Finishing the army TOMORROW!!

This past week has been quite an eventful one, which ended in me booking flights to visit Turkey in less than 2 weeks time!

Berkay started his national service on 4th February 2015, so we were expecting him to finish around that date this year, but we knew he still had 3 weeks holiday that he hadn’t used so thought he would finish a few weeks early. I’d been asking him for weeks if he knew an actual leaving date yet, but he hadn’t had any news… until last week! They told him his official date was 18th January…. so soon…. TOMORROW!!!

I think he is excited about finishing, although a little nervous too. His plan is to go back to his family’s village for a week and then head back to Fethiye. He’s already been ringing up friends and ex-bosses there trying to find work. He really has nowhere to go, as he always lived in the hotel he worked in, and stayed in the staff accommodation under the hotel in winter even when it was closed. He has no money, and no job to go back to. We’re hoping he has the opportunity to work in the same hotel again in the summer, but he still needs something until then… The problem with doing his army service so late is that because he was so much older, he had more of a life before going in, we had possessions, although not many, a chest of drawers, clothes, plates, cutlery, a mini oven, kettle, heater etc, which we have now just lost because he had nowhere to store them while away… any money he had saved (which wasn’t much) has been used and he has nothing at all, so I think it’s going to take some real adjusting for him to get back into the real world again after a year away. He also says he’s a little sad about leaving the friends he’s made in the base camp, after spending 24/7 with them they’ve got close and they probably won’t meet again because they come from all over the country, but they can all keep in touch via Facebook.

It still doesn’t seem real to me that he’s leaving the army tomorrow, and that that chapter of our lives will be finished. I was reluctant to believe it when he told me, and I still won’t entirely believe it until I get a message on Monday saying that he’s free! Plans are already in place though, so it’s 99.9% certain.. he’s booked his bus ticket to Denizli (a 13 hour journey!) for 6pm Monday evening, so it’s all becoming very real! I will be waiting for that ‘I’m out!’ message tomorrow while I’m at work.

Even more exciting, is the fact that I booked my flights out to see him later this month! There were no direct flights to Dalaman from London so I had settle for flying via Istanbul which I’m a bit nervous about. Lots of people I’ve spoken to have done this before but I’m certain I’ll get lost! Flying alone doesn’t bother me, but finding my way through an airport I’ve never been to and making it in time for my connecting flight is quite scary! I’m flying with Turkish airlines which I’m quite excited about as I’ve never flown with them before, and I hear they are very good. I got a good deal, return flights, 23kg of luggage, seat selection plus food and drink on board all included for £141. Bargain! I have just this minute booked an apartment for us in Calis, and done my travel insurance so it’s all quite exciting… I go for 10nights on 28th January, 11 more sleeps and counting..

Thank you all for putting up with my boring, repetitive ‘army’ posts for the past year, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that it will finally all be over!

Just ONE more day…

315 days down, 50 to go!

 
Christmas is fast approaching, with just 9 days to go, and just 16 days until 2015 comes to an end. This means we are getting ever closer to Berkay’s army service being completed and that huge obstacle being lifted.

He’s officially been in for over 45 weeks now, with another 7.5 weeks to go. 10 months down, less than 2 to go, but potentially even sooner than that. His 12 months mandatory service will officially be finished on 4th February 2016, but as he has been unable to take any holiday during that time, he believe’s he will be able to finish up to 18 days early, so he could be ‘free’ as early as next month! How good does it feel to say that!

Strangely, the year doesn’t seem to have gone that slowly, and I think a lot of that is due to the time of year he started.  Although the beginning of the year went slowly, the run up to Christmas seems to make everything go 10x faster, and now its only a matter of days until the year is over!

I’ve been keeping up with my marble jars, moving a marble from the ‘days to go‘ jar into the ‘days down jar‘ every night before bed. It’s almost like an advent calendar, and I do it everyday without fail. The first real exciting moment was when the jars had equal numbers of marbles in both, but now they make for a much more pleasing sight with just 50 days in the ‘days to go’ jar, compared to 315 in the other.

