Orientation has been great so far: 8 hours of day of interesting and useful information broken up by 3 delicious meals and 2 tea breaks. The Fulbright Turks have taken us to see Ataturk’s Mausoleum, but other than a couple walks around the neighborhood we’ve been fully scheduled in the hotel, meeting other Fulbright ETAs, listening to lectures and learning Turkish. Yesterday was by far my favorite day so far. After lunch we met our university representatives.
The assistant rector or Ataturk came to see us for Erzurum folks (2nd in command of the whole shebang). He sat down with the four of us and started in Turkish. I was the point person and managed a good five minutes of Turkish. Then one of the Fulbright staff translated for us. The rector really seems to have our back and made a phone call during the whole thing to check that our on campus apartments are fully furnished and ready. The university is 55,000 students on campus, big place. It’s cold. It’s wonderful.
That evening the Fulbrighters were invited to the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corp’s arrival in Turkey at the US embassy house. We arrived to an outside garden greeted by trays of hors’ d’oeuvres and glasses of wine and whiskey. We all looked at each other and nervously agreed, “now we mingle”. I walked up to two Turkish men and introduced myself in Turkish. The first thing Metin and Ibrahim did was hand me business cards. They’re part of an NGO named “Kimse Yok Mu” (Isn’t There Anyone?). They handled a bunch of US aid given for the earthquake in Van a couple years ago, but actually mostly deal with money Turks give to charitable causes around the world (i.e. Bosnian orphans, Burma and Peru). One of them had worked in New York for 3 years as the principal of a private high school that won a bunch of science award (perhaps Gulen affilated?) He talked about his kids who are my age and both in the US for school and how early in his life he’d made and sold baklava. The deputy chief of mission (#2 to the US ambassador) came and greeted us all (more exchanging of business cards) and remembered the aid grant the US had given, after he left, Ibrahim and Metin both asked me why I didn’t have business cards. They asked about Fulbright and what I was doing and after checking for a third time if I had a business card, settled for telling me to email them.
Mingling continued and I talked to an American woman in her 50’s who came over in her 20’s teaching English, married a Turk and had taught for the last 36 years. Then the Deputy Chief of Mission spoke to the group and introduced one of the women who came 50 years ago with the Peace Corp who talked about being here when JFK was assassinated and how Turks would come over to sit with them and grieve. She talked about Turks’ disappointment and consternation when America and NATO didn’t support them in Cyprus, and how the Turks had gone to Korea for us. One of the other women from the Peace Corp in the 1960’s had been a nurse who helped set up the university hospital in Erzurum that still thrives, back when there were 2 cars in the entire city. And we thought we were in adventurous! The next woman I met was a Turkish marblist. (Whose first words were an apology of not having a business card.) She talked about what being a sculptor was like in Turkey, her exhibitions and the students of her studio. She was wearing high heals that would continually sink into the grass. You could see her getting shorter and shorter and then extricating herself from the grass, but being very much stuck exactly where she was. She has come to the US for her masters 23 years before and stayed with a host family who was at the reception as well. They had kept in contact and visited her 5 times over the years. Such long-standing relationships! It was definitely the most I’ve ever liked mingling.
At this point we were whisked from the reception, where we all had eaten too much, to dinner at a really nice restaurant. We ate, struggled in Turkish and joked with our vice-vector once again as he told us he would be our “guardian angel” through the year if we ever needed anything. Eight appetizers, a salad, three kinds of meat and three desserts later we left the restaurant and returned to our hotel around 10pm. It was definitely a good day.
I’ve got another week of orientation in Ankara and then I’ll head to Erzurum.