Disturbing Incidents

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

One the questions I was asked upon my return was if I ever experienced or saw things that were disturbing to me. Not counting the big differences of disparity of economic wealth in our modern society and white privilege, human trafficking, lack of clean drinking water (even in capital cities), modern slavery and a variety of other ills that are a fact of life in many places, there were several incidents that stand out in my mind because they were so personal to each of these people. They were shocking to me partly because they were so sudden, and I was right there.

When originally writing this, I was reluctant to name some of the places where some negative things happened, but I had committed that I would share what I learned with people who cared enough to read my blog.

In the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal, a city of 3 million people (unreliable electricity, few stop signs and fewer road signs), I was in a cab.

Traffic police stand on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection

Traffic police stand on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection

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The infrastructure has not kept up with demand. I love that there are 3 poles for these wires

We were driving along and on the side of the road were tiny rooms/shacks/homes made out of whatever a person could find; corrugated metal, plywood etc. Two grown men were fighting just inches from my door. As we passed, one grabbed the other by the hair in one hand, and in his other hand was a stone a bit larger than his fist. He was swinging the rock in it and pounding the guy who was caught by his hair in the head who struggled and twisted, squirming away as best he could. I was horrified and shocked. I stuttered as I exclaimed to the cab driver, “Oh my God, that guy is hitting the other man in the head with a big rock! This could kill that man!“ Cabbie’s response was a chuckle and he remarked, “ha ha ha, that guy sure is angry”. We continued driving.

Typical farmer in Kathmandu

Another incident took place while I was waiting on the train platform in Naples, Italy. An older woman had collapsed on the concrete floor and a male passenger was giving her CPR while the rest of the crowd stood by helplessly as the her life was about to change. It was weird to know that I learned information that her family did not know about yet, and it was such an intimate moment. She could only wait for what was going to be, she had no power over her circumstances. Her purse stood at attention beside her, and I spent the rest of the day wondering what she would have done differently that morning if she knew that a few hours later she would be laying on the concrete surrounded by strangers.

In Istanbul, Turkey (the European side) we were driving through a very wealthy area, where people were educated and at the top of the economic status. It was a weekend morning and lots of people were walking around, enjoying the beautiful sunny day. A couple were walking on the sidewalk and it looked like the man was about to kiss the woman. As he turned toward her, instead of kissing her, his arm shot up and he grabbed her around her throat in anger. Her eyes widened in surprised, and I gasped as we drove by, stammering to the my hosts who were driving “Did you see that? He grabbed her by the throat!” They were shocked too, and when we discussed domestic violence, they informed me that in Turkey, if someone were to report domestic violence to the police, the police would probably not do anything, and say it was a domestic problem ; to go home and solve the problem yourselves. Further conversations with other people confirmed that society would blame the girl/wife for any problems. As a matter of fact, that is the common joke. No matter what the problem is, it is the wife’s fault.

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Some disturbing things are the same all over the world; domestic violence crosses all boundaries and no one gets out of this life alive. By traveling and meeting dozens of people every day, I was able to observe many things in life I don’t normally experience in my ordinary working life spending the days with a handful of work colleagues each day.

Hardest Working Man in the World- in Turkey

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

While sitting on a flat rooftop and eating lunch, we saw a man digging up a stone wall. This wall was probably hundreds of years old and was partially covered by dirt as the decades, and centuries passed, and this man needed those stones for a new project.

This must be the hardest working man in town. He was digging up stones from an ancient stone wall, and chiseling them into a new shape to sell (from rounded to rectangular)

This must be the hardest working man in town. He was digging up stones from an ancient stone wall, and chiseling them into a new shape to sell (from rounded to rectangular)

The man used a hand chisel and some kind of hammer to shape the rounded stones into a rectangular block shape, with flat edges to use for a new, modern project.

An Archaeologist would probably have a heart attack!

It was really hot, and as much as we were complaining about the heat, at least we were feeling a gentle breeze since we were on the roof.

He sat on the ground, and chiseled 3-4 big rocks over about an hour and a half. Can you imagine sitting outside in a scorching hot sun for hours, and using a chisel and some kind of hammer to shape large, heavy stones?

Daily life moves at a slower pace here.

In the USA we live life according to the schedule on the calendar; Boy Scouts meeting on Tuesday, book club on Thursday etc. We don’t have a lot of changes. Even our environment is stable- the weather is 78 degrees in the office, 78 degrees at home, we have air-conditioning in the car, and plenty of options when the weather changes.

In developing countries, life is more dependent on local life; weather, and what is happening in a village.

A Rooftop Meal in the Countryside of Turkey

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

Turkey – meal on rooftop

We had been driving around in in the country, exploring the Cappadocia (Kapadokya) area in the heat and were looking for a restaurant for lunch.

These formations are called Fairy Chimneys and people still live in them.

These formations are called Fairy Chimneys and people still live in them.

Fairy Chimneys in Cappadokya, Turkey

Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia, Turkey

The landscape was formed by softer rock “melting” away over the years, leaving the harder rock intact.  Some of these “fairy chimneys” were 100 feet tall. Tunnels and rooms were dug into the earth about 3,000 years ago. The rock is rather soft, I could scratch it with my fingernails, and hardens once it is exposed to air. (But I could still scratch it).

Exploring the spaces that people used to live in. Some were monastaries with secret tunnels to quickly escape. A person may need to crab walk down a passageway like a laundry chute, but it would be a quick exit.

Exploring the spaces that people used to live in. Some were monastaries with secret tunnels to quickly escape. A person may have crab walked down a vertical passageway (like a laundry chute), but it was a quick exit.

This is an ancient area that I bet archeologists would love to explore. I watched a guy on an atv ride it down these steps, and knew historians would be horrified. Many of these kinds of places are being slowly destroyed, just by living.

This is an ancient area that I bet archeologists would love to explore. I watched a guy on an ATV (4 wheeler) ride it down these steps, and knew historians would be horrified. Many of these kinds of places are being slowly destroyed, just by daily living.

All four of us were drained and ready for some nutrition and a chance to sit down, rest our feet, and enjoy a good meal.

Metin (our pseudo son-in-law) was using an app on his phone, and found a restaurant with good reviews, but with construction on the narrow and hidden roads, it was going to be difficult to find our way.

In a country that has been inhabited since for thousands of years, the roads were built based on needs at that time. They are twisty and narrow, having been built for people who walked.

Roads built centuries ago that were well thought out. The larger stones are in the middle and easier to walk on. I think they were built this way for drainage reasons.

Roads built centuries ago that were well thought out. The larger stones are in the middle and easier to walk on. I think they were built this way for drainage reasons.

Metin called the restaurant- everyone has cell phones.

(I discovered that even in poor countries like Zimbabwe and Nepal, many people have a cell phone – but not a smart phone)

A man answered the phone and said that he would meet us where we were and we could follow him to the restaurant. About 15 minutes later, a scraggly and dirty-looking man showed up on a motorbike and told us to follow him. I was a bit confused- I wasn’t sure if he was the owner, the cook, a friend of the restaurant or who he was. So, I got back into the car and we followed him up the narrow streets and through the passageways of ancient stone buildings. The roads were built between the buildings and the building loomed heavily daring us to bring the car closer and challenging us with tight corners.

Narrow roads in a village in Turkey.

Narrow roads in a village in Turkey.

Based on his disheveled and dirty appearance, I was hoping the kitchen was relatively clean, and the food would not make any of us sick.

IMG_2713A narrow road that is full of handicrafts for tourists. It was very quaint and the shop owners were very friendly.

One of the ways Europeans “beat the heat” is by growing grapevines for shade. I saw this often at restaurants. In the summer, the broad leaves provide shade. In the winter, the leaves have fallen off and the sun shines through. This was also common in Italy and other sunny countries.

We arrived at a home with an outdoor staircase, hiked up the steps and finally were able to sit down and rest. The flat rooftop had several tables and chairs  – similar to an open air cafe. (Except, for the freshly-washed towels drying on the clothesline).

