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Travels in Turkey

State Senator Jack Yost gains perspective of a foreign culture

August 6, 2011
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

WELLSBURG - During a visit abroad aimed at promoting international commerce between West Virginia and Turkey, state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, also got a perspective of that nation's culture.

Yost and state Del. Ron Waters, R-Kanawha, accepted an invitation to visit Turkey from the Mid-Atlantic Federation of Turkic American Associations.

Based in Washington, D.C., the group promotes good relations and trade between Turkey and several mid-Atlantic states.

Most Turks are Muslims and Turkish officials want Americans to know they aren't connected to Islamic terrorists, Yost said.

He admitted he was apprehensive initially about traveling to the Middle Eastern nation because the invitation came about the time of Osama bin Laden's assassination and he feared retaliations from the Taliban.

But after receiving some assurance from the group, Yost and his wife, Kris, embarked on a Turkish airliner from Dallas, Texas.

The Yosts and the Walters paid their airfare while the Turkish federation provided their accommodations during their stay.

Yost said Turkey imports about $6 billion in American goods, about $68 million of it from West Virginia.

Coal and mining equipment are among Turkey's American imports, and Yost brought information about Tunnel Ridge Mine of Ohio County and because of its specialization in storage containers and safety equipment, Eagle Manufacturing of Wellsburg.

The need for safer conditions for Turkish miners was underscored during Yost's visit to a coal mine near the Black Sea. The mine had no ventilation and no electricity.

With a donkey used to haul coal from the site, the mine was like those operated 100 years ago in the U.S., Yost said.

But visits to nine major cities in Turkey revealed another side of the nation.

Yost said the hotels where he stayed were "very high-tech" and environmentally-friendly, with guests inserting cards into a box by the door to activate air conditioning and other electrical functions inside.

"Everything is shut off when you're not in the room," he said.

Yost added that many Turks live in apartment complexes topped with water tanks heated by solar panels.

Among the Yosts' many stops was the Grand Bazaar, one of the country's oldest covered markets, in Istanbul. The market also is one of Turkey's largest, occupying the space of about two football fields, and home to thousands of shops.

Yost said many Turkish businesses are "mom and pop" stores specializing in products ranging from produce to pharmaceuticals.

He said the people of Turkey frequently eat a healthy diet of shish kabobs with chicken, beef or lamb and fruit and very little deep-fried food and other food high in cholesterol.

They also drink tea frequently from small glasses, and it often was served during his visits to Turkish dignitaries.

During his stay, Yost met the mayors of nine major cities, including Ankara, the capitol of Turkey; and Istanbul, the nation's largest city and its capital before Turkey became a republic.

It's customary to exchange gifts on such occasions, and Yost brought glass items from Fenton Glass of Williamstown, W.Va. Among the many gifts he brought home was a statuette of a coal miner given to him by the mayor of Zonguldak, a center of coal mining near the Black Sea.

Yost said about 14,000 Turks are employed by Turkey's 17 coal mines.

He said many of the Turkish officials weren't fluent in English, so interpreters, including a professor and a student from West Virginia University, accompanied the group.

But students at Ahmet Ulusoy College, which actually was a private middle school for students planning to study at a university, could English quite well, Yost said.

When a teacher asked his students if they had any questions for Yost, they eagerly raised their hands, he recalled.

"They couldn't wait to say a few words in English to me," Yost said.

He and Kris said the students were very interested in American culture and customs.

"They could have kept us all day, and we could have stayed all day," Kris said.

Jack said he found the Turkish culture to be a mix of old and new customs. He noted women there still cover their heads with scarves and some cover their faces with veils; they often didn't eat with the men and if they did, they didn't speak.

The pair visited mosques, Islamic places of worship; as well as the shrine known as the House of the Virgin Mary, where St. John is said to have cared for the mother of Jesus Christ.

Yost said a Turkish official commented on fighting between diverse Muslim sects and asked how so many Christian denominations can co-exist peacefully in the U.S.

"My answer was that when folks came here (to the U.S.), they were seeking various freedoms, and we enjoy the freedom they fought for so much we're not going to give it up," he said.

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