Garry Sowerby World Odyssey: Just a little bit of communication breakdown - East Valley Tribune: Business

Garry Sowerby World Odyssey: Just a little bit of communication breakdown

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Posted: Saturday, June 14, 2008 7:59 pm | Updated: 10:31 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

So, you think you have computer networking problems now? Imagine what it was like 13 years ago the road in the middle of rural Turkey.

After a month on the road filing daily reports to sixth graders in Canada, Belgium and Japan, I was looking forward to the drive from Istanbul, Turkey to Frankfurt, Germany. The 2,000-mile route through Greece, Italy and Austria would avoid political problems in Eastern Europe and give me a chance to relax and reflect on what had just transpired. This was in 1995.

Feedback from the children’s teachers indicated the real-time geography experience had spurred a surprising level of classroom excitement. I’d worked a few research exercises into the reports: math problems related to horn-blowing frequencies in downtown Istanbul, jet lag explanations and time zone quizzes. Drawing parallels between driving expeditions and recess marble tournaments had become the basis of the way I looked at things

Thirteen years ago, interactively experiencing an event taking place thousands of miles away over the Internet was a relatively new concept. Doing it simultaneously in 12 different classrooms as part of a geography lesson made it even more novel.

Before leaving Frankfurt, Germany, I asked my “virtual” students for driving route suggestions. Only a few predicted my route over the Alps and down to Brindisi in southern Italy to catch the overnight ferry across the Adriatic Sea to Igoumenitsa, Greece. From there, I drove the Chevy Blazer to Turkey where I spent a week holed up in sweltering Istanbul waiting for the techno-bits and the staff from GlobaLearn, a Connecticut-based educational company, to arrive.

In the meantime, videographer Jerry Vienneau flew in and we gathered equipment for the upcoming Turkish learning expedition. We attended meetings in ornate buildings.

Jerry filmed street life. We even picked up a few Turkish words in the process. The rug shop “sales consultants” we met by the daunting Blue Mosque suggested ways for us to remember basic that would help us during our stay in Turkey. They explained that the Turkish word for “no” is hayir ( pronounced higher) and “yes” is yavet, pronounced like the French name Yvette. It was more difficult to master the word for “good bye”. . . Allahismarladik. Nevermind that one.

After the folks from GlobaLearn arrived, we packed the Blazer with a mountain of computer and communications equipment. Then, with the Globa-Learn staff following in a rented van, we commenced our two-week driving tour of Turkey. Our goal was to document a day in the life of three Turkish children, each from a different socio-economic background.

The expedition, based on a 1,500-mile tour of west and central Turkey, took us to the thermal springs of Pamukkale and to Cappadocia where weird rock formations have produced a surrealistic land-of-the-Smurfs panorama. In each of the areas GlobaLearn interviewed children with the goal of beaming reports by satellite onto the Inter net for the participating schools. Transmissions were also directed to Brussels, Belgium for inclusion in a G-7 Ministerial Conference on the burgeoning Information Highway.

The encounters were gratifying and entertaining but we ended up using the backup to the backup plan on all but one occasion to transmit the reports. The satellite up-link equipment was quarters to a brigade of gremlins and even when we managed to lock onto the proper satellite, we played roulette with a file of access codes that rarely worked. The modems wouldn’t modem, the computer programs wouldn’t compute and then a power inverter blew, turning the techno-wizardry into techno-nightmare. We resorted to a portable printer purchased from a taxi driver to print reports that I faxed to our office for insertion on the appropriate Internet Web sites.

We eventually returned to Istanbul and bid farewell to the GlobaLearn folks. Jerry and I dropped by a couple of rug shops to say Allahismarladik to our favorite sales consultants. They were of course impressed by our hayirs, yavets and especially by our proficiency with the good-bye word.

The next day I dropped Jerry at the airport then inched my way out of Istanbul’s gridlock toward the Greek border. No sweat . . . get out of Turkey, head across Greece to good old Igoumenitsa, jump the late light truckers’ ferry to Italy and high tail it up the autostrada (freeway) to Germany. I’d be in Frankfurt in a couple of days.

But just before the Greek frontier, the inevitable happened. I crested a hill and there he was, one of Turkey’s finest waving me over. The crisply dressed officer gave me a stern look as he drew pictures in his notebook of a Blazer passing a Toyota on a solid line.

“Yavet,” I remembered the broken-down Toyota and crossing a double line to get around it.

“Hayir” (no), I won’t do it again. “Money?” Here. How about a half million Turkish lirasi. Fresh new bill I got here, Buddy. More hayirs and yavets as my new friend slid the bank note into his pocket. He smiled and nodded in the direction of the Greek border.

I looked him in the eye and gave him my best Allahaismarladik. He slapped me on the back like a father congratulating his kid for a game well played.

I motored west into the sunset, realizing that communication is indeed everything . . . and sometimes goes more smoothly with a little incentive that doesn’t always involve technology.

Garry Sowerby, author of Sowerby’s Road, Adventures of a Driven Mind, is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for longdistance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.

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