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TUSLOG Det. 181, İskenderun, Turkey
July 1967 - July 1968

Sgt. Ed Roberts, USAF

© 2009-2011 by Author

Ed recalls a fascinating story of a non-Turkish-speaking American learning the language by fortuitous association with neighbors, who patiently taught him the language. This is a serviceman who made the most of his time in Turkey, and who still remembers the names of the Turkish family who helped him to fluency in the language. Ed is also one of the few who mention what haunts many of us today: the plaintive sound of the Hoja calling the faithful to prayer from a Mosque's minaret. It is one memory that automatically transports many of us back to the times and places we enjoy remembering most. Editor

A Note from Ed Roberts: "Det 33 was the Army water port terminal in İskenderun, at least in 1967-68. I was an Air Force Sergeant (sometimes commander) of Det 181 which was an Air Force radio/telecommunications unit housed with Det 33. Det 33, as the port operator at İskenderun in SE Turkey, ran the surface supply chain for İncirlik AFB. It was Army, all Transportation Corps, subordinate to MTMTS (Military Traffic Management & Terminal System) in Brooklyn, NY. Personnel were a Lieutenant Colonel, a Sargent (me), two Sargents First Class, two SP4s and six or eight Turkish employees.

The detachment had been there for five years before I arrived and was there for at least 2 more after I left. There were two other Transportation detachments in Izmir and Istanbul."


After having had a voluntary statement to serve in Southeast Asia on file for the entirety of my 18 months of duty at Barksdale AFB, I received orders to be transferred to TUSLOG Detachment 181 in İskenderun, Turkey! In the Ankara Airport on the way in we were greeted by an earthquake measured at 7.1 on the Richter scale. Those who knew what was happening when the building shook and luggage skated across the floor, ran from the building. The rest of us sat there not knowing what to do until it was over.

I arrived in İskenderun in the middle of the night on July 21st of 1967 having flown a third of the way around the world and then down the country to Adana where I was met and transported by Air Force personnel. I missed the hoja’s midnight call to prayer that first night as we were traveling through the countryside between Adana and İskenderun, but I never missed it again. Through blackouts based upon concern over Greek/Turkish relationships on Cyprus (we could see the lights of Cyprus at night from our barracks atop the warehouse), storms, floods his call always came.

I was a telecommunications/crypto operator. Det 181 provided radio transmitted teletype communications and crypto in support of the mission of the Army’s TUSLOG 33-3 which was a water port terminal with port supervision operations and transport/warehouse facilities in the town of İskenderun.

Our facility was a walled warehouse facility with the main (and only) gate opening onto what I believe today is Ibrahim Karaoglanoglu Cadessi (also highway D817) but was then not known to me by a street name but was the main highway thoroughfare passing through İskenderun to the south and into Syria and the Middle East. The neighbors told me it was the only highway that ran from Europe to Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Muslim pilgrims passed that way on the road to Mecca and Medina.

The Army unit’s commander was a Lt. Col and they had another officer, several NCOs and enlisted personnel and employed perhaps 8 or 10 Turkish civilians. I will endeavor later to name several of those Turkish personnel in hopes that readers who were also there will remember them. They were permanent, USAF and the Army were temporary. Our USAF contingent included a radio maintenance person and two telecom/crypto operators. The station was open 8am to 5pm but could open anytime by just running the signal up on the radio gear and putting the TTY equipment online. It operated in a barracks room/office atop the warehouse facility. All personnel had barracks rooms along both sides of a single corridor. They were single rooms, though the Army guys did double up during ingress/egress of personnel. When I arrived, I was a Sgt (buck Sgt at that) and my unit commander was TSgt Bailey. His tour ended in a couple of months after my arrival and his replacement didn’t arrive for about two months thereafter. I was the unit commander temporarily. Our radio maintenance guy was also there making a normal compliment of 3 USAF personnel in telecom. There was also a USAF guy assigned there whose duty was to manage the scheduling and housing of frozen cargo in freeze lockers.