The wife cooked our lunch in an outdoor stone oven.

The wife cooked our lunch in a hot (wood-coal) outdoor stone oven.

Lunch in a small village. It was hard to find because of construction, so the owner met us in town and had us follow him back on his motorbike

AJ and B. waiting for lunch in a small village. The restaurant was hard to find because of construction, one way streets, and detours, so the owner met us in town and had us follow him on his motorbike through alleys and streets with no names. There was a limited menu.

Eating lunch on top of the roof of a home restaurant.

Our hero Metin, who found us a fantastic rooftop restaurant. A husband and wife owned the restaurant and we could see how hard they worked on a daily basis. There were towels drying on a clothesline nearby.

The specialty was a stew that had been cooking in a clay pot since dawn. We had a choice of lamb or chicken. (Muslims typically do not eat pork). Each pot was filled with vegetables and gravy, (but really – who knows what was really in there) and how clean the kitchen was (or how basic, for that matter) we were near stone homes.

Stone home in a small village in Turkey.

Stone home in a small village in Turkey.

While sitting at the table and looking over the other buildings, I noticed that when the breeze wafter in a certain direction, I could smell animals. I am not sure what kind. It was earthy, but not unpleasant. The breeze hinted at manure, but not horse or cow manure, the smells I can identify. Maybe the smell was goats? Something else?  I could not see any animals, but I could hear a bell around its’ neck gently clang when it moved. I visualized the animal resting in the heat like we were, and turning its head to adjust its position to take a much deserved nap.

Life moves at a slower pace here. Once we sat down and got a bit of food in us, we could take in all the surroundings. It looked like a hard life, but a peaceful life.

Real Life Shepherds!

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

While riding down the 4 lane country highway on a gloomy, cloudy, rainy day in the countryside of Turkey, I was reminded of how lucky I am to be born in a country where ambition and intelligence can take a person a long way, and dreams can come true.

In many countries, dreams will always remain dreams.

The grey sky was filled with angry-looking dark, tumultuous clouds. They looked as heavy and pregnant as a woman about to give birth. The road looked like a any country road in the USA except there were no fences lining the sides, nor were there any billboards. We were in an area with few tourists, driving 6 hours to our destination. We were traveling about 50 mph, when we spotted the first shepherd in the distance.

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The daily life of a Shepherd looks easy and simple, but when I really thought about it, this is another job I would not relish. The shepherds I saw were continuously on the move. After all, where would a person sit down when everything has been rained on for the past few hours? Nothing was dry, and there was no shelter.

Sheep being herded down the main street of a small village

Sheep being herded down the main street of a small village

It appeared to be a lonely life. Some shepherds may herd their animals to a remote area and be gone for months at a time. Others may graze the animals only for a day or two before returning to the village. No matter how long someone spends with their animals, there was a lot of time with no one to talk to.

Old home made of stone

Old home made of stone

Dung is dried and used as fuel

Dung is dried and used as fuel

Some of the shepherds looked like bible pictures I saw when I was a kid. One in particular stood out to me. He was wearing some kind of blanket over his clothing. It had been raining all morning, alternating between a sprinkle of water to pouring sheets of rain, and everything was sopping wet – including the shepherd.

Typically, the shepherd’s herd consisted of 6-20 cows or dozens of sheep / goats. I am told that often one shepherd is in charge of the entire village’s cattle. There were no fences to be seen for miles and miles, and the cows were loosely scattered on one side of the road. The cows were contentedly enjoying chomping whatever sparse grass or other green vegetation they could graze, barely aware of the cold drops falling on their warm bodies.

The shepherd though, looked wet. Really wet. Probably sopping wet and dripping by our standards. The temperature was cool enough that we were wearing fleece jackets, so I imagine that he was cold, even if the blanket he was wearing was wool.

Even a stone house has solar water heating

Even a stone house has solar water heating

I was not able to get a picture of a shepherd with cattle- we were driving by at 50 mph, and they were in the distance. However, once we were sitting down for a cup of tea in a small village, a shepherd with sheep and goats came right through the middle of town. He was dressed in jeans, and probably brought the flock home at night.

