Two Weyburn couples recently travelled to Turkey to experience another culture, make lasting friendships and learn more about the humanitarian efforts of Rotary International.Rotarians Denis and Laraine Tremblay and Mal Barber, together with his wife, Delaine, president of Weyburn's Inner Wheel, travelled with a group of 11 Rotarians from District 5550 to Istanbul, Turkey as part of a Friendship Exchange.The local couples travelled with Rotarians from Regina and Saskatoon for two weeks in May where they stayed with members of the Rotary Club of Gebze, giving them a unique perspective into the everyday life of a Turk.
"People tend to think that it's kind of a backward country involved with the politics of the Arabic countries and radical Muslims," said Mal. "It's not like that at all. It's a very cosmopolitan city. The people are extremely Western"The City of Istanbul borders two continents - Asia and Europe. It is a city of 15 million people with seven Rotary Clubs.The couples experienced the food, sights and culture of Istanbul. One such experience made for a disruptive sleep, according to Mal."Our first morning there I was awoken by a man over the loudspeaker, speaking in Turkish," said Mal. "It was the Call to Prayer."The Muslim city performs the Call to Prayer five times a day, beginning at dawn. At this time, some residents go to their Mosque, while others pray silently to themselves.Mal said that, much like Canada, some Turks were very conservative and some were very liberal with their religious views."We saw a few ladies wearing burkas, some with head scarves and others you couldn't tell the difference between them and someone walking in Weyburn," said Mal. "I didn't see any of the Rotarian women or their spouses wearing burkas or head scarves."The Weyburnites were not the only ones to experience a little culture shock. Denis explained that their host families were in disbelief about a few facts he told them about his home."They couldn't believe that we only have one million people living on a land mass as big as Saskatchewan," said Denis. "They also couldn't believe that (Weyburn Rotary) was celebrating our 90th year."The oldest Rotary Clubs in Turkey are only a couple decades old.A highlight of the trip was their visit to the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, which has been in existence for more than 600 years."There was everything from leather, spices, food, carpets, jewellery...and it's all bartering," said Laraine.There were also very modern shopping centres, according to Laraine, selling Gucci and Prada. Their host families took them on sight-seeing tours everyday during their stay. The group also managed to take in a few Rotary meetings while they were there and Delaine attended a special Inner Wheel meeting with the incoming international president in attendance.One Rotary event in particular touched their hearts. An event which honoured a humble street sweeper for his many years of dedicated service and friendly attitude. The man was commemorated with a bronze statue. "It was mostly business people and professionals nominated," said Denis. "He and his family couldn't believe he won and had a sculpture made of him."The couples also got to tour their host Rotary Club's greatest project - the Work Centre for Disabled People. The goal of the organization is to call industrial enterprises to accept the work centre as a sub-supplier, by means of giving appropriate business for disabled people.A total of 12 percent of Turkish citizens have a disability. This number is even greater in the northwest area of the country, which was devastated by the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey in 1999.Delaine said that the Turks were very concerned about the world's image of them. They want to be seen as a peaceful country."I think the thing that made the biggest impression on me was talking to one of the Turkish Rotarians," said Delaine. "He firmly believed that if he made one (Canadian) friend that would make the world that much closer to peace. It put everything into perspective."The intention, according to Mal, is to have the Turkish Rotarians that hosted them to come to Weyburn, or at least District 5550, sometime in the near future. "The key behind all these face-to-face meetings is that Rotary promotes peace and understanding of other cultures," said Mal.