“Helllo, helllo.” Giggles follow and we’re really not sure which which little person down below us in the school yard is saying it – because now, all their heads are down and they’re scurrying off.
This is the village of Doğansu, close to the town of Patnos in Ağrı, East Turkey. Some of the people we did our East Turkey road trip with work at the local school and we’ve stayed overnight with one of the couples so that we can visit the school.
It appears the pupils have been told of the visit of foreigners (a first for them?) and there’s much excitement in the school yard.
We can’t see faces, they’re all looking down, but kids are huddled around the base of the teachers’ apartments below our balcony. One will brave a ‘hello’ and then it’s giggles before they run off and the next little huddle of people arrive.
Because, at this school, the teachers live on site – those are the apartments on the left of this photo. The school, to the right, is only separated from the apartments by the schoolyard.
Apart from the ever-present Süphan Dağı, Turkey’s second highest mountain, and a few single storey dwellings, this school is the only prominent feature for miles around. It’s an all girls school and the girls stay overnight during the week and go home at weekends.
“Is that because this school is a boarding school for more wealthy families or something,” I ask.
“Noooo, not at all. In winter, everywhere is white. The snow is so deep that the roads are impassable so the kids have to stay here. They live miles around.”
And, when you look around you, you do wonder where all these kids come from and where they disappear off to when they’re not in school. A lot of kids and a lot of landscape…not a lot of houses…
…as you can see. This is the view from the front balcony of our friends’ apartment. So vast, lonely and beautiful for us.
We’re travelling, exploring Turkey, having new adventures. Meanwhile, our friends are working here and miss their home, Fethiye. We’re a long way from the sea in Doğansu.
But back to our school experience. We’re going into the school late morning.
Someone will knock for us; and eventually the knock comes. We answer the door to a nervous but excited looking girl, “You can come now,” she blurts out…and then runs off.
This girl turns out to be one of the star pupils in our friend’s English class and it’s obvious she’s been practising ‘you can come now’ all morning…but then to use the English language to two, real life English people…well, we’re not sure who was the most overwhelmed; the kids or us.
We are now the celebrities of Doğansu; or at least of the school. We can’t move. We sit down and the girls sit with us. We walk around and the girls follow us.
Occasionally, one is brave enough to do a “What is your name,” and then they burst into fits of giggles, cheeks blushing. All just a great experience for them and for us.
Back in English class, the girls have been given some questions to ask us but none of the questions are forthcoming. They’re just giggling, gazing at us, tongue-tied.
“Ahhh, okay,” says our friend, the teacher, smiling. “We’ll just send Barry and Julia to the other English class next door, if you’re not going to ask them anything.”
Not allowed to leave but no questions, either. There’s a lovely relationship between the girls and their teacher – a very relaxed classroom – and, eventually, she coaxes a few questions from some of the girls.
The telling one is, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” They take it in turns to go round the class:
“My name is _____ and I have 9 brothers and sisters.”
“My name is _____ and I have 12 brothers and sisters.”
“My name is _____ and I have 11 brothers and sisters.”
“My name is Barry and I have 1 brother.”
“My name is Julia and I have no brothers and sisters.”
“Maşallah,” says one of the girls, almost involuntarily, and they all burst into fits of laughter. They can’t imagine life as part of a small family.
And then the girls say they want to show us the art studio. “Hocam (my teacher), you must come, too. You keep saying you are going to come and you’ve still not come to see our work.”
And now it’s the turn of the two English visitors and the ‘hoca’ to be stuck for words. These are young girls and some of their artwork is truly astounding.
Framed paintings and collages line the walls of the corridors and it’s only now we realise that it’s all the work of the pupils.
“I’ve been meaning to come and see their work for so long and we just never get the time because we’re all caught up with our own subjects. I’m amazed,” says our friend. And so are we.
The Turkish curriculum is a packed one but these girls have time on their hands. They’re living in school during the week and also a lot of weekends, too. While the situation is far from ideal, they can express themselves, here, and be truly creative.
And so it is that there are some exceptionally talented artists and musicians, too. The music room has a lot of old, bedraggled instruments, but they’re well used and there’s a dedicated music teacher getting the best from them.
It’s Friday afternoon and the end of the school week arrives. Minibuses pull into the car park and kids pile into them; they’re all waving through the windows. After the last minibus leaves, there’s still a smattering of girls left.
“They’ve not sent enough minibuses again,” says our friend. “The girls will have to stay here.”
“They don’t look too concerned by it.”
“Nah. Help look after your 13 brothers and sisters for the weekend or paint? Sometimes they like to stay behind; they’ll just do their homework or go back to the art room.”
(This post is a little ode from a former teacher – me – to all the teachers out there in Turkey – especially our friends – doing such a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, and to all the kids who benefit from their hard work.)