, but open to sides and the rear) of a building owned by Huseyin Sevemlisoy.  As of this past May he is still there, in the same building . . .  we visited him on our trip back to Turkey in May.

"We had classes on Christmas day, so we celebrated a bit on Yil Bashi. Some of the boys who live at school and could not get home for the vacation came over for a couple of hours and we drank tea and ate candy and talked. One of them speaks very good English; also, a Turk we met at Gazi Egitim Institute in Ankara  --  an English teacher now in Urfa  --  came over to spend the holidays with us.  We talked of Islam and Christianity, of Turkey and America.  At midnight we all drank a couple of glasses of wine, they left and we promptly went to bed, with Voice of America jazz ringing in our
ears."
                                                      
--Dave Hopkins (T-1) Gaziantep, Giresun


The Christmas stories are so familiar.  Don't remember that I ever had a tree, but I do remember one of my 550 students in Adana giving me a present after class on Christmas Day.  I don't think I had ever mentioned Christmas to my classes, so I was really touched.
 
                                                --Ellie LeBaron (T-15), Susurluk & Adana
 

İArkadaslar
02/26/14