Turkey 1 Bios
I was raised
in a small town near Atlanta. My father was an ordained minister (Southern
Baptist), a socialist, college professor, and political liberal (read pro
integrationist). He pioneered an adult education program in the area that
drew a steady stream of Third World foreign visitors through our home from
the time I was eight or nine until I went away to college.
As a college
senior my career goals were fluid, my values, aside from a desire for
glamour and adventure, even less firm. Within a month of graduation, I was
turned down for Marine Corps OCS and got invited to training for the Peace
Corps in a group that turned out to be Turkey I.
Corps training was a great relief. A respectable adventure, a new thing to
do, sanctioned by the new president whom I had rooted for and cast my first
presidential vote for the year before. I was so very naive about the
developing world. I think I assumed that as a college educated American I
knew more than anyone in the Third World about almost anything. I was fairly
sure that the inhabitants must be doing things like plowing furrows up and
down slopes, so the work would be a matter of pointing out ignorance like
this and showing them the advantage of preventing erosion by running the
furrows around the slope.
trained to teach English as a foreign language in middle and high schools (lise).The
first year I was in three-man sites in Anatolia, first briefly in Corum and
then up in the mountains at Kastamonu. I was not a gifted teacher and had
trouble managing classes of upwards of 75 middle schoolers. So, I put my
energies into learning the language and into projects like having American
teenagers come from the dependent high school in Ankara to visit my lise
students in their homes over a weekend. Also I helped the lise seniors learn
and perform a play in English. I was relieved to be placed at Gazi
Pedigogical Institute in Ankara my second year where classes were small and
students, teachers to be, were more eager to learn.
Volunteers (PCVs) in single sites got better in Turkish faster and more
completely than those of us who had American roommates, especially those of
us in cities. From the beginning in the provinces, learning Turkish was a
daily effort. We spent many long evenings in the homes of fellow teachers
and covered a remarkable range of topics in our discussions—word by word,
pantomime by pantomime, wearing out our little dictionaries as we searched
for words. Television was still several years away from Central Anatolia.
We and our hosts were each other’s drama and entertainment. We reenacted
history those evenings, episodes of the World Wars, the Turkish War of
Independence, the Crusades, Korea, US movies, especially kizildereli and
gangester films, the game of baseball, the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event
that was unfolding during our first week in town.( An early vocabulary
word, abluka—blockade—from the 10-point headline in the Turkish
newspaper one morning.)
One day in
the teachers’ lounge, the gym teacher and I were talking about our national
flags, what the stars and stripes stood for on ours. He was explaining to me
the symbolism of the Turkish flag, the red color. He kept repeating a word
that I did not know.
He pointed to his heart, gestured to indicate his circulatory system. He was
working himself into a patriotic frenzy as I continued to be puzzled.
There was no dictionary at hand. At length, he rushed across the room, took
a needle from one of the women teachers, held the pad of his thumb up, stuck
the needle in it, and quickly squeezed out a big red drop of blood.
Kan! By God.
forgot that bit of vocabulary or the blood shed in teaching it to me.
I moved in
to Ankara the second year and found myself, with three other volunteers, in
a centrally heated apartment, eating at restaurants as in the vilayet, and
transported about by dolmus and city bus. In the city I had to push myself
to maintain improvement in the language, and I enrolled in Turkish classes
that met during the whole year. I spent much of my free time with people
who were my Turkish teachers, university graduates and their friends who
were writers, actors, other beginning professionals. We spent a lot of
time together, eating, talking until all hours over raki and meze, and
simultaneously practicing Turkish. My Gazi students and I produced a play
based on a Turkish short story that the literature teacher in Kastamonu and
I had translated. It was a big hit and I think it helped me get hired as a
staff member for the next two years. My Turkish had become adequate for
negotiating with government memurs and managing most crises, but I was
always best at informal conversation.
job was about the best job I have ever had. It allowed me to postpone my
return to the US for another two years and it put me in touch with several
hundred more PCVs, up to Turkey 12 or so. I had a large blue Jeep with a
huge six cylinder engine, one of the Peace Corps original vehicles, that
would fly over the mostly dirt roads of my new territory, the southwest
quadrant of Anadolu. I had a gas voucher and a per diem allowance well in
excess of my needs. My responsibility was to visit the volunteers in the
area, Balikesir to Antlaya, Izmir to Afyon, and including seaside gems like
Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye, and Alanya. I also visited rural and urban
community development volunteers informally.
