Health care

Countless people have told me over the last couple of weeks to visit a doctor when I’m in the Netherlands for a couple of days next week. You see, since my visit to Uludere in May, I have red bumps on my legs, arms and shoulders, and they just won’t go away. But no, thank you: I prefer Turkish health care over Dutch.

I don’t necessarily say that medicine is practiced better in Turkey – well, at least not in this particular case. But organization-wise, the Netherlands is, well, plain hell. It would be impossible to get to see a specialist doctor within a week. You would have to go to your general practitioner first, then he or she would refer you to a hospital, where they would have time for you maybe in July. If you need to see another specialist, don’t count on seeing him or her before August. Which is holiday time, so make it September.

Tiny state clinic

With my bumps, I first went to the state hospital in south-eastern Sirnak. It was a weekend, so for my medical condition only the emergency doctor was available. I paid the fee that non-Turkish citizens have to pay and was immediately taken to the right doctor. After three minutes, it was my turn, and five minutes later I had a prescription and a nurse gave me the first of four injections. Over the next three days, I went to a tiny state clinic in the village where I was staying to get the next three injections. You just walk into the clinic, show your prescription, give the needle and medicine to the nurse and literally two minutes later, you’re outside again.

By the way, this was not the village of Gülyazi, where I stayed for some time. Gülyazi hasn’t had a clinic for decades. Well, it has the building, but it’s empty: it has no doctor and no nurse. Sometimes a doctor or nurse is appointed, but they hardly ever stay longer than three months. There are many villages like that all over Turkey. For health care, the villagers of Gülyazi have to travel thirty kilometres, even in emergencies. So organisation-wise, there remains a lot to be done in Turkey too.

Since the medicine didn’t help enough, a week later I went to the university hospital in Diyarbakir. For free. On the weekend. I didn’t make an appointment, but I showed my arms and a security guy took me to the dermatologist on duty. Who gave a wrong diagnosis and medicine that didn’t help. Luckily, I mean: scabies is gross and nobody wants that, right?

Out of control

Yesterday, after more days of not seeing the bumps fade away, I went to the expensive heaven of a private hospital in Istanbul. At 10, I talked to the infection specialist, since I wanted to rule out any parasite infection. He said he wanted the dermatologist to see me too, and ten minutes later, I could visit him. They talked together about my case, which they found ‘very interesting’, and ordered a blood test. Ten minutes later, my blood sample was taken. They put ‘FAST!’ on the form, so everything could be handled within a day.
At 2.30, the results had arrived. The infection specialist came to see me at the lab, congratulated me with my excellent blood score and good health and took me to the dermatologist. Together, they concluded it was an allergic reaction out of control and prescribed new cream and new tablets.
The presented a bill which will be covered by my Dutch insurance – insjallah.

In general, Dutch people don’t run to a doctor too readily. That’s also why I waited quite a while before going to a hospital in Istanbul. We Dutch, we are taught that many health problems fix themselves. Yeah, true – if you wait, or are forced to wait, long enough. The efficiency and service of Turkish health care are totally flabbergasting for anybody used to the Dutch situation.

Wanna share any good or bad health care experiences in Turkey? I’d be interested to hear them, please use the comment section below!

Transplant competition

Need a transplant of a face, womb, legs or arms? Come to Turkey, where university hospitals are trying their best to help you out. You might lose your limbs again or even your life following the procedure, but then at least you can be sure the doctors were able to get more experience while they were practicing on you.

Sorry for being cynical here, but I’m just flabbergasted by the news. A 34 year old man from the southern city of Antalya, Atilla Kavdir, died this week after a medical team in the Antalya university hospital sewed two donated arms to his body. ‘Arm transplant’, it was called. The doctor leading the medical team, Prof. Ömer Özkan, appeared on TV saying it was unfortunate the patient died but that as a medical team they had gained valuable experience. Sounds to me like human beings are used as guinea pigs here.

