A Stranger in a Strange Land by John L. Neel

"I had been apprehensive about accepting a job overseas-especially in the land of the Terrible Turks-but I survived.  I even thrived!" ~ John D. Tumpane, Scotch and Holy Water

SSG Neel, Report to Brigade for your pre-Levy Briefing. 

Oh Shit, I'm going to Korea! I had been homesteading in the 82nd for seven years and I knew I was going overseas soon.  Everyone seems to go to Korea.  When I got to Brigade headquarters, my orders read, "NATO, Belgium."  Belgium?  I could do that.  I called Kady all excited.  Baby!  We're going to Belgium!

When I got to Division headquarters for the actual briefing, my orders had been changed. 

I was going to Izmir Turkey.

I had to look Turkey up on the map. 

The only thing I knew about Turkey was what I had seen in the movie Midnight Express.  When the Army asked if I would take Jay and very pregnant Kady, I immediately chose the fifteen-month unaccompanied tour. 

John Tumpane says he was "Apprehensive."  I was dreading it.

What I found when I arrived was a beautiful country, filled with the most beautiful, hospitable people who liked Americans, with delicious food, pristine beaches, and interesting places to see.  Turkiye is both ancient and modern at the same time.  I lived in a modern city and could see ancient civilizations only a few miles away.  I fell in love with everything about it.  Since that first tour, I volunteered for two more tours and would go back tomorrow if I could.

Like John Tumpane, I Thrived.

I came to love this place like home, to appreciate these wonderful people as if they were my family, I learned a little of the language, and I crave their food.

First Tour: Fifteen Months of Learning (SSG - SFC) 

During my first tour, I was assigned as the Operations NCO, Headquarters Command, Land Forces Southeast Europe (LSE), outside the city on Izmir in Sirinyer.   I rented a small, two-bedroom apartment, across from Alsancak Cami (mosque) just off one of the main thoroughfares in the city.  It was noisy, but I got used to it.  The Imam's morning call to prayer was my signal to get up and commune with the gods of running.  I ran a lot this tour.  Right down the street from my apartment was Kultur Park, which had a nice running track and a figure eight of roads running through it.  I think back then it was free admission early in the morning.  I'd be out there all by myself most mornings.


My first apartment on 1408 Sokak

Culture Shock! 

I arrived in Turkey not knowing what to expect.  From all the literature the command sent me, the process of moving there and signing in looked like an overwhelming series of tasks.  I had to find a place to live among the Turks, get the utilities turned on, take classes in the Turkish language, shop in a very small PX and Commissary or out in the Turk marketplace.  I wouldn't have a car, TV, or phone.  I would travel on a NATO bus to work and I had no clue how that was supposed to happen. 

I landed at Cigli AFB, across the bay from where I would work and live, and took a long bus ride, mostly in the dark, around the inland tip of the bay, which smelled horrible, more horrible than I could ever describe.  Back then, the route took us by old hovels and broken down buildings, lit only by one or two light bulbs. I remember thinking, "This is going to suck!" 

Traveling with me was an Air Force Sergeant First Class, the same rank as me, Joe and his lovely wife Kathy.  I remember looking over at them and they had the most horrified looks on their faces. As we approached the Alsancak area, the buildings began to look a lot better.  High rise apartments began to appear, the streets were lined with trees and flowers, restaurants, and shops.  We passed a nice park full of giant palm trees.  Even at this late hour, which I would soon learn was early for Turks, people were walking the streets.  I was shocked to see that they dressed pretty much like me.  They were great looking people; The girls were all dressed up and gorgeous.


Kordon Otel, 2001 

We pulled in front of a nice hotel, right on the Bay, the Kordon Otel.  This served, at the time, as the transient barracks for the Army and Air Force personnel arriving and departing.  It would be my home for the next few days until I rented an apartment.  My room was on the other side of the hotel, facing inland.  It was NICE!  

Through my windows, I could look out over the millions of lights of the city, up to what looked like a castle on a mountain top. Things were looking up. 

I was assigned a great sponsor, Rick Coburn.  He and his wife Liz taught me how to do things the Turk Way.  Within a few days, I had a great little apartment on the economy, had all the utilities turned on, knew how to get to work, where the PX and Commissary were hidden, and had a membership to the Video Club and my ration cards. They took me all around the city, helped me in-process, got me started in my new job, and, most importantly, they enrolled me in Turkish Head Start and took me on my first trip outside Izmir to the ruins of Hierapolis above the small city of Denizli.  


