Making the most of Turkey

Jim Gindlesperger

©2012 by Author

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Stories on This Page:

Click a Title to Read, or just "Scroll and Read"
· Arriving in Turkey
· Delegation of Duty
· Dichotomies in Turkey
· Volleyball


First I should say that if you lived in Turkey in the 1960s or early '70s there is a book you must read, called Scotch and Holy Water by John Tumpane. You will feel like you are back in the country reliving the tales of one of the managers of the Tumpane Company who held the contract for base support. ( has used copies of the book available and, perhaps, some new ones. Also check and other book sources - Ed.)

In the spring of 1969 my wife Jackie and I were both E-3's stationed at Fairchild AFB Washington. We had only been there a couple months when she got an assignment to Karamursel. I was assigned to DET 175 part of the 1035 Field Activities Group under USAF HQ Command and Jackie worked for the 92nd Strategic Wing. Our first thought was to try to get her assignment canceled. The military was not used to dealing with married couples yet and there were no rules or guidelines on how to handle them. My commander said the our organization had a detachment at Karamursel and that it should be easy to get me an assignment there. He was right, and within a month I had orders to Karamursel Common Defense Installation (KCDI) Tuslog Detachment 38.

We arrived in Turkey in late August of '69 and of course had culture shock. I was from a small town in Pennsylvania and Jackie was from Modesto, California. As E-3 airmen first class, we were not eligible for base housing, so we went to the local housing office on Gazipasa Çaddesi in Yalova (about 10,000 residents)and started looking at apartments. We found a small place on the second floor on a side street off of Fatih Çaddesi that was right by a bus stop. I think the rent was $40 a month. The apartment was small, maybe 700 square feet and living there took some adjustment. On the balcony was a 55 gallon drum filled with kerosene which fueled the Vesuv stove that provided heat. The house was wired for 220 volts and a transformer had to be installed to reduce it to 120 volts for American appliances. On many occasions the Turkish voltage would drop so low that the normal 120 would be less than 100. Many things would not work and the lights would be dim. Fortunately, the base had loaner furniture, so we got a bed, couch, a small table and chair set, and a vanity to put the Akai reel-to-reel tape recorder on. Oh: and most importantly a refrigerator! There was no television or English radio so evenings were spent reading, listening to music or visiting with other GI's. The bathroom had a western style commode instead of a Turkish bombsite one, and there was a 10-gallon copper hot water heater with a fire box for wood. The best method for getting hot water was to put about an inch of kerosene in a 3-pound coffee can, then fill the can with small slats of wood. The wood would soak up the fuel like a sponge. Inserting a few of the primed sticks of wood in the heater would give you hot water in about 15-minutes. The kitchen had the refrigerator, a sink and a 2 burner propane stove. The kitchen was small about the same size as the bathroom. All in all it took awhile to get used to.

After six months we moved to another larger two bedroom apartment on the first floor, right on Fatah Çaddesi. Still the same type water heater but at least we had a three-burner stove with oven in the kitchen. This was a vast improvement.

Jackie worked days at the commissary and later at clothing sales, and for the first year and a half I was a shift worker. It took some time to get acclimated to the country but soon we became friends with our "kapaci" (apartment supervisor/doorman) and his wife. They kept a close eye on Jackie while I was working to make sure she was safe and comfortable.

For entertainment, the base had a theater, a nine-lane bowling alley, NonCommissioned Officers club, a recreation center and a nine- and 18-hole golf course (nine greens but 18 tee boxes). I remember the first movie we saw after arriving was Barbarella with Jane Fonda. On most Friday nights we would go to the club for dinner, unless I was working swing shift. We would have a nice dinner and play a few slots, a jackpot on the quarter machine would yield $37.50. Once a month the club had stag night when they would have Turkish Belly dancers (strippers) and free food.

The official exchange rate was 9 Turkish Lira to the dollar but for some reason the military would give you 12 TL! The US must have had an excess of lira to get rid of. I would take the bus to base and meet a military vehicle with a Turkish driver and be taken to Detachment 38 which was six or seven miles from the base. The trip actually headed back toward Yalova, with a right turn in the town of Altinova driving down a rough dirt road passing through orange groves to a slightly hidden building with one Turkish army soldier as a guard. At that time Det. 38 was a highly classified location. Our job was to detect nuclear bomb detonations throughout the world. Of course considering our location, Russia was a prime monitoring target.

One of our Turkish drivers was Bey Nadem. Though his English was limited, he was much better than the rest, and during our daily trips to the site he would try to teach me the language. I learned very quickly that if you knew the noun and the verb stem you could make yourself understood and the best thing there was no verb "to be". It just seemed to be a given. Living in town, dealing with merchants and drivers I started to get a basic grasp on the language. The Turks never looked down on you for butchering their language they always did their best to try to understand you and to help.