Sheep being herded down the main street of a small village

Sheep being herded down the main street of a small village

I think it would be interesting to interview a shepherd. I wonder if he had ever set foot in a classroom? I bet mothers use shepherds as an example as what happens if you don’t do well in school. I suspect that he has no opportunities to do anything different if he wanted to. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of career potential. Yes, we are fortunate to live in a country where there really is the opportunity to go for what you want to do or be in this life.

Safranbolu, Turkey

Impressions of a Country

Turkey is one of the friendliest, most generous and kindest countries I have been to yet. There is a huge variety of food and lots of vegetables made in so many different ways. I kept thinking the food is as good as Italian food, but without the publicity.

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One trip I took was with Esin’s family. Esin is one of my Turkish daughters, who was getting married in a few weeks. Her parents were in town and spent time with me, showing me more of their country. Her father speaks English, and her mother does not. I had met her parents 7 years ago for a few hours, but did not know them well.

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Samim and Nihal graciously hosted me in their apartment and fed me lots of good food. For breakfast, Nihal had prepared a variety of foods from different regions of the country. There were 5 kinds of cheese including fresh and mild, salty aged, cheese from cow, goat and sheep, 3 kinds of homemade jams including apricot, wild strawberry, sour cherry, honey with the comb in it, butter, 3 kinds of breads, olives, an omelet for each of us which included fennel leaves and cooked in butter. Tomatoes and cucumbers were also served at almost all breakfasts I had in this country. This was a typical Turkish breakfast. Breakfast is still my favorite meal of the day.

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We drove to an area near the Black Sea, called Sanfranbolu – a World Heritage Site that was built back in 1100s and stayed in a renovated hotel from 1180 give or take a few years. This area is where saffron comes from – the plant stamens are harvested in autumn, and are picked by hand. This is why saffron is so expensive.

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Even the ride to this place was interesting because it was different from the USA. The highways were just like ours, 2 lanes each way that were paved, smooth and easy to drive, with guard rails on the sides where needed. Surprisingly, the tollways actually trades on the stock exchange.

When we stopped at a traveler’s plaza to grab a drink or use the restroom, it was very different. The plazas are really a mall. There are restaurants in them, a food court and lots of clothing stores. Nothing else is around for miles and miles. There was also a market with a variety of spices, and toys for sale, and there were small stores that specialized in chestnuts – chocolate covered, candied, roasted etc., an ice cream shop, and of course, bathrooms in the middle of the mall. Gasoline could be purchased as well.

While we were inside, a man washed the car for us (or at least rinsed it off – I am not sure how much soap was used), but the windows were all clean again, and Samim gave money to the man who washed it. I am not sure how he got the man to wash the car, I didn’t see him speak to anyone when we pulled in, but when we got back outside in 10 minutes, the car was washed, the windshield was clean again and money was exchanged.

To me, one of the most fascinating sights was to see a shepherd herding his of cattle. It was raining most of the day and I realized that being a shepherd is not a very pleasant job in the rain. I was not able to get a close picture, but the clothes they wore looked dirty and were covered by some sort of blanket. They must have been really cold, and not sitting down to rest very often. There were very few fences, which is why each herd needed a shepherd and the herds consisted of about 4-20 cattle or goats. The herds grazed on common public land, and the villages cooperated by having 1 shepherd for the villager’s animals.

The land in Northern Turkey outside of Istanbul consisted of forests, rolling green hills with farms and agriculture as well as lots of timber trucks passing by. Wolves and bears still live there.

The village of Sanfranbolu only has about 5000 inhabitants and its main business these days is tourism. I was the only American in the village at the time, and even our tour guide did not speak English – glad I had Samir to translate. The roads were not made of cobblestones, they were actually made of rocks, and many were turned on their side- really hard to walk on, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw some local boys running on the street. The mom in me wanted to yell to them to not run, they could break an ankle, but I was paying too much attention to not breaking my own ankles. In the middle of the roads, the rocks were flatter, allowing drainage, and better walking for most people. Homes and walls were made of stones, and since mortar had not been invented yet, pigeon egg whites were used, along with animal hair to hold the stones in place.

