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Stories

Seeing Harry Belafonte in Portland, Oregon during training

JFK Assassination

March on Washington

Tim and Nancy Dial Photos from Peace Corps  (T-8)

Tom Brosnahan's (T-15) Stardom

RPCV Christmases in Turkey

Then and Now (2012) by Allan Gall

Winter Recollections

Small World:

This note from Sandy Pfunder is a more recent event but relates back to our service in Turkey:


This past Tuesday night, our Turkish language class had its last "ders" of the "winter semester". As is traditional, we meet at a Turkish restaurant for the last class, and this time we gathered at  Atilla's Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. A young woman who was waiting on our table told us that she was college student in Northern Virginia and was originally from Edirne. We mentioned that a couple of us (Linda Scheffer and I) had been Peace Corps volunteers in Turkey. The next words out of her mouth were: "Do you know Bob and Sylva Staab?" Of course, we said that we did. "My grandfather married them," she said, referring (we judged) to the famous village wedding that occurred some 43 years ago in a village near Edirne.
                                                                    ----Sandy Pfunder (T9)





[Mis]-using that little yellow dictionary


My T-16 roommate and I were in our first week in Buca, near Izmir, and had started to teach at the Izmir Egetim Institusu there....for the first few days we didn't venture outside of our little house or the school very much, and lived on ekmek and fruit.  Toward the end of the week we decided to brave the new world of ordering food in a lokanta. So little yellow Langscheitz (have probably butchered the spelling on that) in hand, we walked up the street, sat down, and tried to decipher the menu.  After a few misunderstandings, we finished ordering, and then Jo
Lynn tried to start up a conversation with the waiter. What she was trying to say was:"Garconluk yaptim" -- since she had done some waitressing as a part-time job in college.  What she actually said was: "Garcon yedim" --- which caused the waiter's eyes to grow large, and he walked quickly back to the kitchen, probably with a confirmed belief that Amerika was a cannibalistic society.  When we looked up the actual words, we started laughing and shaking our heads, so eventually he came back to talk with us.

It was a shame that we had our dictionaries with us, since that was the same day I ordered iskembe corbasi from the menu.  I remember clearly that the first couple of spoonfuls were delicious.  If I hadn't had the dictionary, and had not looked up the word iskembe, I probably would
have finished the bowl and continued to like it.  As it was, finding out that it was made from portions of a sheep's digestive tract was too much to adjust to, and I didn't finish it.   Yazik.  -- Lynn Maichle


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Words...

All the words made me remember one especially embarrassing mis-use of a word. It was early on in the first year. I went to lunch with all the orta okul teachers. It was mostly no food, lots of questions (theirs-not mine) and then the "was my face red" scenario.

One of the teachers asked me about bread, because I had mentioned how very much I enjoyed the fresh bread everyday from the firin.  I think it was the history teacher who wanted to know, "What is so different about American bread?"  Swallow, search my mind. Did I learn that word? Having heard a couple of words in Turkish that sounded borrowed from French I cast my fate to the winds. "American bread is full of 'préservatifs."
That produced a table full of loud laughter that was excruciating because no one could stop laughing long enough to tell me what I had said. When things calmed down, my colleague next to me, (an
avuncular sort of guy), leaned in to me and whispered, "That word means 'condoms' in Turkish". He needn't have whispered. His explanation was clear from the deep red that covered my face & throat...who knows maybe
even my eyes were bulging.

The experience tripled my motivation in learning more Turkish, as fast as I could!

Nearly everyone must have had a similar uncomfortable faux pas. Is anyone else interested in baring their soul?                                                      --Chuck Reiter 
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Nuts!
I remember masses of hazelnuts spread out in a single layer on the dock in Giresun, presumably drying in the sun before being put on a ship. A man with a rake would turn them from time to time.  That was in '63 - '64. A simpler time.
                                                                                --David Hopkins (T-1)
David:
You remind me of a similar image three years later in Giresun, same dock I'm sure, same vision of hazelnuts drying in the sun, now dried and sacked up ready to transport elsewhere. But then an inimitable image of an ancient hamal, many days of growth of beard, face as wrinkled as sin itself, wearing that hamal wedge they all carried on their lower backs. He had a huge, enormous sack of hazelnuts on his 'hump' struggling to the steps at the rear of a flatbed truck.

His face black red from the heat, sweat dripping steadier than a faucet from the weight he bore. As he limped toward the edge of the steps leading up to the flatbed, it was clear he had only one good, i.e. strong leg. His every step favored that good leg. He got as close to the side of the steps as he could, grappled for the iron of the frame, locked his knee as he stepped onto the step. Then he shifted, kinda of heaved, the weight of the sack and his body onto his locked leg. brought up his other, bad leg, next to it, and repeated the process as he inched step by step onto the back of the truck.

Once on board he hobbled to dump his sack onto the other sacks that other hamals had loaded on.
The pain in his face screamed every step he made. I will never forget...forget the sun, the smell, the
rustle of hazelnuts being raked...but I shall never
the effort that man expended then, that day. The sight of a hazelnut brings back that memory to me.
                                                                            -- Pat Kelley (T-8)

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My First Big Scare in Turkey by Larry Montgomery (T-8)

As Turkey 8 Volunteers, we finished  the 2nd. phase of our Peace Corps Training at Robert College, as it was then known, in Istanbul.  We were pleasantly surprised to discover, at the end of our training, that a couple of our volunteers had arranged for rented buses to take us to our various sites.  I'd guess we boarded these buses sometime in early September of 1965.
I'd also guess that there were probably 4 or 5 of these buses since we numbered about 200 volunteers and were the largest group of volunteers to ever descend on Turkey.  The buses fanned out in different directions and we probably boarded with only minor trepidation as everything seemed to have been quite well organized.
 
My bus proceeded south, since I'd requested a southern city, near the coast, and had been assigned to one.  Whether or not our bus stopped in Ankara overnight or proceeded directly toward Adana and Gaziantep and other points south is beyond the power of my aging brain cells to recollect, and it is beside the point anyway. 
The horror that occurred along the road from Ankara to Adana, however, is quite fresh in my mind, and will never be erased or forgotten.

My guess is that we were somewhere between 3 and 5 hours out of Ankara heading south at a good rate of speed.  For at least a couple of these hours we had been traveling through what I'd kindly describe as wilderness or wasteland.  Barren, inhospitable terrain that would immediately evoke compassion in the mind of any sympathetic person, for any Turkish people that might have to live in these areas, and eke out a hard-scrabble existence out of this uninviting soil and rock. 
 

Not one of us was prepared for the tragedy that was about to occur.  Suddenly the bus pulled to a stop in the middle of nowhere and whoever was in charge, either a Turkish guy or a volunteer hollered our a lady's name.  It could have been Joan or Mary or Linda or any name.  We were such a large group that we didn't know everyone.
 
This young lady, girl, was expected to get out of the bus at this spot.  The absolutely amazing thing is that she did!  She got out and the bus roared away in a cloud of dust.  Whether there was a dirt road that intersected with our main road at that spot, where this young girl was going to be able to get some kind of transportation to some town or city that was not too far away, we didn't know.  There didn't seem to be any sign of life!  As strong as our eyes were at that age, we could see nothing, no town or even village!
 
Immediately something came to life and began to grow on that bus!  It was a kind of palpable fear that seemed to possess all of us.  We said nothing and rode on in silence.  It is the terror that we all felt during that ride that gave life to this memory that I'm sure the rest of us on that bus will always carry it around!
 
I'm not absolutely sure, but I believe the next stop was Adana, the 4th. largest town in Turkey.  Only one volunteer was assigned to Adana but, you can bet as much money as you have, that quite a number of us jumped off that bus, in Adana, in the hope that we would be able to find some kind of direct transportation to our towns.  We were not going to be dropped off in any Godforsaken spot!
 
