On the last three-day weekend of the school year, we decided to take the dormies on a camping trip to Cappadocia and the Göreme Valley. Our plan was to leave early Saturday morning, because it would take at least five hours to get there. We planned to camp in the cave-like homes that early dwellers had carved out of the porous tufa formations created at some time in geologic history by volcanic action. Among early dwellers from the 2nd century A.D. were Christians who lived there through the Crusades. Moslem rulers actually encouraged Christians living in the Mediterranean coastal settlements to move inland or perish during ensuing wars with crusading armies from Europe.
We planned to prepare our hot meals on barbecue grills and to purchase some of our food from local sources. Because drinking water from local outlets could be questionable, we brought large containers of it with us. We also planned to purchase Turkish “gazoz”, which was something like bottles soda, but without the flavors familiar to Americans. We felt it would suffice since most of our kids drank it in Ankara. Perishable items like meat were packaged in ice that wouldn’t last long in the May heat, but for a couple of days it would remain safe.
A couple of parents volunteered to accompany our group, which was a great help.
We loaded the Air Force buses on Saturday morning and were on our way in good time. We had one toilet stop on the way, which took a while, but otherwise, everything went well.
When we neared the valley, we stopped in one of the larger towns to purchase some local produce like vegetables, fruit, and eggs for breakfast. One of our Turkish staff went to what appeared to be the largest food store and was able to get most of what we needed. An unforeseen problem was lack of enough eggs for our breakfasts. The shopkeeper didn’t have anywhere near what we estimated that we needed. However, he said that he would bring them to our site by the next morning along with other items that he wasn’t able to provide at the moment. I was hesitant about heading into the valley without enough food for our teenagers, but my Turkish staff assured me that everything would be fine.
With enough provisions for the evening, we went to our camping area. After determining the separate areas for males and females, we let the students choose their “rooms” while we adults prepared the evening meal, actually a big picnic. We made sure that everyone had enough warm bedding, because in the high desert climate, it can get quite cold at night.
As the evening grew darker, we built a nice campfire where everyone gathered around to sing songs and enjoy a few impromptu “vaudeville acts”. During this time, we noted that we had visitors, local people were curious about our presence. Some of the girls were concerned about their safety during the night, but our Turkish members assured them that they had nothing to fear.
After everyone bedded down, it was dead calm, except for an occasional cry of an animal in the distance. With no moonlight, the stars appeared to be much nearer and brighter that we observed in Ankara.
The night passed without incident, until early morning when I heard a loud wailing from somewhere above where we were sleeping. I quickly rose to discover one of the boys had climbed to the peak of one of the tufas. He was trying to imitate a muizine calling the faithful to the first prayer of the day. In another setting, it may have been funny, but our Moslem neighbors may have thought otherwise. More importantly, I was scared that he might slip off and fall some 30-40 feet to the valley floor. We quickly got him down before any mishap or other incident occurred. By then, just about everyone was up, probably a couple hours too early, and many would soon be clamoring for breakfast, the staple of which were eggs that had not yet been delivered.
Fortunately, the shopkeeper was an early riser, and within one hour he showed up with enough eggs for this meal, and a promise that the rest would be delivered later in the day. True to his word, he brought the eggs and other items in the late afternoon. One of my Turkish staff later told me that in order to meet our needs, the shopkeeper had gone house to house in the village gathering eggs from anyone who had them. I’m sure that he had never before had so much business in such a short time. No doubt most of the village knew about our presence as a result of his efforts.
Since we were going to be here another night, we, adults, thought the student would be interested in seeing some of the local area, including a sight of the fascinating geological formations surrounding us, from an elevation above the valley. One of our parents also thought the students might enjoy visiting one of the nearby towns that was known for carpet weaving. However, the students were more interested in exploring where they were, so we wisely accommodated them. A couple of girls had slept in a large ornately painted cave which one of our Turkish staff stated that it had been an early Christian church. Other students reported that they had discovered several families living in nearby tufa caves, and that farm animals were also housed in them.
Toward dinner time, our reliable Turkish shopkeeper delivered the rest of the produce we had ordered. Even though it was very hot during the day, our coolers had kept the meat in good condition for us to enjoy grilled burgers for the evening meal. At our second campfire, new skits were performed, and a few new songs were added to the repertoire, which everyone enjoyed, including an increased number of local visitors who had observed just beyond good sight in the darkness.
Unlike the previous morning, few people were up at dawn. In fact, many had to be awakened for breakfast. I took this as a good sign that our students were generally happy with our weekend activity.
Our plan for the return to Ankara included a stop for lunch at a hotel/restaurant one of our Turkish staff had arranged. It was the only place on the main highway across Central Turkey that could accommodate large groups. Our group was much larger than most, but we were assured that the restaurant could take care of us. The meal had been previously decided upon to meet most American teenagers’ palates, but the delivery of soft drinks, i.e., “gazoz”, hadn’t arrived, so we were short, and we had used all the water we had brought with us. One of my dorm counselors suggested that we let anyone who wanted to have beer or wine. She said many of the students had alcohol beverages when they were home, so it wasn’t a complete taboo. As an aside, she said that after a glass of wine, many would probably sleep most of the way to Ankara so the ride would be quiet. Enough chose the wine or beer to eliminate the issue.
Several years later, I ran into a former student who was one of the dormies on the trip. We met in a PX in Germany, and he was in the military. He related that for him, the Göreme trip was the highlight of his dorm experience. He was married, and hoped to take his wife to Turkey, and especially to Cappadocia where he had camped with his high school friends.
Flash forward forty years to September 2001. My wife and I were on a venture for seniors like us to Turkey. A crown jewel of this trip was the Open Air Museum of Göreme which is now a heavily protected World Heritage Site that hosts thousands of tourists from all over the world. What a difference from Spring 1961 when dorm students from Andara American High School were the only visitors and there was no concern for security or protection of this unique spot. Although our visit was too short, I was able to show my wife and some others the church where the two American girls had camped for two nights. Miraculously, the painted walls and ceiling appeared to be just as I remembered it. In fact, I have a badly faded slide that has somehow survived that is the two students in the main room.
This is one of many fond memories of my first DoDDS assignment as resident hall administrator for Ankara American High School, SY 1960-61.