Visiting the Capital

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Another day, another city! From Safranbolu, we travelled by bus three and a half hours south to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. Our trip was fairly unmemorable, except for the rather malodourous couple who sat behind us (sometimes I wish I could turn my nose off!) and a bag of walnuts falling out of the storage compartment under the bus. (I woke up from dosing off when a women cried out - I thought she'd been shot or something, but I guess she didn't want to lose her walnuts, which I can understand!) I also found it amusing that the bus boy spent much of the trip wiping the windshield because it kept fogging up and, at times, the heat was on full blast! Phew, was it hot in there!

Ankara bus depot is a very modern and organized affair, compared to what we witnessed in Istanbul. On first glance, everything seems shiny and new here and people are more fashionably dressed, fewer women wearing headscarves. (Shoes with very long toes that square off at the end are very popular in Turkey. They make your feet look three sizes larger than they are - Martin said he's feel like a clown in a pair of them.)

Turks are so friendly - we approached by a couple of people offering to help the lost-looking foreigners. One man told us how to find a servis; another man pointed us in the right direction for our intended destination - a mall not far from the bus depot. He suggested we didn't need a servis - we could just walk - and even though we were lugging our backpacks who could argue with a guy who had a 100 pound bag of walnuts slung on his back???

We came to Ankara to visit Karla and Rhett . Karla is the daughter of Bunny and Yvonne, our next door neighbours at Fur Lake. Rhett has a three year posting at the Canadian Embassy here; Karla is enrolled in a master's program in sociology at the Middle Eastern University of Technology (METU), one of two English speaking universities in Ankara. (It was Karla who met us at the mall - somehow we didn't see each other and spent over half an hour at the same place without realizing it, until Karla took a walk around and found us. Oh, well . . . we did find each other eventually!)

Karla and Rhett live in a two-bedroom apartment in Gazi Osman Pasa, an area of Ankara where most of the consulates are located. The most striking thing about their home was the size of the living room which was cavernous! Just perfect for entertaining folks from the embassy. (I was also amazed by the six deadbolt locks on their extremely heavy steel door, but they've never had any break-ins! The consulate was also organizing to put bars on their balcony windows while we were there, even though Rhett and Karla didn't want them.)

Rhett has completed just over a year of his three-year commitment here. His position is Political Officer (a junior posting) and his primary responsibility is reporting political on-goings in Turkey to the Canadian government. (Because he's always checking the local news, while we were visiting he warned us to beware of poultry as the bird flu had been reported in the NE part of the country.) His other duties include arranging itineraries for visiting Canadian dignitaries. His background is international relations and, of course, he is bilingual (English and French), as Karla is. As she spends more time in the community (and not at work), Karla has also picked up a significant amount of Turkish and converses with the locals with ease. The classes in her master's program are in English, but she is the only native English speaker, so when the conversation lapses into Turkish she has to remind them of her presence. Although she has only started her studies, she hopes to do her thesis work on immigration issues. Her undergraduate degree is in Commerce. Both Karla and Rhett studied at the U of S.

(I later found out that this embassy also covers political happenings in neighbouring Georgia, Turkmanistan and Azerbaijan and addresses any problems that Canadians get into there.)

On our first night in Ankara, we met Gökhan, a fried of Karla and Rhett's who has just returned from serving in the military. Military duty is an expectation of all Turkish men; most serve 15 months (three months training and one year active duty); Gökhan got off lightly with 5 months because he has a master's degree in mining engineering (from UBC no less!). Men must serve their time between the age of 18 and 46. We've seen so young men on sentry duty - and you can tell they're bored out of their minds. Gökhan has also lived in Toronto and Saskatoon (and says that Saskatoon is his favourite Canadian city). His girlfriend is from Saskatoon.

Every second Thursday evening is Canada Club at the embassy and we were invited by Rhett to come and see the Canadian Consulate and meet some of the people who work there. We drove there with Karla and, after several gates and a security check, parked in the basement where we met Rhett who toured us around the building. The building itself is new, but rather modest in size and furnishings. Parts of the exterior are painted an interesting shade of green - we learned from Rhett that it was supposed to be the same shade of green as roof of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa (which it appeared to be!). I found the interview rooms for immigrant applicants of note - a panel of glass separated the interviewer and the applicant who communicated by telephone for safety purposes.

