An integral part of any international conference, seminar or training is the exchange of cultural experiences and sharing of significantly varying belief systems. For this reason, one of the official parts of any Youth in Action training is the “cultural night”, where participants represent their countries and share national cuisine, be it the Ukrainian “salo” or the Spanish “sangria”. We were lucky to experience a number of presentations, many of which were followed by heated Q&A sessions and traditional dancing. Numerous cultural presentations contributed to our “must-visit” lists. However, it was clear that the location of the training was chosen with a purpose of opening the Kurdish region to international public. Our trip to Diyarbakir took a long time because we had to change flights from international to local, as the Diyarbakir airport is currently not allowed to receive international flights. The beauty and friendliness of the region we encountered, however, have a different side to them. There exist ongoing tensions between the ethnically Turkish and Kurdish population, which influences the way the region is viewed by the outsiders. Associated with the PKK on the international platform, the region in fact has a very different vibe of liveliness and warmth to whoever comes to visit, be they Turkish or Dutch. During the trainings, both Kurdish and Turkish participants freely expressed their opinions, similar or the completely the opposite, which we found reflected a desirable healthy dialogue between the conflicting parties. From our experiences in Diyarbakir, there is much hope for a more peaceful future for both nations.
Another element of the cultural nights enjoyed by all was the traditional foods and drinks brought by the participants from their home countries. Not only did we enjoy tasting the food and drinks, we were also introduced to the process of making some of it, such as Sangria. During the whole training we enjoyed amazing meals, well-cooked and in abundance, each day trying something new, yet noticing some patterns in the cooking style.
The trip to the Kurdish market was a remarkable experience because of the colors, variety, and richness of options. Walking around, picking souvenirs for friends and family, passing by dried fruits you have never heard the names of before, numerous spices, Turkish delight, Baklava, nuts and seeds created a distinctive cultural imprint. Following the quite exhaustive “shopping” walk in the hot Turkish sun, ice-cream served as the perfect remedy. Those who’ve never been to Turkey will find it hard to grasp the idea of street vendors playing around with Dondurma (the name of the ice-cream) as if it were a piece of play dough (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7R0rY_XAxE). Not only was it fun to watch, but it was also very delicious!
One of the Kurdish cultural aspects we were exposed to was the wedding dance “Şemamme” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shS1SH6ncDI). The dance, not too complicated to learn, was one of the highlights of the trip. By its nature it is designed to gather people together for the celebration of a marriage, or any other occasion really, such as a successful international training on migration. The hosts enjoyed the dance to the extent that the enthusiasm spread around at the speed of light, attracting more and more participants to join the circle. The dance became the mood elevator for the rest of the training.
Yet another culture shock was the etiquette of wearing (or not wearing) shoes inside. Coming from the Netherlands we found it quite unusual to take our shoes off upon stepping into one’s home or the training building, yet even more unusual was the fact that you needed to leave the shoes outside. We got used to such practice very quickly, as the softness of the carpets covering the floors everywhere felt really good against our feet. Additionally, the shoeless environment inside provided a relief from the heat that was intensified by the absence of air conditioner in the rooms.
We were pleasantly surprised by the warm weather once we stepped outside the airplane into the Diyarbakir night, and the feeling never went away. The temperature was on average 36-38° Celsius, compared to the 15° Celsius in the Netherlands, which provided a perfect excuse for a day of swimming at the Dicle Dam near the town called Eğil 50 km from Diyarbakir. It took us around 40 minutes to get to the place, 30 of which were spent in horror and fascination at the same time. Driving on the edge of the mountain roads in the Diyarbakir region would be a serious challenge for ordinary drivers, as the area between the road and the cliff was less than a step away. Yet, it seemed to be an easy task for our Kurdish driver. The beauty of the mountains and the small villages on the way compensated for any feelings we had once we looked at the bottom of the cliff. Once at our final destination, we took a boat tour around the dam, accompanied by the sounds of traditional music and a driver whose moves to the music reminded us a lot of dancing, followed by a breakfast at the riverside and a couple hours of swimming. The two most interesting sights were the ruins of a castle on the top of the cliff, and a small mosque on top of another. Observing people on other boats and in the villages on our way back was a great cultural experience.