Turkish Firsts

Continued from Getting To Turkey…

As we rode the shuttle from the airport to the base, Callie filled us in with tidbits about living there. We peered out of the bus with tired, but eager eyes taking in our new surroundings. I wish I could say it was historic looking buildings, charming cobblestone streets, and a look that left us intrigued and excited to explore. Instead historic was more like old and run down, the streets were cluttered and dusty, and I think we would both say we would be a little hesitant to just head out exploring without a guide. However, we were both so tired we chose to focus on the present moment and our main task of getting on base and to the hotel where we could shower and rest.
Living in Turkey Is A Practice in Patience
We were ushered through the gate easily riding in the shuttle, but every vehicle entering the base had to stop to be scanned. Because we didn’t have gate passes we were asked to get out of the bus and acquire temporary passes. As we learned, there are two offices for pass registration, an American office and a Turkish office that held the absolute power in allowing you on base (since it’s Turkish owned). We waited in line in the heat for a long time, with people constantly butting in line (apparently that is a common occurrence here), and admiring the organized chaos going on behind the counter. Old ledgers lined the shelves, and archaic computers held the responsibility of gathering our information and creating passes. When it was finally our turn, through a series of exchanges of broken english (of which the man working there spoke very little), we discovered that we needed to first go to the American office to fill out paperwork, THEN return to the Turkish office for our passes. So went went to the American office, and I was able to finally let Jeannie our of her carrier to pee, and obtained the correct form. Our second wait was significantly shorter, but then we were told the date on the form was incorrect, so Will had to go back over to the American office to have the paperwork corrected. Getting back to the Turkish office for the third time, a prayer call sounded over loud speakers, and the man behind the counter began saying something that we couldn’t understand. It looked as if we were going to be allowed on base, but we would not be getting passes. At this point our shuttle driver came over, said something in Turkish and the man allowed us to leave, but asked us to return in 30 minutes to get our passes. We never went back.
The shuttle dropped us and our belongings off outside the Hodja Inn (Hodja is in reference to a Turkish trickster who rode on his donkey backwards. There is a large statue of a man riding a donkey backwards in front of the hotel) and drove off. Unfortunately our room was located on the back side of the establishment, leaving us once again to solve the puzzle of transporting everything. The Captain Will is replacing showed up and loaded the majority of our bags into his Jeep, Will carried Jim’s crate, Callie pulled one bag, and I took care of the dogs to get to our room.
Our room was actually more like a suite with two bedrooms and most importantly a very well functioning AC unit (multiple actually). Callie had stocked up on snacks and a few food items to get us through dinner and breakfast for a couple of days (thank you so much Callie!), so we said goodbye and called it a night. We couldn’t wait to take a hot shower, eat and hit the sack.
The bathroom situation is unique to say the least. The toilet (thankfully an actual toilet, not a hole in the floor, but still different in that it is flushed by pulling a small handle up on the tank) is in its own room. The shower is in another small room. The sinks were built into the two bedrooms. Once again central air is not a big thing here, so the living room and each bedroom had it’s own AC unit.
The first night we tried to stay awake until a decent time to work on getting on our new schedule. We were lucky to have arrived around 3:30 that afternoon so by the time we got our stuff into our room, cooked and ate dinner, and showered it was bedtime anyway. We don’t have a huge bed, but it was surprisingly comfortable. Within minutes of our heads hitting our pillows we were asleep.
The toilet room has a frosted window that happens to sit right beside the hallway lights that give the room a glow that makes it look like the morning sun in poking through, so we kept waking up feeling disoriented about what time it was. We shut the door and remedied that problem and fell back asleep. Then about 3:30 in the morning we were awoken by a loud squeak. Then another. The AC unit in our room sounded like it needed a good dose of oil because apparently every metal piece in it was grinding against another. An exasperated Will got up and did his best to “fonzy” it a little, but the grinding and moaning continued. So we turned the whole unit off and agreed we could survive being a little warmer. Between the light, the AC, and the dogs constantly getting up and down and pacing the suite, our first night’s sleep was a bit broken, so when Will’s 7:00am alarm went off we were pretty much wide awake anyway. He had a base-wide symposium to attend, so he suited up and met his ride outside. I on the other hand laid back down and proceeded to fall into a comatose sleep, not waking up till after 10:30! When I woke up, my mind was in a haze and I struggled just to get steady enough to take the dogs out and pour some cereal into a bowl for breakfast.
I needed to wash the previous night’s dishes, work on laundry, and call the front desk about the squeaky AC unit, but by the time Will walked in ready to go to lunch I was still sitting in my pajamas typing on the computer, willing my brain to work. I scrambled to throw on a dress and brush my hair in an attempt to look halfway presentable, then we met Callie outside to go to lunch and work on some in-processing tasks.
Exploring the Base
Callie took us to the BX food court to grab lunch. Here at Incirlik there is a Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. Callie had warned us that the BX and Commissary were small, but we were pleased to find that the BX was much larger than the one at Ellsworth, and it’s food court beat Ellsworth’s by one restaurant. Unfortunately all of them were closed except Burger King due to it being a Turkish holiday. A sad grilled chicken salad later we stopped by the post office to pick up some packages I had had shipped through Amazon. The PO boxes are all opened by a turn dial lock, the combination to which we had been given, but turned out to be incorrect which we determined after all three of us attempted to open it. Finally getting it opened I grabbed the pile of slips and took them to the window so our packaged could be retrieved. While waiting a familiar face walked into the post office. I have relied heavily on the spouses page on Facebook for answers to the million questions and concerns I had before moving here. One woman always seemed to have the answer and I sort of connected with her over time. And there she was in the flesh. I called her name hesitantly and introduced myself. It sounds silly, but it was nice to see a familiar face, even though in reality I don’t actually know her at all. Bash Facebook all you want, but I still say it is invaluable in many, many ways…at least for me.
