Friday, June 3, 2011

We just returned from Turkey where we travelled as part of a cultural exchange sponsored by the Pacifica Institute. The food was wonderful, featuring lots of fresh vegetables. We ate cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant at all three meals, cabbage salad at lunch and dinner. Yogurt, lemon juice and crushed red chilies were common condiments. And the meat was delicious, grilled, most often,and wonderfully seasoned. We had baklava in all its variations for dessert, or baked rice pudding. Shops sell cones topped with "sticky" ice cream that doesn't drip or fall off the cone. This is making me hungry.
The Turkish people we met were warm, friendly and very generous. The country is about 98% Muslim. One of the tenets of Islam involves giving selflessly to others. This is manifested in society in many ways. Most surprising to me was the amount of private money poured into education. New universities established and supported completely by groups of businessmen seemed to be commonplace. Usually students are required to learn English. Many of these institutions stress the sciences, math and engineering. Similarly, private high schools and college prep tutoring centers have been developed. All have tuition comparable to schools in the US, and all have scholarship programs for needy students.
Health care is free. Patients can schedule their appointments on line and usually be seen the next day. Physician salaries are relatively high as more doctors are needed. Employers pay health premiums and social security from the first day someone is hired. All children 18 and under are covered. There is coverage for those who are unemployed or disabled but I was never able to understand how it differed from that of the employed person. We were told that most of the tax revenue comes from gasoline tax. Gas was about $12.00 a gallon. Other sources are property and sales tax.
Though half of our time was devoted to meeting with and getting to know all sorts of people, the rest was spent site seeing. We visited mosques, palaces, Roman ruins, rug makers, bazaars, ceramic painters and frescoed early Christian churches in underground cities. All fascinating to someone from a town just celebrating its 150th birthday.
If you get a chance to visit Turkey, don't pass it by.

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