Word of the day, in Turkish: hamur işi (ha’ -moor i-shi). Pastry.
How many times have you thought about places and people you have not seen in twenty-five years? As we get older, do you, like me, reminisce about the adventures of your youth. Or has the worries of life crowded out the faces, names and places? Perhaps it is due to long-dormant memories that are triggered by seeing one of the random bits I have collected an carried with me over the decades. Or, in not thinking every single day about work, a calmer mind has time to reflect.
As Sailors, most of us looked forward to foreign ports of call. (I say “most of us” as I knew some shipmates who wanted nothing to do with anywhere that was not the the USA.) But I was interested and excited to get off the ship. I have always been a people person. Probably why I was so interested in learning foreign languages. A conversation might only take using (badly) the six or so words. Some might even have a couple phrases learned prior to visiting Egypt or Turkey. With a “hello” or “how do you do”, in Arabic -I purchased a cassette tape introductory lesson before leaving the American base – it was a good thing that most spoke some English.
I am thinking about that first visit to Hurghada, Egypt, when I had a conversation with a young Egyptian dock worker while I was waiting for my ship to come in. I had just flown seventeen hours from the U.S. to board the ship that was in mid-deployment. I still have the papyrus bookmark and a photograph in my random collected “stuff”. Or talking with the merchant while we drank tea, who hoped one day to get to America so his young daughter might get needed surgery. Or riding with my buddies in a cab, at night, while the cabbie raced along, no headlights (to preserve the battery, he said) honking and dodging people and animals in the street. Completely unperturbed (the cabbie, not us).
Once when I traveled to New York City, and hailed a cab, the driver was “middle eastern”? Then as now, I think about the gentleman near the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul wanting me to buy some gold jewelry. “How did you learn to speak English so well?”, I kidded.
“I was a cab driver, New York. Two years.” he replied.
“I think I have ridden in your cab!” I said.
For a brief time ashore in Turkey I was a millionaire. Well, it was when I exchanged my U.S. currency for Turkish Lira, at a time before the currency was revalued by their government to track with other world currencies. With all my new “wealth”, what would be my most prized purchase? a book. A bilingual dictionary. Twenty-five years ago, with no Google and no Amazon to browse and shop, a book – in a stall in an open-air Izmir market – a sözlük (pronounced sooze’ luke) was my Rosetta stone.
With that dictionary, I met Hikmet and his brother during our Izmir port call. They were entrepreneurs in international business of shipping and receiving (they owned and operated a MAILBOX, ETC store). I was their opportunity to practice “american”. Over tea, we “conversed” in their broken English and my crash-course (on the fly) in Turkish.
In 2018, Sailors do not appear to be deploying to the Middle Eastern waters any less than their predecessors. For thousands of years, armies and navies have been making port calls. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Western Europeans, Americans, and now Russians, So I am sure that vendors, street hawkers, and students will know “my friend”, “how much?” and “I’ll give you a good deal!” in everything from ancient Greek to Chinese. But what of the millennial generation? I hope they find an Internet connection for their smartphone translator app. As for me, I still have my bilingual dictionary.