Christmas greetings! This is my last episode from Turkey. We ran out of money..about two to four months from when our sites would be complete..call it politics. The government wasn't about to kick out another dime when we sprang about thirteen million dollars worth of changes and the cash registers weren't done adding it all up. Everyone is disappointed that we're so close to being finished and can't but they're happy to go home. The government is going to try it's hand at contracting. Word is it's screwed up from the start even with the head start we gave them. Call me and I'll fill you in on the complexities of overseas construction..it's mind boggling. Murphy's Law was adopted from overseas construction. I apologize for not writing sooner but it's like a good book that you can't put down.
In my last form letter, I gave you a brief intro to Turkey. (I had some complaints that it was hard to read. If you can't read this, let me know and I'll see about a braille translation..just kidding.)
As a going away gift from my friends at the Halifax County Little Theater, I was given a camera. Like everyone living abroad, I chose to take pictures. Less than a hundred yards away from our office is the Israeli Embassy. To show my friends back home how much everyone loves Israel (the place is like Fort Knox), I thought I'd make it one of those touchy feely Kodak moments you see on TV. One click of the camera brought the attention of the nearby guards..ouzi machine guns at their side, sitting under a nearby tree sucking down chi (tea). Nope! They didn't offer me any but I wouldn't refuse their hospitality. I realized right there that it may not have been the right time for a Kodak moment. Turks take their tea very seriously. Maybe if I would have waited until after tea, they wouldn't have been so pissed. They told me to stay put. I offered them my film which they refused. I flashed my American Embassy badge..you get special privileges under the American plan. (For you Arlo Guthrie fans, this had potential for a sequel to Alice's Restaurant.) This cop jumped in my face and said something. We only had one thing in common..neither spoke the other's language. Hey dude! No Turkish! I was fortunate in that our joint venture partner's office was right next door. Someone came to my rescue and asked what I was doing (in English). Hey..American..just taking pictures! (Really! We should own that little gas station in the desert! We own that embassy! Allies..remember?). After a few explanations, they told me I really wasn't in too deep but they called their supervisor and he had to come see it for himself. Two police cars and forty-five minutes later, they exposed my film and let me go. We were all laughing. For the cost of a roll of film. I got the best laugh I'd had in a long time. Had I been an Arab, Turk, or Iranian, chances are pretty good that I'd still be laughing from a Turkish Jail. The next day, I explained this story to my boss who saw me being interrogated by the Turkish guards..everybody from work saw me! He said there are three things you don't take pictures of: military, police, and embassies. Perhaps Kodak could put warning labels on their film that taking pictures of Embassies could be hazardous to your health. At the time, I didn't know it but someone had bombed the London branch of the Israeli Embassy and also bombed a chartered plane leaving South Africa. I had to go explain it to Marv, our site security representative. No harm done here either. The next time I saw Marv was in the commissary buying more film. I told him I had more embassies to shoot..just kidding Marv!
Shortly after that, the boss asked me to head a team bound for our job site in Tbilisi Georgia, the first country to leave the former Soviet Union. I really didn't want to go..rumors! The first day was an omen on how the rest of the trip went. We left Ankara for Istanbul..no problem. We even went to the local mall for a taste of Americana..KFC, Basking Robbins, bowling, arcade..hey! I could like this. Back into the cab for a journey into hell..terminal C. Terminal C is the clearing house for all the Soviets who made their journey to Mecca..that's how it started. The place is a rummage sale/flea market/three ring circus. It was packed to the rafters with people and stuff..and I mean STUFF! There was everything there. I saw bikes and blankets, car hoods and windshields. I didn't see it but I'm sure there must have been the proverbial kitchen sink! The place was a non-air conditioned sweat box on the hottest day of the year. We were waiting for Air Georgia, nicknamed Scare Georgia by some of the folks who flew on it, to settle up with the Turkish airport authorities on some unpaid fuel bills. We waited for eight hours. I passed the time reading The Sum Of All Fears by Tom Clancy..a nine hundred page novel that is one of those novels that you just can't put down. If you're a Clancy fan, this is by far his best. I felt like I needed a cigarette after I finished it and I don't smoke. It starts out slow for the first five hundred pages but then it moves up to Mach I. And now..back to the show.
My first impressions of Tbilisi were very cold. Hard concrete and stone structures not kept up. Streets in mass decay. It must have been some place twenty years ago. After living there for five weeks, I don't buy into the cold war. These folks can't get their phones to work. Where the KGB left, the Mafia took over. I was frequently awakened to the sound of gun fire, dogs barking, or roosters crowing. Power and water were intermittent. The water was routinely shut off from eleven p.m. to six thirty a. m..
In Yerevan, the only way to guarantee a non-power interrupted evening was to pay off the head of the power plant..five bucks would do..or buy your own generator. Rain fall caused the water to go out..sounds funny doesn't it? I worked my ass off but still managed to get some pictures without getting arrested. I got some shots of the site where the dissolution of the Soviet Union began. If you remember back to 1989, the locals took on the Soviet Army. They had chairs and brooms and the Army brought tanks. Anybody who knows poker knows that a loaded tank beats most any hand you have. Not so bazooka breath! Twenty people died but a year later, the Georgians had their freedom.
If I didn't have to work there, I would have loved Tbilisi. To put it simply..we just weren't wanted there by our associates. We lived in a really nice place that would put most of the homes in the states to shame..hard wood walls and shelves, marble floors..posh but it really didn't make up for the shabby way we were treated..sour grapes I guess. I recently had to write a report on what we did on our trip because the government thought we weren't doing anything. I ONLY came up with six inches of paperwork documentation.
The Georgians were wonderful people. One of the few social events was the weekly softball matches between the Georgian women's softball team and some want to be softball players disguised as construction workers. Softball is about as popular in Georgia as are matches in hell. Some games we'd win and others..let's just say it wasn't pretty. We had a party after one of the games. It was held at a local restaurant complete with armed guard..salty shish kebabs and congealed french fries. A sign of Georgian hospitality (and male virility) is the toast..also a technique for getting drunk. They toasted us and each other to the point where we couldn't eat our food..quite annoying. The table next to us toasted each other so many times that they broke out into a fight..chairs and fists were flying before the police showed up. We bolted the door and headed to the window for safety and a better view. My friend Little Jon and I toured Tbilisi and got to see many of the sites on his motorcycle. Shortly after I left for the first time (I made two visits), it was stolen.
My next stop, in a seemingly endless vagabond tour, was Yerevan Armenia. They had even less power than Georgia but they had it better..an undefeatable spirit. Armenia, for those of you who aren't up on world events, is at war with Azerbaijan and has been for the past six years. The sun just seemed to shine a lot brighter in Armenia than Georgia. The girls were a lot prettier too. A ten in Georgia is a three in America. Anything better is called a tourist. I was a working class fool who spoke only English. Armenian women, on the other hand, were the stuff dreams were made of. I worked constantly and the only ones I was able to come into contact with were the ones I worked with. Little Jon told me some words to live by: you don't dip your pen in the company ink well. I did get to visit a ninth century church and a second century church ruin site. They even had Diet Coke imported from Saudi Arabia..now we're talking! The Embassy had a bar, restaurant, movie theater, and satellite TV. The only channels we got were CNN International and some Turkish, Arab, and Russian channels. The Embassy got AFN..Armed Forces Network. They showed some of the better college games and pro games. I got to see my beloved Huskers romp over UCLA and even Monday Night Football that starts at 4:00 a. m. on Tuesday..weird! Imagine flying to Armenia to watch football. I did a great deal of reading and playing games on the PC.
I stuffed the envelopes with an Armenian Dram note. I've always wanted to be a philanthropist and this was my shot. At the time of purchase, one U. S. Dollar was worth 375 Drams. I cashed in a five dollar bill and was given a stack of them that wouldn't fit in my wallet. Armenians didn't want them. We used them as poker chips. Use it as a book mark..face it folks..the stamp cost more. Be creative.
Fashion has hit some of the Georgians and Armenians. The rest just dress up in your average couch cover. The couch covers are the ones I'll remember..they smell like cheap cigars, have chronic halitosis, and reek of body odor. Ladies..combat boots are in fashion here. It gives a whole new meaning to your mother wears combat boots. About the only U. S. companies to hit these countries are Mars (snickers, skittles, M & M - peanut), Coke. Marlboro, Levis, and Wrangler (they're opening up some stores here). Both places have electric busses. Nivas (a miniaturized jeep) are the main mode of transportation. I did spot the bread lines but the news services are misleading. Bread is the cheapest thing available. The ones in line are the early risers who want to be first. Food is readily available but it's price is beyond the average income. Armenia had an abundance because Azerbaijan had sealed off their borders. Tbilisi had a farmer's market and you could get any type of food at prices comparable to American foods..even had roadside stands with goods flown in from Terminal C.
Americans are greeted with the sincerest of kindness. They are quite inquisitive as to your thoughts of their country. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people but that is any country's greatest wealth. They really don't view themselves as poor but they really appear to be from my eyes. They are distraught by a system they worked a lifetime for that let them down and can no longer depend on. Picture in your mind someone near retirement counting on a system to take care of them that no longer exists and a nation that can't foot the bill..food for thought. Charities are trying to help but they seemed more concerned about their tennis game than helping.
My return to Tbilisi brought an interesting world event. Shevardnaidze had just resigned. The Embassy informed Americans not to go out at all. I didn't know this but went out anyway with no detrimental occurrences. People gathered around public buildings just hoping for any kind of news. It was fascinating. I had just left Tbilisi when the subsequent crash of the ruble happened. One dollar was worth around 1900 rubles when I first got there. It kept climbing over the two months to over 2600. In one day, it went to 3200.
Staying out of trouble, for me, is a full time job. I'd been working late and was driving the boss's Niva home. He left a couple of beers in the refrigerator for me. I took him up on one of them as I was heading home. I should have thought about the many road blocks they have in Tbilisi..drunken driving is quite high. I only had one sip from the can before I passed one of those roadblocks. Our vehicles have Embassy tags and most authorities don't mess with you if they know you're American. I drove on by. Watching my rearview mirror, I saw the expression on the cop's face that he didn't care if I was an American..pull over. I locked up the Niva spilling beer all over the floor. Then the cop realized I was American and waved me on. Imagine me trying to explain in my non-existent Russian what the beer on the floor and in my breath was all about. Fortunately, the only explaining I had to do was about the beer on the floor to the boss.
The ambassador ruled out most forms of nightlife. Some of the crew start up Saturday night parties that were quite popular with the local females. The local males weren't invited. To express their displeasure, they showed up with guns..end of parties. We had a few other parties. One of the guys had a bash where nothing really got out of hand but the landlord had his eviction notice at 7:00 a. m. the next morning. The landlord shortly came to his senses realizing all that American green would be lost if he booted his tenant. Another time, we rented a bar at five bucks a head for all the beer and food you could consume..another armed guard waiting at the door - protection.
Two months of living on the road left me tired and glad to leave Tbilisi for the second time. We checked into our flight waiting for our boarding call when we got a call from the Embassy. We were headed for Turkey via Azerbaijan. Remember, Azerbaijan and Armenia are at war. The war moved into Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, our destination. Sorry folks, you can't go. We found out later that the plane took off and turned around thirty minutes into it's flight..airport was closed. Back on board The Moving Violation, our driver's van, that truly was a violation. We put duct tape on the windshield so we didn't have to see the crack (more like the San Andreas Fault). Six bald tires, if you include the steering wheel and the spare, but you didn't dare put your feet on the seats. Nordic, our driver, looking like that buggy eyed Monty Python character, refused to drive down main street out of fear in getting a ticket. There was a standing order for his arrest. Four more days in Georgia and then another Scare Georgia flight to Turkey..connecting flight to Ankara and I was home.
The past couple of months, I've been experiencing all of Turkey's best foods and the rest of what life has to offer in Turkey. We get some interesting excursions during the lunch hour. You would be surprised how creative these Turks are with a goat. Once we found out the money was gone and we were all going home, morale, which was in the toilet, went down even further. It's my goal to make them happy. I made a trip to one of the Turkish bathhouses. Let me tell you, they don't rub you the wrong way..strictly legit. First stop was the sauna and then to the steam room. They scrub you from head to toe with what seems like a Brillo pad. The pounds of skin I lost.. Last stop was the message. This guy got the skin burning with just a little baby oil and some serious massaging. There's the optional cold plunge made to simulate rolling in the snow and a barber / manicurist. It all came down to less than fifteen bucks without the haircut. It's something I'd do once for the experience. I've learned enough Turkish to visit the grocer and tell him how many grams of something I want. Still can't get my face slapped with out some English interjected. Even more daring..driving. I did it! In my last letter, I expressed my apprehensions about driving in Turkey. I've done it about a dozen times. What worries me is getting back to the states and driving like they do here while I'm back there..stay off the roads. The guys at work say I'm not aggressive enough.
Most of the folks are buying at least one carpet. The roommate has been on my case to buy one until one of his prized rugs turned out to be machine made. I'm not a homey person. If I can hang my head, I'm happy. Give me a store filled with electronics or computer programs and I'm in hog heaven. They put nearly a 100% tariff on electronic stuff. Who knows? I may still buy a rug. They're about half the price of the ones in the states. My 'carpet' is a leather jacket.
Tonight's a big wedding for one of the guys I work with. An American wedded to a Turk. I know of four weddings of my associates. Three of the four are Americans wedding locals. I equate weddings to funerals..somebody's dying. This will be my second Turk wedding. The first one was a spectacle. The mayor was the official celebrant and the two witnesses were members of Turkish parliament. Payoffs are accepted business practice in Turkey. These folks were obviously on the payroll. the ceremony didn't last more than fifteen minutes but they were just as married. Being a catholic which believes in the 24 hour wedding ceremony, I really liked this. The celebrant announces that he or she has conducted an extensive search and can find no reason why the couple shouldn't be married. The groom gives the bride some kind of book that says they're married and this one's in the society column. Next comes the reception..now the fun starts. I wasn't invited to this part but the tales still come filtering out. The really high society ones are quite lavish. This one came with a band and a belly dancer. The belly dancer came away with more money in one night than a Turk college professor makes in a month..two hundred dollars. It's a feast.
Speaking of weddings, a former prominent character of my letters is having his..eh..funeral..eh..I mean wedding, Mr. Ed. Three words..DON'T DO IT! Don't get married..get a dog. Just kidding! I'll do my best to be there..see the next paragraph. It will take some doing to make up for his 'loss'. For those of you watching my marital status, I'll be checking the single bracket on the 94 return.
As for me..my next adventure..Alaska. Yes! Alaska. I found out this week that's my next destination. I'll be living in Kodiak..the second largest island in the U. S. located in southern Alaska. I'm supposed to be there a minimum of one year working for a small firm out of Omaha doing construction administrative work for the burrow of Kodiak. I'm hoping to learn how to scuba dive. Deep sea fishing wouldn't be bad either. Too bad I sold my four wheeler. I'm not taking anything more than what I took to Turkey. I'll have to buy it all there. Anybody know somebody from there, please let me know..need a place to live. Kodiak is supposed to be fairly modern. There was a write up about Kodiak in the May 93 National Geographic. My computer atlas contradicts itself stating that the average winter temp is 10 or -1 Celsius. If you know about the metric system, -1 degrees is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm hoping for 30 degrees but expecting 10 degrees F.
I was singing I'll Be Home For Christmas in June and I'm still singing it now. I'll be leaving here on the twentieth bound for Omaha. I'll be in KC to bring in the New Year and to watch the mighty Huskers lose another bowl game. Then it's back to Virginia to wrap things up with one trip to Myrtle Beach already in the works. I've tentatively scheduled January 15, 1995 as my departure date but I wont know until I get everything settled with my boss. I've folk address so you may contact me. They'll know where I'm at.
1994 was a happening year for me and one that I will cherish. If I didn't like what was happening, I didn't have to wait to long for it to change. One more kid in this world has to call me uncle. 1995, hopefully, will be just as exciting for you and me. I'll keep you posted on my end. Would I go overseas again? Depends on where I was sent. I loved Ankara. It didn't take too much travel before I wound up in the middle of nowhere. I was living in the better part of Ankara..it had it's bad spots too. I didn't get a chance to visit some of the beaches or the more touristy spots in Turkey. I had no vacation time. Tbilisi and Yerevan were nice places to visit but I wouldn't and didn't like staying there for an extended period of time. About a day would do. I would recommend it to my friends provided they were careful about where they were going. Bring plenty of books to read..not much to do once you see everything there is to see.
For those of you who have read this stuff, I apologize. Just want you to know I am thinking about you. Keep those cards and letters coming. For all of you, have a cool yule and my God bless!