After they left, I pretty much kept to myself, making a few friends at work, but mostly traveling solo and spending time alone. 

Liz, Rick, and Dan, Pamukkale, Hierapolis, 1985

My job was different than anything I had ever done.  My Bosses and I were responsible for moving the Alternate War Headquarters to a location, somewhere in Turkey, as a backup in case the bunkered HQ, called Disco Hit (Don't ask me why, because I haven't a clue) ceased to function.  This included vehicles from four different nations, officers and enlisted from all NATO/OTAN nations and the spectrum of war-fighting jobs, all the communications needed to communicate worldwide, and a Turk detachment for security.  The whole thing was covered by a gigantic camouflage net, an amazing feat accomplished by the young Turk officers, NCOs, and Askers. 

Sometimes we moved this by road, but once, I moved it by Turk LST from Izmir to Tekirdag, up the Aegean, through the Dardanelles, and into the Sea of Marmora.  I was always a proponent for ditching the whole idea and setting up in a hotel somewhere close to the war if there ever was one.

I was also the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical NCO for the HQ.  The command sent me to Vilseck Germany to school and had me evaluate the HQ's defensive preparations and capabilities.  After making my recommendations, and meeting complete resistance, I suggested to the Turk 3-Star that, in the case of an attack, having not listened to me, that we should all just die in place.  I was quickly ushered out of his office by his subalterns.  It seems one does not disagree with Turk Generals.  It turned out OK.  He was amazed that a Junior NCO would have the gumption to speak with such candor and he backed me up several times after that when I asked for changes.  However, I was never asked to brief him again.

Kady brought the kids over during the Summer of 1985 and we had a great time together. The Turks loved Jay and E.  We did a little traveling and visited Samos, a close-by Greek island, so they could stay longer without extending my tour.  Kady came back over at Christmas and spent a month with me.  We had a blast.  It was like the honeymoon we never had.


The Neel Family in Ephesus, 1985

During this tour, I became serious about photography.  I was supervising three Army photographers, Jim, Bob, and Gil.  So that I could do that properly, I had them teach me about what they did. Their idea was to teach me the entire process from start to finish, from composing and releasing the shutter to printing a good photograph.  Before long, I purchased camera outfit, a Canon AE1-Program with lenses and flash, a tripod, and was spending much of my free time in the NATO photo lab developing and printing my photos and slides.

My Bosses in the HQ were Gerry and Tuck, both good guys, both willing to let me do my job and back me up.

I kept mostly to myself during this tour but had two friends with whom I hung out, Vern and Ellen.  Vern was the young lieutenant in the headquarters, gay as could be during the time of "Don't Ask-Don't Tell," a very nice guy, and a great young officer.  I met Ellen, a fellow NCO, one of the last surviving hippies, and a brilliant, sweet girl, in Turkish class. We were an odd trio, but we shared a love for movies and photography.  With Vern and Ellen, came a few Turk friends.

Second Tour, A Break After England, 1990 - 1992  (SFC-MSG)

During my second tour, I worked for Plans and Operations, NATO HQ, Land Forces Southeast Europe (LSE) in Alsancak. 

I took Kady and the kids with me, this time for a two-year tour.  I used every opportunity to goof off and spend time with them; I needed the break after the two years in the Parachute Regiment. 

We lived west of the main part of town, in a thirteenth-floor penthouse apartment, with four bedrooms, a nice kitchen, two baths, and a balcony that went all the way around the apartment.  The balcony was large enough for the kids to ride bikes there.  It was a place designed for large gatherings and we made and entertained a large number of Americans and a few Turk friends.


The view from our 13th-floor apartment, Inonu Cadessi, Izmir, 1990

Among those friends were Tina and Butch, two crazy Tennessee rednecks, and the Turk family downstairs.  Their daughters Salin and Palin did some babysitting for us and Salin was a frequent guest at our parties.  Ellen was also back in Turkey during this tour and lived downstairs in the same apartment building for the first year of our two-year tour.

