October 4: Alison, Istanbul

Greetings from Istanbul!

As we prepare today to leave this fascinating place  – with its grand mosques, historical palace, amazing grand bazaar and  – – – Ah, yes – – the spice market – – a feast of sights and smells  – – an early morning provides me the opportunity to  share some experiences with  you.  As mentioned in the September 15th post, “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step,” these early blog posts are a chance to share some stories of an actual journey ~ a trip to explore Turkey.    I want to share the essence of some of my conversations with individual women who either are Turkish or who have embraced Turkey and live and work here.

On Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Alison, a US woman who has lived and taught in Turkey for 30 years.  Jim joined us as well and two friends /colleagues of Alison’s.  These friends, Ken and Betty, have also taught in Turkey for 30 years. They are sponsored here by the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, protestant churches in the US.  When a visiting Korean missionary once asked them how many persons they had converted to Christianity they were shocked!  That is not why we are here.  We are here to serve.”  And they serve – as teachers, elementary and high school, and as librarian.

All three are looking toward retirement in the next few years and reflective about how their work here has benefitted the world.  For sure they have benefitted the young people they have taught through their care high expectations and consistent presence. Beyond that, they said, the collaboration, building of partnerships with other groups and agencies, has been a significant gift  – – in fact, as well as by example.  Betty described her involvement in the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program.  This cooperative network of parishes and church groups, founded in 1991, provides guidance, food, medical aid and repatriation services to thousands of migrants and asylum seekers (mainly from African and Asian countries) who are stranded in Istanbul.

As we spoke specifically about women’s experience these folks affirmed the domentic abuse experienced by many women, condoned by the culture and devastating to women and children.  They described an organization that seeks to serve these women.  Volunteers visit homes to describe available services and efforts are made to train police to believe and support the plight of these women, rather than simply returning them to their husbands.  Government policies are in place that guarantee safety and significant rights for women, but enforcement seems negligent.

Knowing that my specific interest is in women’s leadership, Ken asked about the relationship between assertiveness training and leadership development – which led to an interesting conversation.  This was fascinating to me because while it affirmed the need for both, it also revealed the different assumptions underlying the two.  The “pushing” energy to achieve rights, respect, the honor of being heard, seen, acknowledged is necessary. As is the “pulling” energy of leadership, which comes more from the assumption that our affirmation comes from inside and is about taking initiative, moving us forward – with or without the respect and affirmation of others.

A brief note about another fascinating theme of this conversation – the role / future of the “organization” – – any organization.  Recognizing both the necessity of organizational infrastructure – and the fact that organizational hierarchy and bureaucracy has so often become the tail wagging the dog – – – several examples were discussed that are emerging – where groups come together around values and mission that are held in common, and distinct  differences are honored, where a single “organization” (read minimal) can manage the administration of the collective groups.

Alison acknowledsged the need she feels all women experience to assert themselves and their ideas, and indicated that she had rarely felt discounted or disregarded because she was a woman.

Please excuse errors in typing, my friends.  Using the keyboard of a Turkish computer is yet one more example of the challenge of changing deeply embedded habits!   🙂



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