I was to
visit all the Peace Corps teachers in their schools, meet their
supervisors, call on the local and vilayet education officials, sometimes
kaymakams and valis, and to help work out any professional or personal
problems. Almost universally, my visits were an occasion of celebration by
the volunteers and their friends. They were always glad to see me.
The bad part
of the job came toward the end of the two years, when we ran out of hope and
luck and naďve magical thinking that we could put young Americans in almost
any situation and assume they would be able to do useful work, contribute,
and be fulfilled. This was the experience of the urban community development
project with volunteers entering communities as health workers fighting
tuberculosis. Between inception (poorly planned) and arrival in Turkey of
the volunteers there had been a great shift in the political climate, and
the sharp rise of an anti-Americanism that did not countenance so loosely
constructed an idea. Scores of new volunteers with nothing to do but
rudimentary make work became more and more discouraged and angry. And the
Peace Corps would not acknowledge failure and pay their way home. Some did
leave, most were absorbed into other programs, and after a year that
particular crisis passed, but it took much of the joy out of the whole
One of the
most personally unpleasant experiences came midway through my third year. I
had moved my household goods to Antalya, planning to set up the regional
office there.( I changed later to Izmir, a more accessible location.)
Antalya at the time had one traffic light, a population of maybe 70,000,
horse-drawn faytons for public transport, and few real tourist facilities.
that the two men I had hired to carry furniture up to my third floor
apartment had stolen some of my stuff, a jacket and a radio. I reported the
loss to the police who were very sympathetic and very apologetic to the
mufetis effendi, the victimized guest. They assured me the thief must be a
Gypsy, and the guy we found later in the day on the street wearing my jacket
was indeed unusually dark and lanky. They seemed relieved to confirm that
he was a Gypsy. They told me to come to court the next morning.
This was my
first experience with law enforcement or the court system, but I went into
it with just enough confidence to be careless. My Turkish was up to the task
for I had already proven myself able to deal with a range of players up and
down the social scale.
was a victimized guest here where a ready hospitality could be counted on to
overpower almost any shortcoming the guest might display, and I had come to
rely –excessively as it turned out—on my status as a professional and a
that I was to wait at the rear of the small courtroom until the prisoner was
brought in and then to move forward to the judge’s bench and answer his
questions. I waited for several other plaintiffs to proceed with their
business, and as my turn approached I moved to the center of the aisle,
relaxed, one hand in my pants pocket.
there was a commotion behind me. Two court clerks had spring forward and
silently but harshly jerked my hand from my pocket.
that, I felt all the confidence leak out of me like a punctured balloon,
displaced equally with a rush of heat that spread through my midsection, up
through my chest, and into my face and ears.
through the rest of the procedure. My jacket and radio were returned, the
thief was taken away, and I finally escaped, avoiding the eyes of the clerks
who had straightened me out so forcefully.
moments I had felt the full force of culture shock, being so abruptly
reminded of where I was and of how I had dropped my guard, lulled into
ignoring ever so briefly the social cues that I thought I had mastered.
Culture, which I thought I had subdued, just flew up and hit me full in the
face. I had forgotten my place.
embarrassed myself in other ways and other settings, and I was cornered and
exposed more than once to public ridicule by anti-American partisans who
assaulted me with questions I could not answer in a concise or persuasive
manner. (“What are you foreigners doing here?” “ What exactly is community
development?” “ What do you mean by that?” “ Do you think we need you to
come here to tell us how to manage our lives?” “What could you possibly have
to teach us?”) But I never again went so casually into an arena like a
courtroom where a careful display of respect was always required.
second two years in Turkey I was ready to leave. I was able to avoid the US
for another ten months, travelling overland to Singapore and back through
East Africa to Turkey and Europe, a journey I loosely repeated twice in
subsequent decades, through territories an American can no longer cross.
Back to the
United States in 1968 I spotted women in mini-skirts on the street when I
arrived in Manhattan, and I first thought they must be showgirls on break
between performances. But when I discovered they were dressed that way
everywhere, I realized I had returned to a wonderful new place that was very
different from the country I had left in 1962. Not just mini-skirts, but
hippies, and war protesters, and desegregated public places and voting
rights newly widespread.
