We had a very busy almost two days in Turkey's capital city! We went to the American Embassy, Atatürk's Mausoleum, were introduced to our Foreign Service Mentors, went to the Turkish Parliament Building, and then visited some museums and the Ankara Castle before flying to Kayseri.
At the embassy we received a brief presentation of the citizen services that they have, and more cultural advice from diplomats that work there, then a security briefing from the Assistant Regional Security Officer. In November or December Deniz (who i believe works in Youth and Civil Services) and Stephanie (who is the Deputy Cultural Attachè) are going to visit us in Kayseri and Gaziantep to meet our families, come to our schools, and see how our lives are going. The security briefing is usually for diplomats who have just moved to Turkey, so most of the usual advice didn't really apply seeing a we would neither be in Ankara, working in the embassy, nor living by ourselves. Mostly, we were reminded that getting by in English wouldn't be easy in smaller cities like Kayseri and Antep and that we will stand out by nature and have to work to blend in.
Visit to the Anıtkabir
After the embassy we went to the Anıtkabir, the masoleum if Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. I don't feel informed enough to give an actual overview of Atatürk's accomplishments (there are monster bibliographies) but he was the leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, and is greatly respected throughout Turkey. Hence, the Anıtkabir is an incredibly important and beautiful place. Walking up to it, the stones on the path are all rectangular, but slightly raised and different widths and lengths. Can said this is supposed to make you have to walk carefully and look at the ground as you approach, a gesture of respect.
Around the structure are uniformed guards, the kind that don't move a hair while posted. It is said that on some days when tons of people visit the Anıtkabir, like holidays that honor Atatürk, it can be so emotional that the guards cry. Because they don't move, people come with tissues and wipe their tears for them.
Inside the museum portion of the monument was breathtaking. I only have a basic understanding of Atatürk's achievements, but there were cases and cases of the most gorgeous and luxurious things that were presented to him as gifts by a wide assortment of world leaders. Swords and cigarette cases, tea sets and walking sticks made of gold and silver, inlaid with precious stones- from Shahs and Prime Ministers. We didn't get to spend all too much time in it since it was closing soon, but we got to have a quick walk through an exhibit of his wardrobe, books, some personal items, paintings of the Turkish War for Independence, and a very thorough history of his life (there is even a small piece of concrete from his elementary school). Go read a bit about Atatürk, seriously. I don't remember ever hearing about him in American school, but Turkey is full of statues and photos of him, and I think it's a rule that every classroom has to have his portrait.
Foreign Service Mentors
After the Anıtkabir we went to Stephanie's house where we had a delicious home-made Turkish dinner and saw a little into the life of a foreign service member (she moved from the states last year with her husband and two small children, and after moving back to the East coast for a bit next year, I think she said they are hoping her next post will be in Cambodia). We were also each given a foreign service mentor, an American working at the embassy that we can contact with questions about the foreign service or embassy/consolate, that might visit us during the year, and can send us care packages (apparently they stock American things that you can't buy in Turkey, like peanut butter, in the embassy...?). My mentor is Ms. Tedde Thompson, who is the Deputy Press Attaché. She went to school for journalism, and now coordinates the details when an important American diplomat visits Turkey. Not only do the American and Turkish press have to be contacted and organized, every detail of the visit has to be completely planned, and all people accounted for (tons of assistants and whatnot always accompany important people). She also told me about the difference between an embassy as a consulate: a consulate takes care of citizens abroad and handles things like issuing visas, while an embassy more represents a country's government abroad.
Turkish Parliament Visit
We also had a chance to visit the Turkish Parliament Building, where the Grand National Assembly of Turkey meets. We had a lecture on how it functions and, as expected, the procedures sound rather complicated. Here is a brief overview of the highlights:
-there are 550 deputies elected on four year terms, that represent the 81 administrative provinces if Turkey
-the assembly has been meeting for 92 years
- they meet 3 times a week for 4 hours, each deputy is allowed to miss 5 meetings a month
-there are 90 female deputies
-there are multiple stenographers (professional note takers) always present, they record everything word for word and rotate every three minutes to immediately publish their notes
-it takes 120 deputies to make a law and 365 to alter the constitution
-they vote on things by scanning their fingerprint at the computer on each desk
-they are seated right to left by party, the most are from the Prime Minister's party, but the four main parties are represented
-all of the chairs are orange, the Speaker of the Parliament has the darkest chair, and they get lighter as the importance level goes down; the public gallery has pale orange seating
The man giving the tour kept comparing certain aspects to the functions of other country's legislative bodies, 'You know, this is like how they do it in Britain' as though we would be informed. Do Turkish students learn about other country's governments? I haven't really, these comparisons were mostly lost on me.
Goodbye Gaziantep Girls, Hello Kayseri!
After the parliament visit we split with Ruby, Linnie, Olivia, and Bridget who flew to Gaziantep with Can, while Hana, Rya and I stayed with Cemre (the most organized and also most demanded AFS employee I have ever seen, she does so much, and her phone is constantly ringing, I thank her dearly for doing such a large part to make this all possible). We remained in Ankara for a few more hours, visiting a technology museum, a history museum, and the Anakara Castle. The Ankara castle is a ruin on the top of a hill in the center of the city and has the most incredible view of all of Ankara.
That night, we flew to Kayseri, which is surrounded by mountains. Rya and Hana say that beyond the mountains there is desert, dunes and all, but I was sleeping...