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Turkey 1 Bios

Warren Pritchard


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. 

So, Peace 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. 

In Turkey 

We were 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. 

Peace Corps 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.

I never 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. 

The staff 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 experience. 

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. 

I discovered 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. 

Moreover, I 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 foreigner. 

I understood 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.

Suddenly, there was a commotion behind me. Two court clerks had spring forward and silently but harshly jerked my hand from my pocket. 

And with 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. 

I stumbled 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. 

In those 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. 

I 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. 

Back Home 

After my 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. 

My Peace 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. 

A doctorate 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.

                                                                   Staying Connected

I have maintained my connection with Turkey by frequently returning there, by keeping up my practice  of the language, and by cooking and eating Turkish food. 

My first 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. 

Once having 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?” 

Finally I 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. 

Warren Pritchard

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