28/06/2011

I remember when this was all fields: Adiyman 2011

A number of years ago I was one of six young foreigners who went to volunteer in the eastern city of Adiyaman, a tiny watermelon-loving settlement in the Kurdish east of Turkey. The job was to teach English over three month period to thirty of the city's children, co-ordinated and funded by the South-East Anatolian Project fund for development in the traditionally impoverished south-east.

Unfortunate for the local education authority, the original project had it's funding completely removed by Ankara in 2009. This came as no suprise to anyone involved in the camp, as a vast ammount of cash was squandered on inessential items in the first few weeks. I'm glad I wasn't at that meeting.
Returning now, I can see that our small scheme has had a sustained effect on young people there - in no small way thanks to individuals such as ever-enthusiastic local English teacher, Serdar Tunc, and intripid Washington-based do-gooder Lindsay Trice, to name but two. For the beauty of the scheme in the last two years is the fact that politicians have not interfered at all - and they weren't invited anyway. The new volunteers are treated to stay with host familes who are made aware of their responsibilities to their guests (as if this needed stating, such is the extent of small-town hospitality). A local school is being used freely as a space to teach classes in the day while any activities are funded communally by the students, parents and teachers.
By far the most impressive feature this year however, has been that the original students who benefitted from the pilot scheme are now speaking English to the extent that they are assisting the new teachers in the classroom. A sense of responisibility glows in their faces with not a trace of oneupmanship on their peers. I really feel that this project will have a sustained positive effect on Adiyaman. For better or worse, this is something the education authority might be keen to exploit in the future, but hopefully it will take a while before they decide to act on it.
Adiyaman: Spreadig over the Plains
In any case, one small English project isn't the only thing pointing to a brighter future for Adiyman. Adiyaman is one of several towns which claim the title of "Turkey's fastest growing". However I would contend that it has a good chance at being top of the league table amongst these 'Anatolian Tigers'. Taking any bus route from the centre to the outskirts of town (well, former outskirts), I feel much like my grandfather must have done walking me to school pointing around, saying 'I remember when this was all fields...'.
Looking over the skyline I ask Serdar, "apart from the endless new apartment blocks" slowly climbing the surrounding slopes around the city "what else is new in town?". He gestured around, "they completed the roads here, new hospital over there, new university medical faculty here. They start accepting students this September."
I learnt a number of years ago that the quality of the current hospital here puts many British wards to shame. While I worked at the camp, one of our students fell and suffered a deep cut to his forehead. Used to the chaos of hospital visits in our respective countries, I and my Canadian colleague grabbed our books, crossword puzzles, card sets and snacks, before rushing out to the hospital to join the queue. After fifteen minutes we were out. I hadn't even sat down.
Although development and urbanisation are still very much the hall-marks of the spralling contrete metropolises of the west coast, in Anatolia things are changing like they never have. When I got back to Tarsus yesterday and related my shock regarding the rate of development, a local friend simply offered; "it's the same all over Turkey, because the economy is so good". Back in my beloved, if stubborn, Izmir they would spit out their drinks upon hearing such anathema.
Just like development under Labour Britain, which turned out to all be financed on dreams, or projections of dreams - for the sceptics, the government hasn't even succeeded in economics or development: it is all a facade. Although most of the time this position is just bias, the way the government fought the election campaign in the big cities didn't do much to convert the unbelievers. I agree with them that it was rather crass to convert whole chunks of cities into building sites just befor election time, with giant photoshoped erdogan faces covering every one like a neon arrow pointing to development. On the other hand, one wonders if some kemalists will ever have the humility to consider that a hospital in Adiyman is way more progressive than learning to dance or taking off a fez, or as Kilicdaroglu would have it, just giving everyone 600TL.
Whatever the politics of it all, which had had no effect on developing the town in the last century, no one could ever have dreamed of this kind of thing ten years ago in Adiyman.

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