A letter to my friends from my first days in Turkey

I don't think I'll ever have another month like May again! I wasn't worried about my job. Then they told me I'd better start looking. I looked, found, and now I'm in TURKEY! I thought I'd be spending another summer in Virginia, leaving town to get away from those all too familiar faces, and slowly trying to tug Mr. Ed from impending doom. If I could explain all the coincidences. For some unrevealed reason, I was letting my supply stock of food and Diet Coke dwindle into nothing. It's unheard of for me to let the DC stock get low. Somehow, deep inside, I knew something was going to happen before they let me know my job was in peril, I just had that gut reaction. My little voice has rarely let me down. The day of the first phone call was the most ironic. Mr. Ed and I were discussing if we would go work overseas. I told him I would in a heartbeat. That was the evening I received the call from BHIC and it changed my entire life. It surely seemed that God kicked His plan for me into high gear. There's a song we sing at church that closely parallels my recent activities..Be Not Afraid. It's always had special meaning for me and even more so now. I believe they played it at Dan's funeral. It's about taking a journey into life not knowing what is in store but having faith that God will go and protect you through barren deserts, perilous seas, in your journey to seek Him out..Be Not Afraid. The song has always put a lump in my throat. While I try, it's hard to sing because of that lump. I was apprehensive but not afraid. For whatever reason, God has always looked out for me. I think of it as an excellent adventure of unbelievable proportions.

Attaturk's Home

There were two basic reactions of my friends; "Why" and "Why not". The normally conservative Dad said "Go for it". I needed that. The whys came from the small town friends who hadn't ventured out into the world too much. The why nots came from those who had seen some of the country and possibly, the world. They were apt to be married. To the whys, I would respond "why not". I'm single with nothing to hold me back. It's a short term thing and everything I've read or heard has been positive. The why nots probably wanted to go in my place wishing they had done it when they could have.

In less then three weeks, I sold all I could, a quad, a truck, hopefully a washer and dryer, a refrigerator, two AC units, PC and printer, and countless items of furniture too. What I couldn't give away, sell, or deposit in the dumpster, I stored at Chris's house. I had money coming and going constantly. As long as more came out that went in, that's not bad. For the most part now, I have it all coming in. I was probed, poked, and finger printed. I spoke to Cheryl for the first time in five months. Even helped her get my house. Still can't believe that one. Even called Kellie. It's been four weeks of turmoil. I think the worst thing was saying good-bye to so many good friends. They will be what I miss most. I don't have my bike. While I miss it, a greater wisdom was not taking it. I would be fair game for every driver around here. Guess I'll just have to do some walking. It's nice having everything taken care of: a rent paid furnished apartment, rides to work, a maid to clean, company vehicles to drive at our leisure...I work with a great bunch of folks aching for adventure and fun. They've already scouted out the good spots to go. Saves a lot of time and misadventures. It's another family setting where we look out for one another. I'm really glad that there's a bunch of youngsters too. I can live with my short timer roommate. The first one I've had in seven years.

An Overview Of Ankara

Work is weird. The job itself is a great one although I don't enjoy working fifty-five hours a week. The project is totally negotiated on a cost reimbursement basis. Unlike most projects, you try to keep a close rein on project material and you try to order exactly what quantities are needed. Here, if order a thousand times too much, that's OK as long as you order enough. The process of locating an item (especially one from the US), ordering, and shipping it outweighs any overruns. EVERYTHING is paid for by our hard earned US tax dollars. We don't purposefully run up the bill but I know there are some shipments with a lot of extra material that will be turned over to the government for future use or end up in some local's goat farm. We have three girls who bring us tea and coffee..ah..poverty! FBO wouldn't approve a VCR or a TV but we could have a satellite. I'd like to stay with this company after this project is over but the prospects of continued work after this project aren't too promising at the moment. I can handle life in the states or abroad anyway.

Weather has been like a dream..balmy 80 temps. Mostly overcast. If this is any indication of summer, forget about swimming. We're on the same latitude as Philadelphia so the weather should be the same.

