Where Am I?
by Sumeyra N.
I am in the living room at my home, tidying up my son’s toys before bedtime on a hot, July evening in 2016. Even though it was late on Friday my husband was still working in the study. Suddenly he called at me to turn on the TV.
There was coup attempt. All the roads were closed and flights were delayed. There were announcements for everyone to stay where they were. Almost an hour later, the president of our country made an announcement. He said that traitors were trying to stage a coup, that the government would find and punish all the opponents who support them. He said that everyone should go into the streets immediately to protest this coup attempt.
If this was true, my husband told me, there won’t be a life for us in this country any more. He was a medıa owner and his news website was well-known for being critical of the government.
As we were talking we heard a lot of noise outside. The streets were full of government supporters. My husband had to go to the market to get milk for our son. I watched him from the balcony. When he arrived at the market on the corner, the protesters were in front of the door. Suddenly a friend of my husband pushed him and told him to get away from the crowd in case somebody might try to take revenge on him.
When he came back we turned off the lights. Then we heard a military jet and gun noises. I thought a bomb had fallen near our house, and called my husband, crying with my son in my arms. He told me it was not our home but the police station a block away.
I am at work, in the Municipal Cultural Services Department on Monday morning. We were informed that there were new rules at the work. They took our personal e-mail passwords and said they will control our computers. Also we had to join the protests in the evenings, take selfies in the crowd and send them to the supervisors every day.
We watched the news all day and night. Everyday somebody, even pregnant women were arrested. There were pictures of tortured soldiers and civilians all over the news spread by pro-government media organizations to scare people more.
I am in my bedroom. It was one week after the coup attempt, the police came to our home in the morning at 5:00 am. Mom, my two-year-old son and I were at home. My husband was at the mosque for the morning pray.
The police wanted to arrest my husband and also had permission to search our house. When leaving, they took our laptops, cameras and all digital equipment, even our private photos of the family while shouting and threatening us. After they left I reached my husband through some frıends and told hım to escape.
I am in a park at the outskirts of the town, meeting with my husband secretly. I couldn’t reach my husband for one week. At last he called me and told that he would give himself over to the police. He was concerned that if he didn’t my son and I would be taken as hostage by police.
They arrested him at the police statıon. I didn’t know ıf he could come back home or if I would see hım again.
I am on the streets, trying to cover my tears. One week later they released my husband pending trial. But a few days later, a lawyer came to my office. He took my statement, asked me some questions. Then a few days later, in the middle of the work day, my supervisor told me that I was dismissed. They took me out of the building by police in front of my colleagues. I couldn’t even take my stuff from the office.
I am hiding with my family at relatives. My husband and I were both jobless and had no money to survive. The government had passed a law that if someone was dismissed from their job for not supporting the government, no company could hıre them.
My husband was Canadian citizen, so he went to Canadian consulate and asked for help but because of he was dual citizen they couldn’t help us. We wanted to get out of the country by legal ways. I tried to renew my expired passport but they told me they had some documents about me so I couldn’t get a new passport. We had no chance to escape from the country legally.
I am in the balcony at the fifth floor home, watching the full-moon. On our last night, both of our families met at my mother-in-law’s home. After dinner I wanted to talk with my brothers and so talked to each in turn on the balcony. I asked that they not leave my divorced mom alone and made promises to be a family together one day again. Each of the three boys went back inside like a grown-up man. The wind dried my tears before I followed them.
After I waved my brothers from the balcony for the last time, I raised my eyes to the sky. It was a full-moon. I thought about where I would be at the next full-moon, and promised myself to look up the sky and remember this night again.
I am in the mountains with the smugglers. We have sold our new car and given the money to the smugglers. They will take us to Greece by crossing the Maritza Rıver in a small boat.
I prepared a backpack for the journey in a few hours; put two sets of clothes for us, a few diapers and formula for my son.
On a September morning, we went to the riverside of Maritza with the smugglers. There were Greek police on the river looking for the fugitives so the smugglers took us to a nearby mountain to wait for the right time.
I am running to the river. After a few hours the smugglers took us to the side of river. We had to move very quickly. İn the rush I dropped my son’s formula bottle and couldn’t get ıt back. He started to cry, smugglers were getting mad because of the noise. We got on a small boat which was full of water almost over the feet and we had no lıfe jackets. With the screams of my son we arrived on the other side of the rıver but we couldn’t get on the land. There was a bog and my husband went down into it holding my son. We finally stepped on the land and started to run.
I told my son, it was a game. There were giant animals around the river. I tried to frighten him. But he was clapping his hands with excitement. Because he imagined the animals and said he saw them in the forest.
I am in Greece. After running for one hour we got in a car to the city center. Our plan was go to the Canadian Consulate but our clothes were very muddy and my son need to change diapers. We decided to stay ın a hotel and go to the consulate the next day. After a few hours, the Greek police were at the door. We realized that the receptionist reported us to the police. They took us to the police station.
I am at the police station. The smugglers who helped us were also there. We pretended not to know each other. They took my statement together with my husband’s. Then by separating us, they asked some more questions. When we were leaving the office to go to another jail, the chief of police came by shouting at us. He showed us a wooden toy car which was found in the smuggler’s car. It was my son’s toy. After more yelling he said he believed our innocence despite this clue. For me, our silence was loyalty to someone who’d saved us.
I am at the detention center. They took our belts, shoe laces and sharp objects. It was almost 6.00 am and my son was hungry. He was crying very loud. I wanted milk, formula or at least herbal tea for him but couldn’t get any. When he was tired of crying he fell into a sleep. After taking photos and fingerprints we slept too.
We stayed in that jail one week. I was the only woman ın there, the twenty of us using just one toılet. During this time we didn’t want to make our family worried so we called them by phone card from jail, told them we were staying at a hotel and everything went well.
