ELVIS COMES TO TURKEY

It was our first visit to Turkey and we were enjoying ourselves. We found there a mixture of ancient and modern that is only found in transitional countries. The people were friendly and those who spoke English wanted to chat. On a train journey to Izmir Ursula and I were overwhelmed with company. At Kusadasi, close to the countryside we found markets selling fruit and vegetables of such taste no longer available from our agro-chemical sources at home.

We had visited the well known historical sites at Pergamon, Ephesus, Pamukkale and others but, for us, the highlight of our holiday was when our party was invited by the head of a secondary school to visit and talk with the students.

We had learned that the Turkish educational system was not like ours where students study a fairly similar curriculum to the university stage and then decide, if they want to go on to university, what subjects they wish to study. The Turkish system grades youngsters by their perceived academic leanings or vocational skills and directs them to the appropriate schools. The school we were to visit was for pupils with linguistic and literary talents. It was located in a fairly remote and mountainous region but close enough to the coastal towns for bussing them to and from school.

A minibus dropped us in a large courtyard fronting an extensive, modern building similar to any average British secondary school, and a smiling head teacher flanked by other teachers were waiting to greet us at the entrance. After introductions we were briskly split into small groups and Ursula and I with another lady were escorted to a classroom and introduced to a young woman teacher only a few years older than the pupils we saw, waiting expectantly.

Whilst the school building was comparable in every way with a similar British school, we could see that the comparison stopped there when comparing equipment and furnishings. The classroom we entered was basic and unadorned; there being chairs, desks, a whiteboard and little else.

The teacher welcomed us making some general introductory remarks as we stood somewhat bemused and then addressed the twenty or so students who we could see were in a state of animated excitement. They were between 15 to 17 years of age and slightly more boys than girls.

The format the teacher chose for a question and answer session was not proving too successful and, seeing this, she wisely proposed an alternative. ‘Perhaps the ladies would care to exchange ideas with our young women students, and the gentleman,’ motioning to me, ‘would do the same with the young men?’

The idea gained immediate acceptance from the students and two groups formed and moved to opposite sides of the classroom. Somewhat apprehensive I introduced myself to the young men and then asked them for their names. My repeating these produced some hilarity and so I asked for the names to be written down. This was done with some chaffing – TUFI – SEMIH – YASO – ONUR – AZI – EROAL – BERKAY and so on.The jokers in the group wanted to continue on a bantering level while the serious ones wanted to discuss some ‘deep’ subjects'”What shall we talk about?’ I asked them. From all sides came, ‘Football – pop-stars – football – girls (Giggles) – football – books (groans) – football…

‘OK let’s start with football. Can the Turkish team do even better than they did in the World Cup?’ I asked. This was a winner. The Turkish team had done remarkably well in the 2002 World Cup in Japan by reaching the semi-finals and Turkey was immensely proud of this. There ensued a discussion that only needed slight orchestration from me. Most of the boys spoke well in English.

Then they wanted my views. ‘Which national team was currently the best?’ ‘Who did I think was the best ever footballer?’ With football given a good airing – although some wanted to continue – I switched subjects. From my list of names I was able to finesse the show-offs and try to bring out the shy or quiet ones.

Our session was going well and over the other side of the classroom I could see the group of girls, the teacher and the two visitors deep in discussion on schooling, exams and professions. Some of the boys were now pressing to talk about pop-stars; not my strong point. names of singers and musicians were raised and then dropped for lack of follow-up and the good tempo achieved was beginning to flag. As I was about to switch subjects the name of Elvis Presley was mentioned. ‘Did I like Elvis Presley?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Hands up those who like Elvis Presley.’ A general raising of hands. EROAL has all his songs written out,’ said someone. ‘Have you them here, EROAL?’ He produced an exercise book from his desk. I flipped through it and could see that he was a real fan.

‘Sing one of the Elvis songs for us,’ said one of the jokers to me. ‘I think you should sing one for me,’ I hedged. There was a stalemate. ‘Shall we sing one together?’ I asked the group. ‘Yes, yes.’ There was no going back now. I pointed to a page in EROAL’S exercise book, ‘Do you know ‘LOVE ME TENDER?” ‘Yes, but not all the words.’ ‘Round here then.’ They clustered around the book. ‘Right,’ with my arm raised, ‘I’ll call – ONE, TWO, THREE and then we’ll start.’

The response was amazing. We sang – LOVE ME TENDER – and at the end, laughing and cheering, the boys demanded we sing it again. The girls’ group had stopped to watch and the second time round we gave it all we could and the noise was deafening. With the cheers and shouts at the end needing no follow-up the teacher smilingly rounded off the session saying how they had all enjoyed our visit and off we went on a wave of good-will to the waiting mini-bus and an exchange of impressions.

FEBRUARY 2005