A Streetcar Named Güzelyalı

Going to a new place in which you know no one and only enough of the language to realize that you really can’t communicate beyond the basics may not be your idea of a fun time, but sometimes we have to take our fun where we find it. Like on buses in Turkey.

There’s still something in me that rebels at the loss of independence that comes with having to come and go according to a bus schedule, but such limited freedom of mobility can also provide an excellent reason to not do some things. Of course I have used public transportation before, but I would prefer to walk if I have the choice. I this particular case, I do not have the choice since my accommodations are within walking distance of nothing except the bus stop.

So, off I went. People said, “Don’t worry about it!” So, I didn’t. Actually, that’s not true. I am a fretter. I worry about things over which I have absolutely no control. Like the bus schedule. Too many ‘what ifs’ for my liking.

The Kindness of Strangers

Since my arrival in Çanakkale, Turkey, daily life has been a constant test of my ability to live by the venerable motto Semper Gumby. After getting settled in my new digs, I was taken, pretty passively, to get a bus pass and charge it with Turkish liras. Most news stands can charge your card for you. When I asked if there were other places to recharge my card… you guessed it. No worry!

My Bus Pass

My Bus Pass

A rough translation of the text at the bottom is: ” ‘Turkish Youth’ Your first duty is to preserve and defend Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic forever.” With such an exhortation always in my pocket, how can I not venture forth somewhere every day?

Whenever I want to get somewhere (which is every day)- mostly to and from town or campus- I walk up to the bus stop, smile, and state the name of the place I want to go. Actually I intone the name of my destination as a question. Then the fun starts! People hear me utter a few words of Turkish with a decent accent and proceed to tell me about everything from the bus I need to the dog lying under the bench (He is a nice dog. He does not like the rain.). Somewhere in there I get the number of the bus that make my wishes become reality. Occasionally I get sent to the other side of the street, sunny or otherwise.

A trip to the grocery store for a few basics: çay (tea), milk, and some fruit, is a 35 minute trip, each way. There’s a bus every hour, so if there’s a line in the store, or you have a longer list, or the bus is full… what ifs. There is no such thing as a quick run to the store here if you don’t have a car, and many people only have one or none at all.

KIPA- the Local Super Target

KIPA- the Local Super Target

Riding home on the bus after shopping is… well, it’s a pain. Don’t plan on buying a lot of anything because even if you can carry it (I use my back pack), you are expected to keep it all in your lap or under your feet on the bus. Seems only fair.

I learned something else on the bus last week. It was raining, and the bus was packed with hot (buses and buildings are always HOT), wet people all trying to get home for the weekend. One last man managed to squeeze himself through the front door, but when he swiped his card, the reader said something to him that I can only guess meant, “Today is not your day.” He stood there a moment and stared at his card in disbelief. Several of us held out our cards to him for him to use. It just seemed like the thing to do- it’s only a 1.5 L ride (about 85¢). My friends in Ankara said that it’s pretty much the custom everywhere to share your card and let the person pay you since the buses don’t take money. I never saw that happen in Europe. I have been lucky enough to not have to use buses in the US.

Turkish bus drivers like to drive fast. Very fast. Curves are not a good reason to slow down. Remember my comments about keeping your things in your lap or under your feet? On the ride home today, the driver was quite irritated because someone’s water bottle had rolled down the aisle and was going from side to side as he careened around the curves along the coastal road. By the way, as is the case in many countries, pedestrians decidedly do not have the right of way in Turkey! You cross streets at your own risk- sometimes even when you use the crossing lights.

Motor bikes and scooters are very popular here, except to go up the hill to campus, but that’s another discussion. For now, let’s just see where I end up, so to speak. My Turkish classes begin tomorrow, so soon, hopefully, wherever I go on the bus, it will be of my own choosing. This will just be one of those entries with no real point, but that is mildly interesting. To get to the camel wrestling this weekend we will not take the bus. Several of us will rent a car. (If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will!)






Something Old, Something New- Some Things Never Change.

Perhaps I got my love of travel and things foreign from my Grandmother. Whatever its origin, I definitely have it. One year for Christmas, she even gave me a globe! OK, I was a bit bratty about it because it wasn’t whatever stupid toy I thought I couldn’t live without, but it was one of my favorite “things.” I used to just sit on my bed holding it and looking at the Encyclopedia (yes, we had those in actual hard cover), planning my world tour.

