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Trees and Forests

Trees and Forests

04 Jun 2021

In my article on sustainability, I emphasized the importance of ensuring that social responsibility and sustainability projects, whether they are developed by institutions or inpiduals, are sincere and suitable in terms of scope and scale.

Let’s keep this in mind for a second.


Like they always say, “When it’s a friend from childhood, the conversation can be picked up from where you left off, even after so many years”. Hear me out…

I had a very dear friend during the late 1970’s. Sibel Gülgönen. Now, her surname is Özer.

We were very young kids and we used to go horse riding together, constantly being told off by our teacher Aladdin. I think we have had an uninterrupted 15-20 years of friendship within social circle, day and night.

Then somehow we drifted apart, and I did not see Sibel again for many years.

I had heard about her tireless efforts in the aftermath of the 1999 Gölcük earthquake, and had said wow, well done, but I wasn’t able to track her down.

Years passed, and one day during the summer of 2016, I saw an obituary for her father, Dr. Ayan Gülgönen.

I was greatly saddened by this news. My childhood days passed before my eyes, the days I knew him. He was a tall, handsome surgeon (he looked like an admiral with his gray hair), and most importantly, he was a surgeon who was deeply respected by everyone, whether they knew him or not.

I might be underestimating when I say that anyone involved in hand surgery and microsurgery in Turkey, today – or perhaps many across the world – must have been a student of his. Now that I mentioned it, I remember thinking “thankfully there is Mr Ayan” when I did dangerous things as a kid. The workings of a child’s mind… So, we commemorated him as well.

Anyway, where were we? I was very sad, but this somber occasion provided me with the opportunity to reconnect with Sibel on a very hot August day, whom I have not seen for so many years.

We met that day and have been writing to one another, messaging and chatting since that day.

When she finished school, she moved to the United States with her surgeon husband, Kağan, and started a sweet life with their two little boys Aksel and Onat.

Our Sibel is a psychotherapist, painter and writer, and an eminent one. And since she doesn’t need me to promote her, especially in the United States, I can safely say this, and hope that she doesn’t get cross with me for being so blunt.


Last Thursday evening, I was chatting with students from the Istanbul Technical University at an online meeting, and I received a message from Sibel.

When the meeting was over, I saw that she had read my new article and immediately gave me her usual elegant weekly commentary.

I responded: “What’s up? How are you doing?

She wrote back: “I’m taking an R & R break in Dalyan.

When I wrote, “I’m so jealous, I am coming too,” the poor woman thought I was joking, and acquiesced to my intrusion out of courtesy.

8:50am flight from Istanbul to Dalaman, then 10:30-11:00 from Dalaman to Dalyan.

I had been curious about Dalyan for years, it truly deserves all the praise.

When we were texting, she said that she was with a schoolmate (Şaylan); here is the two-day trio for you (they had been planning to have a quiet week, so I had that guilty feeling of maybe I shouldn’t be here).  The weather is wonderful, nature is glorious, the hotel is super clean, and because of the curfew, it is super quiet. All three of us hold foreign residence permits, so we are exempt from the curfew.

I asked the owner of the hotel, Mr Kerem, whether there was an available boat or yacht close by, saying, “Let’s see this channel that connects Iztuzu Beach to Köyceğiz Lake, which I have been hearing about for years.” It turns out Sibel and Şaylan are natives of the area.

I stopped by my room, turned on the air conditioner (and forgot that I did), took a mini shower, put on my swimsuit and t-shirt, and went straight to meet with them.

At that moment, Captain Ali arrived, and within five minutes we were already idling in the direction of Iztuzu on the boat.

The tombs opposite the hotel, the coast guard who let us through on the way down, the reeds, birds, turtles, mountains… I can’t describe how beautiful it is.

Captain Ali stopped on the way to buy us blue crab. We’re over the moon.

A two-car mini ferry passes by; so sweet.

In the meantime, I’m trying to slowly get to know Şaylan (Uran). An allround ‘joyful bug’. That’s the impression she gave me.

Instructor (Bilgi University), writer (Childhood in an Unequal Society) and the best part of it all is that she came to Dalyan 13 years ago and has pretty much never left. Although she changes location frequently, she is now a pure Mediterranean native. And it becomes her.

It’s been a great day; lots of conversation (they supposedly came for the peace and quiet, anyway, they’ll have five more days without me), a certain kind of sea that says “Don’t come out” and a dazzling landscape wherever you look.

You see plastic or glass bottles and plastic bags in the water from time to time, but well, this is Turkey. (Captain Ali said, “Turks are fly-tipping, the British are collecting trash…” How about that?)

We ate a delicious fish in the evening, and continued with the sweet conversation, Şaylan was tired and went to asleep; we continued chatting with Sibel.

It was one o’clock, and I said, “Sibel, I’m freezing”, and she said “I’m cold too…” See you at breakfast.

I went back to my room, and it is practically freezing.

It was already cold outside, and I can’t even tell you how I entered the room and found my way to the air conditioner to turn it off.

Please imagine me trying to wave in warm air from the hotel corridor using my hands standing at the entrance of the room.

Anyway, I had a good sleep that night, shower and shave in the morning, then off to breakfast.


Sibel and Şaylan had already asked for a generous breakfast order, and the table is being set up as we start chatting. 

I tell them about my air conditioner saga. We laugh together and the first response came from Şaylan.

Now you can plant a tree somewhere in return for the electricity you wasted and the environmental damage caused by air conditioning.

Oops… So they turn out to be activists. Sibel from one hand, and Şaylan on the other, they begin pestering me.

When I asked, “What tree are you talking about” our topic of the day was set.

As we spoke, the idea started to grow on me.

Here is an excerpt from one of Sibel’s beautiful articles:

…Claire Dubois is inviting us to reconsider how we have been defining ourselves as consumers and speaks to the need to reclaim our purpose as restorers of the planet (recioprocity). She points out how remarkably disrespectful the act of taking without reciprocating is with regards to the generosity of Mother Earth providing us with, well, pretty much everything…


The conversation kept expanding and they talked and talked, and the more I listened, the more I could make sense of the issue. After an hour of that lovely breakfast, the idea of an ‘MSA Istanbul Forest’ had flourished in my mind.

I think we now have another sensible, responsible and sustainable MSA project that is suitable in terms of scope.

I had ended my previous article with the words “Look where the gift of an old menu has taken me.

Let me finish this by saying, “See where a sweet text message has taken me.

To be continued in another article…

Because I want to tell you what happened to Mehmet, who came to MSA excitedly on Monday morning with a great idea after a great weekend, and what happened to MSA when he embarked on the project.

End of part one

Target: MSA Istanbul Forest.

Objective: One tree for all the consumables, stationery products and other similar materials used by one MSA student during his/her education.

Start: 11 thousand 748 graduates in 17 years, a tree for each graduate.

Next step: One tree for each of our new graduates.

A little note of respect to Mr. Ayan: Today, I was at a meeting with my old friend Emin Ali Sipahi at MSA about combining the unused parts of vegetables with our waste paper and turning them into fertilizer. When I told him about my weekend adventure, he said to me, “Dr. Ayan had stitched back my thumb at Pasteur Hospital, it’s all thanks to him that my thumb still works. I remember the ‘Petit Beurre’ biscuits he used to dip in tea like it was yesterday.” Salutations to him too…