The job was a no-brainer; any American Specialist could have done it.  I mostly recorded, filed, and classified all of our products, which were exercise operations orders for NATO exercises in Turkey.  My job included a lot travel around Turkey in either the American General's C-12 or UH-1.  We flew all over the place, traveling as far east as Erzurum, South to  Adana, and up north into Corlu.

I made numerous trips to Germany to the Warrior Preparation Center, close to Landstuhl, during this tour, building a digital map of Turkey for computer war games.

This tour was also marked by the war in the Persian Gulf, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the death of my Father. 

During the War, a resistance group called Dev Sol, or Revolutionary Left, began bombing American facilities in Izmir.  The bombs were noisemakers and did little more than blow out some windows, but they also tried to assassinate an American officer, but he fought them off with his briefcase.  Dev Sol wasn't the most prolific of terrorist organizations.

Dad finally lost his battle with cancer while I was there.  I made a trip home, leaving Kady and the kids in Izmir, to see him when the end looked imminent.  My arrival seemed to cheer him and he recovered enough to go home from the hospital.  I flew back to Turkey.  He died the next week.  I missed the passing and funeral of the greatest, most intelligent, most fun-loving man I have ever known.


E and Jay, Selcuk, 1990

The tour was remarkable for the amount of Family Time I had.  I was even a Cub Scout Leader for my son's Pack and made every ball game and dance recital.  Great fun!

Third Tour, Interrupted, 2000 - 2001 (SGM)

On my third tour, I worked as the J3 Ops Sergeant Major for the new Headquarters, Joint Command Southeast Europe.  Two weeks after I arrived, I was deployed to Kosovo when the headquarters took over command of KFOR-4.  Yeah, that was a huge, unwelcome fucking surprise.  My plan to do fifteen months at the beach and combing the countryside for ruins ended up being only three months, but it was the best three months ever.

This time, because I was the Sergeant Major, I couldn't hang out with the enlisted soldiers or the officers, though there were some I liked very much and there were a few Brits I liked.  This tour I made a bunch of Turk friends, and that, as they say, made all the difference. There were the models (not kidding) Berna and Sevda, the math teacher Smiley, the computer genius Huseyin, the Turk SGM Sahin, and the singer Handan and her band, who all became my preferred friends.


Old Ansancak and my favorite bar, Sardunya

The job was supposed to be as J-3 SGM, but I ended up being the SGM for the whole HQ when that guy got shipped out for fraternization.  The HQ was now in the new building at Sirinyer Garrison.  Being back in Sirinyer was like going back in time to my first tour.  The Post looked the same except for the new building and the big parking lot.  Even many of the Turk people I worked with back on the mid-eighties were still there, mostly the ladies in HQ Command.

During this tour, I got to know the City of Izmir and the nightlife.  I made a few excursions out of the city, but most of my free time was spent with my Turk friends listening to music, dancing at the clubs, eating at every restaurant in Alsancak, and drinking till the wee hours of the morning.  Damn, I miss those nights.

 

 Ataturk, The Father of the Turks

You can't talk about Turkiye, or even understand the place unless you talk about Ataturk.


Ataturk Circle, Izmir, 1985

Mustafa Kemal is the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson of the Turkish Republic.  A hero of WWI and the battle of Gallipoli, he led the Turk forces who kicked the Europeans out of Asia Minor, deposed the Sultan, and became the first President of the Republic.  He, almost singlehandedly moved Turkiye into the modern age by instituting sweeping social, economic, and religious reforms.  He is revered by the people of his country; to talk badly about him in Turkey is a serious crime.

He was given the name Ataturk by the people which means Father of the Turks.  His mausoleum in Ankara is a place of pilgrimage for all Turks and friends of Turkiye.

The Culture

The Turks are a proud lot.  They love their country, their culture, and their Republic.  Though a prominently Muslim nation, they are respectful and tolerant of  other religions and beliefs.  They are giving and hospitable people, and enjoy sharing the beautiful things about their country to every visitor.  Turks always seem to be in a rush but will stop and talk for hours over a glass of tea or a cup of coffee.  They are trusting to a fault and can always be counted on to come through on a promise, but in Allah's Time, of course.  They will cut in front of you in line at the Bank, Electric Company, or McDonald's, not because they are rude, but because they are in a hurry and would not presume to hurry you along, allowing you to relax and take your time.  Young people offer their seats to elders.  Men kiss each other on the cheek and hold hands as a sign of respect and close friendship.  They adore and spoil their children.

