it is all Turkish to me

Word of the day, in Turkish:  hamur işi    (ha’ -moor i-shi).  Pastry.

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A modern view of Izmir, Turkey

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.

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teacup 

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.

 

 

 

Hurghada by the sea

When I last saw Hurghada, Egypt, it was at the end of a nineteen- hour series of flights from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   My orders had me wait in this port city on the Red Sea until my ship arrived.   This was 1993 and our East Coast ships patrolled the Mediterranean,  Red Sea and the Gulf of Arabia 249-37-l(Persian Gulf).

While recent images online show a fancy beach resort (!) in Hurghada,  I recall then only sand, heat, scorpions, and prickly pear cactus.  Hotels were still in a state of construction – apparently as their proprietors were not taxed until construction had complete.  To this day I recall the port worker and a shopkeeper who both spoke english.   I got to learn a little about the culture and the European visitors.  I don’t think americans generally visited along the Red Sea as the ancient Egypt they come to see is along the Nile and in Cairo museums.    Back then Hurghada main clientele were German tourists vacationing on the beach.   Egypt is also where I presumed America’s contribution to the world must have been the car horn.  It certainly was not the turn signal.  Perhaps because one hand on the horn and the other gesturing angrily at a pedestrian leaves no hand free?

Egyptian cabbies have a penchant for three things – their vehicles travel at a high rate of speed,  they constantly are honk the horn, and at night, headlamps are strictly of optional use.  You have to realize how crazy riding in a cab at night is: camels, donkeys, street vendors, and folk fill the streets.   None seem ever involved in an accident with these mad drivers.   From visits to our New York City on several occasions,  I now know where these Egyptians learned to drive.   And Turks.  And Africans.

Go far in life by going far (away)

When I initially joined the Navy in the late 70s, I  had already travelled to both coasts of the United States and to Great Britain – Northern Ireland, Scotland and London, England. But as a kid traveling with your parents or with a grandmother,  it doesn’t really make for an adventure.

I joined the Navy to see the world.  For nearly three years, I trained at various bases – in San Diego, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago, in Pensacola, Florida and in Georgia.   And then I returned to Arizona.    I still wanted to see the world.  So in between university semesters, paid in part by my military service, I spent several weeks each summer on the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez,  Mexico with a group of scuba divers from Arizona.

I joined the Navy again in 1987 for the adventure – and spent the next three and a half years near Washington, D.C. working as an electronics technician ( a Cryptologic Maintenance Technician specifically).  I travelled all over the region from the shores of Lake Erie in the northwest to New York City, and all the historical places from Philadelphia to Annapolis, and then spent some vacation time as far south as Daytona Beach.   But it was my decision to specifically request a sea-duty assignment, rare for those in my job specialty, when my world travel really took off.

After training, my orders sent me to San Francisco to board a cruiser, the USS TEXAS.   Panama, Ecuador, and then north to and through the Panama Canal to the western Caribbean.  I’ve ordered red snapper dinners in Panama,  cigars and hotel rooms in Ecuador, and taken pictures of the Galapagos Islands as we sailed past.   I’ve lived in the Kitsap peninsula opposite Seattle for a year,  travelled to Esquimalt, British Columbia and Vancouver, Canada.  (it is where I first learned about micro-brew beer and ales).  On different ships and at different times,  I enjoyed visiting countries around the Mediterranean, and one of the first American Navy ships to visit Bulgaria in 50 years.

As a kid who joined the Navy out of high school,  I had been itching to get away from the desert.  I never understood why my old Navy mentors, WWII sailors would have settled in Arizona and not near the sea. “We have had plenty of ocean.  I am here because it is all beach”.   After eight years of sea-duty, I understood that comment.   And I was glad that I had a love of history and foreign languages to complement my technical profession.  I’ve met and hung out with Spaniards in Cartagena, Spain.  Enjoyed smoky jazz and partying with the French in Toulon and Paris,   and sipped cappuccino in Catania, Sicily, Naples and Trieste.  By the way,  Trieste was also the place I was cussed out, in German, by a shopkeeper with he presumed, a German tourist and his lousy italian!

Whether visiting the historical sites of the Minoan civilization – and a 4000 year old queen’s working toilet,  or seeing the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem,  I was grateful for my teachers from high school and college for fostering my interests.

In wartime,  there are often too little focus on the wonder of travel and the opportunities to get to know people.  The world is still full of wonderful places and people, but also dangers that sobers an American’s optimism at times.  In an age when political forces are talking walls and not tackling the forces that cause people to come to the United States,  we have put bandages and temporary dams up.   There are forces also that want there to be no restrictions, and yet are unwilling to discuss the restrictions existing in the travelers own countries.  And language and education advocates want to change history and eliminate a common language.  All of these are just as ignorant as those who have never travelled to faraway places.   America used to lead the world in the post-WWII years not solely out of the hubris of a few, but because it defied the hatreds, disunity, and class struggles of ninety percent of the world’s population.    When Americans travelled to places outside the US, whether in the military or for other purposes, they would get assurances that we had it pretty wonderful.

Reading Mark Twain’s Innocence Abroad, I would love for us to have some of that innocence again.