The partnership between the Turkish International School and the Parent Cooperative Program seemed to be a good fit. The facilities were good and allowed for extra-mural activities too.
The parent Cooperative Board met every quarter to evaluate the situation. By the third quarter of that year it became clear that there were irreconcilable differences in the educational philosophy and school management with the Turkish partner. The Parent Cooperative Program were facing its biggest challenge since its inception 12 years before. At a Parent Body meeting it was decided to register the Parent Cooperative Program as an independent international school with the Turkish Department of Education.
A development committee was elected from the parent body and I was appointed as chairman. A registered company was formed to own and operate the planned international school. The next step was to find a suitable land and / or building to be developed as a school within the framework of the requirements of the Turkish Department of Education.
At the end of the summer of 2003 a building was found. It was used as a depot for many years and needed a total renovation. To obtain permission from the Turkish Department of Education to open the school for the 2004-2005 year, the building had to be renovated by June 2004. It gave us just 6 months but the excitement was great and the school community moved in faith in that direction.
This was not the only challenge we were facing. The second issue was much more personal and related to the ever present problem of residence permits and visas. The residence permit allowing us to stay in Turkey was running out fast. World Relief and SILAS ministries were in no position to provide the basis for a residence permit and our options were limited. As we were now living in Istanbul, the closest border to exit Turkey was the border with Greece. South Africans needed visas to enter Greece, but without a residence permit we could not apply for Greek visas in Turkey.
We were out of fresh ideas, when we were advised to exit Turkey, but to return without entering Greece. The border post was big and busy and there was a big portion of “no-mans-land” making it possible to wait in the “no-mans-land” for 2 or more hours before approaching the custom office from the Greek side. We were told that other foreigners managed to get a entry stamp to stay in Turkey in this way.
With this plan in mind we set off to the border post. We parked the World Relief vehicle and walked slowly to the Customs office on the Turkish side. We assessed the terrain and it looked all like it was explained to us. We were quickly helped on the Turkish side and then the waiting started. We had to kill two or more hours without drawing attention to us. It was the longest two hours in our lives and it was not easy to keep the children interested in this excursion. At long last, we saw a bus approaching the border from the Greek side. When the bus stopped a big group of Asian tourist started to line up to get stamped into Turkey. This was the perfect opportunity to approach the Customs Office from the Greek side and we got in line too.
The Custom Official was friendly and he stamped the first 3 passports I presented in no time. When he took mine, he suddenly stopped and looked puzzled. “Did you exit Turkey today?” he asked. I said yes and now he started to page through my passport. I knew he was looking for a entrance and exit stamp from the Greek side. There was none. I saw him looking at a specific page with a frown. It was a page with stamps from our exits to Turkish-Cyprus.
Cyprus was a long standing disputed island and the Turks and Greeks were constantly fighting over control of the island. The official then asked me: “Did you enter Greece with these stamps, pointing to the Turkish-Cyprus stamps.” I saw an opportunity to get out of my predicament. “No, I said. They did not want to allow us into Greece”! He cursed the Greeks and then looked at me. “We have a problem. You have not been legally out of Turkey. I cannot stamp you back in without you being into another country”. Magda and the children were getting anxious and I struggled to hold my pose. He showed us to a waiting area and went off to another office. After a while he came back with his superior who explained their position again. If it wasn’t for their dislike of the Greeks and anything associated with it, we would not have been stamped back into Turkey. But, that day the Greeks helped us to get stamped back into Turkey without ever being into Greece.
After that experience we agreed that we will not try it ever again! We will have to find a way to get visas to Greece so that we could exit legally.