SEARCH:   

      Provided by Free Find


Trabzon: Heaven on Earth

Wayne Bohannon

© 2009-2014 by Author

Contact the Author


I arrived in Turkey on the birthday of the lady who would, years later, become my wife:  8 March 1963. At that time, she had just turned two and was 900 miles North of me. This was the conclusion of the Pan Am flight from New York on which I was the butt of jokes from Turkish Airmen because I got airsick. How can one be in the Air Force and get airsick? However, I became very popular when they realized their nice cameras would be taken away from them at customs and I exited the plane looking like a camera salesman.

For me Trabzon was heaven on Earth. There was nothing there that I didn’t love except having to leave. I cried like a baby.

  The Chow Hall crew

The crew that fed the animals! Turks in front; Germans in back

Favorite places:  The day room, what a perfect place for relaxation, poker, pool, pure contentment. I still dream about being there. Chow Hall:  Fantastic food. The German cooks said my parents made me join because they couldn’t afford to feed me; unbelievable. You could have nine eggs or six steaks, fresh bread, and rolls for which I would sneak into the kitchen with a bag, open ovens until I found which one was full and then sweep my bag full of rolls and run to escape the wrath of the bakers.

Downtown:  Usually I would go the back way either from Ops down the rocky hill, which a lot of Turks used, to the Eastern edge of town. Once when I was all spruced up for a nice excursion, during the usual drizzle, I slipped and went down. Some Burka-clad passerby commiserated with me and how slippery it was and another Turk walking by told them that I was an American. Excuse me but it was a little amusing to see the horror on their faces for having talked to an infidel.

Taksim Square:  A tea and a smoke on a sunny afternoon like a real human being. Just walking along Uzum Sokak over the stone bridges on a warm summer evening and watching an immense long-lasting falling star in wonder and then looking around to see who else enjoyed it and realizing that no else saw it.

Overlooking Askeri Park

Overlooking "Askeri Park"

 

The compound:  Sitting in a taxi waiting for the AP’s pickup truck to return to base from their “inspection” so I could safely visit “my gal”, call the guard to unlock the door since it was after hours, then she kicking out her obviously unhappy guest, waking late in the morning alone in her bed since she’s having a chat with her girlfriends in the courtyard. Once or twice us waking up in the middle of the night after we were being eaten by bed bugs. Sometimes on girls’ day, Thursday, she would rent a taxi, come get me at the base so we could go for a ride in the country. She and her friend went AWOL to Istanbul once, so I needed another to alleviate the testosterone and while we’re busy she’s yelling to her friends, “Who do you have?” “I have the American that speaks Turkish.” So when my regular returned we had a big fight in the waiting room. The results were that the other Turks agreed with me. She shouldn’t have left. The only other pebble in the road was I went to see her with no money, not even three dollars. She argued that we were different, that I didn’t have to pay. The boss said, “No pay, no way.” Selma ripped some hair out, put her head down and rammed the door and fell to the floor. The boss told me to put her to bed, so I carried her upstairs, stayed still until she slept, then off.

My Friends:

  Water skiing in the harborMe water skiing in the harbor. Cutting the WakeCutting the wake.

Bob Schaeffer:  My water skiing buddy and roommate from Pittsburgh. You original guys from the ‘50's had it right. It was now the Trabzon Hilton with day trips, water skiing, hotel and dining room staff. Bob and I had great fun in the little harbor honing our water skiing skills. Sometimes straight North in the sea till we could see no land, turn off the engine and go swimming, later wondering which direction was land.

Harry Culver:  From upstate New York I believe. I was Burhan; he was Orhan; I was Charlie; he was Dog. Our common interests: Sputniks, booze, and girls. What fun and laughs we had with the girls, them pretending to be their G.I. Romeos with pigeon Turkish and mannerisms, playing the role of Jackie Gleason, trying to get laid and still maintain his dignity.

Ronald Jenkins:  Was a very good friend if you agreed with everything he said, used me for a practice Karate dummy. From Tennessee, a crazy hillbilly with a very short fuse. His dream assignment was a training instructor at Lackland.

  • I remember: getting up one morning at Keesler and seeing some not very flattering remarks about our Commander Lt. Haugen painted on the water tower. It didn’t take long before the culprit was nabbed. Seems he had received orders to TUSLOG Detachment 3-1.
  • Light snow on the hazelnut groves.
  • Tobacco drying in the barns.
  • The Caucasis Mountains east of the Black Sea on an extremely clear day, white with snow, stroked with red sunshine.
  • The odor of steam from a fresh rye bread.
  • Bafra cigarettes or even better, Askeri cigarettes.
  • The glow of daring in the eyes looking at you from out of their covered heads.
  • Drunk beyond drunk, jumping repeatedly from the second floor outside landing on the barracks.
  • Dear John letters on the bulletin board.
  •   Bob Shaffer
    Bob Shaffer
  • Learning the third person, past tense verb Oldu (he died) when word spread of my friend Bob Schaeffer’s death in a plane crash in Afghanistan while on his way to a new duty assignment.
  • Ed Hoth  ?
    Some of the gang.
    Ed Hoth, on the left

    Hasan and me
    Hasan and me

     
  • My friend Ed Hoth from Gettysburg making a T-shirt for me with crossed pool cues and The Hustler on one side and Paul Newman on the other.
  • Feeling lost when Hasan had to go to Istanbul.
  • Sleeping from 3 in the afternoon to 7 or 8 the next evening, 27 hours, after a monumental drunk.
  • Peg-leg who it seemed had a grudge against the G.I.s. The story was he was told repeatedly not to hang on the deuce and a half. One day he slipped and was run over.
  • The back way to town thru the pine trees beside the baseball field
  • Being dragged by the Askeris up to the Air Police station after I suppose they found me somewhere.
  • Monastery: A natural Trabzon wonder but in this land of so many wonders it seemed kind of expected.

I remember a pit full of human bones. One guy found a leg bone. The Russian speakers translating the Greek writing. I would have liked to have seen it in its glory. I remember jumping on a bus on impulse to Riza. Once there, just leaning against the wall of a teahouse where some music was playing; suddenly a feeling of peace came over me like I had come home. When I found a bus going to Trabzon, I took it, end of adventure.

I remember, at two in the morning, running thru people’s back yards, jumping fence after fence to escape the guard dogs and for some distance hearing the police whistles as they converged on the late night problem and slipping into a street unnoticed, strolling nonchalantly back toward Taksim, smiling as the police put their arms on our shoulders, ostensibly in friendship, but in reality to keep us from escaping. But we played our role well and with no evidence there was nothing to do but kick on a closed teahouse door, wake up the owner and his son to fix us bread and tea and wish us a good night.

I remember being in a crowd in front of the movie theater because Selma had told me about a certain movie that was supposed to be good when someone elbowed me in the stomach. It was Tom Sabri, everyone’s tailor.

Russian Cannon at Citadel

Harsena castle is is above the cliffs of the Pontic Tombs. The remnants of the walls date from around the time of King Mithridates. The fortress was repaired by the Ottomans, and again in the late 1980s. Just below the citadel is an old Russian cannon. It is in its own little house and is fired nightly at 8:00 p.m. during Ramazan, marking the end of the daily fast. You can then resume your daily life...until 2:00 a.m. when the fasting resumes.

   

I remember the camel caravans and tents camped just outside of town with their sheep for sale probably for Ramanzan.

My favorite streets were Uzun Sokak (Long Lane), and Kunduracilar Sokak (Shoemaker Street). You probably know it as Jewelers Row. Trabzon is such a pedestrian town and I was such a country boy that for me it was all fantasy land.

I had one friend Attila Ertan who invited me to his home. His mom would fix us lunch. This was my introduction to Hamsi, the little Black Sea fish. I had no idea what to expect but two bites and I knew it was the best I had ever eaten, and so it remains.

Sometimes when you least expected it you would hear someone speak so clearly and correctly that the words would stay imprinted in your vocabulary. It was only twenty years later when I taught myself Turkish that I could realize the difference between Trabzon Turkish and schoolbook Turkish. The proof was walking in Istanbul and following a conversation between two people and the same situation in Trabzon would leave me lost.