There are 15 Canadians and 35 Turks on staff at the Canadian Embassy. We met a number of Turks, as well as others: Michelle, a teacher from Cape Breton who claimed to have the only tone deaf family on Cape Breton (she was hilarious); Reg from New Brunswick who often suffered bouts of homesickness; Nil from France whose fiance works at the embassy (I complained to him that my name in Turkish meant "who" and he retorted that, in English, his name meant "nothing" or "zero". Touché!); and Duncan, an Australian who had made a name for himself catering at the various embassies. Some very interesting people.

Karla and Rhett brought their car over from Canada and brave the traffic; Karla actually says she enjoys driving here. There's always a fair bit of horn honking as cars line up at roundabouts jockeying for position. Somehow, with a little elbowing and muscling, the line of ten cars managed to find their way into two lanes, but don't ask me how! (I had to get Martin to sit in the front because I was just too jumpy!)

Ankara (population 4 million) is located in a valley; in the morning the smog from all the vehicles is visible from Karla and Rhett's balcony. Atatürk Boulevard runs through the middle of the city and walking down that street (which we tried to do one day) does a good number on your lungs! (Martin called it "Bangkok revisited", it was that bad, though not nearly as noisy!)

The day after we arrived in Ankara was Ankara Day, the 81st anniversary of Ankara as the capital city of Turkey. In 1923, after the War of Independence with Greece, the new president of Turkey, Atatürk, moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara. Atatürk is credited with bringing Turkey into the modern age; he introduced various social and political reforms, changed the education system, created industry initiatives and updated agriculture and health practices. He was instrumental in changing written Turkish from Arabic script to Latin characters and in 1934 (which I found very interesting) introduced a law enforcing the use of surnames. Gazi Mustafa Kemal assumed the surname "Atatürk" which means "father of the Turks". He served as President of Turkey until his death in 1938. While in Ankara, we visited his mausoleum. Some travellers have a goal of seeing as many "dead guys" as possible, but we've only visited Atatürk's and Ho Chi Minh's final resting places. I don't think it's one of our main travel objectives! (As can be expected, some of the laws Atatürk passed were somewhat controversial, such as the law banning women from wearing headscarves in public buildings. Karla said is it a problem at the university because some women here want to cover their heads. As a result, they will wear wigs or big hats on campus rather than their scarves and, once off the university grounds, will put their scarves back on. A number of women won't even attend secondary educational institutions because they believe strongly that it is their right to be able to wear headscarves.)

In the mausoleum there are some excellent displays that describe Atatürk's reforms, but most impressive are the two dioramas that run the entire length of two walls. One diorama depicts the Turks fighting the Allies; the other a battle in the War of Independence that was fought with Greece. Both incorporate sound and artifacts which add to the overall affect. In the dioramas, it was very evident that the Turkish soldiers emphathized with the ANZACs, but had no such sympathy for the Greeks. There is no love lost between Greeks and Turks.

Karla states that it must be very confusing here for young men and women as to what is socially acceptable interaction between men and women. Muslim culture varies from relatively liberal to very traditional. You'll seldom see men and women showing any sort of affection towards each other, not even holding hands in public. It may even be frowned upon if women and men side by side at a table rather than across from each other. And equality has a long way to go here. Most men and women live at home until they are married, so men go from being taken care of by their mothers to being taken care of by their wives.

Karla and Rhett have made a lot of Turkish friends. In July, they were invited to a wedding in southeastern Turkey. They said it was a wonderful experience that they will never forget.

If you come from some place like Saskatchewan, when you meet other people who are from Saskatchewan/know someone from Saskatchewan, there's almost bound to be some common connections. For instance, Rhett's mother and my mother grew up in the same town (Wauchope, SK - population 50???); Gökhan's girlfriend is from Saskatoon and I know who her mother is (she taught interior design at the College of Home Ec, my alma mater). Also, Rhett's father visited Turkey last year and tried to connect with a Saskatchewan woman who is married to a Turk and lives here - the same person we intend to visit at Göceck - and the recommendation came from a colleague of his who happens to was a classmate/friend of mine from Wawota! It's amazing! Gökhan found this very amusing.

