Years ago I had received several grants from OSIAF to take my notion of civic participation to places where I thought there was a lot of interest but little tradition or experience, mostly at the university level, mostly here in Turkey but also with some countries in the region. While my life in this charming town is richer than in the megalopolis of Istanbul, I do miss being directly connected to national and international organizations that are working towards the very large genre of the belief that a better life is possible.
Two dedicated individuals from two such organizations were visiting us, staying right next door to me, and allowing me to engage in conversations that I had missed, right in my own backyard. When people make such an effort to come visit you, you listen to their goals, try to ascertain how they see you and your work, and gradually you understand how they see the possibility of working together. This was, after all, not another international business interest looking for inexpensive goods to market with a good story… Moldova is now working on reintegration of individuals to society, working to ‘de-institutionalize’ those who were housed in institutions for far too long. In some cases, parents and children who had been separated were still learning how to be a family. The basic premise of our potential cooperation was that if some of the children, many who were now adults, could learn some of the techniques we use to make some of our items, their mothers could finish them off, thus working together on a common project for a common goal. We were honored and pleased to be part of this endeavor. In early September, three women arrived from 3 different towns in Moldova, to train with us for a week. We thought we were ready for them, but we were not ready for the emotions that wove around all of us, that made us laugh, that made our chests swell with pride, that made us cry. Our core ladies showed the way, initially with my linguistic assistance, then on their own. They were warm and yet tough teachers, making sure the standards were set high from the beginning, while all the while making sure our guests felt part of our team, that they too were çöp(m)adamlar. The visitors gave the opportunity their all, working together to learn all they could, keeping their ears and eyes open all the while to other goings-on in our workshop, asking questions about how we operate or about the culture.
Our guests were fascinated with Ayvalik: the stone houses, cobblestone streets, numerous cats and the call to prayer. They were impressed with the kindness of strangers, even with no common language. During lunch, our only down-time together, they talked about their homes, their children, where they work, how the respective countries were similar. Cross-cultural exchanges should always be so genuine. At the end of the visit, we ‘allowed’ them to go the beach. After all, many people come to Ayvalik to swim in the lovely waters, and after all, Moldova is a land-locked country. But they had worked hard, even working after hours on their own, and they deserved some time off. Before we sent them off, we congratulated them on their progress, mutually thanked each other, and hugged and kissed in a collective send-off. There was not a dry eye in the workshop. For the visitors, we provided an opportunity for them to take their own work to a different level. For their part, the visitors provided an opportunity for our ladies that no one else has done: to connect at a personal level internationally beyond our foreign customers by sharing their expertise with others who will in turn train yet other people for a purpose we didn’t even know existed. As with all thorough trainings, there will be a follow-up, and two of us will go to Moldova in November to make sure that the techniques we taught are lasting ones, and to see how others work with throw-away materials to make cool and trendy items with a different work force than women who have never previously worked for pay. Another wonderful experience in the life of the garbage ladies.