Turks I remember:

  • First of course is Hasan, but that is another encyclopedia so I’ll save that for the next installment further down the page.
  • Ernur, very intense and fiery. I was able to see him again in 1984 and apologize for not buying soda for his sick child. As he put it, who else would return to apologize.
  • My friend Ahmet
  • Ahmet, shown at right, I’ll always remember with a mop in his hands and a smile on his face.  He had given me a pair of Turkish leather boots, hand made.  Their demise came only two years later while I was stationed at Offutt.  It happened on the Missouri River during the winter of '65-'66, 25 below, for two weeks it never made 0 degrees.  The river jambed up solidly with the ice flows pushed into white castles.  I spent a lot of my free time running a trap line for beaver, mink, and muskrat.  Young and invincible I went crawling over the ice.  Of course suddenly I went through up to my chest and only the quick reaction of throwing out my arms saved me.  I hauled out and rolled to the bank and panicked.  I'm miles from anywhere and can't move; my cloths have turned into a suit of armor.  I held onto a tree until I was calm enough to think.  I had matches in an upper pocket and my knife.  Even with 4 inches of snow I got a fire started and with my knife, starting at my waist, slit my pants and my boots, both sides.  The funny thing was after I was well on my way to dry, but still naked hugging my fire, a rabbit came by and five minutes later followed by two beagles and five minutes later by two hunters with their guns on their shoulders engrossed in conversation.  They never saw me and of course I didn't say anything or I might have been shot and thrown back in the river.  You tell me; what would you do if you found a naked man in the woods?  Sorry, wrong answer."

    Wayne

  • Hasan’s brother in law, in the laundry and patiently teaching me proper Turkish.
  • Erkut Ozpamir (better known as Tom Sabri), everybody’s friend.
  • The Turks who told me to let them know if anyone gave me trouble over my helping finance one girl’s escape from the Karahane due to another local’s abuse of her.
  • Gul from Edierne. She was one girl who had no business in jail. She would cry if Mama-boss yelled at her for not having her heater filled with kerosene. Funny, I still remember he telephone number, 1082.
  • I remember fishing for Hamsi on the Roch jetty, and catching Quail by lantern on September evenings.
Day I departed Trabzon

The day I departed Trabzon. I'm the short guy. My buddy Harry Culver on my left; on my right are two others also leaving. Off we go into the wild blue yonder.

 

So who can blame me if I never thought I was in anyone’s army. If the base commander drove by I would smile and wave, for inspection I would just go downtown. If I had a nice midnight shift I would have a nice sergeant (transferred from Berlin), Dave Johnson, who would let me go to Karahane. But you know, our work was so interesting that it certainly wasn’t work. I loved it.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether I grew up in Trabzon or I was reborn there. After reviewing my activities I would have to go with the latter.
Whichever, but I would never be the same.

This story is only the beginning; the return trips will be in the next edition.

Below are related newspaper articles appearing in Turkish language newspapers which we have translated.

...Wayne


American Admires Trabzon
"Trabzon Absolutely Clean"



Click article to enlarge.

TRANSLATION:

    Wayne Bohannon who returned to Trabzon after 20 years visited the Mayor, Orhan Karakullukcu and told him Trabzon is sparkling clean. Despite an absence of 20 years, Wayne didn't forget his friends in Trabzon. Two years ago he wrote to Mayor Hasan Melek asking for news about his friend Hasan Coşkun. He found out his friend was alive and learned his address, so he wrote a letter inviting Hasan to visit him in America and Hasan visited Wayne last year. This year Hasan invited Wayne to Turkey. Hasan picked Wayne up in Istanbul and brought him to Trabzon.
    Wayne said he is very happy to be reunited with his friend and he said he is experiencing the same happiness as when they were together 20 years before. Wayne also visited Erkut Ozpamir and they began talking about old times. They then visited Mayor Orhan Karakullukcu and told him the city was cleaner and more orderly than 20 years before. The Mayor said he was very happy to meet an American who came back to visit a very old friend. He said that all Trabzonites are trying to do their part to keep Trabzon clean as is his Administration.

    (Translation of the caption for the photo at the top of the article:  "The American who came to Trabzon to visit his old friend Hasan Coşkun also visited Mayor Orhan Karakullukçu and observed that Trabzon was very clean.")

    (Translation of the caption for the bottom photo picture at the bottom of the article:  "An American who served at the American Radar base at Bostepe spent time with his friends Hasan Coşkun, Erkut Özpamir, and Erkan Özpamir, who are looking at old photographs and reliving their past happiness."))