But, they can be aggressive, especially behind the wheel of a car.  I think it is the last place where they can still display their ancient warrior culture.  The Turks are, after all, some of the greatest warriors of all time.


The Clock Tower, Konak, Izmir, 1985

When you visit Turkiye, you are immediately immersed in history.  The most ancient settlements yet discovered are just outside of Konya.  The Aegean and Mediterranean Coastlines are dotted with hundreds of Greek, Roman, and Lycian ruins.  

Within a short drive from where I lived are the churches mentioned in John's Revelation, two of the Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Walls of Troy.  Large cities host museums and sites from pre-history, Archaic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman times.

The History

When I had a chance to look around Turkiye, I found that I was surrounded by History.  Everywhere I turned, there was a museum or ruin.  The five churches mentioned by John were within easy driving distance; Laodicea was a pretty long trip.  I was living in the seventh, Smyrna. 

Museums were all over the place covering every period of Asia Minor.  Troy was just up the coast, though I didn't see it until my second tour.  One of the best purchases I made while there was a map of the Aegean Coast and a book called Ancient Ruins of Turkey.  They were my constant traveling companions.

My first solo trip was a walking tour of Izmir.  Having seen the lights of the city and the castle on the hill from my hotel room,  I wanted to see what it looked like up close and personal.  I grabbed my camera bag, some water and struck out, keeping my eyes on the castle as I wove my way up the mountain through the back streets, then down the Hill to the old Agora.  Some of my favorite shots of Turkey were taken on this walk.  Later I would take Ellen and Vern on another trip to the same area.

My first solo trip outside the city was to Ephesus.

My process began to look like this: Buy a book on a site, study during the week, grab a bus to the closest town (Lutfen Efendum, Selcuk getmek istiyorum.), find a place to stay (Afedersinez Agabey, iyi otel nerede var mi?), visit the archaeology museum (arkeoloji muzesi), and then head to the site.  I would study the site the first day, reading about each stop. 

The next day was for serious photography; no reading, just shooting.  I could never find balance at first.  I'd either study and forget to shoot, or shoot and never learn a thing. 
My trip to Ephesus was a mess but by Pergamum, I had perfected my process.

Troy was a whole different story
.

Ephesus


Kale Han Otel

By far, the most beautiful ruin in Asia Minor is the ancient city of Ephesus.  I visited for the first time in 1985, my first solo trip.  I caught a bus, got off in Selcuk, checked into a nice little, family-owned hotel, the Kale Han, and then began exploring.


The Library, 1985

A whole marble city lay before me to discover and photograph.  As heavily visited as it is, I soon found myself walking the backstreets where people hardly go.

The most beautiful building in the whole city is the Library of Celsus, the third largest library in the ancient world.  It was built to hold thousands of scrolls but was destroyed by fire, either in an earthquake or by an invasion in 262CE.  I used to stand in the doors for long moments wondering what wonderful things had been lost in that fire.

Pergamum


The City of Pergamum from the Asklepion

  One of the most impressive ancient cities of ancient Asia Minor was Pergamum, a gigantic city on top of a big mountain, above the modern-day city of Bergama.  The climb to the top is a workout and I'd suggest taking a taxi up.  The theater was built on the side of the mountain and is so steep that I had vertigo and had to have a seat and wait it out. It could have been the climb to the top.

One of The Temple of Zeus, now housed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, was here.  You can still see the foundation on the mountain.


Foundation of the Temple of Zeus

Down in the valley below is the Asklepion, the ancient medical center.  It took me a while to find this.  It is one of my favorite travel stories.

Once I arrived in Bergama, I visited the Museum, then, seeing the ruins of the ancient city on the hill, I used a photograph in my book to  find the Asklepion.  I became hopelessly lost in the streets of Bergama.  An old man walking with a cane stopped me.  "Alman Musinis," he asked (Are you German)?  "Hayar Efindim, Amerikalayim" (No Sir, I am American).  He was shocked and very pleased that I was American, perhaps his first.  I showed him the photo and he guided me, very slowly, about ten blocks through the town to the ruins.  He talked the whole time pointing out different points of interest, all in Turkish.  I didn't understand a thing, having only just begun learning the language, but I thanked him all the same.  Having used up all my Turkish, his mission complete, we waved and headed off in our different directions.