The first year went by pretty fast with several trips to Büyuküda (The Princes Islands) and to Istanbul by ferry. Then some major changes occurred. First Staff Sargent Henderson in my Detachment was about to rotate back to the states, and he had a 1964 Volkswagen Bug that his wife won in a bingo game while he was stationed in Tripoli Libya (how times have changed). We were able to buy the beetle for $500 and what a joy it was to have a car again. We started venturing out a little further each time. On one of our first trips we were driving to Iznik (formerly the Macedonian city of Nicaea). There was a dirt road between the base and the town of Karamursel that went over the hills. We were several miles into the trip when we started to encounter oncoming traffic that was driving very fast. We pulled over and realized we were going the wrong way in a road rally. No signs posted no warning just speeding vehicles. We sat for a hour or so till there were no more vehicles then continued our drive. When we got to Iznik we were surprised at finding a beautiful ruin and there was no one there but a sheep herder and his flock. Ancient sculptures, vases and magnificent tiles were lying on the ground. I recently pulled up photos of that main entrance and it looks the same as back then.

After a couple hours we went to the lake for a picnic lunch. We drove right onto the beach of small rocks and laid out our lunch. A woman and three young girls ages ten to 16 came walking off the road and put down a blanket, paying no attention to us. As usual they were dressed up from head to toe. Anyone stationed in Turkey in those day will remember that you rarely saw young girls, and if you did, it was on their way to school and all wearing uniforms. The young girls proceeded to strip naked and put on bathing suits. We were both shocked and surprised. We were sure that the woman had seen us but she didn't seem to care. We ate lunch and the girls swam. Soon they repeated the act in reverse and walked back onto the road and disappeared. We never really understood what we had just seen. After our picnic it was time to leave. It turned out that driving onto the beach was a bad idea. It was impossible to get any traction on the small pebbles, and no matter how gently I let up on the clutch, or which gear I was in, I just spun. Even letting out a little air from the tires did not help. Jackie stayed with the car and I headed off in the direction the woman had gone earlier, and it wasn't too long before I came upon a farmer with a water buffalo. By this time I could speak a little Turkish and was able to get my point across. He hooked the water buffalo to my VW and we came right out! I tried to pay him, but he just clicked his tongue and raised his head, his "tsk" sound is the Turkish way of delivering a very firm "NO".

It was during the period when we were there that they were building new houses on the base. It was amazing sight to see, the houses came in on a large ship to the base dock. Each house looked like a large box but in fact each box was a complete prefab two story house with walls and floors collapsed like a folding box. Each house was transported by trailer to the housing area where foundations had already been built. A crane set the folded house on the foundation and the box was attached to the foundation, some bolts were removed the crane started to lift. As the lid lifted the first story walls started to rise. Workers then went into the house and somehow secured the walls. Then the crane started to lift again and the second story walls started to unfold. Doors windows electrical and plumbing were already within the walls. Each needed only to be interconnected and the house was well on its way to competition. Roofs were installed and a second container was positioned outside each quadplex that contained the appliances and furnace. At any given time they were working on four or five of these quads. It was only a matter of months until about 12 of the four quadplex houses were completed. Buy this time Jackie and I had both been promoted to E-4 and were eligible for base housing. A little over a year after arriving in Turkey we were now living on base at 832-2 Deniz Sokak (Sea Street).

As we made more friends we began taking others on our trips. We spent a weekends in Bursa, Istanbul and several days at the famed Uludağ ski resort. It was impossible to see all of Turkey's history in just a couple days so we made these trips many times over the three years.

I was fortunate that I started to play sports and was able to travel to various bases playing volleyball and ping pong. My first trip in May 1971 was to Izmir to play volleyball. The military provided a C-47 for transportation for the players and our base arranged a bus for the wives to tag along. The base at Izmir had set up various sightseeing tours and entertainment for all the participants. We went tour of Ephesus with maybe twenty of us in a small bus. Ephesus was in the process of being restored and it still goes on to this day. In the whole site there were maybe 200 people. In 2008 I went back and the site had maybe 5,000 tourists. If you were fortunate to be in Turkey when it was still considered "unsafe" you were lucky. All of the ruins were pristine and there were very few tourists. If you saw a piece of pottery or a sculpture you could pick it up and look at it then place it back down. Now there are just too many people to experience it in that way.

The base ping pong team was unique in that we played in a Turkish league. We would travel to neighboring towns and each reside with a Turkish family for the weekend. You had to have an open mind and not be squeamish about what or how you ate. Most of the poorer Turks would sit on the floor and have one large bowl of food in the center of the table, each person having a plate that was mainly used to catch what food missed one's mouth. You used your hand and took food from the bowl and ate. The food was very good, mostly chicken or lamb as a stew. They had lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. It was always easier for me to stay with a Turkish family than to host a Turkish player. I think I was more at ease in their culture than they in ours.