We had a chow hall – we funded it from our separate rations allowance. It included a Turkish cook who spoke fair English, two maids who spoke little English and a young boy named Ramazon about 7 years old who was our shoe shine boy. Ramazon was exceptionally well cared for in that place. His clothing and school was funded by American personnel.

Midway along the corridor of our barracks facility was a door that led out onto the flat roof of the warehouses. Some of the guys had put together a weight lifting facility on the roof. One Army guy was a competitive power lifter and spent a lot of time working out there. The roof had a knee high wall running around it.

At the back of the roof – adjacent to the window of my room – on the 2nd day I was there, I approached that edge of the roof and looked down into the yard of the family that lived right behind. The wall around their yard was partly our rear wall of the warehouse. I waved to the children in the yard. They said something which I didn’t understand (I later discovered that they had a passing acquaintance with Sgt. David Teague of the Army contingent and had known some of the American personnel over several years). I spoke no Turkish on that 2nd day and they spoke virtually no English. The next day I returned after duty to sit on the wall and begin learning about them. They had 11 children alive there in July of 1967 and the mother had experienced several “unfortunate” pregnancies I learned. We made motions and said our own language’s words. They pointed to the mother and said “anne” and to the father and said “babba”. I got that. I made a sign with my fingers on the palm of the other hand like walking. They said “yurumek” – the infinitive form of the verb meaning to walk. It went rapidly from there. I learned from them and from the Turkish folks who worked with us. Within a few weeks, I was speaking regularly in long and complicated conversations with that Turkish family Their last name is Dengiz and the father was an “arabaci” or horse drawn coach driver.

I can still remember all the names of those children. Let me run them down here:

Semir (the oldest son about 25 then), Semire (the oldest daughter who was married and had a daughter but came around everyday), Bedriye (daughter who was married and had a son), Bedir (18 or so a male), Vahid (15 male), Vahide (about 14 female), Ferid (12 boy) , Feride (11 girl), Selma (6 girl), Selwa (4 girl) and Suheyla (1 girl). For some reason I cannot recall the name of the baby subsequently born into that family while I was there. The last one made 11 live children out of 21 pregnancies in that woman’s life. Subsequently, I now have learned, a 12th child, a girl, Suat, was born about a year and a half after I left. I’ve never met her, but look forward to the day I shall.

They taught me Turkish. There were weekends when I was totally immersed in Turkish/Arab culture and language of the area and during which I spoke not a word of English. Though I might not have been invisible to the Turks of the neighborhood, during those times, I am absolutely sure no American could have found me. I wore Arab clothing, spoke Turkish with an Arabic accent and went about among the Turks as they did. They taught me the customs and cultural behavior. They taught me the openness of loving what you have. I spoke Turkish well enough to be certified later in my tour as fluent by the US Department of Defense. They were Arabs by birth, Hatay Province having only become part of Turkey at the end of the British Protectorate of Syria in 1939.

In 1967, everyone in İskenderun over 28 years of age had been born in Syria only to have their town and the entire province of Hatay become part of Turkey in 1939. Turkish was the official language, Arabic was the mother tongue for most folks there at that time. Though there were Orthodox Christians and Catholics in the town, and I came to know several of them, the vast majority of the populace was Alevi Muslims (not Sunni, not Shia’a). I learned a bit of Arabic, but not much. My appearance was convincing however as I looked more like the neighbors than most of the neighbors and spoke Turkish with the Arabic accent since I learned Turkish from the folks around me who were Arabs by birth and native Arabic speakers.

One evening, the mother of the family asked me if I would walk across to the other side of our compound across the roof and tell Vahide and Feride who were window shopping across the street from our front gate to come home. I was pleased to and walked to the other side of the roof. Upon seeing them in the street I called out to them in Arabic “Vahide, Feride emme kal tai lahone” – well that’s the phonetic for what I said. It means “Wahide and Feride, momma said come home”. Upon their arrival home I was still talking to the family on the wall and the girls were all giggles and chatters telling me that the folks asked if I was their brother. Apparently – perhaps they were flattering me - my appearance and pronunciation of the Arabic words was such that the folks in the street not only didn’t know I was American but thought I was their Arabs brother. I did look like him.

