early morning perspectives from within and withoutTom Lloyd | March 8, 2010
I found myself waking up ready to go at 6:00 am again, but instead of taking a “second sleep” and waking up groggy after another hour, I decided to look up a few subjects on line that had come up in various conversations on the bus yesterday. I ended up finding two online references that pertained directly to issues on our trip, and so went ahead and emailed them to the students and my faculty colleagues on the tour in advance of our first small group discussions among ourselves this morning where we will try to “debrief” some of the wide range of intensive experiences we’ve had in just a couple of days.
The first had to do with today’s observance of “National Women’s Day” which our Turkish tour guides brought to my attention yesterday, and which I had never heard of before – see www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=international-women8217s-day-to-be-celebrated-around-country-2010-03-07
for background on this.
But what I wanted to share with the parents and friends reading this blog is the email I sent out to our gang related to a book review in yesterday’s Sunday NYTimes which fit in perfectly with what we will be discussing in our groups this morning: what does it mean to encounter an unfamiliar culture, and what are we to make of all the experiences this encounter brings? Of course, it is silly of me to think that any of the students will see my email or have time to read it before returning home even if they do – but I sent it anyway, mainly in a halting attempt to organize my own conflicted thoughts before our discussions, and partly for later reflection by the students after we return home, which they know is an important part of the whole experience. Here is my morning missive:
There happens to be a review in yesterday’s NYTimes Book Review of a book by Christopher de Bellaigue, an English writer for The Economist who moved to Turkey in 1995 after falling in love with a Turkish woman, became immersed in Turkish culture and fluent in the language, but becomes so enthralled with the Kemalist nationalist version of history that he exposes himself to blistering international criticism for a piece he writes in The New York Review of Books in 2001 “containing a blandly pro-Turkish account of the fate of the Ottoman Armenians.”
After moving to Iran (following another love affair, this time leading to marriage) he decides to reinvestigate the complexities of the modern history of southeastern Anatolia by spending a good deal of time in the town of Varto, beginning in 2005, resulting in this latest book which takes a much more complicated view of the genocide and overall issues of ethnicity and history in Turkey.
I pass this along as an illustration for us, as we are now visiting Turkey for the first time and for only ten days, of how easy it is to think that we as outsiders can understand a culture, its people, and its history even after lengthy exposure. This is not a reason to avoid contact with an unfamiliar culture. Quite the contrary. It is a cautionary lesson that the goal of travel abroad to an unfamiliar cultural landscape for any length of time should be to make ourselves more aware of how much we don’t know about the experience and perspectives of others, to question the common wisdom and assumptions about a culture and its history whether coming from outside or inside that culture, and to appreciate even more acutely how illusive the “truth” is about any human story, especially when we delude ourselves that we can “possess” that story and allow ourselves the pride of privileged understanding. – Tom