In 1972 I went to İncirlik, Turkey again for volleyball. This time I played well enough to get picked up by the winning team to continue on to Athens. and there, I was picked up by that winning team to continue on to play in Wiesbaden, Germany! I felt like I was on a military sports scholarship.

During our stay in Turkey, Jackie and I did a lot of exploration but most of the GI's seemed to be afraid to venture out into the countryside. I found the Turks to be very hospitable and they would go out of their way to help you. We got lost many times over those years but there was always someone willing to lend a hand. As time went on I got better and better with the language and this was very helpful not only could I communicate, but the Turks were extraordinarily pleased that one would take the time to learn their language instead of relying solely on English.

Dining out is one of my fondest memories. There were many small restaurants locally and of course if you went to Istanbul there was no limit! "Doner Kabab" lamb steaks slowly cooked on a rotating propane grill with the meat being shaved off with a large knife; iskander, shaved lamb on a piece of pita bread covered with tomato sauce and scalded butter with fresh yogurt; börek: goat cheese wrapped in efuka (philo dough) and of course, delicious baklava made with pistachios for dessert. Too many dishes to mention, but to say I loved the food is an understatement. If we went shopping and wanted juice there would be a vendor along the street to squeeze it fresh (cherry, strawberry, peach (seftali) and orange. The fruits and produce were varied, fresh and ripe. The local butcher shops on the other hand left much to be desired. To my knowledge there was only only shop in Yalova that had refrigeration situated right by the ferry landing. The other shops would butcher the animals out back and hang the meat in the windows, not very appealing in a hot summer day.

Ramadan is a sacred holiday for the Muslims and towards the end of the period of fasting tempers seem to run a little short, but then there is a great meal. In every vacant lot in town there were family members slaughtering sheep for the feast. If you lived in town and knew any locals you would be invited to share. The people were kind and generous.

The staple of every negotiation for the purchase of anything is çay (plain old black tea) grown along the Black Sea coast, and served in a small glass set on a metal plate. There would be two sugar cubes set on the plate and a very small spoon. You must have a cup of tea if you are going to buy even the smallest thing, or, in the winter you would be offered sucak portakal suyu (hot orange juice, really like Tang). Negotiation was a part of buying anything. You never paid the asking price no matter how appropriate the price might seem. I remember being in the Grand Bazaar and being hounded by a merchant who wanted to sell me six alabaster coasters. He wanted something like 100 Turkish Lira and would follow us around, lowering his price little by little. We couldn't get rid of him, so I decided to make an insulting offer of 10 TL figuring he would get the hint. Instead, he agreed to the 10 TL! Forty years later, I still have the coasters.

We made many trips to Istanbul, some for just the day and several overnighters. There were several casinos in Istanbul for foreigners only. You had to show a foreign passport to gain entrance. The casinos were extremely elegant, like a small scale version of something you see in the movies about Monaco. We would also go to have dinner and see a floor show at the Galata Tower just up from the ferry landing. On occasions we would lose track of time and miss the last direct ferry to Yalova and we'd have to make a connection through Kartal, then catch the last car ferry to Yalova. Of course back then the bridges across the Bosphorus had not been built yet so if you decided to drive to Istanbul you had to take a car ferry one way or another. Several times we drove that road around the Sea of Marmara, through Izmit around the Maramar Deniz. Along that drive you can stop at a castle built by Alexander the Great from which on a clear day you can see the Karamursel base.

No matter where we would drive in Turkey we would come across antiquities. All one had to do was look for the little brown road signs and drive down some dusty dirt road. Very few of them were ever visited by tourists other than us. You might find a large amphitheater being looked after by a bekçi (watchman) or a shepherd with his flock of sheep and an Anatolian Shepard wearing a large spiked collar. All of the history of Turkey laying at your hands, untouched and luckily no one seemed to take anything. You could occasionally tell that pieces had been moved to allow for a better look or to take a photo. This held true when I was stationed in Ankara in 1985 and '86. I traveled much more extensively then, investigating ruins, sleeping in castles and wondering what it was like 'way back when.

Among our many difficulties of living in Yalova getting water and doing laundry were two of the most bothersome. The water on the local economy was not safe to drink by American standards, so we were advised to haul all of our drinking water from the base. It was very common to see GI's headed home from work on the bus carrying a 5 gallon water jug. It was very nice, once we got a car, and could haul water for many of our friends. The poor Volkswagen Bug was sometimes loaded down with 10 to 15 jugs. Laundry was also a pain for most of the people. Fortunately Detachment 38 had a washer and dryer, so I took our laundry to work every week and washed clothes during my shift. This made my wife both happy and sad. It was nice that I did the laundry but she was not always pleased with the results! Typical male clothes are clothes: fill it up and add soap. She, however, became much happier when we finally moved onto the base and had our own washer and dryer in the house.