The women around town are really good looking and friendly. We have some really good looking ones at work. Men are seemingly calm and easygoing. It's OK for men to dance with men in public places. That's usually reserved for women in the states. We'd just call them fags and immediately dismiss them. Turkish people are seemingly docile yet passionate folks. They are very warm to friends and strangers. They greet their friends and loved ones with the old double peck on the cheek. This will take some getting used to. Frequently you seek folks walking hand in hand and arm in arm. I've never felt like the ugly American..just welcome.

Pornography exists in Turkey. We were forewarned that it's a no-no to bring into this country but that's an Arab thing. Ankara has a porno theater. It's rumored to have a strip joint. It does have belly dancing joints. You can buy the Turkish versions of Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler for around 80,000 lira and English versions of the same cost about 600,000. The boss even told me about his encounter with a hooker..sorry but this does little to enhance your corporate reputation.

Gasoline runs over two bucks a gallon. Houses and rents are about the same as the metropolitan areas in the states. I know the company pays eight-hundred a month for this apartment. I've seen the construction techniques they use on the houses around here and I wouldn't want to live in one in spite of how good they look. Actually, they're not houses but medium and high rise buildings. Single family structures don't exist in the city. They are reserved for living out of town. Little attention is paid to the structure itself. Labor is by hand. I've seen several instances of settling pavements. They don't have plywood here. OSHA would have a field day..fly by night construction lives in Turkey. There's no safety precautions taken at all. Makeshift is a good description. Welding without a mask, much more blinding than just looking at the sun, no hard hats, no fall protection, or other safety precautions that most would not work without back in the states, are everyday happenstance around here.

Five star hotels are allowed to have Casinos. There's one in the Hilton. The Sheraton had one but lost all it's business to the Hilton. The corner markets still exist here. One stop shopping here means one stop at the butcher, the baker, the canned goods store, and the vegetable market. Bread is made and bought locally. It doesn't last long because they don't use preservatives. Turks aren't anywhere near as health conscious as Americans. Marlboro is everywhere. Lo-fat, diet (with the exception of Coke), lite, and all the other buzz words for low calorie or healthy type foods are not found here. Milk is whole milk. What American foods I don't find in the stores, I get in the mail from the folks or the US Air Force Base Exchange..a small grocery store located on a nearby US military post. I miss the convenience of one stop shopping and the selections of the grocery stores back home but eating out is really cheap, cheaper than eating at home. Restaurants are as abundant as cabs. I really enjoy the foreign cuisine including the local Pizza Hut right down the street and two McDonald's located downtown. Once I know what to order from the Turkish establishments, I'll be better off. Lamb, goat, and chicken are popular meats. Ham does exist in Turkey but you have to hunt for it. Yogurt is very popular. Beef is mainly served on pizzas and resembles sausage. There are lots of fresh vegetables. Frozen ones are likely to be freezer burnt. Like in Mexico, don't drink the water. Bottled water is the fare. Many restaurants serve bottled water in lieu of the tap water served as drinking water served by most US restaurants.

With the exception of food, American and Japanese Brands are the most popular in Turkey. T-shirts with American logos are the mainstay in spite of the wearer not knowing what it says. Magazine covers tantalize with revealing covers only to leave the reader high and dry. Coke, Pepsi, and their respective soft drink lines exist in Turkey. Beer is local, Efes - a very good beer, but mixed drinks are brands familiar to all Americans. Electronics are the same except that it's 208 volts here and it's 120 volts in the States. It's a love hate relationship I have with my Radio Shack voltage converter. The plugs don't fit well and the slightest movement cuts off the power to whatever I'm using.

There are a few single screen theaters in town. They play American movies with Turkish subtitles. Mike's girlfriend, Arzo, is a translator and has begun to do vocal over dubs translating English TV shows to Turkish. Movies arrive here about two to three months after they leave the states. Video rentals are limited to the tapes they offer at the US Embassy. The Ankara Daily, a local paper, and the International Herald Tribune, a joint venture by the Washington Post and the New York Times and available at the Base Exchange and US Embassy are the only English papers available here. The Sheraton has week old copies of US papers such as L. A. Times and USA Today.

