American ‘Adem’ on Anatolian roads

American ‘Adem’ on Anatolian roads

Adam Isenberg, along with a friend, prepared a project which they presented to TRT that culminated in “Ademin Seyir Defteri.”

February 10, 2010, Wednesday/ 16:38:00/ SEVİNÇ ÖZARSLAN
At a spot in Antakya where sheep are sold, Adam Isenberg learned tips about what to look for when buying sheep from another farmer, and how to know if a sheep might be ill.“Ademin Seyir Defteri” (Adem’s Travel Journals) was aired on TRT Türk on Saturday and depicted us more accurately as a people than we seem to be able to present ourselves.

Isenberg is an American youth in Anatolia. Called simply “Adem” by his friends in İstanbul, you could perhaps call him an American version of Şoray Uzun, who used to host a travel program on Kanal 7. Since last August, Adem has been traveling all over Anatolia, bringing his impressions as well as descriptions of what he has eaten and drunk and seen, to the TV screen every Saturday on TRT Türk. His sweet demeanor and attempts at Turkish have won a huge audience of fans for Isenberg all throughout Anatolia. People try to reach him by phone, begging him to “come see our village.” Some fans leave notes on his Facebook page. Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is that this is a guy who, coming all the way from America, seems to perceive Turkey and Turks with more accuracy than we are capable of sometimes. With a purple scarf tied around his neck, Isenberg acts like someone from our own family. And as he himself says, “I feel so at home here.” He has been bringing his own special brand of warmth to our TV screens in brief 20-minute segments every Saturday.

Now, though, because the contract with TRT Türk is up, “Adem’s Travel Journals” have come to an end. Over the past six months, Isenberg has toured 22 cities throughout Anatolia and, along with his cameraman Cem Barışcan, has filmed 26 segments for broadcast. His carefully logged journey, which began in Edirne, comes to a close in yet another Thracian city, Tekirdağ. Between these two cities, he also visited and documented his time in places such as Kütahya, Hatay, Adıyaman, Kars, Hakkari, Malatya, Konya, Çanakkale, Mardin, Muğla and Denizli.

How does Isenberg describe what most took him by surprise during his travels from city to city? “I was so surprised by how much the food, geography and general culture changes from city to city in Turkey. Some of the greatest impressions made on me were in the plateaus of Trabzon and Hakkari, as well as the natural beauty of spots like Adıyaman, Niğde and Siirt. We always encountered such beautiful aspects of nature the further we got away from the cities,” he said.

While it is disappointing that it took us so long to discover Isenberg, we at least got to know him. And, in fact, “Adem’s Travel Journals” will continue their way on another TV channel after TRT Türk.

Adem’s story

Isenberg was born in 1976 in San Francisco. His mother is American and his father Australian. His parents got divorced when he was just 2 years old, so he grew up with his mother. He has two older sisters and one older brother. He studied linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and when he graduated in 2001, he decided to move to the Spanish city of Barcelona.

Here, while working as a linguist in a lawyer’s office, he came across some very cheap tickets to İstanbul one day. The tickets were so cheap that the price for return trip plus hotel was only 150 euros. The year was 2005. At the time, he recalled the words of a Turkish friend of his in America, one Nalan Sezer, who had insisted he “had to see İstanbul.” So he immediately bought the cheap tickets, and left for an eight-day trip to İstanbul.

But when he returned to Spain, he found he missed the friends he had made in Turkey and the general feel he had gotten from İstanbul so much that he decided to return and enroll in a one-month Turkish course in İstanbul.

Until 2008, he continued to travel back and forth from Barcelona to İstanbul. He worked the whole time as a Catalan-English translator, but at the same time he was slowly learning more Turkish. Interestingly, during the same period of time, he also accepted a job heading up a writing group for a 95,000-word Spanish-English dictionary in Barcelona as well as trying his hand at making short films.

Around two years ago, a friend of Isenberg’s who worked in the cinema and television sector told Isenberg about an idea for a travel program in Turkey. Together, they prepared a project which they then presented to TRT. “The pilot we made was very well received. And so we began the program in August of 2009. I found the sheer levels of travel I did very tiring, but at the same time, the experience I gained was invaluable. I loved how much the viewers loved the program. Something I love the most about Turkey is the hospitality of people, and how much they help others out. They treated me so well, despite the fact that I am a foreigner, which is why I believe that Europeans and Americans could learn so much from here,” he said.