Det. 38 was a nice set up at that time. Besides a normal work area we had a full kitchen, a dining area, and 2 horseshoe pits that were used daily during lunch. Each day the morning shift people would stop at a bakery located at the turn off at Altinova and pick up several loaves of freshly baked ekmek (bread) for 10 kurus (8 cents) a loaf. Breakfast on many mornings was hot ekmek smothered in butter and coffee.

Working at the Karamursel Detachment did have occasional drawbacks. One spring it started to rain and continued for several days. Soon our dirt road, which was much lower than the surrounding orchards, due to wear, washed out and they could not make their shift change. Another co-worker, Sstaff Sargent Wally Lynch, who tried to make it to work in a Volkswagen started to get washed away. He tied his car to an orange tree and came to get help. We were able to push his car onto higher ground and he drove through the orchard to work. After being stuck at work for two days they found a solution. The day shift came to work by boat! We were only about 100 yards from the Maramara Sea so boats would launch from the base pier and tie up on the beach near work.

As I said the Detachment and its personnel were very guarded. Someone from one of the shifts that worked at the elephant cage (a giant, circular AN/FLR-9 antenna 1,443 feet in diameter (Wikipedia Reference)) asked the base commander if they could wear different colored windbreakers and matching colored hats for each of the three shifts.

After the Commanding Officer saw the jackets he thought it was a great morale builder and dictated that everyone should have a windbreaker and be color coded so you could tell who everyone worked for. Our commander protested, wanting to continue our low profile but the Base CO said it would look stranger if we were the only ones not wearing windbreakers. Each squadron had an identifying patch except, of course ours. Our fatigues were clean, no squadron patch no command patch, just US Air Force Name and Rank. So now being a little irritated by the order our Captain ordered international orange jackets with matching baseball caps and asked one of the workers to draw up a patch. Let's say that the Base Commander was not terribly pleased with the choice, but he did not forbid us from wearing them.

Another activity that one could get involved in near KARAMURSEL was hunting pigs.

After becoming friends with several Turks, a friend arranged for me to join them on a pig hunt. The pigs, if we got any, would be used for for a large roast held at the golf course. A group of locals and I, along with a pack of dogs and a couple donkeys, drove into the hills not far from base. The brush in this area was very thick, five to six feet tall, and we could see several tunnels leading into the brush. One of the Turks, I think his name was Mehmet, grabbed me by the arm and we started crawling into one of the tunnels. Now I had seen many of these wild pigs and this seemed like a very bad idea. The tunnels were about 30 inches high and after about 75 yards of crawling, we came to an open area about half an acre in size. Once I stood up I could see many tunnels entering this clearing and well worn signs of pig trails crisscrossing the "forest." Mehmet spoke no English, though he smiled a lot, and he didn't seem to be at all curious about what I was trying to say. Soon I heard a whistle blow and dogs began to bark. Mehmet pulled me to the side of the opening so we were not standing near any of the tunnels and just pointed at the sound of the dogs. With shotgun in hand I waited having figured out that a pig might appear. Sure enough there came a pig doing about 30 miles an hour, in through one tunnel, and out through another.

Mehmet had fired both shells from his shotgun before I realized what was happening. It was apparent the he had hit one pig, though it kept right on going! We could hear other shots being fired from other clearings occupied by more hunters. Soon a lot of yelling occurred, and a man appeared though one of the tunnels pulling a rope. We crawled to another opening and there was a dead pig weighing upwards of 300 pounds. The rope was tied to the pig followed by more yelling and the rope was pulled taut. Somewhere on the outside the rope had been attached to one of the donkeys and with help from the hunters was dragging the pig out to the vehicle. In all, three pigs were taken and everyone was quite excited. The pigs were gutted and taken back to the base where someone appeared and paid them $50 for the three pigs. When I got hold of my Turkish friend who arranged for me to go on the hunt I ask why he hadn't explained what was going to happen. He said he thought I would have more fun if I didn't know.

It was an adventure! But even though I was invited on other hunts I graciously refused. It proved to me that Turks are very fearless people. The entire base was invited to the BBQ and the three pigs fed us all.

Life after Karamursel

I apologize for this intro piece being a little long and slightly uninteresting but it is needed as a prelude to further adventures.

