By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
With the discovery of a young American mother's mysterious demise in Turkey and Syrian uprisings echoing daily through the valleys, questions of safety jump to the top of any visitor’s list in the land where Cleopatra met Mark Antony – but Fulbright Scholar Latasha Wilson said she has never been afraid traveling about the historic Turkish countryside.
“I left Oklahoma to see what I could discover about the world in the only country that lies in both the East and the West” said Wilson who was born and raised in Stillwater with a wanderlust that has taken her to many foreign lands after graduating from high school and Oklahoma State University. With a Fulbright grant, she has embarked on another adventure teaching English at Osmaniye Kortfut Ata University in southeastern Turkey. She will make her home in Osmaniye until summer. Although the province of Osmaniye starts with the same letter of the alphabet and has the same number of letters as Oklahoma, their differences outnumber their similarities.
“I am cautious and aware with a 10,000 person Syrian refugee camp nearby – and all the armored vehicles patrolling the area – but I safely travel around the country,” Wilson said. “I was raised in a household that was interested in learning about people from other countries, including the culture, traditions and beliefs of those people. Through Girl Scouts, school and at home, I was eager to celebrate people around the world. This interest also fostered respect for others and a quest for understanding.”
Wilson said she has received many questions about what it’s like to live as a woman where most families are practicing Islams. Even as a Muslim country, women are very much a part of the work force, she said, with a definitive separation between religion and state.
“Women had the right to vote in Turkey before women could vote in the United States,” she said.
Wearing a scarf is a personal choice with no head covers allowed in government offices including where she teaches at the university. The people love to celebrate and dancing is a big part of their culture. The mission of the Fulbright is to foster international understanding and Wilson has embraced the challenge in Turkey.
Various groups have occupied the land with continuous civilization during the Bronze and Stone Ages, going back to 40,000 BC. Several stories from mythology date back to this area.
As a rich agricultural region, Wilson said the neighborhood farmer's markets are filled with produce including lots of citrus which Turkey exports to many countries. Basically, they have fresh produce straight from the ground at rock bottom prices at any and all times, she said.
Osmaniye is surrounded by cities known for their fantastic cuisine, and everyone eats very well there. The city lies directly on the path of the Silk Road, the historic network of trade routes, and is just about 15 kilometers from the Mediterranean. The major crop is peanuts with the pistachio capital of the world just down the road.
One aspect of Turkish culture Wilson has absorbed is the importance of sipping tea. Turkish tea and coffee are served with beet sugar. There are countless lessons she is learning but making time to take tea with others is crucial to further learning, deeper understanding, forming better relationships, increased energy, and savoring the moment.
“It's important to visit — just sit and talk” Wilson said.
Sometimes it's hard for someone with big goals to take a break from multitasking but Wilson reflected on the slower pace of Turkey while looking for large rocks on a climbing expedition one weekend.
“I found some of those, but I also found many, many more rocks — pebbles — of a significantly smaller scale, covering the ground and stretching far out into the sea, contributing to an incredible landscape,” Wilson said. “This discovery served as a reminder that although we may have large goals in mind, it’s all the smaller fragments of life coming together — however they may be formed in various shapes and sizes — that ultimately contribute to our being. Together, they make up the landscape of our lives — and that sometimes is painted in the little moments of just sipping tea.”