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Christmas in Turkey


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Seeing Dave and Janet Hopkins' description of snow in Turkey prompts recollection of a post-Christmas storm during our second winter in the village.  My site partner, Allen Neill (now Allen Neill Schauffler), and I lived in a village about 28 km. inland from Vakfikebir, southwest of Trabzon and due south about 8 km. from our small market town, Tonya.  The village lies at an altitude of somewhere between 2000 and 3000 feet, in relatively rugged forests, with larger mountains and summer pastures (yayla) farther to the south.  Our first winter had been mild, with one sixteen-inch snowfall that melted quickly, and pear trees in bloom during the first week of February.

Our area rep, Ted Nelson, drove up from Ankara for a mid-January 1966 meeting in Trabzon, with the five CD volunteers from the surrounding area.  Tom Turner, Ephraim Frankel, and Carol Franz came in from their villages in Macka, and Allen and I came in from Tonya.  Ted was accompanied on the trip by his wife Debby, Deputy PC Director Bob Taylor and his wife Betty, and Imre Kusu.  After our last courtesy calls with various folks in Trabzon, Ted and Debby, Bob and Betty, Imre, Allen and I headed back for our village in one of those huge GMC Carryalls that you had to pole-vault into.  It took a couple of hours to drive from Trabzon to Vakfikebir along the coast, then inland to Tonya on a relatively good road, and on up into the mountains to our village on a rough, narrow road cut into steep river banks.  As we left Trabzon, it started to snow.  It was a pretty drive -- uneventful -- we arrived back in our village around 4 in the afternoon.  The Carryall was parked at the coffee house on the village road, and everybody walked the 500 yards or so to our house, where we spent a leisurely couple of hours in conversation, preparing dinner.

Shortly after dinner, Imre requested directions to our plumbing facilities, which were located next to the barn, about 75 feet across the front yard.  He came back into the house laughing.  You should see what it's done, he said.  While we had cooked dinner, the snow had accumulated considerably.  We all took a look, gave quick consideration to sending our guests on their way, and rejected the idea because the road was too dangerous.  So we settled in.  The women slept in our house, and the men walked down to stay overnight with the kahveci in the coffee house where the Carryall was parked.

The following morning it had cleared, and you could see from the pile of snow where the Carryall had been that something was under there.  But you couldn't tell what it was.  We managed a crude estimate of 55 inches of snow on the ground.  With the help of villagers in home made snow shoes, we were able to beat a path back up to our house.  Our five guests stayed three nights with us.  On the fourth day, they borrowed a couple of backpacks and carried out what they could, following a number of the villagers for several hours on foot down to Tonya and beyond, as taxis were not able to drive as far inland as Tonya. 

Allen and I stayed in the village, expecting that things would open up again before too long.  Instead, we had a second massive snowstorm that brought the total snowfall to about 130 inches.  The villagers had to carve stairs out of the snow down into the front doors of their houses that, in summer, were a few steps up from the ground.  I shot the only roll of color film that I had brought with me, and I learned how to use the villagers' snow shoes, which were built for someone about 25 pounds lighter than I was.  My landlord's son and I shoveled the roofs of his house, my house, and his two barns, to keep the weight of the snow from pulling the roofs apart as the weather warmed.

By the second week in February, Allen and I had begun to run out of things we needed -- principally kerosene for lighting.  We packed what we could carry, walked out of the village and down to Tonya, then took a minibus into Trabzon, expecting again to be able to return in a fairly short time.  But the weather remained cold, and the snow stayed put.  After six weeks in Trabzon, the folks in Peace Corps Ankara requested that we come to Ankara for new assignments (our two year stint was up in June).  So I went back to Tonya and walked back up to the village, spent three days packing our worldly possessions, and selling or giving away what we didn't want to take with us.  I walked back out and didn't see the village again until 1975.  The Carryall stayed until late April, when the road finally reopened and somebody was sent from Ankara to retrieve it.

The villagers said it was the worst winter they had seen in sixty years.  In my experience, it still is.
--Sandy Pfunder (T-9), Çayiriçi Köyü, Tonya, Trabzon