After leaving Karamursel in '72 I was assigned to AFTAC HQ (formerly the 1035th Field Activities Group) at Patrick AFB FL. AFTAC is an unusual command in that it only had about 700 enlisted personnel and once you got assigned there you could spend your whole career within the command, and I did. I hated Florida, and was on tap for a remote assignment to Shemya Island in the Aleutians; not a pleasant thought, but when a friend said they were looking for people to cross-train to the airborne side of the house. I jumped at the chance and once I finished school was reassigned to McClellan Air Force Base in California. From 1974 through the summer of '85 I flew in various aircraft which contained equipment for the detection and collection of debris from foreign nuclear bomb detonations. During those years this was still very hush hush but in about 1990, all that changed and the mission was made public. AFTAC's mission was to monitor the world for nuclear activity. Within the organization, once you attained a rank of Master Sargent you were required to become a Station Superintendent at one of the various overseas sites. So, In the spring of 1985 I was given a choice of Camp Long, South Korea, Yokota Air Base in Japan, or Ankara, Turkey.

Having had such a good experience at Karamursel, Turkey and still remembering a little of the language the decision was a no-brainer. So In August I headed off to Detachment 301 (formerly TUSLOG Det 18), Belbasi Seismic Research Station (BSRS), Ankara Turkey. My marital status by this time had changed: I was divorced and unattached.

Before heading off to Turkey I knew there was a mandatory item I would need: a good, reliable, easy to maintain vehicle. I found a 1968 Volkswagen bus that supposedly had a rebuilt engine (another story). I went to the Traffic Management Office to arrange for shipment of my household goods and ran into my first problem. Over the past years I had become quite an avid kayaker and rafter so I wanted to ship one of each among my household goods. They had no problem with the raft because if folded into a small bundle and did not require a special crate but the kayak was another story. They looked up the rules and amazingly, I found that only Navy personnel were allowed to ship boats! I could ship a wind surfer or a surf board but no boats! After a little negotiation we decided to call my kayak a wave surfer and since it was not expressly forbidden in the Joint Travel Regulations they turned a blind eye.

In mid August I arrived at Esenboga Airport and was met by Major Chris Brown, Detachment Commander and the outgoing Superintendent, MSgt Clark Wilberg, who was also a former airborne guy. Brown and I had previously met at a school in Denver which teaches what's necessary to be an effective Commander or a Superintendent. The first week was spent in a hotel and getting the lay of the land. BSRS (referred to by many as Bull Shit Remote Site) was located on a hill on the outskirts of Ankara, bordering a Turkish base used to train NATO radar technicians. BSRS was a NATO site and as such was treated somewhat differently than most organizations. Our site, as well as looking for nuclear bomb seismic activity, had ties to a local University that used the data to identify earthquakes within Turkey. Also at this time the United States was negotiating with Turkey to construct a new seismic array near the town of Keskin. Ankara had grown so much that the noise generated by construction and vehicles had degraded the information being measured by the seismometers. There was a small military facility in Ankara called Balgat, and during my indoctrination I got familiar with the base and took a tour of the proposed new array in Keskin, which was about a three hour drive east of town (the new array was finally built in 2000).

Personally, my first order of business was to obtain a place to live. One of the equipment operators, SSgt Tim Flood, was married to a Turkish girl and he spoke perfect Turkish so he and I went apartment hunting. He knew all the ins and out of finding a good apartment and we finally looked at a place in Goziosmanpasa just down the street from the officers club. The landlord wanted $275 a month to be paid in dollars at a local bank, but I wanted to pay in Turkish Lire because inflation was high. When I arrived in 1986 the conversion rate was 500 Turkish Lira to the dollar but when I left in Dec 1986 it was over 700 TL to the buck! The price seemed a little high but Tim said it was a good deal because a retired Colonel lived in the penthouse. He said it meant I would have heat 24 hours a day. (Even in Turkey retired rank has its privileges.) Ankara sits in a bowl and the pollution in winter was so bad that most places were only allowed to burn coal from 6:00 to 10:00 am and 6:00 until 9:00 pm. Having heat in the winter sounded like a really good idea. Mine was a three bedroom second floor apartment with a balcony for my kayak and an electric hot water heater. Now all I had to do was go to Istanbul to pick up my Volkswagen and I would be ready for adventure and of course work.

Getting to Istanbul was easy. Take the express night train from Ankara and get a sleeper car. You wake up in the morning at the ferry dock on the Asian side of Istanbul, then catch a ferry to European side and a taxi to the import area. Getting to the Bosporus bridge looked like a hassle so I took the car ferry to Kartal and then began the long drive back to Ankara.

