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Christmas in Turkey


Happy New Year, Everyone!!!!  I'm still vertical and moving forward for another good year!  The Christmas remembrances in Turkey that I've read forced me to my old notes which I have from 1965, but can't find the ones from1966.  Anyway, forgive me for not jotting down last names and my memory is so untrustworthy these days.  Surely, if Jean Stern sees this she will remember last names. Jean and I were site partners in a T-IX-CD assignment in Girveli, Bunyan, Kayseri for our two year stint.  The following are notes that I've put together for Friday, Dec. 24 and Saturday, Dec. 25, 1965.

Dec. 24-  In Girveli.  Up early and we had a lot of snow during the night.  Jean and I thought we would not be able to get out of the village for Christmas.  Hilmi Bay, Jean's next door neighbor and owner of the village bus, finally got the old thing started.  We rushed to get our things together and off we started through the drifts to Kayseri (approximately 55 K's).  We really goofed right off the bat as we offered Hilmi Bay cookies and cigarettes for getting the bus underway (this was the first day of Ramadan).  We were the only passengers until we arrived in Bunyan where we picked up three men.  We made good time due to only one stop.  (I think the Turks were smarter than we to be out in this miserable weather).  Upon arrival, we went directly to Melonie's.  We visited until she left for school at Noon.  Jean and I then went to the Turan Otel for lunch and enjoyed our usual Turkish goodies.  We than visited Akyol Bay at the Topraksu Ofisi after which we shopped for dry goods and returned to Melonie's.  Arlene (Semelski?) had arrived and invited us to go with them to the American College at Talas for the evening for dinner and church service.  After Melonie returned from school, she and I went to the market to buy a turkey for our Christmas meal the next day.  We traveled by taxi to Talas were we enjoyed a full fledged American meal by the staff and then had a Santa Claus (John- a teacher).   I received a box of toilet seat covers in the "funny" gift exchange.  At 10:15 PM, we moved to the School's chapel for an evening service.  The singing and camaraderie was enough to make one cry as I think we were all homesick.  It was really late when we left Talas, in fact, after midnight.  We taxied back to Kayseri as I worried where I was to spend the night.  There were two TEFL guys, Frank and Larry, but I had not let them know I was in town.  The girls went to Melonie's for the night and I went to the guy's apartment building, but could not arouse either as they had gone to extra lengths to "winterize" their apartment-the place was soundproof.  I slept on top of a woodpile in the hallway for several hours (I don't think I've ever been so cold) until Larry was awakened by the Ramadan drum and I was able to attract his attention.  I was miserable-who would think one would spend Christmas morning on the woodpile!  No sugarplums danced through my head.

Dec. 25-  Merry (cough-cough) Christmas!  Larry fixed breakfast while I got it all together with a cold shower (which was warmer than the woodpile).  Larry and Frank went to Melonie's apartment while I made a business stop at the Topraksu Ofisi to discuss a village project with Akyol Bay and to pick up our mail.  I then went to Melonie's where the guys did little things to help the girls prepare for our big Christmas feast that evening.  Ed, Bill and Kent arrived during the day as well as other TEFL folks whose names I didn't jot down.  Around 7:00 PM, we all carted the food and trimmings over to Larry and Frank's place as it was much larger than Melonie's apartment.  There were 13 PC'ers for dinner and everyone enjoyed every morsel and every drink.  Really, it was a very quiet evening as we couldn't afford to offend the other residents of the building.  I remember the drinks were especially good.  We played the "I remember Christmas of..." game,  talked of home and what brought us to be huddled together in a cold, concrete, plastic-cocooned, 3-room apartment in Central Turkey on Christmas Day.  By 12:30 AM, the party was over and the group parted.
                                                                   -- Frank Drumheller (T-8/9), Kayseri

I too was part of the Antep party in 1965. My memories seem a bit less innocent than Gretchen's, for I don't remember anything about a church service. I do remember the parade, because I was part of a group that was assigned the task of scrounging for liquor. It was a bit complicated by the fact that it was Ramazan, so it wasn't PC to be out trying to get some. To get to the neighborhood Tekel Bayii, we had to cross the street the parade was on, if I remember. When we got there, I said that we were Germans & that since there was a Bayram going on, we needed something to celebrate. I made up a story about being part of an oil drilling team in Adiyaman (there actually had been one there a few years before.)

At the party I got pretty sloshed & remember after the regular stuff had run out, trying to get some raki into a bottle of gazoz. The top if the gazoz turned a pearly white (as predicted) but the effect wasn't general throughout the bottle. Smart gazoz. I then tried drinking it - I cannot describe the taste, but it deterred even me, in my furor alcoholis. The next morning I had a dreadful hangover & it was all we could do to shovel me onto the Adiyaman bus at about 2 PM.

The weather was grey windy & damp. I remember some snowflakes, but the
ground, at least in town, was slushy.

I think Steve Clark brought the turkey for New Years. Those were traditional
for that day. Our neighbor, Mustafa took one look at it and said he'd cut
its head off for us because he could tell that we were total losers in that
department. So he did & thus we did have to share it.
--John Clark (T-4b), Adiyaman

It was our first Christmas together.  Marilyn and I hadn't been married a year yet.  And, Christmas was just another school day at Silifke Lisesi.  This day seemed an especially long one.  Weather didn't help--chilly and a drizzling rain to accompany us as we walked home at the end of the day.
As we got close, a neighbor's young daughter stepped from their doorway.  I've wondered how long she'd been waiting for us to pass by.  In her hands was a scrubby pine tree a couple feet tall, the roots dangling.   And, scattered among the branches, some cotton "snow".  Beaming with pride, she handed us the tree, said "Happy Christmas", and dashed back to her house.  We've had a lot of Christmas trees since 1968, but that one is still my favorite.
--Alfred Gensler (T-16), Silifke

It was early December during our first year in Turkey, when one of our older
students at Eskisehir Maarif Koliji asked if we would like a Christmas tree.  His father worked for the Turkish Forestry Service and could get us one.  Since it was also our first Christmas as a married couple, we were delighted with the prospect of having a traditional tree and accepted his offer.  A few days later, there was a knock at our fourth-floor apartment door and, to our surprise, three strapping men lugged in a live tree with a huge burlap-wrapped root ball!

Despite the shock, it was still a blessing.  We emptied one of our famous Peace Corps trunks and somehow propped the tree upright in it.  Threaded popcorn and other odd items served as decorations and we felt like we had a
little piece of home away from home.  We may have celebrated "the day" with
Dianne Sterling, Colleen O'Connor and some other Volunteers from our site, but ensuing events have clouded my memory.

We left everything up until after New Year and sometime during early January asked the groundskeepers at the Kolej if they would like to have a live tree to plant on the campus.  They accepted and four men came to the apartment to
pick it up.  After a brief inspection, one of the men told me he couldn't take the tree.  "Why?" I asked.  "It's dead," he said.  "Didn't you water it?"  I then realized that in the excitement of having the tree, we had forgotten that most essential part of the process.  They left, and I had a dead tree with a very large and rock-hard dirtball to get rid of.  Karen and I couldn't carry it, so I decided on a piece-by-piece solution.

After cutting off all the branches and the trunk and carrying them downstairs to the trash, I still had the dirtball to contend with.  It was too heavy to pick up, and we couldn't leave it in the apartment.  Then, in one great moment of inspiration, I had it:  Gravity would help me!  I knew the dirtball was so hard that I could roll it successfully down the four flights of stairs and three landings, then out into the street to the trash.  So I rolled it out our door to the top of the stairs and pushed.  My pride at watching it ka-lump down the stairs turned to horror as the root ball exploded with a resounding THUD on the landing below.  I stood in complete shock looking at the catastrophe of roots, burlap and dirt clumps, until one of our three neighbors on the landing opened her door, saw the mess in front of her, looked up at me in disbelief and slowly closed the door again.

Later that afternoon, after what seemed like hundreds of trips down the stairs with our coal bucket full of dirt, the evidence of the disaster was gone.  What still bothers me, though, is the thought of our neighbor lady on the first landing below.  I can just imagine her, all these years telling the story of the crazy Peace Corps Volunteer who exploded the dirtball at her door.
 --Lex and Karen Youngman, T-16, 1968-70

As some have mentioned, there was a local holiday on December 25th in Gaziantep.  This holiday commemorated the liberation of the town from the French and, so, we didn't have school and we had a parade.

I found my journal from those days in 1965. First a list of those who attended the days' long celebration (and I hope I don't leave anyone out and can't remember some last names).

Jim and Wing Barfoot, Judy Moser, Gretchen Nist, Chet from Urfa, John Thomas, Sally and Dennis Copeland, Rick Ashe, Joanne Omang, Leslie Peirce, Lynda Wykoff, the Jeralds, John and Colleen Clark, Steve Clark, Jeannine (last name), Harlan Green, Larry Montgomery, Paul Kirwan, Tom (?) from Maras, Jim Greenwald - and

Yes, it was during Ramandan and Rick arranged for the men to spread out and get the liquor and he'd pick them up in his car.  Like a military campaign.  We stayed back and cooked, Joanne made egg nog. We listened to carols on the radio from Armed Services Network.

The party was at the Fistik Palas, I remember our having the whole top floor to ourselves, standing outside on the balcony - Gaziantep spread below with the city lights twinkling through the gentle rain.  Lynda brought a tree and decorations from the orphanage, somehow we had lights on the tree, candles and American music. And lots of food: nuts and cookies, eggnog, kagit kebab, nut bread, wine and more wine, orange juice and vodka. Mostly my notes about this evening are about the conversations.  That is what I cherish most about a group of us getting together - conversations, hungry for the sharing of ideas and experiences.

Gentle memories.
--Ann Ringland (T-8/9 ), Gaziantep

Christmas was a non-event in Kursunlu, given that the only non-Moslem in town
was Jewish (talk about a novelty act).  However, I do recall attending a Passover seder in Ankara one year. Unfortunately, while Irving Berlin may have written a secular hymn to Christmas, he never waxed lyrical about unleavened bread.
 --Gerry Karey (T-8), Kursunlu

Our first Christmas as a young married couple was spent at the Taksim apartment of Margo Higgins and her roommate, Carol ______.  We had a real
nice dinner together and because they had a telephone we tried fruitlessly to reach our families in the States.  Finally, we gave up and stayed the night on Margo's sofa.

At home at the orphanage, we had a makeshift Christmas tree, a rubber plant.  It was stuck into a copper bucket and decorated as best we could with streamers. That kettle holds umbrellas at our entry now.  Our first Turkish carpet was bought from a shop on Istiklal Caddesi before Christmas as our gift to each other.  The trustees at the Yurt were disappointed because they intended to give us one but were too late. 

Good memories.
 --Cathy & Ron McCutcheon (T-12 ), Istanbul