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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Big City Living: Taking The Soul Train To Izmir
February 23, 2000

Abeja and I spent two glorious weeks in the coastal countryside of Turkey, where the pace of life is slow and people still stop to smell the flowers. I quite enjoyed those lazy days in the small Turkish villages we visited, and I really loved to stop and smell the flowers. (My name isn't Jasmine for nothing!) I could have spent weeks lounging on the Kekova Islands, splashing around in the sunken city, or chasing butterflies through the trees in Butterfly Valley. The magic of nature was like a dream; a dream that came to a painful close when I was awakened by a panicking bus driver at five in the morning. "Izmir, Izmir, Izmir!" he yelled, alerting all of the passengers who weren't continuing on, that it was time to get off the bus. Then just as quickly as it came, my simple country life was gone. It all faded away in a puff of gray haze (more like car exhaust fumes) that filled the bustling city streets. From here on out it's big city living for me.

"Izmir is undergoing a great deal of growth and expansion. Not to worry, safety is still a major concern!" Abeja and I had taken an overnight bus from Pamukkalae. We'd just gotten used to the daily power outages and distant internet connections that drive our computers mad. Interestingly enough, we quickly found that wasn't just a small village failure. Izmir had the same problems. Izmir has come a long way, but there's still intense construction and expansion going on. Have you ever seen an entire city dark from a black out? At night it was so scary! The locals lit candles and didn't miss a beat. I, on the other hand, got completely lost in the maze of the Bazaar alley-way streets. (And I never get lost, honest, so I was a little bit frightened.) The big city had gotten the best of me and I had only been there a few hours.

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Izmir is undergoing a great deal of growth and expansion. Not to worry, safety is still a major concern!
During the day we found it easy to cope with the problem. No electricity means no computer, which gave us an excuse to go play, see the sites, get to know the town, and hopefully meet some really cool people. Again Izmir was batting 1000 as I met some awesome people and had a blast. Luckily for me, this wasn't the Izmir of 500 years ago. It was a challenging career back then since entrepreneurs and businessman were expected to speak at least seven languages: Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Italian and Turkish. The Izmir of today, however, allowed me to skate by on my English, a Turkey phrasebook, great charades, and a bright smile. (The bright smile usually works better than all the others.)

"Monuments all over Izmir, like the Konak Camii mosque, honor the brave Turk forefathers who paved the way." Ancient Izmir was much different. Let's take a look.

The year was 1535 and Suleyman the Magnificent signed a treaty that reestablished Izmir as a premier commercial city. His decision was a wise call that drastically improved the Ottoman's foreign relations. Waves of sailors and visiting merchants from all over Asia began pouring into Izmir. But back then (and all the way up until 1922) Izmir was known as Smyrna. The name comes from Myrina, the goddess worshipped by the ancient peoples who first inhabited the area. Smyrna became a bustling metropolis almost over night. Its harbors were considered a safe haven after having sailed the dangerous high seas. There were more Christians and Jews in Smyrna than Muslims, and it kept close ties with Greece, earning the name "Infidel Smyrna" to many disapproving Turks.
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for larger view
Monuments all over Izmir, like the Konak Camii mosque, honor the brave Turk forefathers who paved the way.

The most famous of those ancient settlers was Homer, the famous writer, often called the founder of Western literature. The Odyssey Worldtrek is personally biased towards one of Homer's most famous works. Can you guess which one? I know that's a tough question but I will give you a hint: there is a certain bond between us Trekkers and the story's main character, "Odysseus." (I only hope we actually we make it home to tell the tale.) The key in the Odyssey was really a matter of befriending the right person and not upsetting the guys in control. This was essential for Izmir as well. They befriended Pergamum, just before Pergamum took over the entire Aegean Coast, and got to bask in its glory. What a score!
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Abeja J. Hummel reporting for duty, Captain

"Abeja J. Hummel reporting for duty, Captain" Later, during the Roman rule, Izmir maintained cordial relations with her Roman counterpart. This paid off after a great earthquake destroyed the city in 178AD. By the time Byzantines came into power Izmir was a well established port city with one of the busiest harbors in all of Turkey. Today the harbor embodies the legacy that began here hundreds of year ago. Marines, plentiful and proud, heavily guard this strategic station. As a matter of fact, it seemed like everyone we met was in some way involved with the military. How peculiar, I observed, as nearly everyone we passed was in some type of military uniform. Even my new friends Annette and Caroline worked for the army, but at least they were wearing plain clothes when we met.

"The military is big business in Izmir. Watch out Odyssey, Jasmine is being scouted as their newest recruit." Izmir's day-to-day activities are heavily militarized and strictly guarded. There are certain areas, near the harbor, where tourists are forbidden to record video or take pictures. (WARNING: Kids don't try this at home. If you smile a lot and act like your waving at the sailors, when they are actually trying to shoo you away, you can get away with a few quick snapshots. You'll have great pictures of the scene and fond memories of scurrying quickly into a busy crowd before they confiscate your camera.)

The off-duty army soldiers were a lot more cordial. They took us on a tour of Konak Meydani, the Government House Square, and they showed us around Anafartalar Cadessi, the main Bazaar in town. It turned out that Anafartalar Cadessi was the same tricky street that had gotten me terribly lost the day before. Luckily, I had no traumatic reactions, and we had a lovely day. spikedteas: Jasmine, Annette and Caroline having tea

"Turkish Tea is a favorite, but this was not your average tea party! Jasmine, Annette, and Caroline take tea time to another level."


charades - words represented by pictures or dramatic actions
cordial - sincerely or deeply felt
confiscate -to forcefully remove from one's possession
gyrated -twisting or dancing in a spinning, grinding motion

After a hard days work it was time for Turkish tea. Abeja and I joined, Annette, Caroline and their Italian friend Reynaldo for dinner. It was a beautiful end to a great day in the big city. I had to admit, there are some things that I actually don't mind having in my life (in moderation of course.) We all watched a little TV, for example. This was a true luxury seeing as how most places we visit don't have TV, especially not TV with an English language satellite. We boogied to Soul Train, listening to all of the new songs from back home, and watched as bodies grooved and gyrated in ways I didn't know were possible. Everyone brought an interesting and unique perspective to the evening. Despite being complete strangers, we had an amazingly fun time. When it neared midnight, which is way past my bedtime, we thanked our hostesses and new friends for a lovely time and bid them all farewell.

"That wasn't so bad," I smiled to myself. But still, I think I'm a country girl at heart.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja- Ho Ho Hold on a Minute! This Isn't the North Pole! Finding St. Nick in the Strangest Places!
Jasmine- Dare to Dream!
Kavitha- The Hunchback of Bursa
Team- Turkey's Road to Recovery

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