The first three months were nothing but work. The Inspector General's inspectors were to arrive in early December and getting ready took many hours and a lot of work, i.e. six or seven days a week and at least ten hours a day. We only had 17 GI's assigned and they were bringing eight inspectors for ten days, just to give you an idea of how thorough the inspection was going to be. The one good thing that occurred was that I found a local restaurant, right down the street from my apartment, that would deliver dinner on China dishes! I could call the restaurant before leaving work and a few minutes after I got home there would be a knock on the door. A boy would enter, place a tablecloth and a place setting on my table, and then lay out my dinner. The next morning the kapaci would deliver a fresh loaf of bread and would pick up the dirty dishes. The restaurant never charged me for the delivery service, I only tipped the delivery boy.

The Inspection was over the second week in December and now the real tour could begin.

There are generally only two attitudes about Turkey from GI's having served there: They either loved it or hated it. In my experience those who took a chance and ventured out fell in love with both the people and the country and those who restricted themselves to base found it to be a prison.

The stage is now set for my adventures in Turkey.

Delegation of Duty

Major Brown was an Information Technology guy who came from Headquarters, Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) and had never commanded more than a computer. The best thing was he realized this. After arriving at the Detachment we sat down and divided duties. He would take care of administration/personnel and negotiations with the Turks on whatever subjects might arise, and I would basically run the day-to-day work at the Detachment. The two administrative clerks reported directly to him, while everyone else worked for me. Each morning we would sit down over a cup of coffee and keep each other informed on what we had going. We would make comments and offer suggestions on each other's duties. This was the best working relationship I ever had with an officer. If he wanted time off I could step into his shoes, and he could do the same for me. The other good thing is that he didn't take much time off thus leaving me free to explore.

Being a NATO site we were expected to observe both American and Turkish Holidays. Where the US gives you 12 single days annually the Turks give as many as 4 days at a time. Because being a NATO site had its benefits, and dealing with the US Embassy on the new array at Keskin gave us visibility, these responsibilities also included access to the American Embassy. That in-turn allowed us to apply for guest membership to the British, Canadian and Australian Embassies. Each of the embassies had happy hour once a month so pretty much every Friday after work we had a place to go. For me the biggest benefit of that international freedom was that the British would import good British and Irish beers. The Brits also has a dart league twice a week so one could join and throw arrows. The opening of these doors led to my first adventure.

Christmas at Uludağ

I had met many of the US Embassy staff, and was invited to join the Turkish American Club which was having a week long outing to ski at Uludağ. Having just passed the inspection and being caught up with all my work I had no problem getting time off. I had 60 vacation days on the books and planned on using as many as I could. I took a taxi to the embassy and helped load the bus. Everything seemed pretty normal, suitcases, skis and boots. Then they started loading raki. Case after case of the famed Turkish liquor was loaded into the baggage bay. In the main cab of the bus they loaded food for the trip and a large ice chest with booze, beer and of course more raki. I play a little guitar so I brought mine along just in case - and it came in quite handy on the long drive.

We didn't arrive at the hotel until about 9:00 pm and it took some time to get all the rooms assigned and the baggage to the rooms. At last I helped carry the cases of raki down a set of stairs to the dining area. The room had many long tables and we were assigned one table along a wall with many windows. We would own this table for our entire stay. The windows were open and between the window and the screen, bottles of raki were stacked. The rest of the bottles that would not fit were stacked in the corner - truly honest people. After the long drive we sat around the fire for awhile then everyone was off to bed to rest for the following day. In the morning we all met in the dining area where a typical Turkish breakfast buffet had been laid out. Most of the tables were full of energetic people waiting to hit the slopes.

I do not downhill ski, I am strictly a cross country guy who is not good enough to telemark. The next morning the Turks laughed at my skis. Another point is that the Turkish word for skiing is KAYAK, a little confusing for someone who is a kayaker. I asked one of the locals what cross country skis would be called and he said mukavemet kayak. I ask if it had a literal meaning and he replied "hard work skiing". Of course there were no Nordic trails so I just headed off into the country side away from the downhill slopes exploring an area covered by radar and microwave antennas . Little by little everyone made their way back for lunch to another wonderful buffet, followed by an afternoon of skiing.

After a tiring afternoon it was nice to have a shower and to head down for supper. By the time I got there several bottles of raki had been removed from the window and the void was immediately filled with warm ones. "Have a drink" was the first comment I heard. Half the conversations were in Turkish and half in English. Having just returned to the country my Turkish was pretty bad but I got by. Dinner was a wide variety of meats and vegetables followed by a whole table of desserts and of course more raki. Later a small band played and everyone danced and drank. There were people there from all over the world. Many of the embassy staff from different countries all had the same idea of spending Christmas in Uludağ. This pattern repeated itself daily until Christmas dinner. While everyone else was having the Turkish buffet our table was served roasted hindi (turkey) with all the trimmings. The Turks from the club had gone the extra mile to try to make us feel at home. Eating, drinking, skiing, dancing and singing Christmas carols - what a wonderful way to spend Christmas.

