Turkey: a view from the East

We often talk about Turkey as a bridge between East and West, but many times the comparisons are looking from the West. Today have a chance to see Turkey from another perspective, thanks to Ahmad Reshad Noori, a student from Afghanistan.

Reshad was part of a group of Afghan students studying Turkish in the same school when I first arrived in Turkey. These smart, enthusiastic and lively students put me to shame with their ability to learn Turkish at lightening speed! Four years later, Reshad has just graduated from a civil and environmental engineering degree at the University of Cukurova, Adana (Turkey) and is now studying for a Master’s degree. In this interview he talks about his impressions of Turkey, the rapid changes in today’s Afghanistan and his dreams for the future.

To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

In 2005 I graduated from Ariana Afghan-Turkish International High School (Kabul/Afghanistan). Then I earned a scholarship from the Republic of Turkey for my Bachelor degree. I successfully passed the Turkish language course which was arranged by Ankara University. In 2007 I started my Bachelor degree in branch of civil engineering at Cukurova University which is located in Adana, a city in Mediterranean Zone of Turkey. I acquired high honors degree at first year of my university, so I could start double major program in environmental engineering at same university. On May 2011 I graduated from civil engineering and environmental engineering programs of Cukurova University. Now I am doing master degree in branch of structural mechanics of civil engineering at same university.

How did you get the chance to study in Turkey?

In 2005 according to a deal between Mr Hamid Karzai (president of Afghanistan) and Mr Recep Tayip Erdoğan (prime minister of Turkey), Turkey gave scholarships to study a Bachelor degree to 50 Afghan students. The embassy of the Republic Of Turkey in Kabul decided to give each province’s students just one scholarship. There are 34 provinces in Afghanistan, so the 16 remaining scholarships would be given to the top 16 students of examination. After an examination in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, I made the second degree in Kabul and all Afghanistan. After an interview I could get the chance to study in Turkey. It was very difficult to get that opportunity, because all of the candidates for scholarship were the top students of Afghanistan, so competing with them wasn’t easy.

What were your first impressions of Turkey? How is it different to Afghanistan?

My first impressions are:

In turkey when people greet each other they start from left but in Afghanistan people start from right. So it was very difficult for me, because I had lots of head crashes ☺

The cities are different from ours: lots of the houses in Turkish cities are apartment and flat but in Afghanistan the houses in cities are villa.

Lots of our foods are similar to Turkish foods, but the one of the biggest difference is in our rice foods which called Pilav. In Turkey it is made of rice, vermicelli, salt and oil but in Afghanistan it is made of rice, meat, raisins, pistachio, carrot and etc. At my first night in turkey I was very hungry so I went to restaurant to eat something I saw the Pilav in the menu and I chose it. When they brought Pilav it was very different I couldn’t eat it.

Our religious festivals are the same as in Turkey. But there is a difference in how we celebrate. At Eid when you visit Turkish families they give you sweet and put some cologne on your hand. But in Afghanistan when visit some family at the Eid. The family takes you to a special room of guests. There are lots of fresh and dry fruits so you can eat them. Before Eid engaged boy’s family take some new clothes, jewelry and sweets to engaged girl’s family. There is no such a tradition in Turkey. The first Eid which I spent in turkey was very strange for me.

In Afghanistan some places have a different part for women. For example in buses women get in from front door and men get in from back door, they sit at different places. But in turkey it doesn’t matter if you are man or woman you must use just one door and you can set wherever you want. The boys and girls go to different high schools but they go to same university. In turkey they go to same high school.

In Turkey when someone gets married they invite very small amount of people and they give the guests just beverage and cake, sometimes a meal. But in Afghanistan when someone is getting married they invite very large amount of people. The host gives meal and the meal contains minimum six kind of food. The wedding takes three days.

In Afghanistan there are some special musical instrumentals like Rubab, Tabla, Dambora, Duhl but in Turkey I haven’t seen it yet.

Turkey’s official calendar is the Gregorian calendar, Afghanistan’s official calendar type is Hegira calendar. The weekend in Turkey is Saturday and Sunday but in Afghanistan the weekend is Friday. They first day of Gregorian calendar is called Christmas, so in turkey they people celebrate that day but in Afghanistan we celebrate a day which is called Nawroz. Nawroz means new day and it is the beginning of our new year. In Nawroz we have a three days vocation and people visit each other. The host gives a drink to guests which is called Haftmeyve. Haftmeyve is a drink which consists of seven dried fruits, sugar, and water.

You recently visited Afghanistan: what has changed since you left?

I first came to Turkey in November of 2006. From that time up to now lots of things has changed. There are lots of improvements which are very evident.

I think the most important one is the increasing of people’s relevance to education. Five years ago there was no private school or private university in Afghanistan but fortunately there are lots of private schools and private universities in all cities of Afghanistan now. I think its reason is the attention of new generation to education and studying. Successful students earn scholarships from different countries of the world for Bachelor degrees; for example every year 500 Afghans earn a scholarship from the Indian government.

Afghanistan’s highways and subways were destroyed during the recent wars. But in the last 5 years lots of highways and subways have restored. Also lots of hospitals, schools, clinics, mosques, governmental places, universities and other public places have rehabilitated.

In the cultural area unfortunately the improvement is insufficient. It is well known that Afghanistan is a historical country. Afghanistan has many historical places and a very vast culture. Development of cultural places and historical places is very slow. But I hope the government will pay attention to this part as fast as possible. In the section of media we can see a very clear development. Especially the increasing number of television channels and radio channels can be give as an example.

In economy section, the improvement is also very grand. Lots of destroyed industries have been restored and lots of new industries constructed in some cities of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s livelihood is from agriculture but unfortunately during the war years, Afghanistan couldn’t export agricultural produce. But now the government of Afghanistan and Afghan businessmen export very large amount of fresh and dry fruits. Also lots of Afghan women export handicrafts to Europe and America.

What are your dreams for the future?

- Get a Phd. Degree in one of the best universities of the world,

- Visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Europe and USA,

- To have a good job with a good salary,

- Help my people,

- Live in a modern, developed, secure and an industrialist Afghanistan,

- To have an environmentalist world.

What else should we know about Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is a landlocked country in South and Central Asia. With a population of about 28 million, it has an area of 647,500 km², making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world. It is bordered by Pakistan in the southeast, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and the People’s Republic of China in the far northeast. The territory that now forms Afghanistan has been an ancient focal point of the Silk Road and human migration.

map of Afghanistan

Excavations of prehistoric sites suggest that humans were living in what is now Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago, and that farming communities in the area were among the earliest in the world. An important site of early historical activities, many say that Afghanistan compares to Egypt in terms of the historical value of its archaeological sites.

The country sits at an important geostrategic location that connects the Middle East with Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, which has been home to various peoples through the ages. The land has witnessed many military conquests since antiquity, notably by Alexander the Great, Chandragupta Maurya, and Genghis Khan. It has also served as a source from which local dynasties such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Saffarids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Timurids, Mughals and many others have established empires of their own.

The two official languages of Afghanistan are Pashto (since 1936) and Dari (Persian) (since 1964), making bilingualism very common. Over 99% of the Afghan population is Muslim.

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About the author

Carrie McKeegan
Carrie is an American who just moved from Bali to Mendoza, Argentina. Carrie caught the wanderlust bug early on from her parents, who raised her in Mexico City. Carrie and her husband David have lived in New York, London, Barcelona, Costa Rica, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Bali before moving to Mendoza. They are actively working to pass on the travel bug to their young son Timmy, who has already been to twelve countries.
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