Retrospective on a Reunion: Turkey
By Guest Contributor on Friday, August 3rd, 2012
We’ve entered the next 50 year’s of Peace Corps’ history, but are still getting reports about the exciting anniversary events of last year. The Turkey Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group, share its story.
The Peace Corps’s 50th Anniversary, and our Arkadaşlar Global Reunion were a really big deal for us. Looking back at those September 22-24 events, I see a blur, a fast-forward film of a lot of people, all smiling, going to activities, then, on the last day, pausing. “People I haven’t seen for years. If we only had a little more time to sit and talk.” They were right – a three-day weekend was just too short for all we wanted to do.
Friday, some early birds caught a Peace Corps retrospective where Steve Allen (T-1) spoke as one of the “Kennedy’s Kids” panelists.
Friday night, everyone was anxious because we were invited to the Turkish ambassador’s residence, but our number of attendees (313) vastly exceeded earlier estimates and perhaps 50 people were biting their nails on a waiting list. In the end, with persistence from our president, Mike Jewell (T-1), everyone was allowed to attend.
The Turkish staff outdid itself, and we soaked up the grandeur of the ambassador’s residence, a mansion. We were dressed in our travel best, and we looked good. There were some speeches, but with the large crowd many couldn’t hear. We clapped when everyone else did and hung out around the meze (hors d’oeuvres) table. Tabii. (of course).
Later that evening, some of our members and former staff attended a reception for all Peace Corps that Ken Hill (T-9) pulled together. I hear he’s still in recovery; he did a fantastic job.
Saturday morning some people were able to attend some Peace Corps events, while others were still registering. We had 361 people, with 271 being our volunteers. This is a full third of the 800 members we know about.
A young professor from Turkey, Gökhan Eşel, showed up to help Linda Scheffer (T-8), Margaret Patterson (T-4) and others with registration. Linda enjoyed this new friendship and the helping hand. He’s planning to write a dissertation on the Peace Corps in Turkey this spring and publish a book next fall.
That afternoon we made our way to Key Bridge Marriott and our grand plenary session.
We sat at tables as speakers fanned our nostalgia and pricked our sensibilities about current events. All good speakers and a long afternoon, but hardly enough time to pack in all the topics. One speaker particularly engaged our attention: Professor Zafer Parlak, who is also writing a book about us, from our and the Turks’ perspectives. He came just to meet these people with whom he’d been corresponding. We were entranced as he told us about ourselves. Pictures of the plenary session including panelists are at the homepage of our website, www.arkadaslar.info. Other reunion photos are at http://www.arkadaslar.info/photo_gallery.htm.
That evening each of the groups gathered at a separate Turkish restaurant for a chance to finally spend time becoming reacquainted with others who trained and served with us. That took a half second, then we launched into “Ne var, ne yok? What’s happened over all these years?” Some groups had met earlier and attended the NPCA Gala with all the glitz and celebs.
Sunday, our final event. Most of us wore our Arkadaşlar shirts, in dark blue with a Turkish tile logo, designed by Allan Gall (T-1). We began by attending a ceremony at the amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery, then we migrated to the Memorial Bridge to begin the Walk of Flags to the Lincoln Memorial. We were such a large group, especially compared to other groups toward the end of the alphabet (Think Tajikistan, Turkmenistan …) that someone commented that there should be some limitations on group numbers. We could only smile.
But it was a sad smile, too, for this was our parting activity. People went off in little groups, some arranging to meet later and most promising to keep in touch. Maybe with refreshed memories we can hold on to our positive feeling for all that we were able to do in Turkey, and our enduring Peace Corps friendships.
Thank you to Sandy Anderson (T-13) for her submission.