Monday, October 11, 2010

Food for Thought...

There is an old saying that states something along the lines of “ being in a foreign country will make you appreciate home”. Whoever said it first knew what they were talking about. I have been in quite a few foreign countries before and have experienced that renewed appreciation every time. But being in Turkey for the last 5 months has redefined the essence of appreciation for the good ole United States of America. I am not saying that Turkey is not a wonderful place to visit, because it certainly is. I have had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people with whom I hope to remain friends with for as long as I live. I have seen and done things here that will remain among the memories that I pull up in my later years when I want to smile and maybe even laugh out loud. But there are some things, that are totally missing or different here that most of us take for granted at home.

Wal-Mart. How many times have you griped and moaned about having to go to the big box store when all you wanted was just a small item like, let’s say shoelaces. My fellow pilot Manie from South Africa and I spent several hours one afternoon looking for new laces for his flying boots. I think he is still looking and in the meantime is relying on the old ones being held together by several small knots. Just little things. Like a spare key for his apartment. You would think that the local hardware store would be just the place….and you would be wrong. Everybody here in the little town of Avanos knows that if you need a spare key, you go to the pharmacy and they will fix you right up. You would also think that a pair of leather gloves, much needed to reduce the calloused pinky epidemic among balloon pilots here in Turkey, would be an easy find at the hardware store. Not only are they not found at the hardware store, they are not found anywhere! As far as I know, along with the other 50 or 60 balloon pilots working here, there is only one place within 50 miles to find a good pair of leather gloves. That would be in the city of Kayseri, but even then that is not a sure thing. Manie and Andy took the time to make the drive one day to pick up some gloves and came back with just some nice memories of a ride to the big city because the gloves were out of stock. If I didn’t say it before, I will mention it now…..a local Wal-Mart would sure come in handy around here.

Back in the summer it was so hot even the critters were looking for some cool place to get out of the heat. Unfortunately, among those looking were some nasty and vicious scorpions. Paco, my upstairs neighbor, like right above my place, can provide the best evidence of this. At last count he has found 6 of the little devils in his apartment. Manie, who lives next to Paco, has only found one, but it was under his pillow! I on the other hand have found none in my place, but I assure you it has not been from lack of trying. It is a complete and very thorough, before bed ritual that I have developed and follow religiously. I may forget to brush my teeth before bed, but I promise you, I will not forget to take my little flashlight and check under the bed, under the pillow, between the sheets, and all adjoining walls before I lay my head down to sleep. You’d think that the hardware store would have just the thing to keep the little buggers outside. Nope, but the pharmacy does. And just for your information, avoiding a sting from the scorpions here is a worthwhile endeavor. My friend Mehmet was not so lucky and was stung on the side of his foot. He missed a few days of work, endured excruciating pain, and his whole foot looked like it was going to fall off from the infection. I’m not saying we don’t have our share of critters that will hurt you back home, because we surely do. But we don’t normally have to do a bed check to make sure they are all still outside.

Living here for the most part by myself has forced me to cook for myself. That in itself is not a problem for me because I kind of enjoy cooking….certain things. I like to make up a big pot of chicken and sausage gumbo on a cool Fall day. Well it is very cool here now, (just got the first snow on the mountain this past weekend), no problem finding a chicken, I could pluck one of those right outside my door. But finding pork sausage is an exercise in futility. They do have something here that looks like sausage and I’m sure after an acquired taste, it is probably just fine, but I don’t think it will work in a good Cajun gumbo.

Thanks to a couple of kind souls back home, I have had a good supply of southern grits to give me good nourishment and great comfort. Did you know that a big bowl of grits with lots of butter can be enjoyed at any meal? I know this because I’ve had them for every meal and sometimes just for a “I miss home” snack. I was also sent some really good pancake mix. However, there is a severe shortage of maple syrup around here. There is something the locals call syrup but it is made from grapes and just does not have the right texture, taste or effect. And what I would not have given for a can of Rotel when I made a pot of chili the other night. Again, where is that Wally World when you really need it?

Everybody complains about traffic cops at home right? I would love to have a good ole boy Louisiana State Trooper follow me around for a couple of days over here. He would have writer’s cramp for sure. I love these Turkish people, I really do. But they are responsible for me breaking out in some terrible fits of road rage. Traffic signs, speed limits, and road markings are obviously just suggestions that are almost always ignored. Driving here has given me a whole new appreciation for the folks I use to fuss at back home for driving too slow…God bless ‘em.

Personal space. I know we all just pretty much take that little space between us and a perfect stranger for granted. We all know that it is just common courtesy to give folks a little breathing room. For example, at home when you go to the bank, there is a line, sometimes defined by a nice colorful rope, chain, ribbon, or such. There is a line which one does not cross until the person in front of you has completed their business at the window and moved on. The window at the counter is narrow and just big enough for one person to interact with the nice teller. Pretty simple, right? Not here it isn’t. There is no rope and no line. There is a number system. Walk in the bank. Take a number, have a seat, which is provided, and wait for your number to light up above the teller’s head therefore indicating it is now your turn to go to the window. Somehow that last part has gotten lost in translation. Maybe it is because the teller window is three feet wide and will fit four grown up people. I suppose folks think if four can stand there, then that is where they should be. Can you imagine doing your private banking business and having three total strangers standing next to you vying for the teller’s attention? And sometimes getting it as the teller will stop helping you and help them? And it is the same at the market check out counter. I have never been a patient person as some members of my chase crew back home can attest, but living here in this country has given me a chance to work on that a bit.

These are just a few of the little things I have encounter here that I find a bit different from home. I am in no way ridiculing or making fun of the Turkish way of doing things. I am a visitor here and should adapt to how things work and I am really trying my best to do so. For them, it all seems to be perfectly fine and logical. I’m the one out of sync. So as I wait for my departure I will do my best to fit in with the locals as they have been so gracious to allow me to at least try. I hate to say it, but having had this experience I believe I have definitely garnered a newborn appreciation for some to the little things that we all take for granted in our everyday lives. And I am glad to say, I have learned much about some things that I previously did not have a clue. In a whole lot of ways, people are pretty much the same all over the world. It is often merely our own perception of what is normal that makes them appear to be different.

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