Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) is the travel company who arranged the Turkey tour we are taking. They have similar tours all over the world, focusing on small group travel and more than the traditional tourist experience. As part of their program they take a percentage of the proceeds they earn and adopt schools in disadvantaged areas. Today we flew from Istanbul to Izmir and drove to a small town of about 1,000 people to visit one of these adopted schools, bring some gifts we had brought from home, and have lunch with the local folks.
After cosmopolitan Istanbul, we went through a bit of culture shock when we flew to Izmir and drove to Kriklar. Most of the residents are farmers, but about a third commute back to Izmir, a city of about four million. As was strolled the town with a proud local, it was easy to tell which homes belonged to farmers and which belonged to townies. In this benevolent climate, many things grow without a lot of intervention. We passed pistachio trees, pomegranates and olives were every where. For the last ten years the local fruits have been raised without pesticides and made into organic jams and jellies for export.
Since OAT groups come here every so often, the locals were used to tourists with cameras and were quite willing to pose for photos. Lunch was a bit of a challenge since our hosts spoke no English and the Turkish cheat sheets our guide had given us ahead to time provoked more laughter than communication. But when it comes to eating, pantomime can suffice and it was easy to let them know how much we enjoyed the meal they had prepared which we ate outside under a canopy of vines.
The elementary school had two buildings; one for kindergarteners and one with two rooms for upper and lower primary students, about fifty students altogether. A special ed student was part of the group and we were told that her lessons were modified. Another room contained computers which had been purchased by OAT funds. While education is free and obligatory until the age of 15, there are no local funds for any sort of enrichment.
All the kids wore blue uniforms and individualized them with white collars decorated with a variety of different designs ranging from Spider Man to flowers. After we shared our gifts with the headmaster, our visit with the kids was pretty informal. Somehow they divvied us up and decided who to pal around with. An older girl grabbed me by the arm and insisted that we play keep-away from one of the boys with a football, which must have been donated by a previous OAT group. When we went inside she showed me her English book and tried out a few phrases. When she figured out that I was from the US she got map of the US that was a puzzle and we pawed through the pieces looking for Illinois. Then she drew me a picture as a gift to take home. We were all charmed with each other and the day flew by.