Among the Turks/Arabs who worked with us at the facility were Albul Hamid Sabaoglu (a beautiful name meaning “Slave of God Hamid Son of the Morning”) (affectionately known as “Red’ due to his red hair).”Red” was the most profane person in three languages I have ever known, Naim Koc, Ali Dipsakaci, Oktay Yaygili – who became my dear friend, Jimal ___?____. Mehmet___?____.

We were told – and the traffic passing showed evidence - that the highway was then the single highway that ran from Europe down into Saudi Arabia and was the preferred bus and truck route for Muslim Pilgrims who must meet their duty of a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime. Twice in my tour there I saw the masses of pilgrims with chartered buses piled high with their luggage passing – surely thousands of them.

Everyday, the highway carried major truck traffic. There is no telling how much an enterprising Turk can load on a truck. They loaded them back then to the point of turning the trucks over. They loaded them with everything from household baggage and people to heads of cabbage and everything in between. You can stack empty tin 5 gallon petrol cans close to 20 feet high on top of a Mercedes diesel truck with “Masalla” painted decoratively above the windshield. Dumb American, in my early days there I though that was the manufacturer of the truck body. One day I asked “nerede bu Masalla kamyon fabrikasi?” where is this Masalla truck factory? Laughter reined down. “Masalla” means in Arabic “God is generous or good to me”. It is transliterated into Turkish with the same use. It was on every truck.

Most of our American personnel preferred not to venture quite so aggressively into the town and countryside as I did. Then, I had determined to learn the language and see everything I could, participate as much as possible and learn. I made an appearance – scored the first basket – in a game with the city team against a team from American University from Beirut. It was played on an outdoor court in a nice park. I was in regular attendance at the first season of İskenderunspor’s move into professional soccer at the 3rd division level.

When I use the term “we” in this context, I am almost always talking about my Turkish friends and I. We went out together. I dated some modern Turkish women. I could talk to them – amazing. They were just like folks think of women in America. They did not all wear their heads covered and if they did, not all of them wore veils and black clothing. We went to nice places in the town and along the fabulous seashore. It was a rocky shore then but fabulous water and weather. We bought fresh seafood off the boats in the harbor. I could easily have lived like a king, but chose not to be quite so apparently tourist. I made – wages, separate rations and pay for operating the PX for a while – about $400 per month. The average Turk did well to make that in a year. In the villages and among those not in the “upper crust” of Hatay’s social scene my income would have gone a long way. I chose for it not to.

Oh, there was need from time to time. Selma Dengiz – the 6 year old girl in my “Turkish family” – suffered a very bad laceration on the bottom of her foot. The family – without medical resources nor money – bandaged it. She played and walked mostly barefoot. The wound was looking bad. With her parents’ permission, I took her in a carriage to the Hasta Hane (literally “sick house”) which passed for a hospital there in those days to have a doctor attend to her in the emergency facility. It wasn’t much then – windows open and insects around illness – but the doctor there did clean, close properly and bandage the wound. I paid cash. Selma clung round my neck as I carried her the whole time and thanked me. That was early in the fall of 1967. When I left in summer of 68, Selma was the first to shed a tear. I was the second. It was a 15 way tie for 3rd.

This is, perhaps, more detail about the interaction of one American Air Force Sgt. with the local Turkish neighbors than is found in other narrative at this site. My interaction, however, was principally with the folks of İskenderun. It was a remote site with a normal party of 4 Air Force and 10 Army personnel. Every American who was there when I arrived left before I did and every one who came after me was still there when I left. The constant that I was with every day of my time there were the Turkish personnel who worked there and the Turkish neighbors who became my friends and “Turkish family”. They were what was different from my other Air Force assignments. I will write another installment on this assignment – or as many as the site can abide at their invitation.

 




 

İskenderun...
Unbelievable!