I use this story every time I want to illustrate how giving the Turks are.

Hierapolis


Ellen at the city gates of Hierapolis, 1985

 The ancient city of Hierapolis was built around the hot springs coming out of the mountain that rises above the modern city of Denizli.  This was my first trip and is, by far, my favorite place in all Turkey.  Over the centuries, the calcium infused water has cascaded down the mountain forming terraced pools of white, giving the place its modern name, Pamukkale or Cotton Castle.

When I was there, there was a small tourist hotel built around the Roman Baths.  You could still swim in the bath among the columns the fell in when it was destroyed in an earthquake.  We'd usually stay in the hotel a couple of nights, walk out in the mornings and evenings for a swim, and use the day to scour the ruins.  Once there were good restaurants and a fun club up on the mountain that made for some pretty nice evenings.  I wonder if you can do that now.

The Temple there, though small, is one of the best kept in all of Asia Minor.  The Necropolis outside the city is worth seeing.  There is an ancient church there, built over a tomb, that some experts say is the tomb of the Apostle Phillip, who, tradition says, was either crucified or beheaded in the city.  Everyone was really friendly when I was there.

Troy


The Walls of Holy Ilium, Troy, Hisarlik, 1990

 During my first tour, I had the opportunity to take a trip with MWR to the "ruins of Troy" for $20.  This included bus fare, meals, and entrance fees.  I elected to spend the weekend watching movies from the Video Club.

When I got back to the United States and the 82d Airborne, Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War came out.  I watched the whole thing and bought the companion book.  I was sick!  What a missed opportunity!  I continued to study, reading all accounts of the war, reading a translation of Schliemann's book and everything else I could find. 

When I went back for my second tour, I made a bee-line to Hisarlik.

For most people, the ruins are no reason to go; Schliemann made a mess of the place and destroyed much of the city of the War, thinking it must be much deeper.  You have to be, I think, in love with the story to enjoy the visit.  You must know the characters.  However, some of the Walls are still there, so I enjoyed standing where the heroes stood.

I led three small tours there for friends after my first visit. 

Troy will be one of my first stops if I go back to Turkiye.

Traveling Turkiye

Travel in Turkiye is always an adventure and you must be flexible. 

My weekends and holidays were spent combing the countryside for ruins, beaches, and hiking trails.  First I'd map out where I wanted to go, then catch a taxi to the Autobus Garage, tell the kids recruiting for their bus where I wanted to go, hop on the newest looking bus headed that way, pay my ticket, and sit back for scenery and map checks.

I found that keeping a map and compass on you is a must, or you're likely to end up going past your destination before someone remembers your stop for you.  Another handy item is a book, in English, to open up on the bus.  There are always students who will want to practice their English.

Once in your town, a smattering of Turkish and some decent hand and arm signals will get you to your market, beach, site, or museum.  A small Turkish phrasebook is helpful for finding a good hotel, the best food, shopping, and for emergencies.


Turkish Teacher, Fugen, Izmir, 1985

Murdering the Turkish language is never frowned upon, but considered a compliment that you care to try.  The point-and-read method hardly ever works; Turks will almost always insist that you try to pronounce your phrase.  Be prepared for an exacting lesson or two if you get something wrong.  I once had a fifteen-minute class from a pretty Turk girl, on a bus bound for somewhere, on how to properly say, "My Name Is John."  My "iss mim jon" was never quite good enough for her approval.  The basic language is easy once you get the hang of the vowels, vowel agreement, and word endings and understand that their sentence syntax is backward--To Town To Go I Want.  However, don't expect to understand much; Turks talk to each other in Idioms.

Turks called the way I spoke Turkish, "Tarzanja"--speaking like Tarzan.

If you're a photographer, another good thing to have with you is a bag of Tootsie Rolls.  They keep well in the Turkish heat, makeing a nice treat for the Turk kids you want to photograph, and to occupy the cute little buggers while you're trying to take photos without them jumping in the field of view.  The kids love to have their photograph taken, the adults, not so much.  It is considered very rude to take someone's photo without their permission.  Asking, was one of the first Turkish phrases that I learned and practiced, Lutfin, Resminise Cekebilermiyim (please, may I pull your image)?