 

Unforgettable friendship


Click Article to Enlarge

TRANSLATION:
    
    An American citizen, Wayne Bohannon, sent a $100 check as a New Year gift to orphanages in Trabzon. Wayne was in Army service when he struck up a close friendship with Hasan Coşkun and because of Hasan felt affection for Turkey. Every year he set aside some money for the orphans at Sobyal Hizmetler (Social Services of Trabzon) and sent Hasan a check.
    As Hasan Coşkun presented the check to the Director Fuat Adiguzel, Hasan said, "Wayne made a difference for the New Year because he experienced so much affection in Turkey. He loved the idea of assisting the Orphanage and will set aside money every year for them." Hasan said, "I am very honored to present this check to Fuat Adiguzel." Fuat thanked Hasan on behalf of Wayne who will be given a book about Trabzon. Wayne also wants to create an American-Turkish friendship association with American military who served in Turkey.

 

They say he also held a fast 20 years before.

Click Article to Enlarge

The article above, from the Trabzon newspaper Kuzey Haber, was captioned, "Trabzon's previous Mayor Hasan Melek was visited by Hasan (Coşkun) and Wayne (Bohannon), Hasan's guest. The Mayor was very sorry that books he sent [Wayne] did not arrive so he presented them again. Wayne said that he was happy to be in Trabzon again and to be able to hold a fast." The article is translated here:

Trabzon's previous Mayor Hasan Melek was visited by Wayne Bohannon who had spent his service time in Trabzon.

    Wayne Bohannon, soldier, had fasted with Turkish friends 20 years before; 20 years later he returned to Trabzon, and, since it was the month of Ramazan, he started fasting again.
    He was very often together with Turks and Muslims. He and Hasan were like brothers. To worship God is a very beautiful thing. To fast with Muslims is a blessing. To come to Trabzon and fast is the highest degree of happiness.
    It was during Hasan Melek's term as Mayor that Wayne wrote and asked for news about Trabzon and how he could help the Children's home and Mayor Melek sent information and books to Wayne. When Wayne returned to Trabzon, he visited Mr. Hasan Melek. During this visit Mr. Melek learned that Wayne had not received what was sent. "I am very sorry that the books and documents that I sent were not received by a friend of Turkey in America. And now I am presenting this book about Trabzon. In addition I am glad that Wayne was among those Americans who did their service time in Turkey."

Read Wayne's personal story of his visit followed by his photo memories.




If you meet a Turkish person, then you are

Friends Forever


I don't claim to be much of a writer though I try not to be boring. However, these are my experiences with Trabzon, Turkey, the Black Sea and the surrounding areas. If you'd like a real book, very interesting, well written and researched, first-hand, I highly recommend Neal Ascherson's "Black Sea." Beside witnessing history being made, he also covers things affecting the Sea from all directions, the most interesting of which are the people. I especially liked his account of arriving in Trabzon by bus and the bit about the taxi drivers at the Meydana, those whom I knew and hung out with. Anyway, here goes:

I have to say that none of this would be possible without Hasan Coşkun, a rare human being. I'll give a couple of thumbnails:

Hasan and I met and it was as if we had grown up together. We are the same age, and I instantly admired his camaraderie and spirit. When the agabeys (elders/brothers) needed a raise, they selected Hasan as their spokesman with instructions of: no raise, no work. The sergeant in charge of this said, "OK. No raise." When it came time for solidarity, that is no work, it was just Hasan who stayed home. With real justice, the sergeant went to Hasan's home and asked him to come back - with a raise! So just Hasan got the raise.

He was president of the Culture Club of people who came from a particular area of Turkey and they re-elected him year after year until he finally stepped down to give someone else a chance.

Although never forgotten, Trabzon was becoming just a fond memory. Looking at the mementoes, photos and correspondence had become desultory, as my attention had focused on a new job, marriage, two beautiful sons, the building of a new home. Then, one day you realize how many years passed. So I wrote to my friend Hasan, but the letter came back marked "unknown".

Not knowing how to further my efforts to contact him, I turned to one of my in-laws. She had good contacts at Hurriyet ("Liberty", Turkish newspaper) and simply asked their agent in Trabzon to find Hasan. The answer came back in just a couple days. The agent asked for a more difficult assignment as he said everyone there knew Hasan! I should have known. It turned out the address I had used was two numbers off, and there was a new mailman - the only person who did not know Hasan!

