“Walk please, no running.”
“Wait there. Don't go any further.”
These were the constant cries of me and my fellow teachers as we herded our group of 3 and 4-year-olds around Antalya's Minicity last week. I had hoped to have been imparting interesting information about the models of the buildings, or comparing the photographs I had previously printed off and shown to the children back in the classroom with the miniature versions dotted around the area, but this proved impossible.
In retrospect, I admit, as an organized teacher I should have made a recce to Minicity to check out the site, but I had taken a group from school there a couple of years previously and was relying on my memory in order to navigate the children around the models. Our topic for the month was based around Turkey as a theme, and Minicity provides a great introduction to talk about the important buildings and features of this vast and diverse country. Not many of the children were able to identify the buildings from pictures -- not even Antalya's very own, the famous Hadrian's Gate -- but were definitely interested and seemed keen to learn more.
Tiny versions of Cappadocia's fairy chimneys, the minarets of the Hagia Sophia, Atatürk's mausoleum in Ankara, Demre's famous church and the curious snow-like rock formation of Pamukkale -- to name but a few -- are endlessly fascinating to young and old alike. The site is attractively laid out, with streams trickling alongside the paths that lead you through the various buildings. My previous visit had taken place in June, when, despite going as early in the morning as possible, the children were wilting from the sun after about half an hour because -- guess what -- there was no shade to be had anywhere in the entire site. Some trees had been planted but were clearly very much in their infancy and of no use whatsoever as a source of shade. Sixteen hot and grumpy children are not much fun to be with and not really capable of taking in a whole lot of facts about famous Turkish landmarks. However, what else could I expect from an Antalya June day -- the wrong time of year to attempt a trip of this nature.
So we carefully planned this trip for an earlier month to avoid the same pitfalls, and to this extent we succeeded. The day looked ominously like it might rain, but thankfully managed to hold off long enough for us to spend almost an hour admiring the monuments. However, what I had not planned for and was not expecting was some “improvements” that were very much in progress. These consisted of small boxes on a stand that look remarkably like bird tables in shape, except that these are not made of wood, but metal. To be precise, they are constructed with a small metal table, measuring approximately 15 centimeters square, on a stand, with a small box like structure on top of it. Their purpose? Well, apparently they will eventually allow you to purchase a card from the entrance and will, on request, impart all the information you ever wanted to know in the language of your choice. Nothing wrong with this in theory -- except that these machines have been built with sharp metal edges and corners jutting out at exactly the height of small children's heads.
Realizing the dangers inherent in these booby traps, we complained vehemently to a couple of security guards who were hovering around. Now I suspect that we were not the first to have voiced our concerns about the problems caused by these contraptions, because from there on after, both security guards took great pains to obligingly spread themselves in front of the metal boxes whilst my Turkish colleague took the opportunity to divulge some facts, knowing that the children were currently safe from serious facial injuries, at least until we moved on again to the next model.
So the challenge of the day was to curb the children's enthusiasm, which naturally involves running, generally without looking where they are going, and all my energies were directed in preventing any injuries. Back in the UK, where I taught for many years, taking any group of children on a school trip had become very nearly impossible. Bureaucracy demanded that full risk assessments took place first, and anything involving something dangerous -- water for instance -- was an instant no-go. So moving here it was a welcome relief to feel that we could take the children on school trips, with, of course, the correct number of staff and sensible precautions, without having our hands tied behind our backs by the authorities. Taking kids out is an invaluable part of teaching, and Antalya has many advantages and great places to visit. But please, Antalya Belediye, make them safe for kids.
As the annual Children's Day (“Çoçuk Bayram” in Turkish) looms again on April 23, it is a puzzle to me that Turkish people can on the one hand both love and dote to the extreme on their young children, but on the other hand take such risks with their lives. Despite the introduction of seatbelt laws, the number of children I see riding around in cars, standing up in the back seat or perched precariously on laps in the front seat without any sign of a suitable car seat or restraint of any kind is staggering. And then there are, of course, the families who ride around squeezed onto a motorbike with, at most, one helmet between them.
School buses are now required to provide seatbelts for every child on board, but I recently witnessed a minibus disgorge its cargo of kindergarten age children at the entrance to the park, and was completely lost for words as the stream of children continued to disembark with the number clearly double, if not triple, the legal limit.
Then there are the many parks all around Antalya with play equipment of all kinds for children and adults alike. When first installed, like the wooden boat structure in the city center's Karaalioğlu Park, they provide a fantastic play environment for visitors. Now, however, it is just a sorry reminder of its former glory, with many sections missing, and the skeletal remains look ominously dangerous. The more recent addition of the gleaming, metallic Sun Express play equipment, complete with model airplane, luggage belt and lookout tower, is now sadly reduced with the complete removal of the plane, which had been destroyed to such an extent that it was beyond repair. Why these brilliant additions to the facilities that are provided for children are not regularly maintained and the safety aspect not considered is a mystery to me.
I'm pleased to report that we made it all the way round Minicity and back to school with no casualties. The children, unaware of the dangers, loved the trip and have continued to talk about the fabulous sights. My nerves have recovered, and I'm already looking forward to our next trip to Antalya's new Toy Museum.
Happy holidays -- or, as they say in Turkey, “İyi Bayramlar.”