Try to take a photo of one Turk child.  Impossible.

Bathroom stops along the way are an experience all to themselves.  Rarely will you find an American style toilet at bus stops.  We called Turk toilets "Bomb Sights."  I'm sure you get the picture.  However, bus stop food is usually outstanding.  Simple, but delicious!  Just point at what you want.

My favorite stories of Turkey come from those trips that went a little off track.  Getting lost, missing my bus, missing my stop, going the wrong way, or running out of gas, have made for wonderful experiences every time. Yep.  Flexible is the way to go in Turkiye.

Turkish Cuisine

To Me, Turkish is the best food in the whole world.  It is a wonder that I didn't come back from Izmir weighing 300lbs; I ate all the time and usually asked for double portions.  The vegetables and fruits are fresh and organic.  The dishes are well prepared, pleasing to the eye, delicious, and come with great names like "The Priest Fainted" and "Woman's Thigh Meatballs." 

I quickly found or was shown amazing places to eat in Izmir.  My Favorites are The Altin Kapi for the Iskandar Doner, Miko's Grill for the Octopus Pie and the view, and Venedik's for the Pizza.  The best of times were spent eating at a great restaurant for two to three hours, drinking and dancing till dawn, a walk along the bay at sunrise, breakfast at a soup kitchen before heading back to the apartment, getting some rest and then doing it again the next night. 

All other things aside, I could live in Turkey for the food.

Three Tours and It Is All About the People

There are many great things about Turkiye, but, for me, the absolute best thing has to be the people that I have met.  With each trip came incredible adventures, new things to learn, and great personalities.  With each new person came a lifetime of memories, smiles, and stories.    

Below are my most important friends from those times.
 

Ellen


Ellen, cooking in her apartment, Izmir, 1985

I met Ellen during my first week while taking the Turkish Head Start language class.  She was a communicator working at Alt War, the folks who set up the radio equipment for the Alternate War Headquarters and the Mobile War Headquarters.  I was in charge of moving the whole deal.

Ellen and I had a mutual love of movies, adventure, travel, photography, food, and we spent a lot of time traveling the countryside, seeing ruins, trying out the local cuisine, and learning to travel like the locals.

She was on her second tour in Turkey when Kady, the kids, and I arrived from England for my second tour.  We got a place just upstairs from her place.
 

Vern


Vern, at the Turkish American Association, Izmir, 1985

Vern was the Adjutant for the headquarters when I first arrived in Turkey.  He came over to introduce himself after I had words with the Headquarters Command Ops Sergeant when he "suggested" I "wear Class B uniform to work every day like everyone else."  I explained to him, "If I did that, I would look like you and the rest of the Nasty Legs in this outfit, so, that's not going to happen."

I think Vern, as a young 1LT, had had just about enough of this guy's crap and was happy to see a junior NCO stand up to him.  Whatever it was, we became fast friends and he introduced me to the best folks in the American community, taught me how to use the video club, and showed me a few places to eat that remain my favorites in Izmir.

Murat


Murat with friend, Nil, Istanbul 1985

Murat was an Asker (soldier) in the Turkish Army Detachment at the Headquarters and the unofficial translator for my office.  Turk by birth, he was schooled in England, so his English was easily better than mine.

He and I scammed our way into an Istanbul trip during a NATO exercise in Corlu.  I paid the way there, then he and his family picked up the rest of the tab for our three-day boondoggle; I couldn't pay for anything.  We visited his family machine shop, his family tannery, his mom's boutiques, the homes in Bebek and Beylarbey, and his uncle's seafood restaurant on the Black Sea. 

It was as if Murat knew every pretty girl in Istanbul, so when we went out at night, we went out in style.

Gerry


Gerry at his favorite seafood place

Perhaps the craziest man I have ever known, Gerry was my Sergeant Major from my second tour.  He lived with his Turk wife Mukarim in Izmir so I spent time with him during my third tour as well.

Gerry has made a life out of finding the best places to eat in Izmir.  I always trusted his suggestions.  In this photo, he is explaining the proper technique for cooking "salt fish" while I ignore him and scope out the local female scenery strolling up and down the street we called Doner Alley.

