John was a Turkish American and a great friend. We met in middle school. John was an interesting guy with an interesting background. His father, the former prince of Uzbekistan, was born into wealth and aristocracy, but lost his riches and stature when the Soviets invaded during WWII. His father then served in the Soviet army when captured by the Russians, the German army when captured by the Germans, and then, finally, the American army after he was captured by the Americans. The family later settled in Munich during the cold war era and his dad worked for Radio Free Europe, broadcasting western messages of hope, freedom, and democracy across the entire region which included Uzbekistan.
His dad married a beautiful Turkish woman who was much younger, probably by close to thirty years. John spoke English, German, Turkish, and Uzbeki fluently and his parents had no qualms raising their son with aristocratic mindsets and philosophies. John was mature, well spoken, well-traveled, and had an early interest in photography, history, architecture, and culture; which eventually rubbed off on me.
My parents were absent during those days and John’s parents expected him to act like the son of a prince. With such freedom bestowed upon us, John and I went to bars in our early teens, as we looked and acted a bit older than we were, and by fourteen we started traveling through Turkey by ourselves. We had one particularly late night at a club in Cesme and after only a few hours of sleep got up and caught the next bus to Izmir, Turkey.
On that very crowded bus, which included a farmer and his chickens in a metal cage, a middle aged Turkish man sat next to me. He was close rubbing his arm against mine which made me feel uncomfortable. Then he said in a thick Turkish accent “do you have girlfriend?” smiling. “Yes, yes,” I said immediately. I was hung over from the night before and didn’t want to engage in conversation. “Where you from,” he persisted in his thick tone. “California,” I said. I should have known to just say the United States when talking with a farmer in the middle of Turkey because he responded back “Kenya, Kenya, yesssssss, Kenya is a very nice place!” Clearly, judging by my white complexion, I was from Nairobi, Nairobi Kenya.
From that day forth John and I would stop, look at each other laughing and yell “Kenya, Kenya, Kenya is a very nice place,” in comically thick Turkish accents. “Dude,” my friend would say “you are a very special boy from Keeeennnnyaaaaaaa!” Zafar, his uncle, never liked the joke. “Stupid,” he said. “Stupid, you should act your age.”