I am in the refugee camp. After our process was done, they send us to the refugee camp. We stayed in a prefabricated house there. There were six houses surrounded by a stone fence. There was a small police center near the door inside the fence. Our meals were hard boiled eggs, white cabbage salad and two slices of stale bread.
Once we had to do some paperwork with officials and I had to keep my son busy. Suddenly I saw the electric cables above our heads and started to tell the journey of light as a story to my son, how ıt goes through the cables to the countries, homes, stores, streets. He loved the story. I told him again and again for two hours until my husband was done.
Days passed and still no decision made. We wanted them to send us to Canada. But ıt was the first time a Canadian (my husband) was in the Refugee camp, so they couldn’t decide his situation. My son was Canadian because of his father but didn’t have papers yet. Besides this, I had no passport or any identity, because the Turkısh Government had seized all of them.
After ten days at the camp, the officers told us to pack our stuff. We thought that they’d made a decision at last and would release us. My husband went to the officers to say his thanks. The officers look surprised. It didn’t make sense at first but when the bus took us to another place we understood.
I am in another jail, worse than the others. Smelly blankets, mouldy walls… We learned ıt was called ‘Second Guantanamo’ by the prisoners.
We took off our belts, pins, and sharp things. The soldiers were checking inside our bags for phones and cameras. My husband warned me that if we couldn’t take a cell phone inside we couldn’t reach Canadian Consulate. So we switched our bags with a fast move.
There were different refuges at the each of the cells. Some of them were escaping from Isis and some of them had to flee Syria because of the war. In the evenings, we told each other our stories and of the shiny days our past. Nobody could sleep because of the worries. The prisoners started to sing songs to each other as a gift.
Once we met a woman who had been there for a long time. She became like a frıend of the soldiers. She told us she could take us to a soldier’s room to have good food for once. We were hungry and jumped at the offer. The next day we were in a small kitchen with them. My husband chatted with the soldıer, and the woman and I started to cook a meal. She took a pot that had been in front of a big dog and without cleaning put the meat inside. When I saw this I realized that was the dog’s pot but it didn’t matter. We needed to eat because we were starving.
I was in the hospital, visiting my son. There was no heater inside the prison and my son got sick. He coughed all night and nobody could sleep. We asked soldiers to take us to the doctor. The closest hospital was three hours away. In the morning they let only one parent go with him. I wanted to go but my English was not very well so my husband went. But my son cried and wanted me. In the evening they took me to the hospital. When my son saw me the first thing he said ‘Mom, how dıd you escape from there?’
My husband went back to prison, I stayed at the hospital with my son with the police waiting in front of our room door. The doctor said my son had a very bad cold and needed to stay at the hospital for three days. But a few hours later we were told that there wasn’t any room available for my son.
I was back in the jail. I was sad to come back with my son still ill. Also I got news that new male prisoners would be coming and our cell would be full. Then a strange woman appeared at the door and called my name. I was surprised that she knew my name. When she came in I understood. She was Turkish, had been caught like us, and the Turkısh prisoners at the other cell told her my name.
When I was helping her to settle in she told her story. She and two kids had to cross the border to meet her husband who had sought asylum in Europe. When they were caught, the police took her phone and they lost connection with his husband, so he was waiting for them unaware of what had happened. We called her husband with our cell phone so that he would know what happened and they could make plans for what to do next.
This seemed to me how destiny works. If we’d stayed at the hospital that night, we wouldn’t have met her. Also she had some more woolly kid’s clothes which my son desperately needed. He was finally warmer and recovered in a short time.
It was almost ten days in this jail and we were afraid that we would be deported to Turkey. My husband was trying to reach the Canadian Consulate every day. At last one day we got an e-mail from Canadian Consulate Officials. They were coming to visit us in the jail.
A few days later, we met them in the jail’s waiting room. I felt like I was seeing somebody from my family. We told our story with all details and they promised us to do what they could.
I am on a train taking our documents to the officials. It was a short distance but my son was bored and started to fool around. I warned him a few times but he didn’t take it serious. Suddenly I lost control and started to yell in the train. I was yelling at my son, my husband and even the other people in the train. It was a tantrum, I didn’t recognize myself. I threw my backpack to another seat but it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to throw everything, upside down all around the world. A voice inside my mind was telling me to break the windows of the train and run out of the place. Out of the train, out of the country, out of the world… I wanted to run until I could find the place where I’d lost myself. But I couldn’t. Instead I leaned my head to the window and started to watch the mountains remembering my son’s words about them. When we were in a car a few days after we got out of prison, he wanted my phone and took some pictures of the mountains on the road. Then said to me: Mom, I will send this photo to Heidi (the cartoon character) and say to her `Look Heidi, finally I have the mountains like yours, too. `
Between the crowd of voices in my mind, I tried to call out to Heidi, telling her those are my mountains, too. Finally.
I am in Canada with my family, happy and safe. After waiting one more month for our papers, we came to Canada on a November morning.
It was a cold snowy night. There was a big window in front of me and I was looking outside. White… white… white… Suddenly I saw the sky. It was the full moon again, bright… The thoughts, the concerns and the memories started to come to my mind. I remembered my promise which I made at one dark night.
I stood up slowly with the tiredness of a long adventure and hopes of a new life in my heart. I opened the closet and took my old backpack which was used in this journey. I put inside our clothes from the refugee camp and shoes which we used when crossing the river. And there were some seeds which I had took from my grandma’s garden when I was leaving the country. I opened their special box, fondled them for a while and decided I would plant the seeds in Canada as roots of my family. One day those seeds will grow into a tree, I will give my son this backpack and tell our story under that tree.