The world we live in is full of different languages and cultures. However, there are moments and experiences that tear down the walls and make us realize we are really not that different from each another
On Saturday the Moroccan Cultural and Handicraft week opened in Eminönü, and was covered on Wednesday. The glorious colors and goods for sale are described there. When I went to the opening on Monday, it was the atmosphere, smack bang next to the Spice Market, that struck me; this exhibition is perfect in keeping with the atmosphere of Eminönü. One lady asked us: "Where is this exhibition from?" Hearing the answer "Morocco" she quizzed, "Is it foreign then?" Her confusion is understandable. At first glance, the goods could be from a Turkish region. Yet, they so obviously are not.
The exhibition gives a feeling of familiarity mixed with something quite exotic. The athletic G'naouas dancers, with their enthusiastic drumming, flips and spins, draw in huge crowds. And then there is the more sedate orchestra, playing what sounds like Turkish ilahi (hymns); it isn't until you pay attention to the words, and realize that they are singing in Arabic that it dawns on you that this is something quite different. The entire experience is new, yet familiar, fascinating, yet comforting.
On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to accompany some visitors from Morocco to Bağcılar, to the Engelliler Sarayı (Palace for the Disabled).
This was my fourth visit to Bağcılar Engelliler Sarayı. The name is not inaccurate. This is truly a palace dedicated to the benefit of the disabled. It consists of five stories, with wide corridors, silent lifts that are spacious and efficient, stairs with railings that have braille inscriptions on them so that the visually impaired can find their way round the building, and classrooms everywhere. And the magnificently stylish decorations on the wall have all been hand-painted to underline the palatial theme of this very functional building.
There is a kitchen designed for people in wheelchairs; here they can learn how to cook, for themselves or in a professional kitchen. There is a
classroom set up as a barbershop and another as a hairdresser's, not only teaching the students professional skills, but also providing them with the opportunity to be pampered and given a new hairstyle. There is a spacious cinema, with a large empty area in the front for wheelchairs. Here the students can put on theater performances or they can watch films. There are computers with special programs that help the visually impaired to learn to type, with audio prompts, and printers that print out the articles in braille.
There is a room dedicated to growing mushrooms, there are art rooms, music rooms, a woodwork shop and a sports hall, with special equipment designed to be used by ablebodied people and people confined to wheelchairs. Whatever comes to your imagination, it is here. And it is not only the physically or mentally disabled who can benefit from the Engeliler Sarayı. Classes are offered to the parents of disabled children as well, giving them much needed respite.
We were taken into the classroom in which students, ranging in age from 7-70, are taught techniques for overcoming the cruel disability of stammering. We were shown a video of a student on the first day of his class; every time he got hung up on a word he stamped his foot. The foot stamps drowned out his words. We were shown another video; this one was of the same boy, taken three weeks later; now he spoke fluently, although carefully. We were told that three months later his speech was no different from any other person's.
In the palace there is a room that is referred to as the "black room;" here, children with ADS or autism are treated. The black walls have a calming effect, as do the soft lights and special equipment, all designed to soothe the senses. This room is paired with the "white room," which has, not surprisingly, white walls and more vibrant colors. The "white room" is used to treat autistic children who are introverted, with the colors and textures that stimulate all five senses. These two rooms are unique in Turkey, with very few similar examples throughout the world.
In another classroom we were treated to a concert from a group of seven young men, some in wheel chairs, some with learning difficulties, and some who were visually impaired. They sang a song that had been written by the singer, Zafer. It told us how the palace had torn down the walls for these young people, bringing them into society, opening doors for them to walk through; now when they went out onto the street they could hold their heads up high. The Turkish speakers were moved by the words; the Moroccan visitors were moved by the visible emotion of the performance. Indeed, it was the Moroccan guests who started the standing ovation, but there was not a dry eye in the place.
This time, it was the Moroccan visitors who had the experience of something new, yet familiar, different yet known. The familiarity of being accepted, without question of language or nationality. In each classroom we entered, children and young adults came over eager to talk to us. As we walked by they enthusiastically waved at us. Unperturbed by the lack of language skills they asked questions like: "How are you? This is my painting. Do you like it?"
The love and affection shown to us by the young people here was unquestioning; it was complete acceptance. The warmth, hospitality and love that thrives in this palace makes it a place where I want to return, again and again. Here one gets the feeling that it does not matter where you came from or how you came here. What is important is that you came.
From the exotic sounds and sights of Morocco to the warm embrace of Bağcılar Engelliler Sarayı, these two days have filled me with memories that will remain. I left a bit of my heart at the exhibition, watching the people listen to the music, negotiate prices with someone who spoke a different language and take in the atmosphere. But another bit of my heart is, and always will be, in Bağcılar.