The conservative head cover worn by Muslim women is the exception rather than the rule. I've seen very few inside this city. I also see a great number of working women. This month's National Geographic has an excellent article on the plight of women in Turkey as well as other facets of life here. Ankara considers itself to be a European nation. It's a little far away from Europe to be considered that. It's supposed to be one of the most stable countries in the middle east. With the exception of the Kurds, who like the Palestinians, are in search of a home and inflation (at the beginning of the year one buck was worth ten thousand lira and the banks are paying fifty percent interest on a year CD), I'd agree. Good thing I get paid in American dollars. You convert your money from American to Lira in small amounts due to the fluctuating economy. Pity the average Turk who has to live with this inflation. Many companies, including ours, use Ankara as their base for conducting business in less stable countries.

Using company records, Americans outproduce Turkish labor 4-1. The Turks outproduce the local labor 4-1. We pay the Turks around minimum wage and the local help around sixty-seven cents an hour.

Lawnmowers..forget them. I've seen the old fashioned non-gasoline push mowers and even cutting the grass with the scissor type hedge clipper.

I feel rather awkward with my limited communication skills. My mind drifts back to my ninth grade searching for that proper French conjugation but that won't help me here nor will my limited Spanish or German. I'm always at the mercy of the person I'm dealing with. So far, I haven't been cheated to my knowledge. I always used to pity the foreigner for his inability to communicate with the Americans but still, I could not truly empathize with them because I hadn't walked in his shoes. Now, I can. I'm trying to learn Turkish but I'm a little too self-conscientious. Turks are required to take seven years of foreign language in school..not a bad idea. English and German are the most popular second languages. Getting used to new currency and converting to the metric system has the mind racing in conversions. There's a radio station in town called Capitol Radio. It specializes in American pop and oldies all in English. Sometimes, they speak English. It makes being so far from home a little easier. Monroe's is the spot for "ex-pats"..Ex-patriots..US citizens living in Ankara. There also a large number of English speaking Turks. Since we have no TV, I'm learning to appreciate reading again. I need to learn to write more too. Phone calls overseas cost two to three bucks a minute.

Ankara is a town of four million. I live in an apartment complex complete with security cameras, and security fence. Still, I've never felt unsafe walking the streets. Police occupy nearly every corner with machine guns. Most have these Spartan huts that shield them from inclement weather. A great number direct rush hour traffic. Others wander seemingly aimlessly in patrol cars and trucks riding in groups of three. If forced to guess, I'd surmise that most men are either cops, waiters, or cabbies. I work in the former Saudi Arabian embassy. I live a block from the Libyan embassy and pass several in my travels. In spite of it's factory made appearances, I get off on the architecture of the high rise buildings in which most people live.

Pollution is rampant. Buses and cars spew black smoke everywhere. I find it hard to breathe sometimes when I'm walking. I'm told that in winter, the black smoke from chimney fires produces a black fog so thick that you can't see the city from the outskirts of town.

Five times a day, Ho-jo's, men sing religious songs broadcast on sound systems coming from their local temples. It's a call for people to go to the temple and pray. We haven't found anyone willing to go ask the ho-jo if he takes requests..a little Guns & Roses would make Axel Rose proud. Salesman selling vegetables and simit, similar to a Jewish bagel with a brown crust and much harder, also get into the neighborhood noise thing. I like the simit man myself. They also have specialists in cooked corn on the cob. The egg vendors have odd looking blue three-wheeled motor scooters. It's hard not to notice these dudes.

Things I miss most about home; friends, bike, truck, being able to pick up the phone and call someone long distance with out paying a ton, salads (they have to be washed with local water), movies, TV, Taco Bell, the beach, concerts, news, baseball, grocery stores, ice cream.

In spite of my complaints and things I miss, I'll remember this place fondly when I leave. I'd stay here for quite some time if they'd let me. It will certainly be one hell of a memory..an excellent adventure of awesome proportions. I feel, in a way, like I've never felt before. It's as if I'm representing my country and in some ways, I am. I take great pride in that and I hope I can do it well. I've never felt a great streak of patriotism inside.

I actually got a decent night of sleep last night. Someday, I'll get caught up. It was my first day that they put me to work. That's what they pay me for and I enjoy doing most.

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