On one of her trips my Grandmother (Grandmother was also her name as far we were concerned) went to Greece. She loved it and talked about it more than most of the other places she visited, except maybe Switzerland. Those conversations introduced me to all sorts of wonderful things, among them and for purposes of this post, baklava. So hold that thought.

It was also from my Grandmother that I heard the word “vegetarian.” I though the term referred to someone who liked vegetables. My mother informs me that my Grandmother’s cook shared that understanding. Family reading this will know immediately of whom I speak. Maybe I will post her caramel cake recipe!! Anyway, the exclusive properties of this new category had to be explained to me, but I was not impressed; nor did I participate in the ensuing kitchen debate over things like the inclusion eggs or seafood. I liked vegetables and still do (even though we no longer cook them with bacon or fat meat… at least not very often!), but my quite fertile imagination just couldn’t imagine limiting myself like that. For the record, many a good Southern meal, even the modern ones without the cooking fat, consist of vegetables only!

Well guess who was coming to dinner? Actually it was lunch, but I couldn’t resist the reference. I also had to call my mother to get the genealogically accurate answer to that question. My great, great, great aunt, her daughter, and her granddaughter, that’s who. They had acquired this dietary affliction through a German relative (as if that explains it). I can still hear my Grandmother as she declared, more than asked, “What in the world do vegetarians eat for lunch?” In late 1960s Mississippi, globalization had not yet to hit the Jitney Jungle, so many of the options which my Grandmother had probably enjoyed abroad were unavailable, even if heard of.

I had to call my mother to find out what Grandmother eventually served since I was not present at the “meal” preferring instead the world of kindergarten. My mother couldn’t remember exactly, but here’s what she did recall:

A “nasty” spinach salad (there was neither bacon nor egg)

Boiled corn (no butter, but at least there was salt)

Potatoes or rice (she didn’t remember which)

Some sort of green vegetable (because your Grandmother would not serve a meal without one)

No bread

I’m sure there was iced tea, so I didn’t ask. I’m also equally certain that the meal was flawlessly prepared and probably tasty as well, my dear mother’s comments notwithstanding. Less youth and experience have taught me that down South, any guests for any meal cause a kind of consternation that can only be described as masochistic.

The same thing applies to Southerners who live in places like, say… the Mid West. You definitely get more credit for “the thought” outside the South. Which brings up to the past Labor Day weekend’s events! And baklava.

While I was in Afghanistan, I became friends with several guys from Turkey. We quickly discovered that our differences, while significant, in no way prevented us from finding lots of common ground, especially where the combination of friends and food was concerned. I still correspond often with them and miss them terribly.

A few months ago I received a cryptic message from one of my friends in Turkey informing me that one of his friends would be coming here to study. He asked permission to give my contact information. No problem; however, no further information was forthcoming, not even in subsequent e mails. He is very security conscious.

When “the friend of my friend” arrived, he contacted me and said that he would like to come visit. Again, no problem. Well, it took several weeks of short and also cryptic e mails to get to the Sunday before Labor Day when I got a message that said they (not he) would be at my house tomorrow around noon. Good Heavens!

The answer to the question that some of you may have formed is, “Yes, they eat halal.” Travel with me back in time to my Grandmother’s kitchen… Now is a good time to get up and do whatever it is you are thinking about doing as you comment about how long this post is.

Aaaand we’re back- but in my kitchen reading labels and using the iPhone to google to make sure whatever we had was ok. Nix on the fried grits with crawfish cream sauce, although the fried grits would have been fine.

Fried grits smothered in crawfish cream sauce. Hungry?

Then I saw all the brie that remained from another party. YES! One of my all time favorite appetizers was about to become a sandwich! Known in my family simply as “brie treats,” they consist of slices of French bread, a paste made from nuts (I like pecans) and olive oil, slices of Granny Smith apple, and brie (sans mold). In that order. On a cookie sheet in a 400∘ oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese, and you’re done! Put them together ahead of time then just pop them in the oven as guests start to arrive or right before the meal depending on how you’re serving them. I don’t have any pictures, but these look really nice with lots of different food items.

The green salad we had was nothing spectacular, but of course, it was above average! We had the best tomatoes that one can expect in this part of the world at this time of year. They were average until I drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled basil all over them, then slapped a thick slice of fresh mozzarella on top. The same conditions applied to the fruit salad except I used sugar, mint, and lemon juice instead of olive oil. And the tea? Lightly and perfectly sweetened. Our delighted and delightful guests thought it was so good it had to be Turkish tea!

