Let’s Work in Diyarbakir, August – 2015

A short story about our experience in Diyarbakir, written by our new member Pernille Koll.

Diyarbakir is not the typical destination for Danes going to Turkey and with the current rapprochement between the PKK and the Turkish government, it is not likely to become one either. Many friends thus acted skeptical when they heard where I was going and I chose not to be too specific when telling my parents about the location of the city. Fortunately, whatever fears and worries my friends managed to project onto me before departure, disappeared the moment I sat foot in the airport and was picked up along with fellow Danish participants by Serhat, the leader of the project. Sitting on the bus on our way to the camp, Serhat asked us if we were hungry. Not many people replied, as none of us wanted to seem greedy or cause any trouble for the staff at the hotel. Nonetheless, Serhat made sure that there was a great meal prepared for us upon our arrival and in that way we got a sneak peek at the unlimited friendliness we were about to witness everyday for the next week. We then greeted the other participants from Turkey and Lithuania and were taken to our rooms. Here my first expectation turned out to be far from true, since I were not to sleep with ten other people in one room with a shared bathroom but instead got my very own room. What a luxury! The following day we all met for breakfast at what was to be known as the garden. This area is very green and a swimming pool takes up the center. All around the grass field big blankets and pillows cover the ground and in the shades of the trees locals drink tea and smoke the shiza while Turkish music flows from the speakers. On a large balcony with a big table, there is room for everyone joining the project and here we would socialize and have three meals served each day. That day we played different games that helped me not only to learn all the new names of the approximately 60 participants but also functioned as an ice breaker since I found myself in situations where I had to hold hands, dance, clap and work together as a team with these people, whom I had only just met. The welcoming party that night served the same purpose and it was amazing how quickly people bonded and were talking across cultural backgrounds, gender and ethnicity. I personally learned a lot that evening, since I came to talk to one of the Kurdish people. In Denmark I believe there are many prejudices against Kurds and I cannot helped but have been affected by these and thus carry some unconsciously bias myself. For that very same reason it was amazing to listen to this young man telling me about his life in Turkey and the surpression Kurds have undergone and in many ways still are. In other words, it was an eye opener and for the rest of the trip I tried to take in as much knowledge as possible about this local people, who are being misunderstood great many places all over the world. The theme of the project was unemplyment in Europe, which we came to discuss through different work shops and practical lessons. By being divided into groups that had all three nationalities represented, I was not only forced to speak in English, I also had to communicate and collaborate with people that spoke English with various accents and on different levels. Furthermore, you cannot expect non-Danes to think and work like Danes, which meant I sometimes had to be patient and look beyond the specific methods and working ethics I am used to from back home. For that reason even though the group work seemed challenging at times it turned out to be beneficial as I got my cultural horizon widened and gained new perspectives with regards to professional and instructive matters. When we were not in the class room discussing globalisation, presenting our ideas of businesses that could work in the three countries or trying to solve the problem of the increasing amount of refugees, we were out exploring the beautiful, old streets of Diyarbakir. We got to know the history of the city and hear the stories from people who had actually been there. I clearly remember how we ended up in a yard with many chairs facing in the direction of four elderly men sitting on a bench singing. But it wasn’t any song. One by one the men sang songs about their Kurdish history, keeping the truth alive that they themselves had been told by older generations. Even though I didn’t understand a single word they were saying I could feel the agony and sorrow in their hearts. I will never forget that moment and I feel truly blessed to have heard their songs and gotten their point of view. Finally we also went on an amazing boat trip and never in a million years had I thought I would experience such beautiful nature while staying in Diyarbakir. The water was blue and green and the big mountains on each side of our boat made me feel so humble and small. We all jumped in the water and some of us swam from one coast to another, while others were diving or just splashing around. At that point I think we all realised that even though we are all so different, we do have something in common. Besides making new friends and acquaintances, exploring Lithuanian and Kurdish culture at the nightly presentations and events, I first and foremost left Diyarbakir wiser than when I arrived. The project gave me many laughs and it made me meet people I otherwise would never have met. Now I know why Lithuanian people work so hard to make ends meet and I understand what seperates the older generation from the young one. In the Lithuanians I have seen a drive, talent and ambitions that are never exposed to us otherwise in Denmark, and I am very grateful for having gained that knowledge. With regards to the Kurdish people I have experienced a warm and loving people who are much more than the ‘villagers’ some Danish people have the tendency to turn them into. I would without a heartbeat recommend anyone to go on the same journey as I have been on and hopefully they too will surrender to the smells, colours and atmosphere of Diyarbakir.

EPILOGUE Today I went to buy a pizza. As I am ordering, the man notices the henna in my hand and says: “What is that in your hand?” where to I reply: “It is henna”. “How come you know henna?” the man asks me, I smile and explains him about the cultural night, where I got to be a Kurdish bride. His eyes lit up when he hears that I have been participating in a project in Diyarbakir. “That is my hometown!” We both agree on the magic of the city and when I walk out of there I cannot stop smiling, it was like for a brief moment I was back in Diyarbakir sorrounded by amazing people.