The last few weeks haven’t been very smooth for Berkay. At the start of November he got sent to Diyarbakir which is a fairly dangerous place to be in the army at the moment, and his fellow soldiers from the same base were out on missions to hunt terrorists every few days. We were unsure when he would be going back to Kayseri, but finally, after what felt like a really long time, he got told he was being sent back and he made the 12 hour coach journey back to Kayseri with the rest of the soldiers at the base on Saturday. Even that was dangerous, and they all had to wear bulletproof clothes for the first part of the journey. Coincidentally, Saturday was Berkay’s 26th birthday (he’s so much older than all the others doing their national service, he’s like the army grandad haha). What a way to spend your birthday eh? At least he’s back in Kayseri now where he will hopefully stay for the rest of his service.

Further testing times for Berkay came 2 weeks ago when his granddad passed away. They weren’t particularly close as he isn’t to any of his family, but he was a lovely old man whom I met a few times, and it was obviously very sad. Had he been at home in Fethiye, Berkay would have made the journey to Denizli for the funeral, and he did intend to take time off from his army service but after talking to his commander they decided it would be too difficult as leaving the base would mean people needed to escort him to the nearest city, and then he would have to make a 20+ hour journey to Denizli by road, as flying was ridiculously expensive. The long journey would have meant he would miss the funeral anyway, as in Turkish culture this happens very quickly after death. Not being able to be with his family, despite their differences, upset Berkay and he was very frustrated by it all, but he seems happier now and he too is counting down the days to freedom!

50 days to go… hopefully less!
  

A new army chapter..

The elections that were held in Turkey last week meant a lot of changes.

Firstly, and bizarrely, Turkey was thrown into some kind of temporary time zone for 2 weeks. When most of us turned our clocks back and enjoyed the extra hour in bed, residents of Turkey woke up in confusion and asked themselves ‘what time is it?’. It had been decided months previously that the clocks in Turkey would not go back on 25th October with everyone else, and instead they’d go back on 8th November, to ensure that voters in the election last week would have as much daylight as possible to make it ‘safe’ to vote. I don’t see the logic in that at all, but that’s just Turkey for you, instead of opening the voting stations an hour earlier they’ll create a temporary time zone for 2 weeks… It led to some confusion when modern technology, smart phones and laptops, automatically updated to change the time, so when people woke up they really had no idea what the ‘real’ time was. Quite Hilarious, and definitely one of those ‘ah, only in Turkey’ moments! The clocks did finally go back today though, so they’re all caught up now!

The election results were pretty predictable, although plenty of people hoped for a miracle… Berkay, however, didn’t even get to vote as people doing their national service have no input at all, which I think is disgusting. I guess the logic behind it is they should be fighting for their country regardless of who is in charge, but I still think it’s really bad that they’re not even allowed to vote.

The elections were predicted to cause hostility, so around a month ago Berkay was told he’d be sent to a different army base. For the past 7 months he’s been in Kayseri, a major city and really quite modern. He’s been allowed days out and wandered around the shopping centres with friends, been to internet cafe’s to talk to me and even smuggled his phone inside base so that we can skype (shh..). So when he was told he’d be going to a city close to the border with a high terrorist presence, it was a bit of a shock.

He was told he’d be sent to Diyarbakir a few days later, which although I hear from people who have friends and family there, is a nice place, at the moment it’s a significantly more dangerous place to be while in the army. It does have a high PKK terrorist presence, a lot of Kurdish/Turkish conflict and there are often reports of attacks and deaths as a result of this. Berkay’s name was put down to go but 3 weeks later he still hadn’t heard anything, and was still in Kayseri. We were both hoping he wouldn’t end up going, but last Monday he rang me and said he was packing his suitcase and getting sent to Diyarbakir on Tuesday. Obviously this hit me like a ton of bricks, and despite Berkay saying he wasn’t worried, I know he was really. “If anything is gonna happen there it can happen here too” he said, which is true.

