Back in Istanbul

July 6, 2008 at 2:03 pm Leave a comment

We took the night train back to Istanbul. Despite the fact that only half of us slept, everyone was ready to smile for the final “after” photo. It seems we all found our way back to our places and crashed. Two weeks on the road is a long time, especially with people as amazing as these students. They seem to thrive on minimal sleep, have a vast desire to encounter everything and engage with everyone, and manage to maintain their sense of humor throughout. I learned a lot from them, about mutual respect and support, about learning and teaching, about humor and good fellowship. They are an amazing team, and always managed to work together and anticipate anything we might need. (I turned around after 11 pm at the Ankara train station to see Edward coming out of the train one more time to collect the luggage not only of our three ill students–he took care of mine, too!)

Route thanks to David

We set aside a little time the next day to talk, but most of the week is devoted to their projects and interviews. Our big event of the week was a visit to the US Consulate. Many of the students are interested in public policy and diplomacy, and an old friend who used to work in the Foreign Service helped us get an appointment. We had a number of briefers, who answered our questions clearly and, I think, honestly.

The condition, though, seemed quite odd, considering our recent experiences. This was an “off the record” briefing. That means, apparently, that we cannot relate what we learned or quote anyone. This is a difficult condition for a historian, though it seems quite common and acceptable for journalists. The briefers simply assumed we understood and would accept the condition, and never sought any kind of agreement from us.

Istanbul’s mufti had seemed surprised at our meeting some weeks ago when he was asked if it would be alright to quote his remarks. Of course, he responded. He seemed confused. If he said something, why wouldn’t he agree to having it quoted? The students have received the same response during interviews. If something wasn’t to be quoted, why would the interviewee say it?

I found the condition particularly strange toward the end of the briefing. US officials emphasized again and again American freedom of speech. Yet here we were, unable to quote their words. In Turkey there are many restrictions to the freedom of speech, but people stand by their words.

The next night, the students threw a terrific Fourth of July party on the terrace. I’m going to miss the view, too.

Entry filed under: Teaching, Uncategorized.

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