IMG_2661    Safranbolu - a really really old village

Back in the 1100s period nitric acid was used to separate animal skin from the hair. The nitric acid came from fresh dog poop, so when a dog pooped, people would take the poop and run down to the man who used it. There is still an expression used today, something about having to run the dog shit to the tannery when someone is in a hurry and can’t talk.

A friend once told me that every woman should own a pair of red shoes. I have always wanted to own a pair of handmade leather shoes. In Safranbolu, there is a cobbler who still makes leather shoes by hand. We went in and tried on several pair and actually found a pair that had been ordered by a Korean tour guide but she never came back for them. They were nearly completed and fit me perfectly. I watched the cobbler sew the remaining stitches, and now have a pair of handmade red leather shoes. Isn’t life funny and how things work out?

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Other observations:

Since I have many friends who enjoy cooking and eating good food, I have tried to pay attention to the different foods I have eaten. In Turkey, I had scrambled eggs with dill, mutton (sheep – not lamb, and a lot gamier tasting) with thyme. Minced meat (probably beef) in a type of pita with dill was delicious. Instead of pepper, a lot of people use oregano. Also, traditionally, Baklava (the really sweet dessert many times also found in Greek food) has 70 layers, but I did not actually count them.

Driving is quite different too. Istanbul has about 17 million people (the country has about 70 million), so it is very crowded. If there is a small space, a car will squeeze through it without hesitating. And by small space, I mean 6 inches, a car will nose its way into that 6 inches. In the city, it is inexpensive to take a cab. I would not drive, and even my husband who is an excellent driver would not drive. The countryside is different, but bear in mind that the white lines that mark the lanes are really a suggestion as to where the car should be driven. No one stays in their lane. As a matter of fact, I would say that the lines are not even a suggestion as much as an idea of where lanes should be if someone wanted to actually be in only one lane at a time.

In the cities and villages outside of Istanbul, cars turn around in the middle of a street. Right in an intersection or even the downtown square.

When a Turkish man is talking to another Turkish man that they don’t know, they say “Abi”. It means something like Brother. (Ece’s and Metin’s son learned my name after a week, but referred to Bret as Abi until he learned his name).

Sheep and cows can live in a pasture together (I had never seen this before).

Recently, about 1 million refugees have fled Syria and come into Turkey

The Immigration Problem

Impressions of a Country

I have been asking people about the current problems of their countries, and each one has talked about immigration. Everyone has immigrants who come over either invited as guest workers, or illegally – some for jobs, some fleeing war, but after they have arrived and made a life for themselves, they do not leave. This is a common complaint.

To me, it all boils down to “the haves” and “the have nots”. Everyone wants the good life and to be one of “the haves”. I hear about this problem in the USA as well – (especially on Facebook postings that spread hate and discontent without a lot of thought behind broad sweeping statements – like send all illegal immigrants home and don’t let them ever come back, even to visit their families. Have people thought of the repercussions of this really happening? The costs to send them back? The costs of groceries in our supermarkets by not having enough workers? The costs of losing the taxes that illegal immigrants pay?)

One German man stated an interesting point of view, that was different from what I have recently heard in the USA. He spoke about the need of immigrants in Germany to support the aging population – a similar phenomenon we are experiencing in the USA. Germany needs 2.1 children per family in order to maintain a stable German population, and a high standard of living like Americans currently experience. Currently, German families only have 1.4 children on average. The problem becomes that as Germans retire, there are not enough taxpayers paying into the system to support the aging population. In the USA this will soon be my peer group, which means we will have to retire at a later age, or increase our a tax base. He says that Germans understand this principle; they want and need immigrants – but want the highly educated ones.

Look at what is happening in Serbia. The Serbian government pays for the six years of medical school for the students. Out of 400 graduates of one medical school last year, 200 were recruited to Germany. Their education was already paid for, they have the training and ambition, and now they are happy to have jobs in their fields. Germany is really smart. We should be doing more of this. As for the illegal immigrants who are already in our country, such as children who were brought here from Central America, who have been educated in our public schools, who are bright and ambitious, perhaps we need to think about legalizing them, rather than sending them home. They already are educated, they are intelligent, they understand our culture, why would we let those assets go? And on top of that, pay to send them back? It seems shortsighted to me.

Now, this particular man I was speaking to also said that the problem is with the uneducated immigrants. Which is a completely different story. As Americans, perhaps we should not judge all illegal immigrants as a problem. Perhaps we should identify the ones we really want who can be an asset to our country, and make it easier for them to become official citizens. After all, they are already here. Let’s be smart.

A Turkish friend of mine is becoming a citizen of The Netherlands. He says it is very difficult to travel under a Turkish passport. The countries that are part of the European Union are able to travel easily through each other’s countries. He said that with a Turkish passport, immigration asks a bunch of questions and wants to be sure you have enough resources in order to go back home. They ask how he paid for his ticket and when he said he put it on his credit card, they let him in. He says it is a hassle.

The Germans complain about the Turks, the Turks complain about the immigrants from Syria and the uneducated citizens from the eastern part of the country who move to the city and use up the resources. So, in Germany, there are a lot of Turkish immigrants and many are uneducated and seen as a problem.

Here is a summary of my experience while going through customs in Munich, Germany from Istanbul, Turkey. There were three different lines to go through passport control, so I was able to watch the people in front of me.

Customs official: “Where are you coming from”?

Passenger #1 (who doesn’t speak German or much English)  Istanbul, Turkey

CO- How long are you staying?

#1- what?

CO- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#1- I don’t understand

CO speaking slower- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#1 about a month

CO- what is the purpose of your visit?

#1 – what?

CO- why are you in Germany?

#1- to see my family

CO- Do you have a return ticket?

#1- A return ticket?

CO- How will you be getting back? Do you have another plane ticket?

#1 -yes

CO- Let me see it.

#1 – See it?

CO- Yes, I want to see your plane ticket

#1- I don’t have a plane ticket

CO- How much money do you have?

#1- How much money?

CO- Yes, let me see your wallet

#1 – See my money?

CO- yes.

Passenger pulls out wallet, opens it, Customs guy looks at the money, lets him through.

 

Next guy in other line with a different Customs official

CO- Where are you coming from?

#2 (doesn’t understand Germany and not much English) Turkey

CO- How long are you staying?

#2 what?

CO- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#2- I don’t understand

CO speaking slower- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#2 not sure, my mother is sick

CO- what is the purpose of your visit?

#2– what?

CO- why are you in Germany?

#2- to see my mother and take care of her, she is sick

CO- Do you have a return ticket?

#2- A return ticket?

CO- How will you be getting back? Do you have another plane ticket?

#2- what?

CO is getting frustrated. Stands up in booth and leans over and gets louder

CO- How will you be getting back? Do you have another plane ticket?

#2 what?

CO- You are coming to Germany and will then leave, How will you get home? Do you have a plane ticket?

#2 -yes

CO- Let me see it.

#2 – See it?

CO- Yes, I want to see your plane ticket

#2- I don’t have a plane ticket yet

CO- How much money do you have?

#2- How much money?

CO- Yes, let me see your wallet

#2 – See my money?

CO- yes.

#2 You want to see my money?

CO- Yes, I want to see how you will pay for your plane ticket

#2 pulls out wallet and shows credit card.

Guard lets him pass through.

 

Now my turn.

CO -Where are you coming ,from?

Me – Istanbul, Turkey

CO- How long will you be in Germany?

me- (thinking, I don’t really know, doing things on the fly, stay until I want to go), but say, 2 weeks.

CO- What brings you to Germany?

me- (thinking, my AFSers, visiting friends, seeing what the world is like here, try to understand how did a society try to eliminate an entire population group) but say “Tourism” and hand my beautiful blue American passport to him

CO- Welcome to Germany, have a nice visit.