To this day, I've asked around many times, but have been unable to find our who it was that got off that bus.  I've been unable to determine what happened to her that day.  It would be a very nice thing to hear that she found some kind of transportation to her town.  It would be great to hear that she had 2 wonderful years in Turkey.  She should know that all of us admired her bravery, or sense of duty, or whatever it was, that permitted her to face the unknown with such courage. 
 
Larry Montgomery, Turkey 8

[Note:  The young lady in question did respond and did have two wonderful years in Turkey.  Tebrikler!]
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First Impressions by Carol Kocan (T-8) 
About arriving at Robert College... Although a distinguished institution in its own right, my impression was also not positive back then. My suitcase burst open on the steps as it was being unloaded from the bus or truck, causing me great personal embarrassment, the dorms were our warning not to expect great comfort in the coming months, and the school cafeteria was pretty bad. As a matter of fact, it's a miracle I could ever come to love bamya (okra) or other Turkish food after a first taste at Robert College.

The school was in a great location however, and we did enjoy the view and exploring Rumeli Hisar. At the foot of the hill, at the bus stop, I had my first experience in real conversation when a passer-by asked me what time it was. I looked at my watch, answered appropriately, and the person thanked me and walked on. Only then did I realize I had just had a genuine conversation in Turkish!

That was a good enough sign that there was hope, after all, that I might manage to get through the next two years.

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Community Development by Chris Smith (T-4)

[Sandy Pfunder's recent piece on his and Allen's attempt to form a village development cooperative triggered some sympathetic chuckles and a memory of a failed community development project in Tunceli.]

Scarcely had my site partner, Dave Wesselink, and I settled into our house along the river in the fall of '64', when Country Director, Ross Pritchard, and a retinue of PC staff dropped by for a visit.  Though ours were teaching assignments in the local orta okul and lise, they didn't preclude community development possibilities on the side, Ross informed us.  What about
sprucing up the little house we were living in and planting some flowers in a window box or two?  And wasn't there space next to the house for a small vegetable garden?  Our place would be an example of what could be done with dusty backyards, a precursor of some new Hanging Garden of Babylon along our tributary of the Euphrates River.

Before we could get started with any beautification, our school principal informed us we were moving to an apartment complex which had just been completed.  Our third floor space didn't need any fixing up and there were no suitable spots for gardens or window boxes.  Our community development project would have to take some other form.

As soon as people moved into the new apartments, and it happened fast, they generated garbage.  The drill was to toss the stuff down the slope in back of the buildings.  It seemed unsanitary, unaesthetic and 'un-American'. Here was just the project for two callow, would-be community developers fired by hyper-civic zeal.

In short order we discovered Tunceli had a garbage collector.  What did he do?  He collected the garbage of the city's few well-to-do residents who lived along the river, where we used to live.

When we discussed the matter with the Mayor, he agreed the new apartment buildings should have a large garbage barrel that could be collected when full.  Give him 15 days and he'd have one in place.

Fifteen days passed and no barrel appeared.  We returned to the Mayor's office and reminded him of his promise.  Sorry, he'd gotten distracted with other business.  Give him another 15 days.

The second 15 days passed and still no barrel.  Dave and I returned to the Mayor's office and laid it on with a trowel.  The kids would get typhoid, other cities would think we were backward, etc.,etc., etc.  Thoroughly exasperated, I'm sure, the Mayor said he'd have the barrel in a day or two.

Sure enough, a large barrel showed up outside the apartment complex.  We dutifully dumped our garbage in it and noticed some of the other residents did too.  No doubt they'd been asked to humor the Americans through this little crisis.

Dave and I took off that weekend for some shopping in Elazığ feeling pleased with our community development success.  When we returned, the barrel was gone.  Fellow-residents told us it had filled up and been collected.  They weren't sure why an empty had not been left in its place, but perhaps one would turn up in 15 days.