I billed this lunch a typical of what Southerners would prepare for friends who dropped by for lunch. Sadly, that tradition has all but disappeared even down South. When this kind of lunch includes international guests as such occasions often do (or did), there must be some sort of culinary nod to the guests’ homeland. As it happened, there was one small container of baklava left in the refrigerator from the aforementioned party. With great trepidation I pulled it out, hoping that there wouldn’t be enough so I would not put myself through the angst of serving baklava to people whose people claim not only expertise in this pastry, but to have actually invented it! No such luck.

What do you have with baklava? You guessed it. Turkish coffee!

My Turkish coffee pot (cezve/ibrik) and one of the cups my friend sent to me via our now mutual friend.

Along with the baklava we had some slices of pears from our tree over which we drizzled some of the extra baklava syrup (There’s always extra. Always save it.). This thrilled and astounded our new friends especially since we had devoted a portion of the never- flagging dinner conversation to baklava. For those of you who are just now wandering into this blog, the recipe and pictures can be found in my post about parties and secrets. Just as I am apparently incapable of serving a simple meal (without at least trying to make it hard), I am also incapable of writing about one topic at a time. It’s just not that simple!

Penultimate note: I just wasn’t able to get any pictures of the actual meal. Apologies!

Final note: If you still want more evidence of my talent/tendency for guilding the lily, wait until you see what evolves around a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake that gets coated with a shell of white chocolate. Because I can.


My Resume


The time has come for me to take things up a notch and write about something that most of you will find more important than dressage. I’ll save the dressage follow up as a recovery act for what follows here, to wit, a near rant about the job I am about to lose.

“So,” you ask, “what do you do?” The elevator version of my reply is a few mumbled phrases about  socio-cultural research and the Army in Afghanistan. “Really? How fascinating,” you reply, your curiosity piqued while you try to pigeon-hole me into whatever categories you find most helpful in organizing people in your life. “Well, what do you think about ________?” I usually reply that what I think is often irrelevant in whatever it is that I do.

Who says I have to stay inside the lines?

BIG FAT DISCLAIMER: The ranting below IN NO WAY represents the views or opinions of the Human Terrain System. They are MY IDEAS and MINE ALONE (unless some of you actually agree with me).

Many of us have read, and perhaps written, those sophomoric essays that begin “Webster defines ____________ as _______________.” They set us up for a debate in which the author is already committed to a definition when what is called for is intellectual engagement. Rather than resort to sources (which must be cited), I will make this up as I go, i.e. wing it on paper (I will also use the first person pronouns, something I normally eschew except while blogging). The goal is to arrive at a concept of Social Science that the reasonably prudent person (a legal standard, I know) can accept and employ- or at least talk about.

The degree of difficulty in organizing this discussion will be increased by the fact that not even academic institutions are able to agree upon a definition of Social Science and its practitioners. Some universities house their departments according to the degree to which its members apply quantitative methods to their research. Others need to balance distribution of credit hours and faculty lines, and so designate disciplines such as History to Liberal Arts or Humanities, or Social Science, depending on the need.[1] To my knowledge, no one gets a Ph.D. in Social Science.

So, what is a Social Scientist? I stated up front that I was going to provide a framework, not a definition, and my intention is to honor that. I do not wish to argue about it, though I suppose I must at some point. We have more definitions to guide us right now that we can possibly use. Some of these definitions support good Social Science and support our ability to provide operationally relevant research results to people who need it. Others confound us at every turn. By learning to live with contextually dependent definitions, we can, through the continued exchange of ideas, loosely describe (as opposed to define) ourselves and those portions of the world with which we come into contact.

Before being hired by Human Terrain System (HTS), I did not consider myself a Social Scientist. I am a Historian by training. I have also spent a considerable amount of time studying and practicing leadership, whatever that is. Maybe one day I’ll get it right. I usually enjoy doing what I do, and I am able to comfortably switch from staunch defender of the Liberal Arts and Humanities to proud practitioner of some Social Science methods in order to try to be of use in this world. I definitely prefer application to theory. Sadly, these days I find that neither a degree on a wall nor a patch on a uniform can be taken as evidence of ability to perform Social Science research in a combat zone.

