It is very late. We travelled from Istanbul to Canakkale on the European side past Gallipoli and across the ferry. We arrived at 6:30pm and have had dinner and gone to a sufi music and whirling dirvish concert (the latter being a very late addition to the program). The others have gone for icecream and pastries but it is 11pm and we have to catch the boat to Gallipoli (the VIP boat with the Mayor of Canakkale) at 3pm in time for the dawn service at 5:30am, so there will be no rest for us tonight.
We are staying in a “boutique” hotel here. And it is very small but very luxurious. Canakkale is a bit of a seaside resort tourist town. Reminds me of the French Riviera but then I have never been to the French Riviera so what would I know!? The Sydney party have caught up with us and are staying here too, so I rather suspect we have the whole place to ourselves.
I began the day with a trip up to the “No Name Internet Cafe” (yes, technically that is its name-a philosophical conundrum that has quite amused Emre) to blog yesterdays events. I was offered a cup of tea to drink while at the console. You get offered tea everywhere here in Turkey–black and with two sugar cubes. No milk. Suggestion: Use both cubes. It goes down a treat and gives you both a sugar and a caffeine fix in the one go. Very necessary on constant journeys like this. Of course, in this case it was not gratis. My usual 1 YTL an hour fee was raised to 2 YTL. Never mind. It was nice. I had to buy a new battery recharger too, so got one from a little electrical store on the corner around from the hotel. The streets are busy today. We arrived on the Saturday of what is the equivalent to a long weekend. No wonder the city seemed so quite. Today all the hustle and bustle was back in action.
First stop was Fetih College, a Prep to Yr 12 private school. They have 850 primary and 220 Secondary students, but the high school has a capacity for 480 and they only use their primary school as a feeder so they are working their way up to full capacity. The school is only 3 years old. It is a very tidy school with a strong philosophy of mixing learning with faith values. Not at all the cup of tea of the secular government, but doing such a marvellous job that there are schools being set up in other countries (eg. Islamabad) on the same model. Met the librarian during the tour. Yes, they use Dewey Decimal System in Turkey too. (Sorry, professional interest==I was a librarian in a previous life). Normal fees for the school are from $3000 for kindergarten up to $5000 per annum for Year 5 and $12000 for Years 11 and 12, but more than half the students are on full scholarships. We began the tour in a grand auditorium with a 15 metre by 4 metre mural across the front of the Gallipoli battle–from the Turkish perspective! It is something to be looking at the “invasion” from the top of the hill rather than the other way around. That’s what tomorrow will be like to a certain extent–gaining a fuller perspective on the events that surrounded this area 90 years ago.
The students at the school all learn English and there is evidence of this built into the very fabric of the school. There are slogans and sayings in English on the staircase steps. Some say “Don’t be mean”, “Be happy, don’t worry”, “Ankara is the capital of Turkey”, and “The Barking dog doesn’t bark” (sic!) but our favourite was “Turkey is a more interesting city than Bulgaria.” Obviously, they don’t get many Bulgarian visitors…
Then it was back in the bus and driving off to the new areas of Istanbul (where homes have swimming pools and cost 1.5 million dollars) where Fatih College is located. [Fetih = Conquer ; Fatih = Conqueror; but as the guide at the University said, “it is not about conquering lands but conquering hearts”). This is also a private establishment with a very broad offering of disciplines and offering scholarships to people from all over the world. Australian Catholic University and Victoria University both have sister university relationships with Fatih. Four years ago, one of my first jobs as Executive Officer of the Commission was to welcome visitors to Melbourne from Fatih, and to introduce them to the Archbishop. We had lunch here, and then got on the bus to leave Istanbul for Canakkale.
We travelled by the freeway west around the Sea of Marmara down to the Gallipoli Peninsula along the Dardanelles. On the freeway, our driver, Jan, without seatbelt, was driving over 140 kmh. Mind you, no seat belts for us either… Only a few close calls, at which time you just close your eyes and think of Australia…
The countryside at first was very ordinary. I haven’t had a chance yet to make my observation that Istanbul was a city of stone heaps–some of them arranged in exquisitely pleasing architectural designs, but many were just heaps. It is a stony place, rocky land. Marble is a big export from Turkey. But the stones gave way to greenery eventually and the scenary was more like the Europe I had seen in books, except that the villages had a mosque in the centre rather than a church. We passed through several seaside resorts, and then were in open countryside after about an hour. We stopped for tea at a road house, bought more batteries for the cameras, told “knock knock” jokes (yes, Maddy and Mia, we had both the “cows go” one and the “interupting cow” one), and then continued our journey.
As we came down the Gallipoli peninsula, I was all confused about exactly where the landing and the fighting took place and managed to record myself saying on the video “This is where they landed and thats where they fought” when in fact they landed and fought on the other side of the Peninsula. Never mind, my colleagues are educating me. I didn’t have any family members fighting in either of the great world wars, neither did I ever do Australian history, so I am a bit vague about all this Gallipoli business. The other members of the tour, on the other hand, are experts. They are all very excited at the prospect of tommorow mornings events. I am getting interested. (Mostly at this point I just want to sleep).
At our dinner tonight, which was hosted by the Director of an Educational Institute in Canakkale at a restaurant in the Village of Intepe overlooking the Gallipoli Peninsula (I got a great shot at sunset), the other guest of honour was the Mufti of Canakkale. He made a speech welcoming us to Gallipoli and saying how the Koran sees variety in the tribes and nations as God giving us an opportunity to get to know one another. I was asked to respond, so I did so by telling both the story of the Tower of Babel and the story of Pentecost, and that when people of different languages and races live together in peace and learn to speak the same language it is a gift from God, and then I blessed God for bringing us here and asked for God’s blessings upon the Mufti and the other leaders of the Cannakale community who were present. There were other guests in the restaurant–locals–and everyone clapped after both the Mufti’s speech and my own. (Translations given both ways of course)/
Then there was a surprise addition of the Whirling Dervish, Sufi music concert. A World renouned singer was giving a concert here for the occasion and we had seats reserved. I am not a great fan of sufi music (I have to admit it) but there was energy and power in his singing and all the people were clapping and singing along. Very Turkish. Add to that the Ottomon Imperial style band (in traditional turkish dress) and it was quite a night.
I like to talk about my children whenever I can. After the concert, I met a little boy who is the son of one of the head politicians here in Canakkale. He was six years old like Mia and I showed him the picture of my family in my wallet. His father was an officer in the military before being retrenched because he was “too religious”. The Military is very secular, practically atheistic. It gives a different meaning to the term “militant atheism” when the military are the atheists. Now
he is a leader ?n the AK Party, the ruling party in Turkey.
Time for bed now. The cafe is closing and it is a quarter to midnight.