That night Dave and I had a good laugh over our folly.  It had taken us more than a month to get the message: we were the only people who thought the garbage was a problem.  When we observed the dynamics of the heap more closely, we had another laugh.  Chickens and dogs ate literally all the food scraps.  Metal, glass and plastic containers that could hold water were collected by kids for that purpose.  Even most of the paper was salvaged. With all that recycling going on, there really wasn't much of a heap at all.

I hope our Turkish friends had a good laugh on us.  We were impatient, overbearing, insensitive and ignorant when we should have been just the opposite.  Perhaps a short course in community development would have helped us.  Maybe remembering our manners would have been enough.  That our hosts put up with us so good naturedly is a tribute to their manners and to the quality of their friendship and hospitality.

Chris Smith T-4


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Corn Bread by Sandy Pfunder (Turkey 9)

In the mid-sixties, a staple of the diet of Black Sea coast villagers was corn bread.  But nothing like and corn bread that I had ever eaten.  The villagers raised large quantities of what we would think of as feed corn, husking the cobs after harvest in the fall, then drying the cobs in an oven, removing the kernels for storage over the winter.  As needed, the dried kernels were taken to the village mill and ground into a rough corn flour.  Corn bread was made from a wet dough consisting only of corn flour, water and salt - totally unleavened.  The 'loaves' were roughly triangular, about the size of a frisbee and nearly two inches thick.  They were baked on top of a large round, slightly convex metal disk that sat on a trivet in an open fire in a small pit inside the house. 

The resulting loaves were heavy, vaguely reminiscent of a small discus.  The corn bread itself was as heavy as it looked and felt.  It was eaten in a variety of ways - broken in chunks into warm, sweet milk or into a bowl of yogurt or into a bowl of cabbage soup.  When eaten plain, it had to be chased with liquid of some sort.  It was very filling, which was obviously the idea.  To a Western palate, it was vaguely tolerable when it was fresh, and it definitely did not improve with age.

My landlord, Ali Bekir, and his wife, Ayse, were wonderful people.  They were probably in their sixties and lived next door with one of the landlord's sons, his wife, and two young children.  The landlord's wife was your typical grandmother and took particularly good care of us.  I rented a two-room house from them for a monthly payment of 25 Turkish lira (then worth a little less than three dollars), and the house came with a fresh liter of milk or yogurt nearly every day, often delivered by the landlord's wife.  Occasionally, she would bring us some fresh baked corn bread.  We would eat some of it, but there was always plenty left over.  We tried giving it to the landlord's dog, but that scheme was foiled when the dog began taking chunks of corn bread back home to store for future consumption.

One morning when grandmother brought some fresh corn bread, my site partner, Allen, and I looked at each other and decided that we just couldn't face it.  So we didn't eat it that day.  By the next day, there was no question of eating it.  But what to do with it?  Turkish village houses simply didn't generate any garbage or trash.  Anything edible was fed to the dairy cows, so there wasn't a place to take it and dump it, even surreptitiously.  We clearly had a problem.  Then we had a brilliant flash - the wood stove on which we did our cooking!  We revved up the fire, tossed in the corn bread in chunks, and sighed with relief.

About ten minutes later, a knock at the front door.  It was the landlord's wife.  "I smell burning corn bread," she said. 

"How is that possible?" we asked innocently.  "What you brought us yesterday was so good that it's all gone."  We couldn't lie to grandmother.

"That's very strange," she said, turning to walk back to her house, shaking her head.  "I could swear I smelled burning corn bread." 

Thereafter, when we had excess corn bread, we buried it.

Sandy Pfunder  (Turkey IX)


Note: Memories of Turkey is a regular feature for stories by RPCVs who have served in Turkey.  Check back regularly for new stories.

 

 

 

©Arkadaslar
06/04/15