Added: August 31, 2009:

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about my service in Tuslog Det 181 at İskenderun. I sent it to Merhaba Turkey and it is posted above. It is, of course, written in English and describes the unbelievably close relationship I had with the Turkish family who lived immediately behind our site.

Since that time – a few weeks ago I sent in another piece on that time though it isn’t published yet and a fellow who served there 6 years before me added his experiences. It was a fascinating, almost enchanting time.

I hadn’t heard from that family in the intervening 41 years. I had sent a few letters long ago which never came back.

Well, on Monday, August 17, 2009 – more than 41 years after I had last seen that family, an email arrived at the address shown at the top of this page. It was from the daughter of the oldest child of that Turkish family. She’d been 6 when I left. They found me. Someone had read or found the story from Merhaba Turkey, sent it to this woman, now 47, who lives in Berlin and speaks fair English and she wrote to me.

Emails and pictures of then and now are flying. All 12 children are living, the mother and father having passed away in the 1980s. Six of them live in İskenderun, 5 in Germany and 1 in Holland.

We are reunited after 41 years! Those who use Facebook are connected as "Facebook friends" and others are getting connected. Tears flow and emails are exchanged. The possibility of a reunion is in everyone’s mind.

Thank you, Merhaba Turkey. I wrote, you published, someone found it and now my Turkish Family has found me again.


   
 






 






   

Midway along the corridor of our barracks facility was a door that led out onto the flat roof of the warehouses. Some of the guys had put together a weight lifting facility on the roof. One Army guy was a competitive power lifter and spent a lot of time working out there. The roof had a knee high wall running around it.

At the back of the roof – adjacent to the window of my room – on the 2nd day I was there, I approached that edge of the roof and looked down into the yard of the family that lived right behind. The wall around their yard was partly our rear wall of the warehouse. I waved to the children in the yard. They said something which I didn’t understand (I later discovered that they had a passing acquaintance with Sgt. David Teague of the Army contingent and had known some of the American personnel over several years). I spoke no Turkish on that 2nd day and they spoke virtually no English. The next day I returned after duty to sit on the wall and begin learning about them. They had 12 children alive there and the mother was well along in another pregnancy at the time. We made motions and said our own language’s words. They pointed to the mother and said “anne” and to the father and said “babba”. I got that. I made a sign with my fingers on the palm of the other hand like walking. They said “yurumek” – the infinitive form of the verb meaning to walk. It went rapidly from there. I learned from them and from the Turkish folks who worked with us. Within a few weeks, I was speaking regularly in long and complicated conversations with that Turkish family Their last name is Dengiz and the father was an “arabaci” or horse drawn coach driver.

I can still remember all the names of those children. Let me run them down here:

Semir (the oldest son about 25 then), Semire (the oldest daughter who was married and had a daughter but came around everyday), Bedriye (daughter who was married and had a son), Bedir (18 or so a male), Vahid (15 male), Vahide (about 14 female), Ferid (12 boy) , Feride (11 girl), Selma (6 girl), Selwa (4 girl) and Suheyla (1 girl). For some reason I cannot recall the name of the baby subsequently born into that family while I was there. The last one made 12 live children out of 21 pregnancies in that woman’s life.

They taught me Turkish. There were weekends when I was totally immersed in Turkish/Arab culture and language of the area and during which I spoke not a word of English. Though I might not have been invisible to the Turks of the neighborhood, during those times, I am absolutely sure no American could have found me. I wore Arab clothing, spoke Turkish with an Arabic accent and went about among the Turks as they did. They taught me the customs and cultural behavior. They taught me the openness of loving what you have. I spoke Turkish well enough to be certified later in my tour as fluent by the US Department Of Defense. They were Arabs by birth, Hatay Province having only become part of Turkey at the end of the British Protectorate of Syria in 1939.