I got a job
in Atlanta at an old southern bi-racial organization called the Southern
Regional Council where John Lewis worked for a time, between Selma and
membership in Congress, and where Vernon Jordan ran a regional voter
registration project. I worked editing research publications and reporting
on events around the South related to desegregation and civil rights. I
covered a number of events over the two years I was there, including the
funeral of Martin Luther King , Jr. and a three-month hitch with the press
office of the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington in the summer of 1968.
Corps staff job and the influence of mentors like David Berlew, a Peace
Corps/ Turkey director who had just left the Harvard/MIT psychology
department and who first told me about his former colleague Timothy Leary
and about his work in organizational psychology with small experiential
T-Groups, revived an interest I had had in psychology since high school.
Encountering the problems of PCVs—like the effects of loneliness, isolation,
depression and hopelessness, and of relationships with uncertain rules and
twists—had fueled my interest in psychotherapy. I tried a job in a
psychiatric hospital, liked it, and went on to graduate school.
let me practice psychotherapy for the next 25 years, until November, 2001.
After that I joined my wife (married in 1972) and son (born in 1978) in the
family business, residential construction. For a period there I had
state licenses in psychology, marriage and family therapy, and general
contracting. Until the recent downturn, we were building houses
speculatively in the intown neighborhoods of Atlanta.
maintained my connection with Turkey by frequently returning there, by
keeping up my practice of the language, and by cooking and eating Turkish
trip back was for the entire summer in 1970 when my brother and I spent two
and a half months crewing on the charter sailboat owned by Turkey IV’s
Richard Sherrington and Carl Helms. We rented an apartment in the old city
on the Island of Rhodes and helped carry charter parties over along the
Turkish coast for one to two-week tours. This was before the boom in Blue
Cruises or of Turkish tourism in general. We often sailed into the Marmaris
harbor as the only sail in sight. Now Marmaris, Bodrum, Fethiye, all those
coastal towns are covered with sailboats, the marinas looking like bare
forests of masts.
seen most of the sights of Turkey, I have found great pleasure in showing
the whole thing to other people. By 2010, I have returned to Turkey seven
times for periods of from two to six weeks. I took my wife in 1976 and 2010,
my son and two brothers-in-law in 1993, my brother and best friend in 1995,
two neighbors in 2002, and I went with a Turkish couple in 2005. Over the
years I have helped many other people plan trips.
I have a
number of Turkish acquaintances who live in Atlanta, not only the typical
Turkish expatriate professional physician or engineer, but also an
entrepreneur house builder and an alcoholic who lives in his van. We get
together often for meals and compete in preparing dishes and meze. With them
I keep myself in practice with the language and have a habit of thinking
about how I would express a particular idea in Turkish, then checking it out
with them. The language puts me in touch with a great variety of people. I
recently encountered a young Afghani American, brought here by his parents
as a preteen, already speaking Turkish that he learned in a Fethullah Gulen
school in Kabul. After finishing high school in the neighborhood adjoining
mine he has been working for the US Army in Helmond province. Another
unusual acquaintance was an Azeri Turkish speaker, a friend’s high school
exchange student from Baku who had never been to Turkey but learned standard
Turkish by watching television programs from Istanbul. Once I met a guy here
in Atlanta who was on a visit with the Friendship Force from the Soviet
Union when it was just about to dissolve. The only language we had in common
was Turkish, neither of our native tongues. He had learned it at Moscow
University and had worked at the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. His Turkish
was better than mine, but he probably really was a spy. I often overhear
Turkish in a place like a supermarket and sometimes break into the
conversation with something like, “Merhaba, hemserim; nereye boyle?”
have kept in touch with Turkey via the palate. I have been learning to cook
Turkish food since about the second year in Turkey when I realized how much
I liked it and stopped trying to reproduce American food there (Remember
An American Cook in Turkey?) I have many cookbooks, and I prepare
Turkish dishes about half the time, mostly soups, vegetables and zeytin
yagli meze, and every variation of eggplant. I know where to find good
Mediterranean food (including Turkish) in many places, from Atlanta where
there are now a dozen Turkish restaurants and a couple of real bakkals to
Knoxville to the Bay Area to Amsterdam. I check them out anywhere I travel
and have found them from Seattle to Singapore and New Zealand. And I have
seen the Western world come to a fascination with Turkish cuisine, including
two expatriate Americans who have developed a blog , Istanbuleats.com that
examines the endless variations of new eating places in that city.
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