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The Tentacle


August 22, 2006

Back Home Again

Roy Meachum

Eight days in Turkey became time spent in another universe; glimpses of reality barely peeked in. Coming home they roared back in.

Between my morning radio chats with Bob Miller on WFMD, these TheTentacle.com columns and Sunday's piece in The Frederick News-Post, many of the trip's details have been put forth. Not all. There were lessons learned that I mean to share now.

Frederick friends, who had no idea of my recent travels, have greeted me with inquiries about what resort did I get the tan. It was earned the hard way. Traipsing around the sights left over from the deceased Ottoman Empire took hours and hours, always under the sun. Temperatures were actually no higher than on Market Street but the comforts of air-conditioning give summer a softer edge in these parts.

Having learned, while living in Egypt, that my bald head could take the strongest rays, I declined to wear a cap; that may have been the reason for one wretched evening spent in my room, looking for death while leaning over a toilet bowl. The other possible culprit was something I had eaten. We'll never know. But my last two days on the tourist track were severely curtailed. Naturally, I was never far from a bottle of water. That's important to remember.

The eastern littoral of the Mediterranean I learned years back produces air that can induce a thirst that starts way back in the throat. For some reason. Taking a single swig doesn't do the job. In the week gone I came very close to drinking my body weight in Turkish spring water. That may sound like a bad joke to people who know me personally. But I'm very serious. Bottled water is the best thing since bottled water! No less! I can remember, naturally, the old days when thirst fought health concerns at the prospect of drinking from a fountain. Sipping tea or coffee doesn't work. Blame the caffeine.

Some people should never travel outside Europe's major capitals; even in places like Rome and Madrid they worry that someone's going to try to steal their money. Sometimes, of course, they're right. But the same possibility looms in New York; even Frederick has a purse lifted now and then. But fear of theft is not now the number one reason for staying home.

People and friends hit me with their fears for my safety in that part of the world, implying they wouldn't go. They meant a Muslim nation. They were specifically concerned with the war in Lebanon still raging at the time. Turkey is separated only by Syria from where the bombs were falling. They thought my attitude rather cavalier.

In fact, knowing the Quran-dictated hospitality that Muslims offer strangers who come in peace, I felt safer than trying to tread traffic in New York. People could not have been lovelier.

A lot of men, recognizing my foreign status, put their hands over their hearts: a way of wordlessly saying welcome. I was touched every time. The Turks, who are non-Arabs, contain in their wealth borrowed from the language of Muhammad: Merehaba! A different spelling for Marhaba: the way of saying welcome throughout the Middle East.

Unlike my extended stay in Egypt, at no point did I catch a sidelong look that flashed hate; never was I meant to feel that, as an American, I should go home. And that was true places outside Istanbul's metropolitan area.

There was definitely some curiosity off the beaten tourist path, especially by kids. But nothing more. I would have no problem in taking blonde Emma and her equally blonde sister Elizabeth into the same places, knowing they would be fully protected and cherished.

Did I get gypped on money? Of course, but in a tourist hotspot. The day after a spot of sickness of unknown cause knocked me flat I took refuge at the table of a place that sold junky mementoes; I stayed for over an hour, waiting to be picked up. With that understanding, I felt less than ripped-off when the proprietor charged me 15 Turkish lire ($10) for a cup of ice cream worth, at most, 2.5 lire. Never mind. I chalked up the difference to taking up valuable space in his cafe-cum-souvenir shop.

Otherwise, no problem. At each transaction folks counted my change out carefully so that I could see - and admire - their honesty. Of all the people I've met in the Middle East, Turks, in general, have the most highly developed sense of dignity and openness. Unlike some lands, I saw few variations among classes.

My biggest gripe came flying back to the reach of Washington bureaucracy. Father Tim Godfrey, a Jesuit on the same trip, lost every liquid in his shaving case plus a jar of jelly presented by an old Italian friend. That's fair, you might say, not knowing we had received no warning the new restrictions applied outside England.

We had read and seen on television about the alleged plot to smuggle liquid explosives aboard U.S.-bound jets. But they were reportedly limited to London, as we had it. The morning we left I asked fellow Americans having breakfast in the hotel what they knew and the answer encouraged the view the new rules would not apply through Frankfurt, where we stopped to change planes.

I can imagine the looks on those ladies' faces if they kept all their precious perfumes in their carry-on luggage. As you read, toothpaste and shaving cream wound up in the collection barrel. That morning I had been brave and decided to consign my computer, digital camera, etc., to the fate that came with baggage checked through. I was lucky.

While foreign airlines departing Germany tightened their inspections, they didn't make the screenings and body pats into an obstacle course. We had three obstacles to hurtle before climbing aboard our United Airlines flight.

Will this cost America's airlines money? Absolutely, no doubt. "Quatch" was the word I used to one German lady manning the security machine. She smiled. The word means "nonsense," at least, in German. Lost passengers aside, somebody must pay for the new layers of bureaucrats.

Despite protests from Washington, the terrorists, pseudo-terrorists or terrorist wannabes are winning when Americans are forced to submit to searches that would do the Gestapo or NKVD proud.

Profiling is not the answer, but personal discretion to allow anyone to see that at my age and obvious American-ness, it's almost incredible that anyone could suspect I would use the one-inch, very dull knife on my key ring to do harm. But after years of bouncing all over the place, including Asia and North Africa, my nail cleaner was taken into custody at Dulles Airport.

So how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? That question intends to divert from her husband's assassination by asking for details that don't matter in the least. Turkey was just fine. American bureaucracy is a drag.



Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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