BITS and PIECES # 21

1

February 4, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 21

Hello again from Luquillo,

Yesterday the media was full of stories about the most recent suicide bombing – the one that occurred at the gate of the United States embassy in Ankara, Turkey. As I read the vivid accounts of what had happened, and the first attempts by Turkish and American officials to determine which of many insurgency group was responsible, my still functioning long-term memory cells took over – transporting me back some forty-eight years — to 1965 — when, with my family, I experienced some ‘Trouble Down The Street’ in that same, ancient, middle-eastern capital city…

Here is the story, for your thoughtful consideration…

TROUBLE DOWN THE STREET

It’s 1965 — Ankara, Turkey — As on most weekdays, I’ve just come downstairs from our third floor ‘flat’ that is part of an eight story apartment building near the terminus of Ataturk bulvar in the Çankaya district’s ’embassy row’. Briefcase in hand, with Michael, my six year old son in tow, I will walk to meet the tiny blue school bus, driven by Mike’s ‘pal’ Güney (a large, cheerful, middle-aged Turk, with a dramatic, drooping ‘Yosemite Sam’ mustache) who will whisk him to a nearby ‘préscolaire’, where he and twelve other expatriate kindergarten age children from five different countries are beginning to acquire a few embryonic reading skills in two languages, while simultaneously being taught by French nuns to ‘fit in’ with schoolmates who bring with them dissimilar beliefs and unfamiliar cultures…

However, this morning turns out to be different than any we have heretofore experienced — As we cross the lobby hand in hand, I notice that the omnipresent ‘kapiҫi’ has vanished from his customary station by the entry (a worrisome sign.)  Then, as we continue on through the tall, milky glass entrance doors, our progress is abruptly halted by a youthful ‘Aşkere’, an automatic weapon slung from his shoulder. Since he is smiling, I relax slightly, squeezing my son’s hand to assure him that all is well…

The Aşkere, a ruddy-cheeked Kurdish conscript, clad in a soiled, ill-fitting gray wool uniform, radiating a redolent amalgam of Turkish coffee, garlic and Yeni Harman cigarettes, motions us back to the lobby with a stern thumb gesture and the firm command “No go to city today”.

“Why not” I offer, politely. The young Aşkere, whose smile now seems slightly strained, nervously replies “Trouble down the street – you stay home”, abruptly turning his back on us to resume his temporarily assigned post…

Mystified, I take Michael’s hand as we turn to trudge back up the stairs to sort-out this new and baffling state of affairs. When I tell my wife what has occurred, she wisely suggests that I dig-out our battery-powered Blaupunkt short wave receiver and tune-in to the BBC World Service morning ‘programme’ — there is nothing yet, apparently the story is too new (or not deemed newsworthy enough) — it’s too early for the Voice of America Middle East ‘feed’, and, since my command of Turkish is limited,  I can’t make sense of the agitated commentary emanating from any of Ankara’s AM radio stations — so, I switch off the radio and return it to its drawer in the bedroom dresser…

Our friends Bill, an oil company geologist and his attractive wife Karen, a hospital administrator, live above us in the ‘penthouse’ on the building’s eighth floor — a month or so earlier, after we were informed by the ‘PTT’ (Post, Telegraph and Telephone agency) that we shouldn’t expect to receive phone service for “at least six to eight months”, we had pooled our resources and purchased a ‘Princess’ telephone (a children’s toy) at the American embassy store — since our apartment bathrooms were interconnected by a common ventilator shaft meant to extract noisome toilet odors, directing them away from the rest of the apartment, we took advantage of that convenient feature, installing our twin, pink telephone on each porcelain toilet tank, connected via a wire dropped down the shaft — it worked surprisingly well if one shouted into the receiver…

So, I moved rapidly to the bathroom and picked-up the receiver on my end of our innovative ‘commode communicator’ and rang-up Bill to see what he knew…

He answered at once, excitedly exclaiming “There seems to be some sort of ‘coup d’état’ attempt going at the bottom of the bulvar — come on up – we’ve got a bird’s eye view of the entire scuffle!” Intrigued, we gathered up children, coats, hats, gloves and, snacks and trotted up the six flights of stairs that separated us from the penthouse — Bill and Karen ushered us to a row of camp chairs on their wide balcony and handed us binoculars. The city was semi-obscured by the ubiquitous, green, winter ‘smog’ coming from thousands of soft coal cooking and heating fires, but through the haze we could plainly observe a few tanks with guns un-limbered, and some military vehicles filled with soldiers, moving around the center of the city — suddenly, a flight of jet fighters swooped deafeningly overhead, firing rockets as they reached their target — a group of drab concrete structures near the central square — which I suddenly realized were adjacent to the Turkish Army annex which housed JUSMAAG,  the Joint U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group where I worked! We sat in awe as we watched the skirmish unfold only a short distance down Ataturk bulvar from where we sat, spellbound — curiously, the entire panorama seemed surreal and harmless — like a Hollywood battle re-enactment featuring make-believe soldiers firing blank cartridges — the noise of shells and rockets exploding was muted to a series of dull, non-threatening ‘thuds’, by the thick, all-encompassing smog — streets in close proximity to the fighting were almost deserted, but other parts of the city seemed unfazed by the mêlée taking place a few blocks away — pedestrians were strolling and shopping as usual…

The battle was over in what seemed to us a few short minutes — the tanks had swiftly surrounded the buildings, the fighter bombers had returned to base, the insurgents had surrendered, and order was being restored to the city center…

By listening to the BBC news, we discovered that a dissident group of junior army officers had plotted to overthrow the central government of Prime Minister Ismet Inonu, but, their plot was discovered and quickly thwarted by the majority of army and air forces who had remained steadfast and dedicated to the government…

After a few days passed, the young, gun carrying aşkere had disappeared, our building’s ever-present kapiҫi had reappeared, and we were once again permitted to travel down the street to the city to resume our daily routines — with some trepidation, I handed Michael over to his friend Guney, and watched as they drove away in the bus which would take him the few blocks to kindergarten — when the bus had rounded the corner and was out of sight,  I climbed into my VW station wagon, and drove slowly and carefully to the office, passing work crews stoically cleaning up the strategically limited circle of rubble from the bombs and shells — all seemed quite normal — that is, until I passed by the Ulus marketplace in the city center, and saw the bodies of the insurgents, hanging from newly erected gallows, prominently displayed for all to view and ponder the results of their malfeasance…

It was a stark visual reminder that my family and I were definitely not in ‘Kansas’ anymore…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

Advertisements

One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 21

  1. mkhulu says:

    Great story. You are full of good tales…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: