Students at the McGhee Center can find themselves a little isolated from Turkish life. A bunch of American students live in an apartment building together; they walk together from this apartment building to another place where they have class with American professors; at night they return home to talk on Skype or share photos on Instagram with their American friends and family.
Knowing this, the program emphasizes that students build a relationship with a local Turkish family. In years past, the families have been a bit aloof – many owned hotels and lived far outside of Alanya. Now students are paired with “real families” in Alanya – engineers, teachers, doctors, yoga instructors. The students met their host families this week at a chichi cocktail party near the beach. Most of the families are quite liberal and speak very good English – one student’s family bucked this trend, though. I tagged along with her to dinner to help translate (though at least 3 times out 10 my translation sounded something like this: “I have absolutely no idea what he said, though I heard the words window and guest.”).
Mustafa Bey, the father, and two of his daughters picked us up near the Lojman. After exchanging brief hellos, there was silence, broken by Mustafa telling his daughters to introduce themselves properly. Both girls have studied English in school, but they were very shy to talk at first. Our conversation slipped back and forth between Turkish and whispered English, making it somewhat difficult to translate. After picking up fresh bread from an “Ekmek Fabrikası/Food Factory,” we climbed up the stairs and swapped our shoes for slippers before sitting down on the couch. Zehra Hanım, the mother, fussed over our spot on the couch (we switched to one with a better view of the balcony) and asked several times whether we had enough to eat (probably too much to eat).
The language barrier was high, but I think we managed to cross it, between my attempts to translate Mustafa’s stories and the daughters’ vocabulary help. Topics of conversation included: Alanya’s history as a Selcuk capital; the linguistic implications of switching from the Arabic alphabet to the Latin alphabet in the 1920s; school; and Americans’ favorite animals.
My favorite part of the evening was watching parent-teenage daughter relationship dynamics play out. Mustafa used two separate cameras to take pictures of us all on the couch, saying, “There are 5 lovely ladies in my home! Of course I must document it! Each of the girls cried out, “Babaaaaa/Daaaaaad” in the same tone American teenagers use to bemoan their parents. Throughout the night the girls would mutter under their breath things like: “Dad, they don’t want to talk about such a boring topic,” “Mom they can’t eat any more food, don’t bring them more food,” or (my personal favorite) “Why would you ask whether school is interesting? Of course we aren’t excited for school, it’s boooooring.” I guess it’s universal that teenage daughters find their parents a bit embarrassing.
We ended the night with cheek kisses, and on the drive home listened to Yunus Emre’s poetry put to song. It was really lovely, and I’d be thrilled to visit Mustafa and Zehre again.