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My Family Roots in Turkey

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My family roots in Turkey have defined to a great extent who I am and what I have accomplished in my life and profession, especially guiding others to experience our world through adventure travel.
At home in Hollywood circa 1956 with my family including my Turkish grandmother, Babanne, who came to visit us in California before we started our on family roots travel to Turkey.
 
Born in 1952 in Los Angeles, I've been traveling to Turkey on family trips since the 1960's. My father was born and raised in Istanbul just after the new Republic of Turkey was established in 1922 by Ataturk. My father, Tevfik Kamil Kutay, hopped on a ship from Turkey headed to New York and then across the US to study architecture at Berkeley. He was 19 years old when his ship left Europe September 1939 the day Russia attacked Poland so they zig zagged their way across the Atlantic to avoid German U2 boats. He played soccer for UC Berkeley, met my mom who worked in a soda fountain, and after getting married they lived together in Turkey for over a year then finally moved to Los Angeles where dad became a US citizen and practiced architecture at DMJM.
Ready to take off on TWA standing on the tarmac in Istanbul headed home concluding our first family visit to Turkey. 
Although I grew up in Los Angeles our family traveled to Turkey on numerous occasions to stay with my grandmother, aunts and uncles, and many cousins pictured here in the brief story of my Turkish family heritage. Our TWA flight was the start of our "roots style" family travel we did as I was growing up. With the exception of a cousin, all my familiar Turkish relatives are gone now, and dad passed away in 2004 along with any recorded memory of his origins even including his father (who I never met) but apparently immigrated into Turkey from Bulgaria during the reign of the last Ottoman.
Grandmother Babanne reads my sisters palm. She was also an expert reading Turkish coffee grounds. 
 

The grand lesson I learned in my life from our roots family trips in Turkey was this:
 

No matter if we don't speak a common language, 
we are all family on this earth and there are always 
other ways we can communicate love beyond words. 
 
While visiting Turkey on several occasions as a teenager staying with relatives in their apartment in Istanbul, there were many times when mom and dad were not around to translate. Besides, I wanted to have my own interactions with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins which were mostly a game of charades resulting in much laughter, eye gazing, touching and smiles! We were all family so language wasn't as important as knowing by default there was love between us and time together was precious.
Hanging out together in the Istanbul apartment. From left to right: Uncle Mustafa, Aunt Farazat, Sister Jale, me, mom, Babaanne, Aunt Jale.
Today, our principal Turkish guide and local trip manager, Alper Ertubey, with whom we have been working to guide trips in Turkey for 25 years is like a brother in our family. We know each other's families well and when my father died he helped me make arrangements to hire a local boatman to go out in front of that beautiful old home where dad was born to bring my dad home and spread his ashes in the Bosporus.
Later after our son Tarek was born, dad hosted another family trip to Turkey to introduce his grandson and daughter-in-law, Anne, this his roots. He strolled hand in hand with Tarek through his old high school Galatasary. In a lighter moment dad is wearing a hat Tarek wore everywhere...little did Tarek know it was a circumcision hat!
So, last year when we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Wildland Adventures, together with Anne Kutay, my partner and Vice-President of the company, we decided to lead a group of travelers back to Turkey to explore my family roots including an attempt to visit the 'Abud Efendi yali' (old Ottoman family home) my dad was born in on the Bosporus in Istanbul. We had a family reunion in that beautiful Ottoman home when I was in high school with four generations of women present: my great aunt Belkis Halla (a notorious Turkish socialite), my grandmother Babaanne, my mother Katherine Kutay, and my sister Jale Kutay.
After dad died and his older sister and our uncles passed away, I took our sone Tarek to visit our last remaining Aunt Jale a year before she passed. On the table is a picture of my grandfather in his Ottoman uniform. 
With Alper's help from within Turkey we did manager to identify who owned the house and ask if we could get in. We knew that very same house had been used for several years as the set for the most popular soap opera throughout the Arabic world. But it had since been purchased by a private owner. Alper went to the house to ring the outside gate and talked to a caretaker who indicated that the owner was absent and we could not reach him.
Dad steps out on the dance floor  with his beloved daughter-in-law, Anne Kutay, at a restaurant in Istanbul. Born into the generation of "New Turks" after Ataturk established the new republic of Turkey, dad was a sophisticated and debonair man of Europe.   
So, when we arrived to Istanbul with our group, we hired a local boat for a private Bosporus cruise whereupon we bobbed around on the choppy water in front of the beautiful old Ottoman home drinking Bloody Marys at sunset with huge cargo ships plying the waters connecting the Aegean and Mediterranean with the Black Sea.
On board our hired boat during our recent Wildland Adventure in Turkey on the Bosporus with the old 'yali' where my dad was born in the background. 
When he was a teenager dad and his friends used to dive in from the porch of that house and swim out into the middle of the Bosporus to dodge tankers headed up and down the narrow passage. This explains a thing or two about my roots and what led to my own life of adventure!
My Turkish brother from another mother, Alper Ertubey, who is our lead guide and in-country trip manager. 
keeping it wild, 
 
Kurt Kutay
 
See more information about our Wildland Adventures in Turkey or contact Kurt Kutay, or Laura Finkelstein our Turkey Program Director who lived in Turkey. 

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