Turns out, all but two packages of stuff I had ordered were already there. We carried out box after box until Callie’s two door car was packed to the brim with Amazon boxes, and believe it or not, two of the three boxes Dad and I had shipped the previous week.
Our next stop was the commissary. We had been warned profusely to check the expiration dates. Apparently everything at the BX is leftovers from Ramstein (the Incirlik BX literally doesn’t place orders, they just accept what Ramstein doesn’t need or want, or doesn’t sell). The commissary doesn’t fare much better. It’s not uncommon for things to be marked way down because they are either already expired or are expiring that day. Juice and milk must be checked to make sure it isn’t coagulated or spoiled. And the meat is just downright questionable. Walking in Will said it looked like a dirty run down grocery store back home. To be in the “bread basket” of Turkey, it was disappointing to see lettuce with brown leaves, and a selection that was anything but fresh. I reasoned that this was a case where shopping local was a must. If I had to guess, the commissary was meant to provide us Americans with things we are used to from the states. The problem with that is that to get American goods, they have to come from America, or the places America traditionally receives it’s imports. With that process there is little hope that anything you see in there is very new or fresh. I don’t know for sure that this is the case, but for now it’s my best guesstimate. Callie told us there is also a Turkish commissary on the base so I am curious to check it out and see if things are any better. I also fully intend to visit the weekly produce markets outside the gate because I’ve seen picture proof of the beautiful produce there. We were impressed by a few items though. The avocados were the size of my hand, there were bins of huge unpackaged mushrooms, and Will was intrigued by the large section of specialty oils and marinated sundried tomatoes and olives.
Moving on, we selected what we needed to get us through the rest of the week (I still had a hard time understanding that it was already Wednesday), myself mentally taking note of things that I would probably need to order from Amazon (like good sea salt), and brought everything back to the hotel room to drop off before going to the pass and registration office to try again to get our temporary gate passes.
Will had made some progress that morning with our passes, getting all the necessary paperwork together. I had my picture snapped against two different backgrounds and we were supplied with the photos and some signed forms. We were told those would get us our temporary passes, and the real ones would come in sometime between 1 and 31 days. It was here we saw our second familiar face of the day. As luck would have it, one of the girls Will had gone to COT and JASOC with was also stationed at Incirlik, and had arrived the same day we had (well technically the day after as their flight on the rotator hadn’t gotten in until 2:00 in the morning after a solid 24 hours of traveling).
Trying to Establish Some Normalcy
At this point Callie left us to go about our business of sorting through our packages and trying to get some rest (Will was starting to feel the effects of jet lag). We caught up on communication with our families back home through iMessage and FaceTime, then I sorted through our packages trying to consolidate as much as possible. Will had visited the housing office that morning and was told there was a chance we may get a house as soon as Friday (!!!), and we already have a TON of stuff to transfer from our hotel room to our new home.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Amazon here. Almost everything I had ordered was able to be shipped for free to our APO address. In a country where things you consider to be everyday essentials are hard to come by, being able to have them shipped practically to your doorstep for free drastically helps you feel like you still have access to all of the comforts you are used to. Seriously Amazon, you are amazing!
After my sorting was done we decided to take a walk to the Library and the Shoppette (gas station/liquor store). Across the base, all of the hotel rooms and houses are set up with AFN cable. This consists of about 15 channels, two or three of which you actually care to watch, and all highlighted with military themed commercials and announcements. After having alternated between the Smurfs (the old cartoon version, not the movie), channel surfing, and Will trying unsuccessfully to set up our Google Chromecast so we could watch Hulu the previous night, we determined it would be a good idea to take advantage of the library’s 4,000+ inventory of movies.
Walking from lodging Will took me a longer route to show me some beautiful pomegranate trees (is this for real life? Pomegranate trees??), and we marveled at the roses that lined all of the sidewalks. They came in so many beautiful colors, including a coral orange that I had never seen before. We also noted how many people were out walking around. At Ellsworth no one walked anywhere.
Will’s schmancy new office. A building all to himself and Callie.
At the library we set up an account, picked up a collection of four movies for the next few days, and a copy of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth for me, and toted our entertainment in our awesome new library bag over to the Shoppette. Will wanted some beer (and found a six pack of New Castle for less than $6!), and I ended up finding a selection of fruit juices with foreign labeling that peaked my interest. There was a multifruit one that looked very similar to a mixed fruit juice I had had and loved in Mexico, and I hoped it was the same (it was!).
At the Shoppette we also ran into Sarabeth and her husband once again. We were all getting around on foot as none of our cars have arrived. Ours is supposedly set to arrive sometime next week, although from what we understand the extensive process to get it registered for use can take up to a month. Will and I have decided we will be renting a car. Callie has been so gracious to drive us around each day, but she has a life too, and we know we will want to explore as soon as possible on our own.
Back at the room I made a salad and veggie loaded spaghetti dinner that we enjoyed while watching Robocop (I blogged), did some laundry, showered, and headed to bed. I don’t know if it was the result of sleeping so late that morning, or if my body was just totally not adjusted to the new schedule, but I couldn’t sleep to save my life. My hips ached, and no matter how much I tried to force myself to lay there and allow sleep to come…it wouldn’t. Around 12:45 I finally got up and grabbed my kindle hoping to read myself to sleep. Around 1:30 I finished my book, checked the laundry again, and laid back down. I think sometime around 2 or 3 in the morning I finally fell asleep. The next morning Will promptly opened the curtains bathing our room in bright sunlight and told me it was time to get up. He was none too happy that I had interrupted his sleep throughout the night and decided it was time for me to get on the new schedule.
So here we are on day 2 in Turkey 🙂

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