Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Summer in Ankara

on November 26, 2013

Since we arrived in Ankara at the end of March 1964, I finished 10eme (Grade 2), and started 9eme (Grade 3) in the fall. This means that we spent the summer there. No wonder my memories of Ankara are full of sunshine and tree climbing.

Our apartment building had seven –or was it nine– stories. On the top floor there lived a family whose father was an American marine and the mother a Japanese lady. They had two daughters respectively one year older than Saadia and I: Janet and Joyce. We played together in the yard around the apartment building and in the vacant lot next door,  just about every day.

This is where the miracle of childhood comes in. They spoke English and Japanese. We spoke French and  Mandarin Chinese. Yet we communicated perfectly well, with the help of self-made onomatopeias and sign language. If Mama called us for lunch, we would sign to them: right-hand-holding-spoon- stuffing-food into mouth, accompanied by word: “miam miam!”  They would understand and sign back that they would go home too.

Janet and Joyce seemed immensely wealthy to us. They owned a dozen Barbies with all kinds of clothes and furniture. The two of us owned a grand total of one Barbie only, and of the old kind, whose knees could not bend. We had just one Barbie outfit, a swim suit, and so we made our own, and dressed her in the dresses cut out of Mama’s sewing scraps.

Barbie 1964

The American marines shopped at a wonderful store called the PX, where you could find all sorts of American goods. The  Japanese lady, who was very close friends with Mama, would take her there and Mama would show off her US foods and trinkets to her Chinese friends.

PX store

Mama spoke fluent Japanese, because Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese until the end of World War II, and all schools taught Japanese. Mama did not study in Mandarin until Junior High School (Middle School). Mama started imitating her Japanese friend in many way. For one thing, our clothes started changing from French formal styles to American informal styles. Mama was a great seamstress, completely self-taught, despite her attempt at attending some tailoring class in Paris, which ended in her dropping out due to our falling victims to chicken pox. So gone were our velvet dresses. We now ran around in pink cotton shirts and matching shorts with wide stripes.

shirt and shorts 1960s

Another playmate was the daughter of our doorman (concierge), a little Turkish girl named Sevkieh. She was around our age and was always dressed in a grey linen dress over a pair of grey linen pants, and ran around in flip flops. She must have worn some other clothes, but somehow I only remember her in that outfit.

Children play well regardless of culture, but sometimes culture does butt in, in the most unexpected way… One day, we antagonized Sevkieh. How, I just cannot remember. She was very angry, and glared at us for a while, looking like she wanted to insult us, or take revenge. We waited. Then she decided on the insult: She turned around, pulled down her pants, and bent forward, flipping up her dress! She was mooning us!

We had never heard of mooning, let alone understand its significance. To us, the area between the waist and the knees was private and belonged in the bathroom. Showing it was pure shame.

Our mouths dropped. Then we just burst out laughing out loud! Sevkieh got even angrier. She pulled up her pants and stomped away, red-faced.

full moon

There was another Janet, the daughter of the occupants of the 4th or was it 5th floor. She was much much older, probably a college student. She sometimes talked to us, and once saved us.

We four had decided that day to climb the lone tree that stood in the middle of the vacant lot. Janet, the oldest, led the vanguard. She would test out the branches, and Joyce, Saadia and I followed behind, scraping skin and pricking hands. All went well till Janet screamed, “Spider web!” We all screamed along. Janet commanded, “Go back! Go back!” I was the last one up, and therefore first one to go down. But I was only able to backtrack to the main fork. Then I looked down at the ground. How come it was so far now? “Come on, jump!” ordered Janet. “Can’t!” We tried to shift around the branches, and each took a turn at the main fork, only to give up too. When Janet’s turn came, she jumped and made it back to solid earth. We asked her to help us down, but she only laughed and walked away! How could she? Leaving us alone on the tree? We realized we were stranded. What to do? Joyce said,”We need to call for help.”  We yelled and hollered, “Help! Help! Au secours! Au secours!”  Time passed. No one came. We were on the brink of tears, but no one wanted to be the first coward to cry, so we all held it.


Finally, as we were giving up hope, there came Big Janet, in a demure skirt and shirt, holding a stack of books in her arms, walking through the vacant lot. We screamed as loudly as we could, waving our arms. She approached the tree, smiling. She looked up at us and just smiled. She put her books down and helped us down one at a time. Dear dear Janet, you were the best soul on earth! And I mean Big Janet, not Little Janet, who still called herself our friend after this episode!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *