Tommy L. Schmitt
© 2005-2011 by Author
Tommy Schmitt floated in the nether world between U.S. military and a civilian occupation. "The State Department directed my tour of duty as an 'Off Set Program' participant," he says, "That means that I worked for the Turkish Military as an Advisor and Technical Representative with a Tactical Navigation System Manager. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with, and to learn from the Turks for my 2 years in Ankara.
Thank you for the opportunity to express the truest observation of the nicest people in the world.
Luckily I have traveled a lot, but I've found the Turkish Culture to be the most interesting. Yes all people are the same worldwide with all the basic values etc. My time in Turkey is highlighted by the times that the Turks in every day life taught me qualities of life I've not observed anywhere else.
My intent was to learn the Culture right from the start of my visit. In my first week in Ankara, I went into the Mosque (Kocatepe Mosque?) on a Friday night, just to observe the religious service. After following every one else I took off my shoes and proceeded to enter the vast room bedecked with chandeliers of immense crystal, and vast football fields of the most valued hand made rugs in the world. I was wary of the "altar" but followed the others to the front, though I stayed to the side in order to observe the model of this mosque that was given by King Saud of Saudi Arabia to the Turkish Government. The model was of mother of pearl, 24 karat gold, and silver. The particular palms surrounding the miniature mosque will forever be remembered: they were filigreed of hand worked solid gold!
Prior to the end of the service I "backed out" so I wouldn't show my back side to the altar, and proceeded to a side prayer room to continue taking in the atmosphere of the service. The side room had full view of the altar.
Sitting on a window sill that had a cushion, inviting to the observer, I sat down. Next to me was a old book I felt was there for all to read (this was my first indication of a problem, if I had only realized). The book I took in my hand and leafed through was very old and fragile almost to become crumbled by my turning only one or two pages. It was with a leather bound and obviously was a true antique. So I carefully put it back down on the sill cushion.
As I sat there I observed another young person who had entered and sat on the floor just to my right in front of me. He apparently also appeared to be visiting and to observe the service. The young man continued to sit there and was on occasion glancing to his left, observing me through the corner of his eye. After a half hour or so, as I continued to sit there on the window sill sitting by the book, the young man made a sincere motion to me and indicated (by tapping the cushion on the floor) to me to come sit by him.
I didn't know his intentions but his patience for over 30 minutes had set me at ease and and I was curious as to why he invited me to sit with him. Also, I, being a new guy in country, wanted to "set a good example of the American" wanted to comply with local culture. With all sincere intentions to learn to "do as the Romans do when in Rome," I proceeded to sit on the floor alongside the Turk.
As several minutes went by the Turk seemed satisfied that I was sitting on the floor, and all was well within the observation room. I still didn't know why he invited me to sit next to him, and as the service was ending, the Turk sensed my concern and he had glanced over to me once or twice.
I had been about to get up to depart when the Turk leaned over to me in a direct manner, but with complete respect for the decorum of the atmosphere, and he made the following comment in his broken but still clear English.
"I see that you are American. I saw you sitting up on the window sill and I was concerned. He then said, "I believe as you do...that there is one God: Allah. We all believe in the same thing in life". With that he motioned toward my previous perch up on the window sill. To my surprise - I looked directly to the Book. It was a true ICON of ISLAM. An original Koran.
Tears came to my eyes as I learned the true respect for the Koran (and the Culture) that I was supposed to be there for. I then realized that the Turk only wanted me to sit away from the old book - The Koran, an obviously old book at least 1000 years old.
Later in my tour, I learned more: it is a mortal sin to sit with your back side next to the Holiest Book in the Turkish Culture.
With all my good intentions as a new guy in country....sitting near the holy book was my error, and this was the real reason the Turk wanted me to sit next to him...for no other reason than to get me away from sitting next to the Koran.
It was a heck of a way to learn a new culture but I will remember that lesson taught by the patient Turk forever. I will never forget the sincere way the young man got me to sit next to him, and yes I do believe in the same God/Allah.
Two years in the most sincere and friendly country in the world can be expressed two words...Turks are a "genuine people". I consider myself very fortunate to haved learned their culture of respect for others.