A guest post from my daughter Esi.
We moved to the UK when Esi was 8 so she only spent 3 years in Turkish Schools. While in England, she lost the patriotism that is drummed into Turkish kids but last week, on a visit to see army recruits at their passing out parade, she reconnected with her innate Turkish pride.
A full month after my prospective brother-in-law was conscripted into the army we got the chance to see him. We woke up at 7.15am, packed our bags and left for Manisa Kırklağaç.
The road from Bodrum was so quiet and peaceful, not a sound of a car horn or modified exhausted to be heard. I was hopeful for a wonderful drive up to Aydın to pick up my fiance Celal's parents. We stopped on the way for some lentil soup and salad for breakfast (sad to say I am currently on a new diet that doesn't allow me to have dairy or eggs... so no cheese or a hard boiled egg for me!) By the time we arrived at Çine, we were greeted by Celal's parents and there was a rush to get everything packed in the back of the car. They insisted we take supplies to people who wanted them, so the back of the car was full of olive oil, vegetables and village eggs. Great, I thought to myself, we have now started a farm delivery service... Sadly the silence of Bodrum seemed far behind us as we hit traffic towards Aydın. The plans changed again when it was decided to see my brother-in-law's wife. Anyway after seeing her we set off towards Izmir. Even though we are in the car, looking out onto the greens and newly blossomed almond and peach trees, I couldn’t help but think how beautiful Turkey is the further North we went once away from the cities. Celal’s parents and I were singing along to some Turkish songs and enjoying the view and talking about what happens in the army and listening to Celal and his father sharing their army stories was magical. They both had very different experiences, same scenery but different jobs. Celal's dad was on foot and Celal was in tanks. Listening to Celal really made me realise that the army was not always a proud memory for men. As much as he loved the friends he made he also had bad experiences that not a lot of men feel comfortable speaking about.
As we arrived at Manisa we decided we had time to go see where my brother-in-law was and visit him for some dinner. As we parked the car I almost burst with excitment. This was my first time walking into an Army camp. Sadly for Celal, it brought back some bad memories and it took him a long time to walk to the entrance squeezing my hand so tight I thought my fingers were going to break.
Walking into the army block I heard men shouting. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but it sounded something like a commander saying "we are" and the soldiers saying "yes commander" I felt butterflies in my stomach. We waited in the visitors lounge for my brother -in-law to come through the door. Normally I do not gawk at people but I could not help myself but watch the soldiers march past. I saw my brother-in-law walking past with a gun, marching with dignity and a cheeky smile to say hey I see you.
After taking the guns back he ran over to us and gave us all hugs (apart from his dad who is like a plank when it comes to affection) We all sat down and he told us stories of who is who and what the commander had told him about assignments and training. Rain, wind or sun they had to wake up at 3am and gather around to hear what they were doing that day. It was amazing to see so many 20 year olds in one place. Some short, some tall, some chunky and some skinny, a few with glasses. As time went on we met some of my brother-in-law's friends and said hello to their families and slowly slowly people became one. I, on the other hand, felt like an outsider as people knew exactly what was going on in the army and I had no idea. My father did army service and so did my cousin and uncle but I do not hear any stories about their past experiences so I had no clue.
After a wonderful nights sleep in a nearby hotel, we all went to the army camp for my brother-in-law's 20 Tören (swearing on the gun). Thousands and thousands of people were arriving and I was shocked. We had to walk about for 1 hour from where we could leave the car up the hills of Manisa Kırkağaç to get to the army camp. I was horrified. In the pouring rain we all got SOAKED! We finally arrived and took our seats right at the back. We waited about half an hour for the soldiers to come out but it was well worth the wait. In this particular army there were 15 sections. I didn't know how many soldiers would be in these sections. 1 came out... 2 came out...and already up to 200/300 soldiers had arrived. The march went on and on and on and all I could feel was my heart pumping, hearing their feet stamp on the ground and lots of shouting. People were clapping, mothers were crying, wives were screaming out their husbands' names. It was very emotional.
We saw my brother-in-law. He was in the 12th section, 3 rows back, first on the right. I recognised him straight away because sadly his ears gave him away... The march went on for a good 45 minutes before the senior soldiers came out dressed in their very handsome uniform, cap and gun tucked under the arm with a sash full of badges. The tallest of the tall Celal whispered in my ear thinking I would know who these professional soldiers were. After the fancy soldiers came out the national anthem began. Soldiers shouting so loudly I could barely hear the sound track. At this point almost half of the people standing in the audience were crying with hands on their hearts and the other half taking videos on their phone or ipads. After the national anthem, row by row soldiers stepped up to put one arm by the gun and the other on their partner's shoulder/hip (depending on how tall they were) and say "Önce Vatan, Her Zaman, Her Yerde" meaning "First Country, All the Time, Everywhere". This took up to an hour as there were so many people. Celal then told me that there was at least 2000 people in this section, maybe more.
Then BANG BANG BANG! At the top of the towers, 3 soldiers with guns, all at once fired into the air. I can safely say in the future if I go to another one of these ceremonies I will have to wear a diaper. But the rush was fantastic. After the guns went off it was the end of the parade and soldiers went back to their quarters to get changed to go home to family for 2 days. Then Monday will be the day that they get assigned to their new units
I know it's a long story but I can honestly say there was nothing like being a part of my brother-in-law's laws journey to manhood. I am proud to be a Turk (and English). We are strong. People think Turkey is a horrible place at the moment due to what's happening on the borders, but after this trip I have faith in my country.