So Hasan and I had been reconnected and as an in-person visit was a high priority, we decided that he would come to America first, then, later, I would go to Turkey. Once I received his flight number, I kept in touch with British Air, though he was not yet on board a flight. Finally, after two anxious days they told me, "Yes, he is now our passenger now, and he is over the Atlantic and will land at JFK Airport in Queens, New York.

We jumped in the car for the three-hour trip to Kennedy, and there he was, sitting on the steps when we arrived. Poor guy. What an ordeal he had at Heathrow in London. British officials had ripped everything open for a thorough inspection, and he had unexpectedly had to wait two days for a seat on the plane. He was beat!

Traveling to our home, we stopped at a restaurant to refresh, and just to sit together for tea. We made it home and gave our younger son's room to Hasan. He was a good sport about it. We socialized and spent a few days in Ocean City, NJ,just for fun.

Two weeks flew by, and we found ourselves at Philadelphia airport to wish Hasan "Iyi Yolculuk"(a good journey). Now I had one year to prepare for my half of the deal:  The trip to visit him in Turkey, enough time, I hoped, to recapture my abilities to speak Turkish.

When my time came to leave, I had a sense of foreboding:  While waiting for check-in, a Pakistani brought in at least 200 identical tan leather suitcases which were processed quickly as he could gather them, so we "wannabes" were told to "get lost". I called home to relay the news of the delay, but after some scrambling - and spending the night at Kennedy Airport, I ended up on British Air with an overnight in London, then on to Istanbul. I particularly remember the landing at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport as there has been no other like it. The pilot hovered over the airport then dropped in what seemed straight down for a quick landing. The foreboding returned: I was one bag short! But I didn't care: there was Hasan and his buddies waiting for me!

We stayed in the Beyoğlu section of Istanbul, where Ahmet [another of Wayne's former friends from Trabzon] has a small hotel, not far from the THY Airlines bus stop. We went for a walking tour of Beyoğlu, Taksim, and Sisli areas of the city, and later we did "Gran Prix" with other drivers on the narrow walled-in streets of Istanbul.

I discussed bookkeeping with Ahmet which was good practice for my Turkish. One evening our tour included the Beyoğlu waterfront, including the open air Karahane (red light district). There were many U.S. sailors making a lot of noise. Sometimes we would just sit in the common room and watch TV with the other guests. One movie was American and was about an airplane flight. Some Iranians were watching up front of us, and were intensely disparaging the film. They misunderstood that the film was intended to be "stupid" but that was over their heads.

I got to know my way around Beyoğlu, the embassies - American, Soviet, British - and restaurants, but most importantly I learned how to find my way back to the hotel.

Please excuse me:  I must digress:  Once, on another trip, I was staying in a part of Istanbul completely foreign to me. I stopped a man and asked him how to get where I was going. He stopped taxis until he found one who thought he knew. We found it, but the driver needed my help! Another time, in Trabzon, I was with a lady from Ankara and we were looking for a small museum. She stopped on the sidwalk and started yelling, "Bakarsiniz!  Bakarsiniz!" [Translated as something like "Hey! Hey! Look here!".) Everyone stopped, had a big discussion among themselves and pointed us on our way. I had walked by that museum so many times and never knew what it was. The friend with the contacts at Hurriyet was traveling by car at night and the car broke down in some remote village. Her driver knocked on a door to use a telephone. Oh no!  None of that!  After much arguing among the whole village, it was decided with whom they would spend the night and be fed. During the night, the car was fixed! A traveler in need of a gift from Allah.

It was Ramazan when I finally arrived, and I wanted to start fasting but Hasan said, "No, not until we get to Trabzon."

When we arrived, there was a Mosque next door with the prayer-calling loudspeaker pointed right at our window. Every morning at 2:00 a.m. I listened to God's praise. You know, it is comforting to be that close to God.

The day before we were to leave for Trabzon, the bag that was missing in action was delivered, so I had to go to Yeşilköy customs again. At that time radios and telephones were forbidden in baggage and the customs officer asked me if any were in my bag. I said "No," and while he is looking me in the eye, he reaches into the bag and pulls out a telephone. Hasan stepped in and shows his THY Airlines identification card. The officer, annoyed, said, "Why didn't you tell me? I wouldn't have even opened the bag!"

