"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."   - Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Notes on a Turkish Train Pass" is back! Merhaba, My Friends!

     Hello once again from Anatolia (the region now known as Turkey). I know it's been a long time since I've written you from here, and I apologize to all of you who have been checking the website every day hoping to see another post. Things are quite different for me this year. Christine had to stay home and get back to work at Camarillo High, so here I am on my own. For just one year, believe me. It's a bit lonely for sure. But the days are passing quickly. Tomorrow is the 15th of December already. My lifestyle is different this time around but not all bad. I'm doing more reading than I have in decades, some amateur writing too. I often take the train to Adana and stroll through the city to Atatürk Park, a beautiful and serene place where I find a bench to sit on and read or do school work for a few hours. It's very enjoyable. There are some nice new teachers here from the states who are good kids. Evan and his wife Lauren from Minnesota, Wayne from Orange County in California - a UC Irvine graduate in fact, and Julia from Ohio by way of India where she's been teaching the past few years. They're all young enough to be my children, between the ages of Peter and Allie, but we all enjoy each other's company when we get the chance. Oh, and I've been working out a lot this year with a few of the lady teachers in the evenings. We do workouts with videos from people like Gillian Michaels and Tracey Anderson, and yoga too. Yoga is much harder than I thought. Pretty damn tough for me in fact. I thought yoga was an easy thing. You'd stretch out gently while listening to some Zen type music, maybe have a glass of wine while you're doing it. I had no idea I'd leave the gym those evenings shaking and wobbling like a newborn colt. But this stuff is good for me. I can feel how much tighter and more muscular I am. I can't wait for Christine to see me naked. I think she's going to be impressed.

     In re-capping some of the things that have been going on for me this time around, I need to say my trip back got off to a rough start. I had just sat down in my aisle seat, getting ready to leave L.A., when a guy behind me started trying to stuff his carry-on bag in the bin above me. Well, he dropped the bag and it hit me on the way to the floor. It glanced the left side of my head and ear and bounced hard off my left shoulder. It hurt, and he was really apologetic. But I shook it off and started reading the airplane magazine in front of me. A few second later, a lady walking down the aisle smacked me squarely in the side of my forehead with a small suitcase she was carrying. That really smarted, but she didn't say anything. Just kept walking past me like she didn't notice anything. But the worst thing of all happened to me on the cross Atlantic Ocean flight from Chicago to Frankfurt. One of my most dreaded fears in flying came true when I began to notice a foul smell around me every few minutes. I soon realized that someone around me was passing gas. I kid you not, and it was ugly. The first few times it happened I gave a sort of dirty glance to my right at the guy next to me. He never looked as he slept most of the way. Then I realized it must be coming from behind me. Right behind me. Well, I suffered through this for a while, but after about the twentieth time I stood up and looked around. There was an old guy in the seat behind me who must have weighed about 350 pounds, and he was crocheting or knitting something. I'm not really sure what the difference is. He was kind of dressed like Captain Kangaroo and didn't even look up, the jackass. So, I walked to the back of the plane where the flight attendants were all hanging out in that little room where they keep the food and stuff. I think they were all German, probably because we were headed to Frankfurt. I flagged one down and said, "You're not going to believe this, but the guy behind me keeps passing gas." She said, "Yeah, I keep smelling it too when I walk by there." I asked her if I could move to another seat, and she said sure. So I gathered my stuff, and she walked me to a seat in the front row of our section. Beautiful. No one on either side of me, and all kinds of leg room. And about 15 rows safely away from the sicko.
     Then my bad timing continued as soon as I arrived in Turkey. I got off the plane in Adana about three in the afternoon and jumped on a havaş (airport bus) back to Tarsus. I walked into my apartment here about four o'clock and unpacked a few things. I was pretty tired, so I sat in a big soft chair and started to doze a little. Then my phone beeped. I had a text from Christine saying that our son Patrick's wife Kari was in labor. Five minutes later I had another text announcing that our new granddaughter had arrived. I missed being there to see her by about a day and a half. But of course, I was happy as can be for Patrick and his little family. For all of us. And little McKensie is an angel from Heaven.
     Well, I think it's time to change the pace now. So here you go, another edition of Notes on a Turkish Train Pass:

     One of the best things I've done since I first came to Turkey was travel east over our week long break in early October with my friends Randy and his wife Hermie. They're from Ventura and have been to Turkey a few times in the past. We visited Antakya, Antioch in ancient times. This was at one time the most important city in the world and the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Caesar spent time there as did Anthony and Cleopatra. It is also known as the "Cradle of Christianity." St. Peter evangelized there, as well as St. Paul (remember he was from Tarsus). It is in this historic city that the followers of Jesus Christ were first called "Christians." From there we visited Gaziantep where we saw its new mosaic museum and the most incredible mosaics from Roman times. Then we went to Urfa, the city where the prophet Abraham is believed to have come from. We even saw the cave in which he is claimed to have been born. Outside Urfa we visited Göbekli Tepe, the oldest known temple in the world. Discovered in 1995 by German archaeologists, it dates back to at least 9,500 BC. We also visited the ruins of the city of Harran, a strategic and important city in ancient times and more than 3,000 years old. I know you're wondering, so I will tell you that yes, we were pretty close to the Syrian border - about 12 miles from Antakya and as close as 7 miles from Harran. In fact Harran is in a direct line from Kobane, Syria, where fighting against ISIS has been raging. But we were assured that we were safe before these visits, and indeed we were. The only disturbance we saw was from our hotel in Urfa one night when a group of Syrians gathered to demonstrate in a park across the street and were disbursed by the pepper gas of Turkish soldiers. We did get a whiff of the pepper gas from the fire escape of our hotel. Even from that distance, we could tell it's pretty nasty stuff. Here'a a picture taken that night from the restaurant atop the hotel.

     Randy, Hermie, and me earlier in Antakya.

And in Harran.

     I'm amazed at how much time kids are in school here in Turkey. Of course, my kids are mostly from affluent families, but the high schoolers here go to school for eight hours, Monday through Friday. Many have additional tutoring and after school classes elsewhere. Then most of them attend weekend schools called "dershanes" for five hours on both Saturday and Sunday.

     Whenever I buy a bottle of wine from the corner liquor store, more like an outdoor liquor stand, the guy asks if I want him to open the bottle for me. I usually say sure and walk away with the cork sticking out the top of the bottle. I like that.

     Here's a good one. Not too long ago, on a rainy Saturday, I walked into the nearby Turkcell store where I bought my little cell phone last year. Turkcell is the largest of the mobile phone chains in Turkey. You pay ahead of time for however many minutes you'd like to have for the month. So I went in there to buy some more minutes. One of the girls who works there named İpek came up to help me. She usually does since she's the only one in there who speaks any English. I think she's one of the managers. So I was at the cashier counter in the back of the store where you pay when all of a sudden some old guy behind me starts yelling at one of the other girls who works there. I mean he was screaming at her, and a boy in his teens with him, maybe his grandson, was also yelling and moving toward the girl like he wanted to fight her. This looked bad. Then another old guy right next to me at the counter turned and started yelling at the first old guy. Probably telling him to knock it off. Well, the first old guy started screaming at the one next to me, and the teenager started moving toward him like he was ready to fight him too. Then a bunch of other people in the store started yelling, I think at both of them because it looked they might fight. The whole scene looked scary to me, so I leaned over the counter to İpek, who looked perfectly relaxed, and asked, "Do you need some help? Should I go see if I can find the police?" She said, "Oh, no. It's fine. This happens every day." Well sure enough, my credit card wouldn't work, so I needed to go to an ATM and come back. I weaved my way through the chaos and quickly found one outside. I got some cash out and nervously walked back into the store. Everything was quiet. The first old guy and his grandson were calmly talking to one of the shop girls and looking at a phone. The other old guy was still at the counter talking to the girls like nothing had ever happened. I asked İpek why it was so quiet, and she said, "I started yelling at all of them to shut up right now, so they all shut up." Wow. I told her that there were some classes at my school where she should go and tell everyone to shut up.

