||Off to in-country training
By the end of July we meaning everyone except a handful of unfortunates who had been de-selected in the finest government doubletalk were considered ready to face the country where we would live and work for the next two years. After a brief return home for last good-byes with parents and family, our training group assembled at Kennedy Airport for the flight to Ankara, where we would undergo the second half of our three-month training program. There must have been close to a hundred of us, all young Americans, mostly single, liberal arts graduates fresh out of college and a handful of married couples. The U.S. government had chartered a special plane. It was to carry our group as well as another group of trainees going to India. No one else was on the plane except, of course, the pilot and crew.
It was already dark when we boarded. Free booze was served throughout the fifteen-hour flight. In those days planes had to land in Shannon, Ireland, for refueling. By the time we made our stop, most people were already well sloshed. Some seven hours later when we entered Turkish air space we were not only sloshed but exhausted after not having slept all night.
A first look at Turkey
The Anatolian plateau is a greyish-yellow color during most seasons of the year, especially in July when rainfall is sparse. In our training program, we had learned about Turkeys legendary forty thousand villages. As small clumps of scattered hovels came into view on the gray plain below in the breaking light, future Peace Corps Volunteers peered down from the windows of the plane squealing Theres a village! Theres another one!
In those days, when you flew into Ankara you never saw the city from the air. The airport was about 30 kilometers away, and you would never have known you were approaching a sizable for Turkey anyway metropolis. (Since then the city has spread all the way to the airport.)
Around six in the morning we landed. Esenboga Airport consisted of a small landing field and a small two-story terminal. As we staggered from our plane to the terminal building, we could see village women in colorful baggy shalvar [baggy pants] lining the long window that ran the length of the second-story departure lounge. Wives and sisters, no doubt, seeing their Gastarbeiter [guest workers in German] husbands and brothers off to Germany.
With each Volunteer bringing a large steamer trunk, as well as the normal allowance of luggage, we had a long wait in the terminal while Turkish customs officials checked us through. This gave us ample time to try the toilets. We had, of course, been told about them in cross cultural, but the girls, in particular, were ill prepared for the simple hole in the floor over which one had to squat, precariously at first when the requisite muscles were not yet developed. One by one the female members of our group disappeared into the restroom only to return a few minutes later uttering shrieks of disbelief. Never, they claimed, would they be able to get used to it. Little did they know.
By about nine oclock all the trunks had been searched and we were loaded onto several what seemed to us like rattletrap buses for transport into the city. As soon as we pulled out of the airport, we started seeing the villages the little huts barely distinguishable in color from the surrounding earth. The tiny settlements on the outskirts of the capital were astir with early morning activity, women in raucous-printed shalvar, men in sombre shalvar and the ubiquitous kasket or workers cap. And donkeys everywhere. I had responded to the training with my whole heart, and as we bumped along I remember repeating, I love it, I love it, to myself in a frantic litany.