Having a job in a certain field can be indicative of what one actually does. Those of us who have tried to explain HTS to the reasonably prudent person who has no military context upon which to draw will understand why I say ‘can’ in the previous sentence. I also find that, despite great strides in the educational field, those parts of the military with which I have had direct experience remain too concerned with the rigid categorization of people, places, and things. To be fair, we can also see such activity in some branches of the Social Sciences.

Despite the assertions of some branches of the Social Science tree, I maintain that the abilities to teach, do research, and learn are akin to the ability lead. These skills are not instantly found within certain disciplines. If I have no ability at all, then no amount of remedial education is going to bestow upon me the ability to do anything well. Putting me in a situation in which I must learn by doing would be equally dangerous because of the potential harm to those must attempt to learn with/from me. HTS tries to identify people who have some abilities already and equip them to go into a war zone to “do” good Social Science. Since I assume that a teacher is a subject matter expert (I’ll go so far as to say that a trainer should also be a SME), as opposed to someone who has read a lesson plan, I cling to the hope that HTS will come up with a way to engage real experienced teachers/trainers who will be able to provide some depth to the classroom experience that is now HTS Training. We will not find these people within the halls of TRADOC or schools of education. Rather, these SMEs will come to the HTS schoolhouse with a successful deployment and the ability to share that with others.

One way in which civilian and military institutions bolster their legitimacy is through publication of research in peer-reviewed formats. This gives tangible evidence to others that we do what we say we do. The more publications we have, the better we are… or so the line goes. Yet, in the age of globalization and democratization, we are all authors, and everybody knows everybody. As with resumés and rank, a long list of publications can signal many things to the reasonably prudent person. I recently had a conversation with a Social Scientist who claimed to be the “top producing Social Scientist in Afghanistan.” No mention of quality. This person is “good,” but the system has defined success in terms of how much we produce because we are afraid to make judgement calls.

HTS is in a position that many would find envious right now: the ability to set a few, hopefully flexible,  boundaries. In order to make the most of this situation, we must all be aware of as many layers of context as possible in order to make good decision. Social Scientists do not operate inside intellectual vacuums. Just listen to some of the conversations in which we engage. We would prefer to wrestle with intellectual issues rather than PowerPoint. This includes the best way to prepare others to go ply their form of Social Science downrange. We resent what we perceive as busy work that keeps us from being able to practice our form of our craft. We resent not being trusted to do our jobs (as we understand them?) in order to serve not only a greater good, but our own collective and individual curiosities, and yes, even our personal interests (more loosely defined concepts).

So what, inexactly, do Social Scientists do? We ask questions. We are curious to the point of skepticism; sarcastic to the point of irreverence; and respectful to the point of dogged devotion to people who are “good.” We continue to ask questions even if we are unable to provide answers. In whatever context we find ourselves, we are driven to identify, if not understand, the layers of meaning that constitute what may be called culture, life, ___________ (fill in the blank). We have extensive education and/or experience to help us form our questions, to strive for intellectually honest answers, and effectively present them to our audience. Our methods and talents are as varied as the topics we study.

I suppose that we must at least acknowledge that the title Social Scientist, as opposed to Social Investigator, or Social Theorist, does entitle people to some expectations. I would also like to address the expectations of those to whom we provide the results of our work. The reasonable person should be able to expect that we are able to ask “why?” and provide credible hypotheses (answers?).  HTTs may have the luxury of testing their own answers. More often, they will not. Others may, and in fact will, generalize from our localized findings. HTATs may try to do so as well, but in Afghanistan anyway, this approaches the bounds of futility.Over there, our “research” is mostly short term.

Social Science is a grand endeavor. To limit it to the village level limits its immense potential unless there is some larger goal, yet our current version of Social Science has hamstrung itself by promising “scientific” answers to local questions whose solutions may not be applicable beyond the local level to a customer who doesn’t understand that generalization beyond the local level is still a dangerous practice. Starting small is but one way to grab some turf in a debate. It works in Afghanistan, but we must also keep a big picture in mind. Who gets to draw that picture? You tell me.





[1] I can, of course, provide examples of these and other academic organizational structures.

Of Parties and Secrets

A little while ago, I had a party at my house. It was originally supposed to be a farewell party for myself- so I could see all the folks I would really miss before I headed back to Afghanistan again. Well, most of you know what happened with that, but I’ve never let a little thing like impending unemployment stand in the way of a good party. So, on with the show!

