This is for all the great people I met in
Turkey. I have no answers for you, but I
have not forgotten you either. I hope that
still means something! Zulu Delta
Across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean Sea, up the Strait of Dardanelles, and over the Sea of Marmara, lies the seaport of Golcuk, in the country of Turkey. Besides my handy Google maps, how do I know this? Because when I was 20 years young, I followed this route as a sailor in the U.S. Navy. Make no mistake, most 20 year Old’s have no idea what lies in their own backyard, never mind a Turkish naval base in the shadow of Istanbul (say it…..”not Constantinople!”). I wasn’t sure of who, or what I would find smack in the middle of the former Ottoman Empire, not far from the Bosporus, or Istanbul Strait which is another narrow waterway that leads up to the Black Sea, and at the time, the aquatic back door to the USSR; Mother Russia herself.
What did I learn, what did I find? First there is Ataturk! “The Father of Turkey.” The man who was responsible for bringing Turkey into the modern world. He built schools, and made attendance mandatory. He tasked woman to be great, and educate. His words became the country motto ” We work for peace at home, peace in the world.” We learned the stories of Ataturk from the locals we met; from the restaurant keeper who fed us amazing plates of grilled lamp in warm pita bread with french fries, and Coca-Colas, to the barbers who cut our hair at the local shop, to the Turkish sailors we played soccer against. Not meaning any disrespect, we would affectionately play on the old saying “at-a-boy” as we called to our new friends; “Ataturk!”
My three most unusual observations? 1. Tea Time. Encouraged by Ataturk himself, Turkey began increased activity in the growing, harvesting, and serving of local tea. When it’s tea time and it’s common, the whole town stops. From cafe’s, to young boys running down the street with trays of tea glasses; when tea is served, it doesn’t matter if your welding in the shipyard, or in the middle of a haircut, tea time is for stopping, and drinking tea. Period!
2. One group of Turkish sailors I met knew more about the TV show / night time soap opera Dallas than any other people I have ever encountered. Worst of all, they wanted to talk about it all the time. I hated the whole idea of the show, had never seen it, and didn’t have the heart to tell them that I didn’t even understand my Texas shipmates who sometimes slept in the rack above, and to starboard of me, never mind some Hollywood cream puffs living out fictitious lives as Urban Cowboys.
The number One observation? A group of sailors had descended upon a large open park to play a game of softball. In the process, we noticed a group of local kids hanging around. Sailors being great ambassadors, approached them and asked them if they wanted to “play.” Play really meant teaching the young guys how to hit, pitch, and catch. It was a great afternoon all around. After a couple of hours, a few of the sailors, and local boys had left. Playing for awhile in the hot sun, I had the idea for something to drink. At this time in my life, dehydration had not been invented yet, so I was thinking that a couple of Cokes would be good. Being the rich American sailor that I was, making $1.15 a day, I wanted to spring for drinks. Not being sure if the “playground protocol” was the same in Turkey, I spoke to one of the young kids. I pulled out some money, and told him how I wanted to buy drinks, and would he be kind enough to run to the store with his friends for us. Not sure what kind of kids we were actually dealing with, I figured the worst that could happen is that I would be out some soda money if the “deal went south.” The oldest kid immediately nodded with agreement, and with a few quick words to his friends took off. I began to scream after him that he forgot to take the money, and envisioned the headlines that “U.S. sailors coaxed local kids into a soda crime ring!” We were not sure of what to think when the young boys returned with arms full of sodas. I immediately began to recount how the boys took off without any money. I will never forget the picture of what happened next. The oldest boy began to wave his finger at me and said “You are guest in our country; you are not allowed to pay for these drinks!” We were stunned. After some serious debate, and rejection of ideas of tying up the kids and stuffing the money in their pockets, we were force to relent after the boys told us that if we gave them money, we would be shaming them, their parents, their country, and Ataturk himself. I have never seen such kindness by children so young in any country.