A ray of hope casts a long shadow: Turkey – first essay


Since arriving in Turkey I’ve had a full schedule of activities.  From meetings, farm-visits, conferences, events and meals – I’ve had a full docket of learning about domestic agriculture, food system and water utilization from many in the know.  Now, leveraging a first day off after 17 on the move – with no set plans aside from a bit of  shopping and sightseeing – I thought I’d share some of the sentiment I’ve witnessed that may not mesh with the media’s portrayal as you’ve seen Stateside and in Europe.  There is without a doubt an epic humanitarian crisis & turmoil boiling over in the Middle East.  If you’re watching the news, it does appear the world is burning and accelerants seem incited by further coverage of daily activities in the origin of where civilization began.  

Specifically in Turkey, there’s a feeling of concern for their southern neighbors, but though the awareness of Syrian migration is new to the Western world and the North, Turkey has been dealing with these issues for years.  With already 2 million new Syrian refugees in Turkey over the past 6 months, I’ve been told that if you re-draw your parameters back a few years – the actual number of Syrians in Turkey is twice that. Though related, without a doubt the most pressing concern of Turkey is that of its political future set to determined by the populous in only 10 days.  No matter political affiliation to current AK leadership, Socialist party, Nationalist or Kurdish – each has a vision for a prosperous and safe future.  Just as what we experience in the States, that patronage to what success will actually look like is where points-of-view drastically differ.  

To me, the most tell-tale fact for the future of Turkey lies within the expected 80% turnout for that forthcoming Parliamentary election.  No matter the current state of political separation, terror concern, refugee relation, or alignment with Russia, the US or the EU – the engagement of the populous presents an exciting future for Turkey no matter the results of this election. It presents Turkish citizens that greatly care and will engage in defining their own destiny. More importantly, underpinning that belief clarifies the situation even further as it represents a general consensus that implementing democratic and diplomatic strategies over military force will govern the future of their country.  That’s a big win, and worthy of standing for.  As the literal & figurative bridge to so many cultures, religions and beliefs – a successful Turkey represents an inevitable future world from which we must all learn.


Most of the questions I’ve fielded thus far from friends and peers have centralized around the current state of Turkey and the region. With the essay series atWhatCost I detailed findings of a fellowships program in the Netherlands through stories of key meetings while researching circular agriculture, nutrient security and water access.  I plan to do something similar relating to my studies in Turkey at a later date, but I thought it worth a few short essays describing what I’ve witnessed first hand while trying to immerse myself into Turkish culture equally as a traveler and analyst.  

To be forthright, the Eisenhower program affords unique access, resources and logistics to maximize time.  From diverse and proper meetings, to unlimited assistance from onsite handlers, program manager and interpreters – it would be disingenuous to say that the efficiencies in the orchestrated program were not useful, or were all my own.  To that, traveling on your own in a foreign land with no common language spoken outside populations densities, where I spend more than half my time, has been very informative for many reasons. First, I do stand-out physically in Turkey.  In fact, a bit like a sore thumb.  I really don’t blend in, nor do I try to pretend.  I do work hard not to present myself as an American tourist nor businessman, but I’m sure that’s how I may appear to many. I task myself to turn of the GPS on the phone and spend time getting lost in local communities.  To eat in smaller cities centers, and sharing Turkish Chai & coffee with locals has provided some of my most unique conversations. Some of those discussions were based nearly completely on hand gestures, broken English (or even more-broken Turkish from me), or that of drawn pictures, and sometimes Google as a translator. 

A few times in these impromptu conversations I’ve noticed myself laying on the charm especially thick when there has been no understanding of each other’s language and a general lack of comprehension in the conversation.  I feel a bit like I’ve reverted back to my school-aged years when I’d lack understanding of the subject matter and try to talk my way out of a paper bag. Funny enough, one strategy that seems hard-wired into me and also shared by many others Americans is a repetitive use of a descriptive English word by only altering twang, undulation, cadence or volume.  Somehow, we think that chipping away with that same word, obviously very different in Turkish translation, will eventually get us to an understanding?!  Thus far in these conversations we’ve always found a way to get through it all on the same page. At least I believe that to be the case.  But, I’ll keep my eye and ears open to the stories of a 6’4” American tourist who speaks passionately about food through only his hands!


Clearly, all of my pre-arranged meetings for the fellowship program have been in English or through an interpreter.  There is no question of wasting anyone’s time trying to communicate without a common understanding.  What I reference above are the after work-hour serendipitous meetings that have provided further nuance to my understanding of the state of Turkey that will most likely not be captured in a boardroom or a Ministry office.  

Focusing on food, something unilaterally intimate to most, I’ve been provided opportunity to gain unique access to many stories and storytellers who’ve shared with me the current situations of safety, freedoms, religion and humanity in Turkey.  Despite my shortcomings to effectively speak Turkish, between these intriguing multiple senses conversations with the locals, and others through my translator, or those with the many multilingual Turks who speak English very well – I’ve been able to thus far to gain a different sentiment of Turkey and relations within the Middle East than that are not being well defined by Western or Northern media.  Maybe it’s the general nature of breaking bread, but these stories present a different future for Turkey.  One not yet expressed, but what I believe to be a better reflection of what’s truly the state of this complex union.

Without a set agenda or deadline, over the next few weeks I’ll sporadically share some of these stories. It must be our goal to gain further insight.  To dig deeper, and to learn more of why and not just how.  History is full of examples where continuing to sweep the problem of today under the rug for tomorrow only further promotes additional bias and later incites more enemies.  It’ll again prove to get us nowhere fast is we don’t tackle the situation head-on through diplomacy before might!  We’ve helped build this tinderbox, and now it’s our responsibility to help defuse the situation domestically with proper knowledge and better appreciation of the situation, and work in conjunction with key allies with far greater local knowledge than our own.  This evolution in mindset seems a required next step toward a more empathetic and tactful future shared on shrinking planet of increasingly divergent views.

more to come…

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