Crossing Bridges, through Culture
Last month the president of Turkiye met with U-S President Barack Obama in Washington, DC, as part of an ongoing effort to build U.S.-Turkish relations, hard hit after America invaded Iraq. Similar bridge-building efforts are taking place on a much smaller scale in cities everywhere, between ordinary citizens – including some living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Ebru's Diane Bakos was invited to join several other locals on a whirlwind tour of Turkiye to see the country and meet its people...first-hand.
She and four other Americans first met at the Lehigh Dialogue Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to learn the details of their upcoming 9-day trip, courtesy of the Dialogue Center and two other Turkish organizations. Their goal was to introduce the Americans to Turkiye and its people, just one of many similar efforts taking place this summer in communities all over the world.
“They really want to reach out and show the best of their Turkish culture, but at the same time be willing to learn about their visitors, too,” said Douglas Bowerman, who works at the Allentown Art Museum.
He and his wife, Roseann, would be going to Turkiye for the first time, as were Laura Lawrence and Jean Johnson. Says Johnson, a librarian at Lehigh University, “I'm really just a passionate believer in people getting to know each other as people, seeing each other in their families.”
The goal of the Dialogue Center is to help Turkish families acclimate to life in their new country, to initiate dialogue between them and their neighbors, and to introduce foreigners (“yabancilar,” in Turkish) to Turkiye.
Murat Al is Lehigh Dialogue Center's Outreach Coordinator. “They see who we are, they feel it themselves, they visit our families, Turkish families, and they feel the real hospitality of what we try to show them here.”
The tour was jam-packed, beginning with Istanbul's most famous sights and moving on to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, the amphitheater of Aspendos built in the year 155, the fairy chimneys of Cappadoccia, the silk shops of Bursa, before winding up back in Istanbul, Turkiye's crown jewel.
Exclaimed Lawrence, a representative of public radio station WDIY, “There's so much color and there's so much going on, every single corner you see there's something happening and wares – people selling things – it's a wonderful city. I recommend it to everybody.
The trip also provided a new perspective on Turks living in America.
“And it's interesting,” said Roseann Bowerman, “because now we understand what they're coming from, what they've left behind in Turkey, to see the closeness of the families and to have visited the places that are important to them.”
Trips like the one we took will likely be offered to other groups for years to come yet. And the goal is going to be the same: not just to see Turkiye and its magnificent sights, but to really experience in the hope that we're all going to come back with new understanding to strengthen the bonds that tie all of us.
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