That Wednesday, we left for Trabzon. Security was over the top, we were frisked three times, everyone was armed, there were police on the bus. A nice ride, until we got to Trabzon. The wheels on the plane wouldn't come down and during the third pass over the runway I saw a commotion up front. A woman was having a heart attack. No one was doing anything so I asked if I could do CPR. Hasan said absolutely not. A doctor and police car meet the plane when we finally succeeded in landing, and Hasan helped the women to the car. I later learned she was already dead. But we were finally in Trabzon!

My bags were already in a waiting car and every employee greeted me as I passed - and I was "Burhan", not Wayne! Wayne stayed in America!

From the THY office at Meydan we called Tom Sabri (Erkut) and told him I'd been in town for two weeks and was ready to leave. Bad joke. He was very upset, so we went to visit. He has done very well, running an import-export business and he called up the local paper to do pictures and an interview. Some difficult questions were asked, but I did my best. Erkut told me of one other American who was at Boztepe the same time as me, and had returned. He made good use of his time writing two books, one on Ararat and the other about Trabzon.

The next big surprise was that we were expected at the Mayor's office for more pictures and an interview. His name is Orhan, a very friendly guy, though I was a bit nervous. "How do you find Trabzon?" he asked me. "Trabzon is very clean," I answered. "Trabzon is very clean," he replied, "because the President is expected. At least you showed up."

Hasan's elder son was waiting to carry my bags. We three walked to his home where many people were waiting, I got to meet and to know Hasan's family of five plus two brothers and their families, and their mom. There, I was "Burhan amca" (pronounced "amja" meaning uncle), and an honor it was to bear that title! After the Ramazan cannon went off (officially indicating sunset) we all sat down to the Ramazan meal.

Turks are known for their hospitality and friendliness. Everyone gathered at Hasan's home was very unassuming and willing to do everything to make me feel at home... as were all the people I met in Trabzon. We spent time meeting people, and every evening went to the Sport Club to play cards, smoking, and drinking çay (tea) - after 8:00 p.m. of course.

I had an interesting visit at the Club as I sat next to a survivor of the Turkish Brigade that had gone to Korea at America's request. He told me of one battle where they were in position with the British on one side, and the Americans on the other, and in the morning they found themselves nearly surrounded. During the night, the British and the Americans had pulled back, but the Turks somehow didn't get the word. He said they didn't retreat and took very heavy casualties, so heavy that our State Department sent condolences. The Turkish response was, "We sent them there to die. We are proud of them." I'm told that in such situations, the officers throw their kalpaks (a Turkish high-crowned hat) on the ground, stand on them, and die if necessary in that position. It is a matter of record that no Turkish Prisoner of War talked, and none died while in captivity which is a tribute to the care they gave each other.

While in Trabzon during Ramazan, the highlight of every evening is waiting for the cannon to be fired and the holy men to sound off, so we could dine. We took a side trip to Sumela where the countryside was fantastic (site of a Byzantine Monastery). Every square inch around Sumela is used for agriculture. We went to the hamam (baths). I had never been to a hamam before and couldn't believe the amount of skin they took off me. I even felt lighter, and what a pleasure to have someone else wash you. First the steam opens your pores, then the washing, and plenty of water a few times, and at the end a wrapping in towels and opportunity to sit, have a smoke and some tea with everyone else while your shoes are shined, and after cooling down, you get dressed and walk out the door a new man! For me, the atmosphere was fabulous, the stonework, the domed courtyard with the sun filtering through the thick, opaque glass in the ceiling was worth the trip. Just the absolute timelessness of the place. What are we? Greeks?  Romans?  Turks?

Everyone I met while visiting Hasan and Trabzon was pleased that I could speak Turkish with them and that I followed the rules of the Ramazan. The memories of twenty years before are hard to accept when I walk the waterfront, the markets, and the bazaar. How could I have stayed away so long?

I think everyone liked me too much. There was a lot pressure to become a Muslim. This is an honor since they wouldn't suggest it if they didn't think the best of me. I hope I can live up to their expectations. People who stopped me on the street, and those in businesses, all wanted to know about America and were very concerned about inflation. We have inflation in the U.S. but nothing like some other countries. Every day brings a jump and the worst is not knowing when it will stop. We met with managers of two different banks (free ashtrays and calendars!). They also complimented me on my Turkish. I thought they were overdoing it. We also had a nice, lengthy meeting with the former mayor, Hasan Melek. I had written to him and he said he had received my letter and sent two books about Trabzon. I told him they had never arrived, and he gave me two new ones! An extremely nice gentleman, well traveled - Japan, Hong Kong, etc. - and he was interested in anything we had to say.

