Our status in Turkey were still just tourists. We were trying to find a way to apply for residence status on the basis of our involvement in the relief and development work in Duzce, but to no avail. This meant that we had to exit Turkey every 30 days.
Making the 36 hour trip (door to door) to Turkish Cyprus and back to Ankara was a daunting reality during that time. It emphasized the fact that we were just visitors in this country that we would like to call home. Every time we left the Turkish mainland we were aware of the possibility that we may not be allowed back into Turkey when we return from Turkish Cyprus. This added to the uncertainty in our minds, and made it difficult to enjoy a monthly trip, that had the potential to be fun.
After arriving in Turkish Cyprus we had time to eat breakfast before returning on the next ferry to the Turkish mainland. Sometimes, we enjoyed a picnic breakfast that Magda packed for us and other times we would order “kasarli tost” – toasted cheese sandwich – from the harbor cafeteria. Once we spent a night on the island, and explored the old harbor city. It was however too expensive to do this regularly.
The plans for a special commemoration day was taking form. We ordered marble slabs to build a memorial stone with a special inscription engraved on it. We added roofed verandahs to the different containers. Paved pathways were laid out between the containers and the grass and flowerbeds were landscaped to the best of our ability. The South African Ambassador in Turkey accepted the invitation to be the keynote speaker and the American Ambassador responded by sending a representative to the commemoration day.
The memorial stone had a special place in the garden and had the following inscription on it: “In remembrance of the victims of the earthquake that happened on the 12th of November 1999. May we never experience such devastation again. The Social Center is dedicated to the survivors which we pray will find Hope, Peace, Joy and Love in the process of recovery.” This was done in English and Turkish. On the day, the program included a minute of silence, the Turkish National Anthem, performances by the children and youth group attending programs at the center and speeches by the dignitaries. The ceremony concluded when the children laid carnation flowers at the foot of the memorial stone.
It was a great tribute to the people of Duzce and the work of the full-time volunteers serving at the center. It was also an indication that it was time to leave the center in the hands of local leaders. The tension about the future of the full time volunteers and their work at the center was driven to a climax at a meeting in Ankara with the Earthquake Relief and Support Committee. I was struggling because of this conflict with fellow South African workers. It laid heavy on my heart and I was hoping for an end to the conflict. At the end a decision was taken by the committee to gradually withdraw the full-time workers from Duzce, handing the center over to community leaders in Duzce.
I was very tired and was losing perspective because of the conflict and the continuous exposure to the struggles of the earthquake survivors. We heard of a conference called by the Turkish Protestant Churches and learnt that a pastor from one of the supporting churches in South Africa will be attending the conference. We made arrangements to meet this pastor at the venue to be debriefed by him. When we arrived at the venue, one of the Turkish pastors from Ankara recognized us and invited us to be observers at the conference. It was a great privilege to attend the conference and listening to the passion and vision of the Turkish church leaders for the Church in Turkey, was the best way to restore our own perspective and passion.
We returned to Ankara with new hope and encouragement for the task we were involved in!