One evening, we went with Karla, Rhett and Gökhan to listen to some traditional Turkish music. We caught a cab to a shopping mall-like place where there were clubs on three floors and all four sides, each competing for airspace. It was an assault on the ears! We made our way up to the top floor to a small bar where traditional music is played Friday and Saturday nights. What a wonderful experience that was! The band consisted of four members playing guitar, saz (a type of Turkish guitar with a bulbous back), violin, clarinet and drums. (I think it's the fiddle, clarinet and drums that make the Turkish sound so distinctive, plus the wailing, plaintive voice of the singers - every song is in a minor key.) It was great fun to watch the Turks in the audience. They are certainly more spontaneous than we are! Many of them got up to dance a kind of line dance/step dance where everyone held hands - even the men danced together - and the person at the head of the line waved a white handkerchief (actually a napkin). (Turkish men don't seem to have a problem holding hands with other men and you'll often see them walking around hand-in-hand or with their arms around each other. Canadian guys couldn't do the line dance because they wouldn't be willing to hold hands with another guy that long!) There were other dances with more arm action and finger snapping - it reminded me of Greek dancing in many ways. During many of the songs, people would sing along at the top of their lungs and, when really enjoying the music, would wave their hands like they were conducting an orchestra. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening, though we did leave smelling like cigarette smoke. Nearly everyone (at least most men) smoke in Turkey; it will be a long time before they pass any no smoking bylaws here!

While at the club, Rhett ordered some raki, a type of alcohol made from aniseed which is similar to sambuca (i.e., tastes like black licorice). As you drink it you mix it with water which changes it from clear to cloudy. Each sip is followed by a chaser of water. While in Turkey, we also tried smoking a Turkish water pipe or nargileh. You can choose from a number of non-nicotine flavours: coconut, apple, strawberry, cappuccino, peach, etc. I was surprised how smooth and relaxing it was, not like smoking tobacco at all. It's a very popular pastime for young people in Turkish cafes and clubs.

It seems to be only men here who are employed by the service industry. Nearly all servers in restaurants, sales clerks people in stores and hairdressers are men. There are more women in "behind the scenes" positions.

Like many countries, Turkey has high stakes entrance exams for people wanting to get into university. Karla told us that they are very difficult and there's a lot of stress put on young people to make or break their futures. All over Ankara you see signs for dershane (pronounced "de-shany"), preparation schools for writing the exams.

Pork is hard to find here, expensive and poor quality, so when Rhett was last out of the country (in Vienna) he purchased all the pork sausage and bacon he could carry. We laughed at the idea of him carrying back his suitbag so full of contraband pork that he could only drag it, with all the cats in Ankara following him around. We appreciated the pork sausage for breakfast, however!

In many cultures, there are often non-verbal cues that substitute for the usual verbal utterings and it takes time to learn these. One of these that Karla identified was that instead of saying "no", people will often suck loudly on their teeth and put their nose in the air. It is common here, but Canadians would consider it very impolite!

For the most part, Turkish is a very polite language, rife with blessings and good wishes. Karla told me that, to compliment a cook, you should say, "Health to your hands". To our taxi drivers, she says (in Turkish, of course), "May it go easy for you". English must seem very terse to the Turkish ear.

Rhett is your typical small-town Saskatchewan guy. There's a Roughriders pennant on the wall and he regularly checks on the Internet as to how they're doing. He plays hockey in a local league in Ankara which boasts one of only two hockey rinks in the country. Both he and Karla have chosen teams in the hockey draft that's been organized at his workplace.

One night at Karla and Rhett's, the Ramizan drummer ran the doorbell asking for donations for the job he was doing. (He had first sent out flyers.) It was interesting to meet one of the men who were making all that noise to wake everyone up in the morning!

This having to wear reading glasses is for the birds! It's such a pain to get them out when you're always referring to maps and guidebooks. More often than not, I've got a headache at the end of the day from straining my eyes to read. I know - you're all crying crocodile tears for me! Can't say that I feel too sorry for myself, either!

It's always interesting to see people come out of the woodwork later in the afternoon in anticipation of breaking their fast. Suddenly, the empty streets are teeming with people purchasing food or looking for a place to eat. A traditional meal for breaking the fast is called iftar and consists of bread, soup and some meat. Several restaurants serve only iftar during Ramazan.
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