We visited Ataturk's home which is atop a hill overlooking Trabzon and features beautiful, well tended gardens. I took many pictures outside but interior photos are not allowed.

Hasan's and Hasibe's children are wonderful. The youngest liked me very much, loves attention - which all children of that age need - liked to hug me and to kiss the back of my hand and press it to his forehead. The two older children were always ready to wait on me and I heard they shushed the neighbors during the time I was taking a nap!

Ramazan went very well - except for one hard day: In the morning, I had hooked up with some guys and we went to the high school and played two hours of fast basketball and indoor soccer. You have to have played indoor soccer to know what it's like. We could wash ourselves but no drinking. Everyone plays very hard. Win or lose is unimportant compared to each individual's eefort toward working together for good play.

We rode part of the way into town when the gearbox in the Volkswagen failed. We went to the center of town and met some more guys from the Sport Club and took a taxi to the sport complex near the airport. A game with some of the former players from the Championship tean was on tap. Before we started play, I knew I would have to adjust to their style of playing, but I was still surprised by their speed! After I knew their basic tricks I did better, but I was still knocked flat and spinning twice! I managed to do some knocking down myself.

With no food or water for almost 24 hours, I was tired and dehydrated. I had to lie down when we arrived back home and was getting a fever related to the dehydration. I barely made it until the cannon went off! Later, two guys from the game came to see me at the Sport Club and to tell me that the brute I knocked down is unable to walk, that he has a wife and children and now can't work! I suspected a joke, so I said, "What should I do about it?  That big strong guy?"  I played along:  "I need to see him and apologize! I want to see him!" Hearing that, of course, they admitted their joke!

When Ramazan ended at 8:00 p.m. on the last night, we still had our 2:00 a.m. snack of white cheese, bread, watermelon and tea. The next day is Bayram, the end of Ramazan and "sugar day" for the children and adults, so one must have a pocketful of candies. It is much like our Halloween but without the costumes, and a bit like Thanksgiving. It all started too early for me, with relatives calling from Bursa and the telephone was in my room! Then breakfast:  Bread, tea, cheese, and watermelon. Then the children started showing up. The head of the household, Hasan, gets the kisses on the back of his hand and presses his hand to their foreheads, and the same with me. They get candy and money. Then everyone goes out to see and meet everyone else. The whole city was touching, hugging, and kissing. This is what makes Trabzon work, and it goes on throughout the country!

The youngsters on the street kissed my hand, even if they only remotely recognized me. This early teaching of trust and love for their fellow humans must be the glue that holds society together. Hasan asked me if I would like to see an old friiend, Ernur. I had wanted to see him ever since I knew I was going. It was a long walk almost to Boztepe. We arrived in his neighborhood and asked where he could be found. They said to try a teahouse across the street. He was there! We sat and talked for over an hour. He had changed on the outside, certainly , but as we talked I couldn't see any difference at all. He still had the same fire and intensity. After so many years, I was happy to see him. Both he and Hasan speak rapidly, rolling everything together in a blur, but I could catch the very nice things he said about me, about the hundreds and hundreds who had passed through here, coming and going, and, "Who else? Who else?" he repeated to make his point, had never returned? Who wouldn't want this praise, especially from someone who has no margin for error between right and wrong?  He had been to Mecca more than once. I told him that speaking with him again was very important to me and, God willing, we would do it again!

Then we walked back to Hasan's neigborhood and stopped at another tea house, and darned if there weren't a couple of people there who remembered me! The walk back home was nice, offering views over the city to the Black Sea. More candy, more handshakes and hellos before a dinner of green beans and lamb. Many more people showed up, relatives and neighbors for tea, talk and television - The usual subjects, politics, Turkey, and America. After everyone had left about 1:00 in the morning, the family had more snacks, sunflower seeds, findik (hazlenuts), and tea.

The next morning, another guy who worked at Boztepe in my day, Ali, showed up. He's now a postman. We took a walk around town, to a restaurant, took pictures at Ataturk's statue. I didn't feel very well so Hasan decided I needed some fresh air, so up to Boztepe we went! We ended up right behind our former Operations building when I was stationed there. It was a beautiful day and I shot a whole roll of film. Later, back to Askeri Park for awhile, just relaxing then for a drive along the shore to a seaside restaurant. It was perfect there, too, with food, the atmosphere, the Black Sea, and music.

