Merhaba, everyone! Ah, I am hopelessly behind in blogging, as we weren't able to secure wireless access for a few days here at Sabanci University. We are currently on the Asian side of Istanbul, and we are staying in the dorms at Sabanci. We are here to engage in several scholarly pursuits, albeit the largely "lecture" part of the Fulbright. Mostly, our wonderful leader Gottfried has been filling in with mini-lectures as we move from place to place.
Sabanci is a very prestigious university here in Turkey. It is basically their Harvard. Consequently, there are numerous famous scholars here, which we have been able to engage with this week. Here's a small smattering of the talks we've experienced:
Dr. Hakan Erdem: late Ottoman Empire, Ataturk, and Turkish Modernity
Dr. Asuman Suner: Introduction to Turkish Cinema
Dr. Ayse Gul Altinay: Myth of the Military Nation
Dr. Hulya Adak and Dr. Ayse Yuksel: United Nations Project in Turkey Promoting and Protecting Women and Girls' Human Rights
I won't go into the content of each lecture, but the one that captured me the most was the one on promoting and protecting women and girls. No big surprise there, for those of you who know me! These two professors, in conjunction with the United Nations, have been building a program to raise awareness regarding gender and sexuality issues. There is currently a week long workshop for several teacher in Turkey right here at Sabanci. They are working through modules that address such issues as gender bias in textbooks used in the schools, the normalization of violence, the psychology of adolescence, etc... These issues are very problematic in Turkish schools, as there is currently no program to deal with these issues in the curriculum. We found, through talking with the Turkish teachers at lunch, and through viewing and discussing a Turkish village film with them this evening, that we share many of the same educational and social concerns in our respective schools.
I don't have the name of the film in front of me right now, but the concept was amazing. Village women were interviewed about their life stories. Then, the women put together a theatrical production, telling the stories of their lives. Their "voices" were heard in a most powerful way, and issues related to domestic violence, childbirth, marriage, alcoholism, gender issues in raising boys vs. girls, etc... all became touchstones in this film. The film tracked the rehearsals, showing various women vying for a variety of roles in the production... some did not want to "star" in their own story. Some of the stories had never been told to anyone, not even a family member. The concept of "keeping family secrets," especially when they relate to violence, clearly makes women very vulnerable and despairing targets. The strength and the intrinsic ability to rise above adversity through human connection was evident as the women took their final bows in front of an appreciative village audience.
There were moments in the interviews that, again, connected with many issues we deal with in American culture. One of those issues, discussed by a woman who was raising a son, was especially poignant. She talked about how she cannot change her husband, but as a mother raising a son she can begin to institute change in how males and females relate to one another. Having four daughters myself, I will not be able to contribute to this transoformation; however, though my work at school with at least 75 young men each year, I hope to be a part of that powerful change that makes living together better for both females and males...
Other hot news... Oprah Winfrey is in Istanbul right now!!! We're hearing she loves Turkey so very much that she announced that she announced she was "half Turkish" now. We all wish Oprah well on her journey... As a teacher of literature, I am thankful to Oprah for encouraging so many people to read both classics and modern texts through her Book Club novels.
Just a word about the food... Gottfried has spoiled us for life with the banquets of delights that cover our dinner tables. Here at Sarbanci University, though, we are using the cafeteria food. Cafeteria food, apparently, is universal. We've been eating a great deal of lentil soup, chicken, hazlenut pudding, rice pilah, etc... We've discovered an appetizer that we all crave, and Gottfried even looked up the recipe for us today. It involves many tomatoes, peppers, onions, and some spices we will have to find in the Spice Bazaar when we return to Istanbul at the end of our journey.
I wish you a peaceful day filled with skies as blue and clear as they are above the Bosphorous...