Tuesday morning at 11 oclock he got on the army plane to Diyarbakir. He text me at the airport and managed to call me when he got to a base and actually had a 7 minute long phonecall which is long by normal standards! He said they went on a cargo plane, and he had to sit with all the luggage in the bottom of the plane, he said it was the worst flight he’s been on, bumpy and so noisy they had to wear ear protectors. They went to a temporary base overnight and woke up at 4am to transfer to the next base, they had to go by bulletproof bus and then in a tank, from what I understood. Berkay’s brother messaged me to tell me he’d spoken to him and that he had arrived OK.

I don’t think I’m allowed to say the name of the place he’s in, other than that it’s in Diyarbakir. He say’s it’s more relaxed and friendlier than his other base. The officers seem more understanding there, as soon as they arrived they were asked if they’d all called their friends and family to let them know they were there safely and he even told them if they had phones they were allowed to use them rather than queuing for the base one, which is a relief because I was unsure whether I’d hear from him as often now, but it seems as if I will. It means he’s been able to use his iPhone there and we get to skype when the internet signal is working. Berkay’s original job in Kayseri was an ambulance driver but now he’s just on guard of the sleeping quarters. He says he feels safe there, there’s a long 10km walk to the entry gate and the outside world, and it’s mainly hills and land, no city or shops close by so he won’t be allowed out at all. He doesn’t know how long he’ll be there for, as always in Turkey it’s very laid back, no plans. He says some of the soliders are going out on an ‘operation’ to find and kill terrorists this week and that after that’s complete he should be going back to Kayseri.  He said there was another operation the night after he arrived and all the soldiers came back in the middle of the night and woke them up to celebrate successfully finding terrorists, although a few of their own men also died. When he tells these stories it really hits home how serious it all is, and as I always say, I don’t understand how anyone can see national service as just a 12 month stint in a training camp, it’s real life, it’s scary and its horrible.

The only good thing is there’s only less than 3 months to go!

Army life – broken foot & time off?

Its not unusual for Berkay to call me and tell me he’s been at the hospital all day, as he’s usually driving the ambulance back and forth between the base and the hospital when people get injured during training etc, but yesterday when he called me he told me he’d been in hospital all day, as a patient, after breaking his foot!

Apparently he was doing sport, as they do everyday, and when facing one of the obstacles on the course – jumping down in and out of a ditch – he jumped in and landed on something hard which shouldn’t have been in there, and broke his foot…

Since then he’s been on bed rest, only allowed to get up (with crutches) to use the phone, having all his food bought to his bed. He says his foot hurts a lot and is like a ‘balloon’ (swollen) and he has a cast on it… I hope he’s milking it for all it’s worth!

I’m actually quite pleased he broke it. The world works in mysterious ways, 2 weeks ago he was saying how he wanted to volunteer to go to the border towns to fight against the PKK after the recent trouble there, so having a dodgy foot has definitely ruled him out of that, for the time being!

I’m not sure what it means for his holiday – he wasn’t sure if he was going to get his 10 days leave in October and we’d decided that I’d not visit anyway so we was going to cancel it and finish 10 days early at the end of his service instead, but now he might be forced to take sick leave because of his foot, not much use as an ambulance driver with a plaster cast… He may get a few weeks holiday but it’s doubtful I’ll be able to visit since it will be too late notice to get time off work, and the fact that he doesn’t really have anywhere to go – his village is around 10 hours away from his army base by car, and Fethiye is around 12 hours away, not a nice distance to travel at the best of times let alone with a painful foot in a cast.

So it looks like I won’t be seeing him til February as planned, but at least he’s safe for now, even if a little pained, and less than 4 and a half months to go! (: