Being Lost

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Surrounded by men with dark hair and women wearing colourful headscarves I obviously got a lot of attention while waiting for my aeroplane to Gaziantep. I was eighteen years old and had decided to spend half a year in Southeast-Turkey before starting university. An old woman, eager to find out why I was going to Gaziantep, approached me. She assured me that Antep was a beautiful city and its food delicious. After I had declined her offer to buy me a coffee twice, she went to the counter and returned with two cups. It was my first experience with Turkish hospitality; countless friendly words and cups of coffee would follow. It was this warmth that made me feel welcome in Turkey and assured me EVS had been a good choice. Yet I felt incredibly lost during the first days in Gaziantep. Without friends, a mutual language, and a safe home to return to I felt like a first grader in secondary school again: overwhelmed by many new impressions. Although I settled quickly, the feeling of being overwhelmed by both friends and strangers did not go away. Their stories changed my view on the world, confused me, and impacted my life.

My host organization had developed several projects focused on disadvantaged children and youngsters. Every week I went to the oncology hospital of Gaziantep and visited the children over there. We made beautiful drawings and folded aeroplanes out of paper. One day I stood with my fellow volunteers in the elevator when a woman asked us what we were doing in the hospital. Another woman, mother of one of the children, answered: “They are foreigners who play with the children,” She smiled, “I happy they are here, because they are doing a great job.” She herself, however, was most incredible of all people in the elevator. Every time I came to the hospital, this mother would be there: singing softly and hugging her daughter. She made me realize that courage is not merely about doing things you are afraid of, rather it is making the best of a situation you do not want to be in.

I was not the only stranger in town. Apart from the other EVS-volunteers, there were many Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Gaziantep. I became friends with Aya, an Iraqi girl who had fled Baghdad ten years earlier and was waiting for permission of the UNHCR to move to a western state. On a cold day in January she invited me to her home, a two-room apartment that she shared with her three siblings and parents. Aya showed me family pictures, her mother immediately made us coffee, and Aya’s little sisters danced with me. I had found a home away from home, and wondered why this family could not be offered the same in the western world.

I spoke with Syrian youngsters, who had been sent to Turkey by their parents. One boy, Ahmad, told me a friend of his was arrested by troops of the government and thrown into prison without being tried. Ahmad was not sure whether he would see his friend ever again, yet he spoke without emotion. Some weeks later I encountered Ahmad again and this time we spoke about the Houla massacre. Western media and Aljazeera accused the government, but Ahmad, definitely not a proponent of president Assad, argued rebel troops were responsible for the killings. This confused me, because if Ahmad could not take sides in this conflict, then how would the rest of the world be able to?

My favourite project was visiting the boys who lived in a shelter my host organization had good relations with. Although their lives were full of problems, the boys were always polite, happy, and hospitable. I spoke with them about school and soccer, an English-Turkish dictionary close by. We played table soccer and two boys even made me do arm wrestling. It was like having a bunch of brothers. I spent the evening before going back to the Netherlands with the boys; we played a last match of table soccer, and had supper together. When I finally left, I got many hugs and kisses, and everyone told me I could come back any time, because I was part of their family. Hours before I boarded my aeroplane I was already homesick for my beloved Gaziantep.

When I look back at my time in Turkey, I realize EVS was mostly about getting lost. Physically, when I strolled around in unknown parts of Gaziantep and mentally when I tried to identify myself and did not understand the world around me. The beauty of being lost, however, is discovering things you would otherwise have missed.
At the end of the day, all the sights, moments and experiences I encountered by accident are more important than the confusion, frustration, and tears. EVS changed my life and I never want to go back to who I used to be.

Fifth Edition

5While closing the 4th edition of Scriptamanent, after the final meeting in Izmir, we are already preparing the new call for the next edition of the project. Stay tuned!

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