Gerry recently passed away, 2018, and is buried in Izmir.

Sevda

Sevda the Boss Lady in Her Office

Sevda is my most faithful Turk friend. We met on the Birinci Kordon while a buddy and I played a little pitch with a baseball.  At that time she owned and ran a successful modeling agency in Izmir, Divas Ajans. 

Before long I was hanging out with her, going to shows and events, doing some photography work for her, and getting her web site up and running.  Taking photos of gorgeous Turk girls, that was a pretty good deal!

Since then she has spent some time in England and Germany, is married to an extremely lucky guy who looks exactly like De Niro (not kidding), and has two beautiful little girls.  They're back in Turkiye, in Ankara.

Berna

Berna in my Grandfather's Chair

One of Sevda's models, a former stewardess, and Sevda's best friend, I met Berna at the same time.  I liked her immediately, but communicating with her was tough...her chosen second language was French and I gave that up in grammar school.  So, we "talked" using my smattering of Turkish and hand signals.

She is back in Izmir after living in Germany awhile, married a good guy, and has a beautiful baby boy.  She and her husband are in the olive oil business.

Hopefully, I'll get to see her again one day; I owe her a tour of Izmir churches.

Handan


Handan singing at the Carnivale

Walking down the Kordon with friends one evening, we heard Hotel California coming out of a bar.  The young Turk singing and playing the guitar was pretty good, so we sat down for a few beers and a listen.

A few songs later, the next band took the stage and the singer was gorgeous.  Though everyone else in my group left, I stayed to hear her.  She was fantastic and her band was good as well.  Though I couldn't understand a word, I know talent when I hear it.  I began to frequent the bar and soon came to know all the members of the band.

I miss the nights I would walk into the Carnivale and have Handan greet me and dedicate songs to me.  Handan is becoming pretty famous in Turkiye.  She's all over You Tube and has just released her first album.

Huseyin


Huseyin with our trusty Nissan above Pristina

I called Huseyin the NATO Godfather.  He could accomplish anything, especially with a computer.  I was always amazed at how much higher ranking Turk officers and NCOs would come to him when they needed something in the headquarters.

We served together, not only in the NATO headquarters but in Kosovo.  We traveled all around the Countryside together, Huseyin driving and me pulling "shotgun."

Once back in Turkiye, I changed jobs, so we would only work together infrequently...certainly not enough.  BUT, when I wanted something done, and done right, the job went to UZI.

He is now married to an absolute doll and they have two beautiful children, JUST like I predicted when he would whine about being lonely while we were in Kosovo.  I love being right.

Sahin

  

Sahin with the girls at the American PX, Film City

This was my Turk counterpart in the HQ and while we were in Kosovo.  I've never met a smarter man.  He had ever military badge you can have in the Turk Army...making him a serious Kommando.  He was a published author with three books on military history to his name. 

 While we were in Kosovo, he insisted on communicating in English and refused to waste time helping me with my Turkish.  I figured out why a couple of months after we got there.  He demanded his soldiers study English for two hours every night while he taught.  After six months his English was amazing.

While we were there, he and the Turk Soldiers would invite "John Baba," a name he gave me meaning "Father John," down to the Turk NSE for Kahve or Cai so I could watch the Turk Music Channel on satellite; they knew my love for beautiful Turk singers.  After we returned to Izmir, Sahin invited me to his home for lunch, which lasted about 6 hours as we ate and his family and friends all came over, a few at the time, to meet his American friend.  I have never felt so honored and welcome in any man's home.

He is now a bigwig in the Turk CHP, the Turk Democratic Party.

He still calls me Can Baba (Father John).

Smiley

Smiley, Foca, 2001

I met this little lovely in a small bar called Sardunya, located on a back street in Old Alsancak while having a beer with two buddies.  We became fast friends and traveled the Izmir music scene together.

She would usually call about the time I was ready for bed, saying she'd "found the Best Music."  I always went along.  Though her musical tastes were sometimes suspect, her choices of restaurants, dance clubs, and drinking establishments were impeccable.

A math teacher by trade, she is as smart as she is beautiful.  I miss nights sitting on the couch, drinking, and talking philosophy, history, and arguing about misconceptions she had been taught about "American Imperialism."