To set off an adventure like ours, you have to be willing to take some heat. Many of your friends and family will question your sanity and some will doubt your ability to follow through on your plans. We never allowed the skeptics to stand in our way and got used to the “you must be crazy” looks whenever we discussed the trip outside the safety of our own home. One of the first questions critics continue to ask is “But what about school?” Well, what about school? At home, school is a building where the kids spend their days learning facts and skills that will help them enter adulthood. On the road, school is a round the clock, everchanging experience, a 7-day-a-week field trip that teaches them more about the world and themselves than they could ever learn at home. We make sure that in the down times they are completing their core subject work, the big boys through BYU online courses and the little ones with us, but the rest of the time the world is their learning laboratory. By experiencing it first hand, they are gaining an appreciation for peoples, politics, cultures, and history most adults never do. They are also learning that the world is not something to be feared but rather to be embraced. They now know that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done and just because something seems foreign or uncomfortable doesn’t mean you can’t learn to love it (or at least tolerate it).
For those who still might argue their education is deficient, I offer three days in the life of the Andrus kids. After leaving Ephesus, one of the world’s largest Roman ruins, they took in another series of ancient sites surrounding the city of Bergama, known long ago as Pergamum. The Greco-Roman complex perched on the hilltop reminded us that great advances in art and scholarship occurred thousands of years before we were born and more than a millennium before Shakespeare, Newton, and DaVinci. At the base of the hill they walked the perimeter of the Red Basilica, once a temple to the Egyptian god Serapis, and widely believed to be the building John deemed “the seat of Satan” in the Bible’s Book of Revelations. He also singled it out as one of the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse, a heavy distinction borne out by its current creepy vibe. A few more kilometers down the road, they saw the Asklepion, the world’s first psychiatric hospital and onetime home to Galen, a pioneering surgeon of the second century whose techniques were thousands of years before his time.
Their classical civilizations lesson for the day was complete, but this particular site presented a lesson in modern history as well. Situated in the cusp of a narrow, shallow canyon, it is flanked by a full-on military base. Signs warn visitors that taking pictures is forbidden and serve as a not so subtle reminder that Turkey sits smack dab in the middle of one of the most politically and militarily volatile regions in the world. When McKane was back home in school, one of his teachers swore Guam was in the Caribbean. He’ll never make such a mistake. He knows Iraq and Armenia are across the border to the east and Bulgaria is to the north. He knows the military is currently threatening to flex its muscles against the government if the possible president takes a religious stance in this country that has been stolidly secular since Ataturk proclaimed it so in the 1920’s.
Pergamum was just a stop on the way to an even more significant destination for the Andrus kids: the ruins of the legendary city of Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, the place where men believe Helen gazed across the Aegean longing for her Greek home, or if you believe the Brad Pitt/Orlando Bloom version, fearing her return to her husband King Menelaus. For centuries scholars doubted the existence of Troy and shrugged off the Trojan War as lore. But in the late nineteenth century, Heinrich Schliemann, a fervent amateur historian and archaeologist, believed he had figured out the location based on Homer’s descriptions. He started digging in northwestern Turkey and when his site proved barren moved to another archaeologists’ site not far away. What he unearthed and partially destroyed over the next 20 years were the ruins of not one but 9 different cities, each a different iteration of Troy covering a different period of history. Some scholars now claim that the 400 year gap between Troy VII and Troy VIII points to a decimation of the population such as caused by natural disaster or war…specifically THE Trojan War.
Whatever you believe about the site, The Iliad remains of the world’s greatest epic poems, if not the greatest. Both Dax and McKane read it in 6th grade (3 years ago for Dax and this year for Mac) and could create vivid depictions of the once great city-state in their minds as we ambled the jumbled ruins. This was difficult since there was little left and like Ephesus, the shoreline has moved many miles to the west after millenia of silt deposit. Oddly enough, the highlight for many visitors, including the busloads of Korean and Japanese tourists we encountered, is the replica Trojan horse built in the 1970s. We joined in for some photographic fun before heading off for our next destination, a site that even though only an hour and a half away from these ancient ruins would catapult our history lesson into the twentieth century.
We spent the night at a fabulous new boutique hotel, the Abydos, in Cannakale and then took the ferry across the Dardanelles to the famed battlefields of Gallipoli. I thought Dax, our resident military historian who has a penchant for World War I, would be the most absorbed by the site, but it was the older members of our group who found it more compelling. Like all good students, we started our field trip at the information center, where we giggled at the silly plaques that explained the history through a poppy flower mascot.
From there we drove Captain Starex (our rented Hyundai van) out to one of the most visited sites, the ANZAC landing point. We had read that the peninsula was worth visiting strictly for its natural beauty and this spot quickly confirmed that. Bright red plastic stadium seats blocked the view but we forgave their intrusion on the landscape given that a few days later there would be a sunrise service commemorating the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC troops). ANZAC Day is a national holiday in both distant countries, and each year thousands of Kiwis and Aussies make the pilgrimage to Turkey to honor their forefathers’ wartime sacrifice.
The battles that raged on the peninsula for eight months were horrific for both sides, and the Allies and Turks collectively lost over 200,000 thousand men on the beautiful, rolling hills. No matter where we drove, we found cemeteries and memorials marking the locations where men had fallen, poignant reminders of the cost of war. Probably because of our Western origins, the simple crosses and stone walls resonated more with us than the bright yellow stucco Turkish constructions. Though we naturally gravitated toward the Allied memorials, we visited the Turkish ones as well.
We wondered how modern day Turks feel about the continuous stream of foreigners whose forefathers shed so much Turkish blood but quickly found our answer in the words of Ataturk, who first gained fame as a commander on the fields of Gallipoli.
Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
and the Mehemets to us where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are at peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well.
What a moving lesson in healing and forgiveness for our kids, one that will hopefully influence them in the way they approach the world as adults. I don’t know how they could have learned it more effectively in school.