How do you say goodbye to people from two continents away, whom you’ve met only twice in 13 months, whom you may never see again, and who have become more dear to you than many people you have known all your life? It isn’t just the fact of distance that makes the parting so hard. It is the deep and unexpected connections we made across the anticipated but un-materialized barriers of language and custom.
We said goodbye to our Turkish friends this evening after a beautiful closing ceremony they created for us. This day followed the remarkable events of yesterday, which included the final community celebration and performances by the children and teens of the two Gaziosmampasa District schools where our Cleveland/Istanbul arts education project has been working this past year.
The photos below will tell some of the story, and I previewed this inspiring project in earlier blogs this year and last year as well, but nothing I can say can convey the magic that happened here, with these children who had never seen a play, let alone written and performed in one…who never played an instrument, yet learned to use their own bodies as amazing percussion instruments, in rhythm and perfect synchronization with one another…who had never seen even fingerpaints, but learned the difficult, beautiful skill of paper marbling.
The American counsel general, the mayor of the district, the assistant minister of education, and other officials sat in the front row before the tiny elementary school stage. Mothers in head scarves, board members from Yoret (the sponsoring social service organization), and masses of schoolchildren filled the small room to overflowing.
“Goodbye, America,” they said as they hugged us and kissed our cheeks. “We want you to stay.” “Tell Obama we love him,” said some. I have a letter one child asked us to deliver to the White House “when you see him.”
The project continues for three more months, and we have a report to deliver to the State Department and a training manual for Turkish counselors and teachers still needs to be written. We helped make many connections between our project and several Turkish universities, which may help it continue. We hope so. But now, we must pack and get ready for the long, bittersweet trip home. We say “Tesekkur ederim”* to Turkey, to our dear friends, to the children, and for this amazing experience.
As always, click on a photo to view it full size.