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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

Istanbul (Not Constantinople): They Might Be in Turkey!
February 5, 2000

Turkish coffee, Turkish baths, Turkish delight candies! We've landed in the land of treats and luxuries, mystery and intrigue. This is where civilization began, where the Tigris (Dicle) and Euphrates (Firat) rivers are born. We're in Turkey, where East meets West, where Europe flirts with Asia, where ruthless warriors have swept through from every direction. Here, Troy (modern day Truva) fell to a horse, Greek gods and goddesses reigned from Mt. Olympus (now called Uludag), Noah's landed his ark (on Mt. Ararat), St. Paul brought Christianity and Rumi founded the Whirling Dervishes. Turkey has survived Celts and Mongols, Romans and Arabs, Greeks and Persians-but are they prepared for the Odyssey World Trek?!?

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Hopping on a bus to discover the wonders of Turkey
First stop - Istanbul. If it was good enough for Constantine, it's good enough for us! He made Istanbul the capital of the Byzantine Empire; we're making it our home base. It's a lot nicer than snow-bound Ankara (the capital city), anyway. Unfortunately, I can't get that stupid song by They Might Be Giants out of my head! "Istanbul was Constantinople/Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople…Why did Constantinople get the works?/That's nobody's business but the Turks'!" Now your mind's infected with it, too! Sorry!


agglutinative - stuck together, as with glue
Byzantine Empire - southeast Europe and southwest Asia from 395-1453 AD

"Whoa! This is a big country," I realize, looking at the map. "And there's a lot of stuff to cover," Jasmine reminds us, looking at our itinerary. "And it's really, really cold out there," Kavitha won't let us forget. We introduced Brian and Andrew, our two new Team members, to the well-oiled machine that is the Odyssey World Trek. ("Uh, anyone seen my camera?" "No, but I think you've got my guidebook." "Oh, sorry, I must have left it at the Internet Café." Come to think of it, when was the last time someone oiled this beast?) Getting down to business, we plotted out our course for the next six weeks here in Turkey.

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Jazzy 'flirting' with Asia
It's decided. Andrew, Monica, Jasmine and I are leaving Europe and going to Asia. Of course, you don't even have to leave Istanbul to do that! This city is divided by a strip of water called the Bosporus. The Bosporus connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara-which runs out to the Aegean Sea-and separates the continent of Europe from the continent of Asia.

Cool! The European side of Turkey-west of the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles-is called Thrace. The larger Asian side is called Anatolia, and everywhere except the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts is covered in snow right now! Whose idea was this, anyway? At least we'll get to go skiing!

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The Asia crew minus Jazzy
The ferry pulled away from Thrace, and we headed out into the Bosporus. When we hit the middle, a woman carrying a full plastic bag came on deck with us. I didn't pay much attention to her, until I noticed she was throwing things, one by one, over the edge, into the sea! An umbrella. A pair of shoes. A frying pan! A bunch of jewelry!

"Hey Jazzy, check this out!" I said.

"What's she doin'?" Jazz asked, as the frying pan floated by.

"Maybe she just broke up with her husband. Those look like love letters all ripped up."

"Yeah, or maybe there's another woman. Look - those are women's shoes."

"I don't know whether to be upset at the environmental impact of throwing all this junk into the water, or to just be amused."

"Be amused." Jazzy advised.

We weren't the only ones watching, but the woman didn't seem to notice. I wanted to ask if this was normal Turkish behavior-which I doubt-but, of course, a new country means a new language, so I couldn't ask her if I wanted to. Instead I sat down with my Lonely Planet Turkish Phrasebook and started to learn. Argh! This is difficult! Why is this language related to Mongolian, and not to nearby Greek or Arabic?

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Travelling 'all' the way to Asia sure is tiring
Because Turks themselves came from Central Asia. They were known for being fierce soldiers as early as the fourth century, and are related to the Huns-as in "Attila the." But the Mongols-who aren't exactly known for their charity, either-drove them eastward into Anatolia and into what is now Northern Iran and Azerbaijan. Remember the Mamluk slaves who became sultans in Egypt? They were taken from here and sold for a high price down there because of their reputation as ruthless warriors.

Bundled up against the cold, entering Anatolia, I didn't exactly get the sense of "fierce Asian warriors" around me. Of course, I might have felt differently if it had been MY stuff the woman was chucking into the sea. But so far, the people have been friendly and helpful, and many are curious about us. The people, the landscape and most of the architecture look like what I imagine when I think of Eastern Europe, not Asia.

So Jasmine and I hopped on a bus eastward, into a snowstorm and onto the plateau of Central Anatolia. We're off to discover the wonders of Turkey.

Stick with us!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

A Turkish Primer

Turkish is related to Eastern Asian languages like Korean and Manchu, and not to neighboring European and Middle Eastern languages. Great. I'm starting from scratch again! Fortunately, Ataturk-the national hero and the father of modern Turkey-hired linguists to simplify and normalize the language, which changed officially in 1928.

Can you imagine? One day, you're told that your language will be different, and you'll have to learn all new letters. I wonder how people reacted. Ataturk was really popular, and the old language was sprinkled with formal Persian and Arabic, which made it overly flowery, so maybe they were thankful. For example, after 1928 they could say "you" instead of "your exalted personage" and "me" instead of "your humble servant." It is said that Ataturk himself went to the villages with a blackboard to teach the changes!

In addition to changing words, the linguists changed the writing from Arabic letters to a modified Latin alphabet - so most of the letters are similar to English and everything is pronounced exactly as it's written, once you learn how each letter is supposed to sound. There are two ways to write 'i,' 'o,' 'u,' 's,' 'g' and 'c,' but your Internet browser won't recognize them in text, so you'll just have to take my word for it, OK?

The basic structure and most of the words remained the same. Turkish is what is called an agglutinative language, because suffixes are added to root words: with enough suffixes, one word can be the entire sentence, like the following example from the Lonely Planet Turkish Phrasebook:

"Yaramazlastirilamiyabilenlerdenmipsiniz" means "You seem to be one of those who is incapable of being naughty." Split up, "Yaramaz-lastirila-miyabilen-ler-den-mip-siniz," literally means "naughty-be-with-unable-them-from-seems-you."

Got that? Me neither. Fortunately, I'm never going to need that phrase! Still, it's going to take a while for me to wrap my brain around this language. Until then, I'll just learn the most important basic phrases, like:

Evet (eh-veht): yes
Hayir (hah-yihr): no
Lütfen (lyut-fehn): please
Tesekkür ( the-shehk-kyur): thanks
Banyo nerede? (bahn-yoh neh-reh-deh?): where's the bathroom?
Merhaba: hello

* Taken from Lonely Planet's Turkish Phrasebook, by Tom Brosnahan, Jim Masters, and Perihan Masters.

Kevin - Life, Thre Greatest Trek of All!
Andrew - Strange Encounters in Turkey
Brian - Oh the places we'll go!
Jasmine - Odyssey Behind The Scenes: Secrets Revealed!
Kavitha - Interview With Courage
Kavitha - Kavi Gets MAD With Art

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