Adapazarι, Turkey, January 2000
I am looking out into my backyard where the snow is piled thick on the tree branches, and the world is covered by a soft white blanket. It is beautiful to see, and very distracting as I find myself mesmerized by the sheer magnificence of the sight. We have had more snow this month in my home town than in any month in our history. We are very thankful to get it, because for the last two years we have been in a draught, and we are twelve inches behind in rain fall. This brings me to my story of another snow storm my wife, Karen, and I were in while participating in earthquake relief efforts in Turkey.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I was in involved in earthquake relief after the devastating earthquakes in Turkey in August, and November of 1999. In January 2000, we found ourselves in the worst snowstorm that had occurred in thirteen years in the northwest part of Turkey, including Istanbul. Our main relief efforts were in a city about eighty miles east of Istanbul called Adapazarι. It had been a beautiful city until the earthquake left it in ruins. Many of the people who survived were too afraid to go back into their homes, so many of them were still living in shelters made of cardboard, metal, blankets, or wood. Basically the shelters were made of what ever they could find to protect themselves with.
A refugee camp made up of pre-fab shelters had been set up by the time we got there, and the people of Adapazarι were starting to move into them. It was in this camp, and in a pre-fab shelter that I set up the dental clinic, which would go on to be used by dentists from France, England, Canada, the U.S.A, and Turkey throughout the following months. Besides the clinic, our team also distributed food, clothing, and blankets, as well as preparing some of the prefab shelters for use. I have told other stories concerning this time in previous posts, but the winter weather is what I want to concentrate on now.
Before I start, let me just say that for the time we were in Turkey none of our team complained about the conditions. We knew that we were only going to be there for two weeks, while the people we were trying to help had to endure, and survive for months. Our team was shuffled around to various places to spend the night. The trick was to find a place still standing, and was safe enough to stay in. Our first night in Adapazarι, however, was the most… how can I put it… interesting?
Have you ever seen the movie, The Shining, with Jack Nickolson, and Shelley DuVall? Remember the creepy resort in the mountains, completely secluded by snow that the family was to oversee and maintain all alone throughout the winter? That was the kind of place we spent our first night in. There were only seven of us, and we were driven outside of town during a blizzard, through deep snow, and taken to a remote summer resort along a lake near Adapazzarι, which had been closed for the winter and was only opened for us. There was no heat in this resort, because there was just no heat. It was meant to be open during the warmer months. It was snowing heavily as we pulled up to the front entrance, and even then the similarity to The Shining was obvious. Can you say RED RUM—OK, if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a reference to a really creepy scene where RED RUM is spelled in blood on a bathroom mirror. It’s MURDER spelled backwards. Well, any way, it is one of those movies that you spend half of your time watching through your fingers . Well, as we pulled up in our van, shadowed by the resorts facade with the eerie dead calm of thick falling snow, we felt as though we were about to meet Jack.
A meal had been prepared for us, which we ate by candlelight. We were very thankful for the food, and we were thankful for the candlelight as it was our only source of heat. We ate with our coats still buttoned up and our gloves on. We kept asking our wait staff for Turkish ςai (tea), which is always piping hot, and they assured us throughout the meal that they were going to bring us some. We wanted it with our meal to keep us warm, but we were not familiar with the Turkish custom that you drink ςai only after a meal not during.
After we got accustomed to our surroundings we eventually heard the clacking rattle of a gas powered generator that was being used to power a cook top, and a few light bulbs strung along the walls of the corridor leading to our rooms. The manager who had brought us in from the cold, and who was most eager to please us, informed us that normally the resort is locked up for the winter, and the electricity is turned off, but ever since the earthquake, power had never been restored to the resort. We assured him that we were going to be fine, and after drinking as much of the hot ςai that they could give us we made our way to our rooms.
The first thing Karen and I noticed was the two inch gap between the bottom of the door, and the footer that led out onto the deck overlooking the lake. This gap in the summertime allowed cool breezes to blow in off the lake and cool the rooms. Now, however,… in the wintertime gale force winds were blowing little tornados of snow into our room. We took a towel and jammed it into the gap, and then went to several other unlocked rooms, cannibalizing the blankets off the beds, and hauled them into our room. Our team was split up into three rooms with another couple, Roger and Nancy taking one room, two older retired men, Richard and Charlie, and a young male student, Bronson, taking the other, while Karen and I were in the middle room.
There was no running water for a shower, or even for the toilets, but we were able to chop through the ice cap of a bucket of water that had been placed in our room only a short time before by the resort staff so that we could at least pour water into, and flush the toilet. The amount of determination that it took to actually sit on the rim of that ice-cold toilet seat was to say the least character-building. I was the perfect gentleman, however, and allowed Karen to go first. We had no intention of taking a shower as our room was a frigid twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit according to one of the guy’s pocket thermometer. Even the bottled water we had with us was too cold for us to want to brush our teeth. I knew from my Boy Scout days that sleeping in the same clothes you have been wearing all day was a terrible idea in the winter as your sweat from the days activities only made you colder at night. So after finally convincing Karen that we needed to get out of our—despite the cold weather— sweaty clothes we snuggled under seven layers of blankets and changed into drier, albeit, cold clothing from our packs.
Eventually we warmed up under the weight of the blankets, but sticking our noses out from under the canopy we were able to blow steam into the frosty air causing a little flurry of snow to fall back into our faces. Another architectural feature of our rooms was that the walls were paper thin. We could hear everything going on in our neighbors rooms, most notably the cacophony of discordant snoring coming from the two old men next door. It was just too cold for Karen and I to sleep at first, and at one point Bryson could be heard saying, “There’s a mouse scratching in the corner.” To which Richard awakened, sat up in bed flashed his flashlight into the corner and said, “There you are! You little Dickens!” It took all of a good twenty minutes for us to stop laughing. It became very much like summer camp where something said that would not even be remotely funny during the day light, cracks everyone up in the middle of the night. The slightest noise, or the most ludicrous comment would send waves of giggling through the adjoining rooms. Eventually, very late, we dropped off to sleep. I was glad I was with Karen, and not stuck between Richard and Charlie like Bryson was.
Early the next morning Karen bolted up in bed, and said,”Oh, my gosh! What is it?” The morning call to prayer from the nearby mosque had, as it was intended, startled her from sleep. It was the first time she had heard the call so close, and it was a stark reminder of why we had come. With lightening efficiency, we pulled our coats out from under our mattress and flung them on, and putting on our shoes we met our team mates to begin another day.
Ever since that time, in order to relay how cold it is outside, Karen or I will say, “Can you say Adapazarι?” As I came back into the house from shoveling the snow the other day, Karen asked, “Is it really cold?” I simply replied, “Can you say Adapazarι?” It was all the answer she needed. May God Bless You until next time!