In 1967, everyone in İskenderun over 28 years of age had been born in Syria only to have their town and the entire province of Hatay become part of Turkey in 1939. Turkish was the official language, Arabic was the mother tongue for most folks there at that time. Though there were Orthodox Christians and Catholics in the town, and I came to know several of them, the vast majority of the populace was Alevi Muslims (not Sunni, not Shia’a). I learned a bit of Arabic, but not much. My appearance was convincing however as I looked more like the neighbors than most of the neighbors and spoke Turkish with the Arabic accent since I learned Turkish from the folks around me who were Arabs by birth and native Arabic speakers.

One evening, the mother of the family asked me if I would walk across to the other side of our compound across the roof and tell Vahide and Feride who were window shopping across the street from our front gate to come home. I was pleased to and walked to the other side of the roof. Upon seeing them in the street I called out to them in Arabic “Vahide, Feride emme kal tai lahone” – well that’s the phonetic for what I said. It means “Wahide and Feride, momma said come home”. Upon their arrival home I was still talking to the family on the wall and the girls were all giggles and chatters telling me that the folks asked if I was their brother. Apparently – perhaps they were flattering me - my appearance and pronunciation of the Arabic words was such that the folks in the street not only didn’t know I was American but thought I was their Arabs brother. I did look like him.

Among the Turks/Arabs who worked with us at the facility were Albul Hamid Sabaoglu (a beautiful name meaning “Slave of God Hamid Son of the Morning”) (affectionately known as “Red’ due to his red hair). ”Red” was the most profane person in three languages I have ever known, Naim Koc, Ali Dipsakaci, Oktay Yaygili – who became my dear friend, Jimal ___?____. Mehmet___?____.

We were told – and the traffic passing showed evidence - that the highway was then the single highway that ran from Europe down into Saudi Arabia and was the preferred bus and truck route for Muslim Pilgrims who must meet their duty of a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime. Twice in my tour there I saw the masses of pilgrims with chartered buses piled high with their luggage passing – surely thousands of them.

Everyday, the highway carried major truck traffic. There is no telling how much an enterprising Turk can load on a truck. They loaded them back then to the point of turning the trucks over. They loaded them with everything from household baggage and people to heads of cabbage and everything in between. You can stack empty tin 5 gallon petrol cans close to 20 feet high on top of a Mercedes diesel truck with “Masalla” painted decoratively above the windshield. Dumb American, in my early days there I though that was the manufacturer of the truck body. One day I asked “nerede bu Masalla kamyon fabrikasi?” where is this Masalla truck factory? Laughter reined down. “Masalla” means in Arabic “God is generous or good to me”. It is transliterated into Turkish with the same use. It was on every truck.

Most of our American personnel preferred not to venture quite so aggressively into the town and countryside as I did. Then, I had determined to learn the language and see everything I could, participate as much as possible and learn. I made an appearance – scored the first basket – in a game with the city team against a team from American University from Beruit. It was played on an outdoor court in a nice park. I was in regular attendance at the first season of İskenderunspor’s move into professional soccer at the 3rd division level.

When I use the term “we” in this context, I am almost always talking about my Turkish friends and I. We went out together. I dated some modern Turkish women. I could talk to them – amazing. They were just like folks think of women in America. They did not all wear their heads covered and if they did, not all of them wore veils and black clothing. We went to nice places in the town and along the fabulous seashore. It was a rocky shore then but fabulous water and weather. We bought fresh seafood off the boats in the harbour. I could easily have lived like a king, but chose not to be quite so apparently tourist. I made – wages, separate rations and pay for operating the PX for a while – about $400 per month. The average Turk did well to make that in a year. In the villages and among those not in the “upper crust” of Hatay’s social scene my income would have gone a long way. I chose for it not to.

Oh, there was need from time to time. Selma Dengiz – the 6 year old girl in my “Turkish family” – suffered a very bad laceration on the bottom of her foot. The family – without medical resources nor money – bandaged it. She played and walked mostly barefoot. The wound was looking bad. With her parents’ permission, I took her in a carriage to the Hasta Hane (literally “sick house”) which passed for a hospital there in those days to have a doctor attend to her in the emergency facility. It wasn’t much then – windows open and insects around illness – but the doctor there did clean, close properly and bandage the wound. I paid cash. Selma clung round my neck as I carried her the whole time and thanked me. That was early in the fall of 1967. When I left in summer of 68, Selma was the first to shed a tear. I was the second. It was a 15 way tie for 3rd.