We returned home to many relatives and neighbors - too many to suit Hasan so off to the Sport Club to play cards, have some lemonade and TV, getting home by midnight. We stopped and got some ice cream for the kids and then "Good Night!"

The next day involved more visiting. These Turkish people know where things stand. They are adamant that Turkey has been and will be America's friend, and don't want us to turn our back on them. I can only agree. The best part of that day was a walk through the port area with Muhsin, who has a pass - since the port is now enclosed. We sat at headquarters and waited for his brother Mustapha who works there. When we got back to the Club there was bad news waiting for us:  There had been a bus accident and a brother and brother-in-law had been killed!  Words can't tell the grief and loss for the family.

The next day was Sunday and again, we went to the Hamam. What a luxury to be washed, served tea, to have a smoke while drying, putting on clean clothes, and then taking off to a restaurant where the road from Bostepe meets the town square. We had soda water, lamb kebab, bread and tomatoes and - including the tip - the entire meal was $2.00/American per person! Afterward we visited the local fish market:  No fish!

Later we took the whole family for a walk along the sea to a cliffside teahouse. Our home life is normal family style. Sometimes the younger children are pesky but what can you expect:  They're children!

The next morning we were off to the post office so Hasan could pay the TV, telephone, and electric bills. The highlight of that day was a visit to the Orphanage called Sosyal Hizmetler ve Cocuk Esirgeme Kurumu (Social Services and Child Protection Agency). The director, Fuat, is truly a man who has found the job he was made for. A very happy, very busy man who is an old friend of Hasan's and who is glad to meet me and Hasan. I feel I haven't done anything special, but they say I have turned their world upside down for them. Again, the local newspaper reporter and photographer arrive for pictures with the Director and the children of the orphanage. I am honored.

Next we paid a call on the former Mayor again. He enjoys travel and is planning his next trip:  Around the world including my home area. I hope to have him as a guest.

After meeting with the Mayor, we visited the tailor shop for my third fitting of my Ali Bayram custom-made suit, and I needed some new shoes too, from all the walking around!

That was the day it happened:  We made too many promises for dinner. Scheduled at two places at the same time for the same meal. Ouch! One at Mustapha's, Muhsin's big brother, and the other at Hussain's! So what do you do? We did both! Paying the price of stomach aches! After the second dinner, we needed to "walk it off" and the kids were trying to keep us from going out again. On our walk, I saw a sign in a store, "Today, what did you do for Allah?" I though, "Not much, except trying to do right which is the least anyone can do." We walked a bit with a policeman, and discussed crime - or the lack of it. There were two dead soldiers brought to the airport who were killed by Kurds further south. I'm not sure if they were from Trabzon, or if Trabzon was merely the nearest airport.

It was time to start wrapping up my visit and I was honored with many invitations to dinners. Ismiel, then Erkut (Tom Sabri), then Sefir in Akçaabat. I picked up my new suit on the last day. I wouldn't have been surprised if Ali had been up all night to finish it!

My last look at the Sea. Last day in Trabzon. I woke up early at 4:30 a.m., cleaned up as best I could and had everything ready for departure.

Goodbyes are hard. Hellos are better.

At Hasan's insistence, THY pulled their strings with Pakistani Air and pushed me ahead of 73 passengers so I was quickly on my return flight.

Thanks for reading along. This story, above, took place in 1985. I still have 25 more years of Turkey
and Black Sea experience to relate. With your kind indulgence, I will get it done.

Photo Memories
Click Photos to Enlarge

Home at last, after 20 years. On the roof in Cumhurriyet Mahallesi (neighborhood).

Our neighborhood.

Another view of our neighborhood.

From Boztepe to Askeri Park, Hasan and Me.

Game started.

Game on. I'm in red.

At the orphanage, with Fuat on the left.

Maydana. Ali, me,
and Hasan.

Life on the "other side." 2006, east of Feodosia (in background).

Ataturk's home and museum.

Three from Boztepe.

Hasan and Family at Evening Ramadan Meal.

Unmistakeable Boztepe.

Looking at Boztepe from under Askeri Park.

Contact the Author

Return to Merhaba-USMilitary.com Page