Ken Grubb is a retired American military policeman who recently moved to Kaş from İzmir. He is the founder of one of the most popular and famous expat forums in Turkey called TurkeyCentral.com, “an information resource and forum for English speakers living in Turkey.”
We caught up with him for a chat. He is not easy to catch because he travels a lot around western Turkey. He keeps up his Facebook page with interesting photos and facts about both his past and his present. He also has a Photo Gallery at TurkeyCentral.com that is quite amazing.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, just south of Washington, DC.
Where did you go to high school and university?
I went to the local high school, Northwood. Upon graduation I joined the military, and while in the military I attended university in the evenings to obtain a degree.
When and why did you join the military?
I wanted to be in the police, probably from being picked on so much, but since I wasn’t old enough and didn’t have a college degree I couldn’t get on the local force. So I joined the army and went into military law enforcement.
Where did you travel?
Besides state-side assignments, I was assigned to Belgium, Panama, Portugal, the UAE and Germany. I ended up in Izmir, Turkey. While I only intended to be there for 15 months, I never really left. Turkey was the best place I’d ever been assigned.
Any amusing anecdote or an especially poignant one?
Before coming to Turkey, I called the person whose place I was about to take in Izmir. I asked her how it was, and she said “oh, it’s great, you’re going to love it. Everybody here has extended their tours.” I was surprised, considering the only conception I had of Turkey was a negative one. I walked around the office asking if anybody knew anything about it. One said that he had a friend who was stationed there and also loved it. Another said “well Ken, maybe you’ll go there and never come back.”
Anybody special you met along the way?
On my second night in Turkey I decided to venture out. I ended up in the Kybele Rock Bar (owned by the same man who now owns Kybele in Kaş). It looked like a place where I had better watch myself, so I sat with my back to the wall. A Turk walked up and spoke Turkish to me, I said I didn’t speak Turkish. “Oh, you’re American?” he asked. After all of the “keep a low profile” warnings I’d heard while in foreign countries, I wondered why he was asking! Turns out he went to school in Georgia in the USA. We ended up being best friends, I suppose that’s an allegory of my experience with Turkey.
Tell us about your last station in Izmir?
I was the superintendent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations(AFOSI) Detachment 523 in Izmir. Basically I was second to the commander and oversaw detachment operations.
When you retired, what then?
I had no idea what I was going to do. I didn’t want to leave Turkey, so I decided to stay. I took a job managing three NATO contracted floors at the former Mercure Hotel in Izmir, with no experience in the hotel industry at all, but the Turkish workers there were so good at what they did I was mostly a figurehead and paper pusher. I later found work with a military contractor doing background investigations for security clearances in Germany. When the company got a contract at İncirlik Air Base, Adana, I volunteered to go, spent three years there until the contract expired, then returned to Izmir.
Why did you stay in Turkey?
I think the friendliness of the Turks is really what makes me stay here, also the food, and the fact that I can have a nice place to live at far less than I would pay in the US. If you had asked me that before I came here, I’d tell you it was because it was only a 15 month tour, and I could go back to San Diego afterwards. But as my former co-worker unknowingly predicted, I’ve never gone back. “Maybe next year I’ll go back,” I used to say, but I don’t say that any more.
Any cultural shock or misconceptions about Turkey which were proven wrong?
Not in the traditional sense. Probably all of my misconceptions were proven wrong. The movie “Midnight Express” comes to mind. That movie has done more harm to Turkey’s image than probably anything in recent history, in spite of the fact that it horribly distorts the truth. Strangely enough, I think other misconceptions came from the logo of Camel cigarettes, where it says “Turkish-American Blend,” and has a desert and a camel on it. (Although there are camels in Turkey one has to travel far to find the desert.)
How are Turks different and the same as Americans?
I’ve asked myself that question, as well as Americans in Turkey and Turks who have lived in America. Most everyone says, including me, that Turks and Americans, at least on a basic level, have more in common than we do with Europeans. Our constitution reads about the same, we were both born in revolution, and we have the same problems, for example, Church and State, and Mosque and State. The people want the same things, and we have the same issues with our governments.
When did you start Turkey Central and why?
I had always been bothered by my ignorance of Turkey, and knowing so many others were as ignorant as I was, I saw an opportunity to create a website about it. I started it after my first stay in Izmir, when I was in Germany. It began as a links directory to English-friendly websites concerning Turkey. Eventually I started to get so many e-mails I began a forum. That expanded into blogs, photo galleries, into a whole community suite, which has become the most popular part of the site.
How long did it take to get a significant mass of users?
Several years, for sure. Partly thanks to the Google gods, but also because of the unusually friendly and helpful nature of the forum community and its moderators, including Lyn Apari (Çeşme), Chris Chesher (Kaş), and Sue Aratlı (Samsun). People visit the community because of Google, but they join it because of these three moderators.
How many users are there now?
Turkey Central received over 65,000 visits in July. A lot of sites talk about “hits,” which is misleading, but for the record, in July we received 4,218,778 hits. It increases every year.
Anything funny, interesting or unusual about moderating the forum?
You have to figure out things as you go, and you learn from every experience. It’s impossible to create a set of rules, since someone, eventually, will do something within the rules which still makes a lot of members angry. So you kind of shape the rules as you go. The overwhelming majority of Turkey Central members are civil, polite, and helpful. We do get the occasional problem member, and no matter what you do, somebody’s not going to like it.
Forum spammers are always a problem, but not so much lately since we’ve added methods to stop them. Companies pay people to sit in their houses doing nothing other than spamming forums all day long. They don’t last very long at Turkey Central, but it takes constant work to get rid of them.
People you have met along the way?
Most definitely. I get to know a lot of people through the forum, then meet them when I’m in town. I think a lot of our members do that as well, it’s nice to know somebody before you arrive.
What do you like about living in Kaş?
Besides the Turkish people, the fact that I could live in a small resort town on a beautiful coast is probably the thing I like most. And everything I need is in walking distance.
Anything else you want to share?
I know that Turkey Central has helped countless people in other parts of the world understand what Turkey is all about. It’s helped foreigners living in Turkey to understand the country and culture in which they live. It’s pretty cool to be part of something like that.