This is, perhaps, more detail about the interaction of one American Air Force Sgt. with the local Turkish neighbors than is found in other narrative at this site. My interaction, however, was principally with the folks of İskenderun. It was a remote site with a normal party of 4 Air Force and 10 Army personnel. Every American who was there when I arrived left before I did and Every one who came after me was still there when I left. The constant that I was with every day of my time there were the Turkish personnel who worked there and the Turkish neighbors who became my friends and “Turkish family”. They were what was different from my other Air Force assignments. I will write another installment on this assignment – or as many as the site can abide at their invitation.


New Addition 8/31/2009:

İskenderun 1967-1968

The above story is a general overview of my time as an Air Force Sgt. assigned duties at TUSLOG Detachment 181, İskenderun, Turkey. This new material is the first in what I hope will be a series of more detailed short pieces describing the life of a US Air Force enlisted man there and the cultural environment in which such duty took place. I have been further enlightened by the article by then Air Force Sgt. Al Cammarata who did “my job”, but in a much different way, about 6 years before I got there. He, along with the entire military party then were housed in apartments near the ocean front in İskenderun rather than in a barracks on top of our warehouses - as the site had come to be configured - in that span of 6 years between Sgt. Al Cammarata and I.

Sgt. Cammarata was a morse code radio operator, and by 1967 – perhaps as a result of the rebuilding after the fire at the compound during his tour - we lived and worked in those rooms built on top of the warehouse. We had switched from morse radio transmission of message traffic to encrypted teletype communication sent over a radio signal but had a voice relay through Yumurtalik just as he did. Our personnel were two teletype crypto operators (29150) and a radio maintenance man along with the a USAF freeze cargo guy.

İskenderun was then and is today the largest city in the Turkish province of Hatay. Hatay is a piece of Turkey today that sticks down between Syria and the Mediterranean Ocean. İskenderun in the principal port in southern Turkey. Hatay was part of Syria until 1939 when the end of the French Protectorate brought about the area being ceded to Turkey. Until about 2000 that decision remained a subject of international tension between Syria and Turkey. Some Syrian maps still show ‘Liwa aliskenderun’ (Syrian Arabic name for the province of Hatay) as part of Syria. When struck off from Syria, Hatay was almost entirely populated by people of Arab birth and descent. Those folks had been born in Syria if they were born before 1939. They spoke Arabic as their mother tongue. They were Alevi - a kind of a “twelver” version of Islam descending from the ‘Ali as successor to Mohammad’ branch in Shia’a Islam more attuned to good deeds and treating people well that exercises gender equality and meets in ‘cem’ – meetings in homes rather than mosques - and Alawi – also descended from the belief that Ali was the successor but more fundamentally oriented in their Islamic practices. Several million Alevi and Alawi Moslems were made citizens of Turkey by the transition. They were my friends Alevi and Alawi. We celebrated together as their holidays came. We wished each other joyous holidays, ‘Bayramlar hayir olsun’ as the days passed.

The town of İskenderun also contained a small but visible population of Greek and Eastern Orthodox and a Catholic community. Those folks maintained their own churches and cemeteries, but mixed with the local population. There were also a large number of people with dual or even triple citizenship in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. I was acquainted with some families who had homes in İskenderun, Sogukoluk in the Taurus Mountains along the road to Antakya, and/or homes in Lebanon or Syria. There was a wealthy class in İskenderun whose families were involved in manufacturing, fishing and particularly in shipping. They included some of the Eastern Orthodox families and French Catholic/Arabs with roots in Lebanon.

To be sure, it was not a classless society. The lines were known and visible, but, somehow, I managed to traverse those lines at will (or perhaps without any known will). I moved within the Turkish/Arab population at will barely conscious that there was a class line. Perhaps that’s why I moved so easily. I didn’t care about that line. I understood that there was a lower class – my Turkish family was smack dab in the middle of it and when I lived a life parallel to theirs, I was lower class, too. Then there were middle and upper class folks who were of multiple cultural and religious divides. Diversity? America has no idea what diversity is.



Diversity Interlude – I came upon a small boy, as I recall, he was 6 years old. He was hanging around a brightly painted wagon near our front gate on what was then a much less busy major highway from Europe into the Middle East and to the Holy Places of Islam. He was a Kurdish gypsy boy. As I came out the gate in my fatigue uniform, he obviously recognized me as American and spoke to me in English. I answered him in Turkish and he replied in Turkish grinning. I answered his Turkish in Arabic and he replied in Arabic almost laughing. He won the game after that. His prize was chewing gum from me. It turned out he spoke Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, English, French and some German. His family lived in that wagon and tents they carried with them. They moved pretty freely, the fortified borders notwithstanding, among Turkey and its southern neighbors over the course of their east/west travels in southern Turkey and along the northern reaches of Syria, Iraq and Iran.



Truly, American notions of 2009 regarding “diversity” are mental flights of fancy to be traveled only via remarks at cocktail parties in the curtained parlors of the Potomac and Park Avenue but which are incomparable to the reality of the Hatay Province in the years after World War II up through the 1970s and even to today. The same case is true across the Middle East all day, everyday. Who, among those labeled in the polite elite wine and cheese crowd of liberal elitism as contributing to diversity speaks more than one language well? Who has been immersed in the bowels of other cultures? Who knows what non-America (or American for that matter) societies outside the capital cities and toney vacation spots really are?? None of those know. None of them should be allowed to tell anyone else what is expected of them in such regard, either.

And so, I was that blessed. It was a gift from God to be put down on two feet in that neighborhood at that time. Just to be there and to see it from ground level would have been beyond my wildest dreams. Actually, my dreams up to that time involved Viet Nam service. So, far beyond my wildest dreams, I got to see the reality of that life without any filter of folks behaving as if a tourist was present among them. They didn’t ever treat me as a tourist or as anything other than one of their close knit family. I got to see the life of Pinarbasi Mahalle (a neighborhood-like village within the town...there are many such villages in İskenderun). I enjoyed the cooking on a wood fire, the outdoor toilet, sleeping on platforms up in the air at a cooler level. I didn’t just see those children as I passed by. I held them in my arms, I cared for them, sometimes even saw to their food and financial well being. They in their turn taught me to speak Turkish, some Arabic and the culture of Alawi Muslim/Turk/Arab/. Almost no one outside their family and their neighbors even knew I was there with them. I blended in so well that surely no non-Turk - and perhaps no Turk - from outside that neighborhood of İskenderun, unless they had engaged me in involved conversation, would have identified me as not Turkish. So, I got to see it as they did, right down at ground level. No prism. No filter. No acting.

Apart from that family, in my other involvement in the people and the town, I was accepted and got by – from my viewpoint, at least – unnoticed. No one made anything of my presence. I was treated just as they each treated each other. My close friend, Oktay Yaygili, and his wife, Umit, and sister, Senay, were friends and we went about quite a bit. We went to nice places along the seaside and in the mountains. We enjoyed the time together.

In the neighborhood, I went to the parties for birthdays, holidays and observances of events. Tekel beer at the time was very low in alcohol content and was sold in quarts. You could rapidly drink a lot of that without becoming inebriated, but your bladder might not last the evening. Raki, on the other hand – a clear liquor made from figs and anise and mostly made like moonshine in the villages – was another matter entirely. There is a raki story to be told involving six gallons of village raki, three guys, a whole weekend and four gallons of black paint, but that is for another time.

This is my effort to include essays of my time in İskenderun with more detail. I plan further detail in subsequent editions so check back soon!

Ed Roberts

08 Apr 2014:  I went back about 3 years ago and took my daughter and grandson.  We stayed around Iskenderun for 11 days with my "Turkish Family".


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