The morning we were to leave a huge snowstorm hit and it took us several hours to get down off the mountain. It was well after midnight that we arrived back in Ankara, and we were a busload of tired, happy skiers who slowly went their separate ways.

Dichotomies in Turkey

Not long after returning from the Uludag trip I was downtown at the ice skating rink. Enjoying a glass of tea, a couple of kids skated up to me and asked if I was an American. They wanted to practice their English. After awhile we were joined by a young lady, Serife, the older sister of one of the boys. The kids went back to skating and Serife and I became acquainted. She was a nurse who worked at one of the local hospitals and was 31 and single. That in itself was a surprise. I assumed all Turkish women even professional ones married fairly young. She spoke reasonable English and we got along very well. Soon I was introduced to another brother who was about 25. After some quick conversation in Turkish that I couldn't keep up with he joined us. He did not look particularly pleased that I was speaking with his sister, but was pleasant enough. It took awhile to catch on that he was her chaperone, and I was being scrutinized. The next weekend I made it a point to return to the skating rink and I boldly asked her if she would like to go to dinner. She hesitated and then said that she would have to get her father's permission first. Ankara seemed very westernized at this time and I didn't realize things like this still occurred, but I was wrong. We - Serife, her brother and I - got a cab and I was taken to meet her parents. After some idle conversations and many questions our dinner date was approved.

So off to dinner we went (Serife, her brother and I). She suggested a nice casual restaurant and we went in, but her brother sat on a bench in the reception area. Slowly the light was coming on. Maybe in time we would lose the brother. After a couple months I finally invited her and her brother to come to my apartment for dinner. Having a wonderful restaurant nearby that would deliver made it easy. The next surprise was that instead of her brother showing up it was her father. He asked if he could look around so I showed him my apartment. I had arranged a time with the restaurant to deliver the dinner but when it arrived dad refused to eat. He wanted to sit on the couch and watch. It took some doing for her to convince him that I would be insulted if he did not eat. The evening ended pretty well and we were able to talk about many things and by the time they left he was almost smiling. Over the next months we had many meetings and it was evident that we would be no more than friends, always a chaperone.

Then at the end of May there was a four-day Turkish holiday and Serife asked if we could go to the Mediterranean to the beach. She said she would get permission for her brother and his girlfriend to come along and we would chaperone each other. I couldn't believe her parents would buy this, but they did.

I drove the VW bus to her house and loaded everything in the roof luggage rack and off we went. She had made the arrangements to stay at a resort with beach bungalows, I have since tried to locate the site on the web, but don't remember enough to narrow it down. It was a long drive to start with, but on Turkish highways it is even harder. You really have to pay attention to abandoned cars and herds of sheep. When we finally arrived at the Med' she said it was about another hour along the coast but that they wanted to stop and swim. I was not happy at this idea. I was tired and would have to unload all the baggage from the roof to get to the swim suits but they would not give up. I pulled of down a dirt road to the beach and got out of the car stepping onto the tire to untie the load when she asked what I was doing. Reminiscent of the woman and her daughters at Iznik, I looked down to see three naked people. Bewildered and confused I stripped down and we all laughed and went for a swim. During the remainder of the drive my mind was in turmoil. I had known this girl almost 5 months and had not seen anything above the elbow or ankle, had never given her a kiss or even a good hug yet just a few minutes ago I had seen her nude!!

Once we arrived at the resort her brother and she went into register. Then we drove to the bungalow, which was sort of a duplex. I crawled up onto the van and started to watch where the bags were going. More astonishment!! Our bags went into the same room. Not wanting to complain and also not willing to jinx what was going to happen, I just kept my mouth shut. The remainder of the holiday was as if we had been lovers for years, a wonderful unexpected vacation.

The drive home was just as tiring, and I was happy to drop them off and get back to my apartment. I had a whole week to think about what had happened before I saw her again. We met downtown in a park, along with her brother, and I approached her expecting to give her a kiss. I was immediately rebuked. Now I was even more puzzled. She calmly explained that different things are allowed to happen at the beach on vacation. I guess it what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. We continued to see each other on and off for the rest of my tour but it was never quite the same.


I would occasionally go to the base gym to play racquetball against the young guys at work. One day there were a couple guys passing a volleyball around. Now this was really my sport. I had never given up the game and had played on the McClellan Base team every year. I might be getting a little old, 37, but I could still play a reasonable game. After a brief introduction I joined in and we started to make it a weekly thing. Soon there were six or seven of us, not enough for a regular game but we would play three on three and run different drills. One evening a woman saw us playing and ask to join in. The word spread and soon we had six or seven girls showing up and we were able to play some games.

The GI who ran the gym came up and asked if we could put together a women's team. Apparently someone in Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) had come up with an idea of getting female teams together from the various bases and having small tournaments at the remote sites where the GI's had been deprived of seeing American woman. The girls thought it would be fun, so I took over the job as coach and we started serious practice. There were not enough active duty military to fill out a team so it was decided that dependents would be allowed to play. On our regular nights of play the girls would show up an hour or so early and we would run drills and then play.

The first tournament was set to be in Sinop. Everything was being arranged, the dates were set and all the girls had gotten permission slips from their commanders or husbands and we were ready to go. We were told a small Mercedes bus would be provided for transportation. After showing up packed and ready to go a MWR representative arrived and gave me the keys to the bus! I had assumed there would be a Turkish driver. NO FUNDS FOR A DRIVER! I was given a map and details of the hotel where we were to stay and a schedule of events and off we went.

The bus was small, maybe 24 passenger, but allowed plenty of room for the girls, baggage and an ice chest and it drove very nicely. On the long ride it seemed like I was a counselor at a girls camp. Laughing, singing , telling stories and the consumption of a little beer. The drive through the mountains between Ankara and Sinop was beautiful. A dense forest with streams and waterfalls. With all the joking and laughing it was a pleasant drive. We arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon. The hotel set at the base of a hill with a road leading up to the base. After getting settled we got ready for our first meeting, a welcome mixer for the teams.

Someone must have been posted as a lookout for when we drove up to the main gate there was a welcoming committee. The base commander, head of MWR, and way too many GI's. We were escorted to the dining hall which had been nicely decorated and with someone spinning records off to the side. The other two teams from Izmir an İncirlik were already there. THEY WERE GIVEN AN AIRPLANE FOR THE RIDE! The base commander took the three coaches aside and tried to lay down some guidelines on the interaction between his troops and the girls, kind of like talking to your dad before your first serious date. When we returned the party was in full swing. Music, dancing and free booze. I had cautioned the girls not to let things get out of hand and they sort of broke up into pairs to keep an eye on each other. We coaches found a quiet table and talked while keeping an eye on our flock. The first game was not to start till 1 pm so there was no hurry in stopping the party.

The night in the hotel was pretty miserable. It was April and there was no heat. The girls were two to a room and I was by myself. Soon there were knocks on my door "it's cold". I had already been down to the front desk to complain but was told the heat had been turned off for the summer. They didn't seem to know that April was not summer. The girls doubled up into one bed and used the blankets from both to keep warm. I just froze.

After a not so restful night's sleep we went to the base to warm up and get in a little practice. They had arranged for a lunch but no one really wanted to eat before the games. We played a double round robin and İncirlik ended up being the winner. After the game it was back to the hotel to shower and change and then back to the base for dinner and another party. The dining hall staff went all out and must have saved up to put together the spread they laid before us. Everyone was having a good time singing and dancing. I remember them starting to play Lee Greenwoods "Proud to be an American" and everyone just stopped and sang. After all these years it still can bring a tear to my eyes. The rest of the evening was uneventful. The base commander took us aside to thank us for the wonderful morale booster and off we went to bed.

The drive home was quieter and we stopped at a park-like area in the mountains to take a break from the drive. The event had been a success but for some reason trips to other remote sites were all cancelled.

Men's Volleyball.

After getting back home our weekly games resumed. We were then told that Ankara was holding the small-sports competition for all military in Turkey. Racquetball, handball, badminton, volleyball etc. We only had 5 real players and a couple guys that liked the game but were marginal players, but we were the home team so we would play. We did have 2 really great players both about 6'4" who could really spike the ball and I could still hold my own as both a setter and spiker. As it ended up our ragtag 6 won which was really unexpected as no one had considered what would happen next. Next was going to Athens to play in the Mediterranean Championships. Quickly everyone had to get permission from their unit commanders. A couple had trouble, but the base commander stepped in and convinced the bosses to give permission. Luckily we were able to draft a few players from the other teams to round out our team. We were now a team of nine as we headed off for Athens.

They sent a C-130 to pick us up for the ride to Athens. We were put up in a nice hotel right on the Aegean Sea, about a thirty minute bus ride to the base. The first time I entered the gym it was like old times. It had been 14 years since I last played here as a much younger man. While walking onto the floor I noticed a familiar looking man with a large knee brace tying his shoes. As I approached him he looked up and we both realized we had met here 14 years ago, we were the old men returning here for one last game. There were about 12 teams from all over the Mediterranean - Spain, Italy, Crete and more were all represented. It was an impressive gathering and our team was able to muster a respectable 4th place finish with two members being selected to continue on to the European Championships in Germany. Again my military sports scholarship had paid off.