Two arms, two legs

It gets even weirder when you know that another limb transplant patient died this year, at another university hospital. They sewed two arms and two legs onto the man in one huge operation. His body rejected them all, so they had to take them off again and the man lost his life. After that, an investigation into the matter was conducted by the Ministry of Health. Detail: the investigation also focuses on rumours that the two doctors, trained at the same hospital at the same time, are competing in some kind of spectacular transplant contest.

Prof. Ömer Özkan is an award-winning doctor. He is surrounded by an aura of successfulness in a new field. It’s about time to look beyond the successful image. Pending the outcome of the investigation into the earlier case and into this case – I at least assume the Ministry and also the hospital will want to get to the bottom of this – Ömer Özkan should go home and not perform any surgery. In the meantime all spectacular transplants should be put on hold, as of course should have been done already after the earlier death.


Medicine is not about winning awards, it’s not about making headlines with spectacular transplants and great marketing for your hospital, it’s about the health and the lives of human beings. Any doctor losing sight of that should be thrown out of the profession.

Quake or cleaning in Turkish football?

Now and then I publish guest blog posts on my site, written by Turkish journalists. The third guest blog post is written by Engin Baş. Engin worked as correspondent in Athens for several Turkish media and as a journalist for several (online versions of) papers, like Radikal, Hürriyet and Sabah. Now he is a freelance journalist. He is especially interested in soccer – not only the game, but also the politics.

This blog post is written by Engin Baş (see boxed text).

After gaining half of the votes of the Turkish voters and being elected for the third time in nine years as dominating party in parliament, everybody expected AKP to deal with Turkey’s most important issue, the Kurdish problem. But it seems they aim higher: soccer match fixing. It is one of the biggest prosecutions not only in Turkish football history but also one of the biggest cases opened by the prosecuters who also deal with the Ergenekon trials. Till now, Aziz Yıldırım (President of the current Champion Fenerbahçe), two Vice Presidents and 61 football related figures have been taken into custudy as a result of the match fixing inquiry.

Fenerbahçe is one of the biggest clubs in Turkey, also when it comes to number of supporters: 25 million. Considering football is a secret religion for Turks, Islamic rooted party AKP has a real battle this time even though they have taken 21 million votes and half of the countries’ approval not more than a month ago…

The operation is directed by the Special Autorized Prosecuters (SAP). According to Turkish laws, in order to involve the SAP, there has to be a well organized gang. That this is actually the case, is confirmed by the arrest of Olgun Peker. He is a ‘soul brother’ of Sedat Peker, who is a very known maffia leader and imprisoned also for being involved in Ergenekons armed structure. This update confirms the situation is fragile for Turkish soccer.

Erdoğan is Fenerbahçe fan

Such an operation cannot be done by normal officers in Turkey. If you are going to take the President of Fenerbahçe under custudy at 7am, it means you have to ask your superiors and he has to ask his. Aziz Yıldırım is not just a football figure in Turkey. He is one of the biggest construction entrepreneurs, who is making roads and buildings in countries like Afganistan, Pakinstan, etcetera. He also deals with arms bussiness and so on.

Therefore its easy to think that Prime Minister Erdogan knew and was well informed about the case. That he is not getting involved in the case nor demanding the SAP’s to slow down, means that match fixing has become institutionalized in Turkish football. Not only Erdogan, also people in the street have been complaining about the match fixing in Turkey. During the election campaign there have been protests in the city of Trabzon. That city’s team lost the league championship to Fenerbahçe. To give an example, this is all similar to opening an inquiry in Italy into Milan during Berlusconi’s term. When it comes to football, Erdoğan wants to be remembered not only as a Fenerbahçe fan.

More waves expected

It’s obvious that the events had an earthquake effect on football fans. But it seems it’s not over and there is more to come. It’s been told that in tapes some names of referees are mentioned. Ex Turkish football Federation President Mahmut Özgener will be very likely be called by SAPs also. The number of people arrested can be up to two hundred. As most of teams are camping abroad for new season now, it will be no suprise if the story gets even bigger when they return.

Galatasaray, Rijkaard, Bursaspor, Twente

Full page pictures in the papers this week of Frank Rijkaard, Dutch coach of Galatasaray, one of the three big Istanbul clubs. A purple shawl (the colour of the Galatasaray shirts this season) around his neck, his head bowed down: his team just lost an important game against Sivasspor, a match they really should have won. Right up to the last minute all was well, then Sivasspor scored and the final score was 1 all, leaving the team in fourth place of the competition, 7 points behind the leading team.

The pressure on Rijkaard’s shoulders is increasing, because this is of course not what the fans expected when he came to Istanbul. I remember the pictures in the papers last year when he came to sign his contract: he was welcomed at the airport by hordes of fans, and although he must be used to enthusiasm, the expression on his face made it clear that this craziness was unusual even for him. How can you ever make such high expectations come true? Not that I feel pity for Rijkaard, I mean, it’s a tough job, he’s paid extremely well for it, and this was a risk.

I’m not into football enough to know if Galatasaray has a good chance to get, for example, to runner up position in the competition, but as a fellow Dutchy, of course I would like it. Don’t I want Galatasaray to become champions? Well, I’m not against it, but the point is, this year it seems an outsider is going to be number 1: Bursaspor. Founded only in 1963 (the three big Istanbul clubs have more than 100 years of history) and they have never been champions before. It would be great for Bursaspor to beat the big ones.

Like Twente. Twente? That’s the club of the region in the Netherlands where I was born. Founded in 1965 and they also never won the championship. And they too are leading the league now, and the big three – Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV – can still beat Twente but in ‘my region’ people get more and more confident: the cup is coming their way. The same feeling must be taking over Bursa, a city not too far from Istanbul: it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen!

It would be great if both in Turkey and in Holland for once not an obvious team becomes champions. So I just say it: Rijkaard, I hope you can get your team away from that awful fourth place, but don’t take a final spurt and take the cup away from Bursaspor. Let the outsider get the cup, just as it will happen in Holland – yeah, I’m confident too!

Order a bottle

Now that three German boys have died of alcohol poisoning in Turkey, the news has made it into the western media. But here in Turkey it is an ongoing problem: alcohol is mixed with the deadly methanol, which leads to dozens of deaths every year. And no, it’s not a matter of bottles that could easily be recognised as containing bad stuff: it comes in normal vodka or rakı bottles which have been refilled, and it can be served in respectable-looking hotels. The German boys, for example, drank it in their hotel, and although it’s uncertain what exactly happened, the manager of the hotel and two others were arrested.
So, is there nothing you can do to protect yourself from dropping dead after a few drinks? Of course there is. If you buy booze yourself, get it from a Tekel shop (small kiosk on the street, also selling tobacco, candy bars, water, lighters, things like that) or from a big supermarket, like Migros or Tansas. When you order rakı in a restaurant, order a whole bottle (35 or 70 cl), and make sure it’s opened at the table. Especially in tourist areas where competition is tough and profit margins are small, you should be careful. Want only one glass of rakı? Even though that would be an unlikely and rather weird thing, then don’t get it in some sleazy bar or worn-out hotel – one glass of the stuff probably won’t lead to death, but methanol can make you blind too. And usually, after one glass of rakı, you want another one anyway. It’s safer to just order a bottle. Şerefe!

Win a prize!

I have made an end-of-year present for magazines, organisations and people I work with. I’m not going to tell what it is now, but while I was making it something interesting happened, and I decided to turn it into a contest for visitors to my website. What happened is this. The thing I made has a front page, and, on the front page, there is a picture of me with a green shawl around my shoulders. Underneath that, my address and website are mentioned, in bright yellow. Now I wanted to add ‘journalist in Turkey’ too, and I wanted it to be written in red. But the girl in the shop who is making this business present for me, refused to use red in combination with yellow and green. I quickly understood why and choose another colour. Do my website visitors have a clue about why yellow, green and red are not a suitable combination? If you know, or if you think you know, mail the answer to f.geerdink AT I will pick four winners from the right answers and send them the business present too!

Both city and people

The girl in the shop where I spend too much money looks at me in shock when I tell her I’m off to Adana for the weekend. ’A whole weekend?’ she asks. I tell her yes, and she looks at me in pity. Okay okay, I say, the first time I went there, almost five years ago, I hated it. I thought Adana was for the most part dirty and made of ugly concrete and with no fun to be had, and it was January so the dirty streets were also wet. But since then I have visited the city regularly. First because my beloved went to university there and now fate has sent him back to Adana to do his military service. I’ve come to like the city. Yes, there is lots of concrete and because of the pollution you need a daily hair wash, but it’s also modern, it has a river with a few terraces with an ok view and also ok wine, and, (where pollution is less of a problem), the university grounds are open to everyone. They are green and adjoin a nice lake, with nice parks and bridges to pass the time taking a pleasant stroll, and the weather is good practically all year round. And the plains of Cukurova, the hinterland of Adana, are so fertile that they produce nearly all the fruit, vegetables, grains and cotton that Turkey needs – in the Adana market you can buy loads of fruit and vegetables afor a pittance. And by the way, Turkey’s most respected writer comes from Adana – no that’s not Orhan Pamuk, but Yasar Kemal. So what’s wrong with Adana? “The people are not so nice”, says girl in shop.
It seems that’s Adana’s problem: the people are not so nice. Or to be more precise: there is quite a lot of prejudice against people from Adana. They are known to be criminals, that’s the basic feeling. This prejudice probably arose because for fifteen or twenty years many poor Kurds have fled to Adana from villages in the southeast of Turkey to escape the fighting between the PKK and the Turkish army, and more poor people usually means more crime. Some people say that the prejudice is also based on the many different kinds of people that live in the city, among them some ‘tribes’ who traditionally make their living by begging and stealing or take low paid jobs: well yes, that’s how prejudice can taint a whole group of people. I tell girl in shop that I have never experienced the badness of people in Adana and that I like going there for both city and people. She giggles a bit, because that’s what people do when you don’t agree with their ill-informed opinions. I suggest if you have the chance, visit Adana at least two times and you will love both the city and its people too

Brilliant white net curtains

A picture in a newspaper of a partially ruined appartment block, a young man sitting in front of it on the ground, against a lamppost. The picture accompanies an article about the earthquake that hit the Marmara region (to be more precise: southeast of Istanbul) today exactly nine years ago. Archive picture? No, sadly enough it’s not an archive picture. The article is about how difficult it is to rebuild  the most severly affected villages and towns, where at the time – according to official figures – more then 17 thousand people lost their lives. Even now thousands of people are still living in prefabricated houses and many still people live with friends or family. Financial aid is not always used well, rebuilding and renovating are carried out so slowly, that in recent years, thousands of people decided to leave the region once and for all – circumstances are too difficult, the memories too intense. But not everybody can leave. Some people even have to live in houses that are at the point of falling apart. The picture shows evidence of this: when I look at it again more closely, I can see brilliant white net curtains hanging in some windows…


What a game really! One moment it seemed Turkey would be out of the tournament, next thing they turn a 0-2 score in favour of Czech Republic into a 3-2 victory, and that in about fifteen minutes! Istanbul will be celebrating a wonderful match tonight. At the moment, everything that is able to make noise, makes noise, even the ferries join in. Good combination: the horns of the ferries with the fireworks that spontaniously started 🙂

Which flags?

Due to fighting with the PKK in the southeast of the country, flag sales are booming in Turkey. Last week, I visited the biggest flag company in the country and they had a growth in sales of nearly a hundred percent this year – and still couldn’t meet the demand. You see the red flag with white moon and star everywhere: on cars or domestic windows, flying large from public buildings or from sky-high flagpoles. The flags are really everywhere, as I found out yesterday. I was in a taxi and pointed ahead of the car to two big flags to tell the driver where to stop: “Stop there at the flags please”, I said. I only noticed there were more then these two when the driver asked: “Which flags exactly?”