     One thing that bothered me when I was doing one of those Tracey Anderson workouts was when she said the exercise we were doing would give us nice feminine arms.

     I'm getting good at weaving my way through traffic when I cross a street. My peripheral vision is really improving. I feel sort of athletic, the speedy running back cutting across the field through defenders on my way to a touchdown.

     You can always tell who the American is in any group of people crossing the street in front of cars. He's the one who's running.

     There is a little train station in the town of Yenice, just a little ways out of Tarsus. In 1943, Winston Churchill met with the Turkish prime minister there as he tried to convince the Turkish government to join the Allies in WWII. There is a huge photo on the wall commemorating the event. My train stops there every time I travel to Adana. Turkey, fearful of tangling with the Nazis, did not join the fight and instead remained neutral.

          Here I am with a student I tutor named Görkem at her sister's wedding recently. At most wedding receptions in Turkey, no alcohol is present. Including this one.

     I really enjoy afternoons on the weekend in Atatürk Park in Adana. I sit on a bench and read or do schoolwork. Very relaxing.

     But it was really hot in the park when I first got here in August. Even this street dog was trying to stay cool.

     I know this won't sound good to you, but twice in the past month I've been on a night train coming back from Adana that was hit with rocks. Each time, everybody in the train hit the deck and stayed low. The first time, it sounded like three or four rocks hit us, and a window across from where I was sitting was shattered. The second time though, something big came clear through a window across from me and two rows back. It hit hard, and the hole in the window looked like a cannonball went through. The seat there was empty, thank God. But if someone had been sitting there, they could have been killed. Shattered glass was everywhere. When I ask people here what they think is going on, I get two possible explanations. One, it's just little shits out there being vandals. The other is that it is people unhappy with the Turkish government so they are hitting something that belongs to it. The most likely attackers being Syrians or Kurds. Now, when I ride trains at night, I either sit on the opposite side of the train and pull the protective shade down, or I stand in the small passageway between cars where there are no windows.

     Our school has some students who live in dormitories. On the weekend, a lot of them don't have a lot to do, so I've started taking whoever wants to go out for an afternoon or evening. Last night, about twelve of us went to a women's professional basketball game in Adana. Don't worry, we went by school bus. We had a fantastic time. I think we're all going to see a movie next time. (I sure hope we can find one with English subtitles!)

     Recently, Christine went with a Camarillo High group of teachers and students to Disneyland. She fulfilled a lifelong dream when she finally had her picture taken with the princesses.

        Ok, now it's time to do some bragging. Here's my grandson Mason with his dad in Paso Robles.

     Here is my precious angel from Heaven granddaughter McKensie.

     I miss all of you and love you so much. Here is a very Merry Christmas from my grandson, Will.

     Gürüşürüs, Eyvallah from Turkey!




  1. Dear Mike, Thank you for continuing to share your experience in Turkey. It is so interesting for me to learn about their culture. I laughed at the story in the Turkish cell phone store! I'm glad to know about the wonderful friends you have to walk alongside with, especially since Christine is here. We all look forward to your return! Take care and stay safe!!! Love, Beth

  2. Great post, Uncle Mike! Good for you with the yoga! Keep it up. I'm trying to get my Dad to start. Hope you had a great Christmas!

  3. Hey dad! Great post, I've written a response three times but I'm not sure why it isn't being seen? We love you and miss you. Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks. Take care. Xo!

  4. Hi Mike,
    I just recently got hired at Tarsus American College starting August 2015. I enjoyed reading your posts. If you have any advice on packing or what to expect when I arrive or what the housing is like, I would appreciate it. Thanks Jim

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