For Love of Ankara (page 5)
For Love of Ankara
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5
Falling in love
For several months following our arrival in Turkey, whenever I saw a plane soaring in the dry blue skies over Ankara, I longed to be on it, winging far away from this alien, backward country where I felt like such an outsider. Then at some point everything changed. I fell head over heels in love with the country — exactly as I had tried to convince myself I had on that first morning riding into town.
     I loved the grey brown hills that embraced the city, the way they blazed green for a brief month in spring and I tried to memorize their soft, gentle contours. I loved the narrow back streets and crooked pavements where you could lose your way and I tried to walk them all.
     I loved Kizilay, the city center, with its dim cafés, its pudding shops and Iskender kebab restaurants where a boy in Ottoman costume stood on the sidewalk tempting passersby with raspy calls of “Buyrun, buyrun!” — Please come in, please come in! Iskender kebab was a lovely concoction of crisp roasted döner — enormous slabs of greasy lamb meat, crammed down on a tall, vertical spit and roasted next to a blazing fire, then sliced paper thin and stacked up thick on top of crunchy rounds of Turkish-style pitta and topped with yogurt, melted butter and hot tomato sauce, the latter two poured on separately at the table from enormous sizzling iron skillets. I was always afraid the waiter would lose his grip and I would be scalded by the searing hot oil.
     I loved the outdoor teahouses, especially the one in Seyran Baglari — a few rickety wooden tables and chairs set out under some scraggly trees on the hard, dry Ankara soil.
     I loved the people, quick to smile — the men sometimes too quick — the snot-nosed gypsy beggar who worked the turf in front of the French Culture Centre and the urchins in the Citadel who followed you calling “Turist! Turist!” and had no shame about asking for money. I loved the working class men in their kaskets, many of them fresh from the provinces, with their direct ways and earnestness, and the women who had no inhibitions about asking why I had no children.
     I loved the city’s smells, the huge garlicky slabs of rust-colored pastirma or Turkish-style pastrami that hung outside the small grocery shops in the ancient district of Ulus. I loved the old citadel in Ulus — now, or so I’m told anyway, a fashionable boutique and dining district — where poor families nestled in hand-built shanties propped up against the walls of the ancient fortress. I loved the adjacent quarter of Saman Pazari with its tiny, dilapidated shops selling everything from hand-carved wooden spoons and blue and white enameled pots to gauze-like Turkish towels with the most intricate embroidery in delicate pastels, and the strident printed fabrics known as Antep bezi from the southeast.
     I loved the city’s dolmushes [share cabs] with their muavins — young boys who leaned precariously out the passenger door endlessly shouting the destination to prospective fares.
     But most of all I loved the city lights. Viewed from the high southern district of Çankaya late at night, they twinkled wistfully on the shantytown districts north of Ulus and out across the great, dusty Anatolian plateau.

# 366
At the end of the first year, in August of 1969, the U.S. government abolished the draft in favor of the lottery. John’s number was 366 — so high he would never have been called up, even if the war had gone on for another thirty years. By the end of the second year our marriage had fallen apart. But that is another story entirely.

Ginger Taylor Saçlioglu taught English at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Since 1976 she has lived with her husband in Istanbul and worked as a free lance translator and English teacher.
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