Parties always provide an excuse for me to clean house. Clean stalls in August heat? No problem. I have been known to lose my vacuum. Parties also give me a chance to break one of the cardinal rules of entertaining: never try a new recipe for guests. I cleaned my house (sort of), and concentrated on what matters- the menu! Here’s what we ate: prize-winning country ribs (they actually did win the People’s Choice Award at a rib cook-off in Athens, GA, corn and black bean salsa, roasted potato salad with rosemary and balsamic dressing, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil leaves, mixed berry salad. And that’s just what we made! Friends also brought some yummy concoctions and potables!

If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin!

”But, what about dessert?” you ask. That’s where we get to the secrets and entertainment rules part. I made one old standby, my baklava. The rule breaker was a white chocolate cheesecake, doubly so, because I made a huge departure from the recipe. I’ve been making baklava and cheesecakes of all kinds since I was in high school, so I’m fairly conversant in phyllo pastry and cream cheese.

Whenever there’s a do, folks ask if I will bring baklava or a cheesecake, or both (really good friends can ask that). Folks also always ask for the recipes, but until now, I have never shared. Here’s why. I can’t stand it when people claim that they invented or thought of something that has been around since before they discovered thinking. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but it’s extremely bad form to take someone’s recipe ( not to mention other things) and pass it off as your own. It’s culinary plagiarism, and if one gets caught, there is a heavy penalty.

Chances are that some of you will recognize parts of my recipes. If you recognize all of it, I will be very surprised, but pleased… great minds and all. My baklava recipe is a combination of recipes from one of those cookbooks that is so well loved that it is in need of replacement.

Culinary credit- a secondary source.

I also do a lot of measuring “to taste” and will advise you to do the same. So without further ado, I give you…

Yours should look something like this.

My Baclava (it really is easy. I promise!!)

5 cups of nuts, very finely chopped- I like a mixture of pecans, almonds and walnuts

1 cup sugar

2 t cinnamon

1 box phyllo pastry

1 stick butter, melted

½ cup olive oil

For the syrup you will need:


1 ½ c water

2 ½ c sugar

6 cloves (or to taste)

2 sticks or 1 t cinnamon (or to taste)

1/8 t salt

zest of one lemon and one orange (you can use dried here, also to taste)

1 c honey

Preheat oven to 325.

Instead of messing about brushing every delicate sheet with butter (been there, done that), lift 5-6 sheets of pastry and place on bottom of pan. (The ideal pan is the same dimensions as your pastry, but then again, I love the edge pieces with all the extra pastry, so you decide here.) Spread about 1 cup of the nut mixture on the pastry. Add more sheets of pastry. Add more nuts. You get the picture.

Work quickly. You’ll get faster as you develop your own methods. Keeping a damp cloth over the pastry will help keep it from drying out.

With a very sharp, serrated knife, slice the baklava- diamonds, squares, whatever. Combine the melted butter and olive oil. Pour over the baklava. Make sure you coat every piece.

Place on middle rack in oven and bake until golden brown.

Make the syrup while the baklava is baking.

Place all ingredients except honey in a saucepan. Dissolve the sugar by stirring. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add honey. Set aside and check the baklava. The recipes I have used all say it takes an hour to an hour and a half to cook this stuff. Not so in my oven. More like 30-40 minutes.

When the baklava is a nice golden brown, take it out of the oven. Pour about a cup (+/-) over the pastry. Let it soak. Keep pouring syrup in intervals until it reaches top of baklava. You will probably have some syrup left over (you should). Keep this because the baklava will soak up everything you have just poured on, and you may want/need to add more!

Let the baklava cool. Refrigeration tends to make it soggy. Cover and let it continue to soak. When presenting, you can leave in pan (not traditional, but practical at larger parties) or, if practical, remove and separate each piece. Place on a dish. There will be syrup running everywhere. That’s a good thing!!

Make some good coffee and enjoy!! Btw- the leftover syrup is good on all sorts of things!

Oh! I nearly forgot! Some people think the edge pieces are too untidy to share with guests. That’s up to you, but I happen to think they are the tastiest. Just sayin’.

So… I have now bared a small corner of my inner cookbook. I am still too insecure to share the rib recipe though.


Turkish Coffee- another thing that shrouded in a myth of difficulty