Have you ever come face to face with death? Have you ever said, it’s all over now, I think I won’t see the morning? Have you ever thought, will I feel the cold as I die? Have you ever moaned with anguish, thinking, how can I save the babies and the little children, forgetting about yourself?
But we did.
Haven’t you heard the cries of the children, and the shrieks of the mothers? You perhaps didn’t, but the earth trembled, and the skies wept for our helplessness. Those with blinded consciences did not see us for two years. We were fired from our jobs, we went hungry, we were rotting in jail, and all you said was ‘serves them right.’ We were exiled, we died on the way, and you ignored us. Now I am calling out to you, oh humanity! What kind of spell is this, that caused your consciences to go blind.
This journey will be a turning point for us, but for those who forced us onto this journey, it will be recorded in history as a reason for their embarrassment. We squeezed our entire world into a backpack. We left behind our loved ones, our house, and our memories. We never looked behind. Because if you look back, you can’t go; you can’t leave your father crying at the doorstep. They say fathers don’t cry, but they do cry when they are sending off their beloved children into the unknown…
A man we didn’t recognise welcomed us. Fifteen of us shared a house. We shared our food. The hardest bit was to wait. The time for resuming our journey was being delayed for various reasons. Minutes felt like ages… Finally, one evening we set out for the boat. Our heartbeats could almost be heard from outside.
There were prayers on our tongues. There was submission and inability to do anything in our eyes. The car journey ended in the middle of the forest. It was cold, and our children were afraid. We started walking. Darkness was never so dark before. Thorns were piercing our bodies, we were trying to protect our children. All we wanted from God was patience and strength. The cries of the babies were penetrating the darkness of the night, as we were finding it harder to make out our path. Our knees were giving way. We arrived at the shore, sometimes walking and at times crawling, with our hands and faces covered in blood. We were entrusted to God only, 32 people on a small boat. We said ‘bismillah’, and starting with the name of God, we set out on the journey to freedom.
We were reminded of Jonah. We sought refuge in the Creator of the night, and the only One who can pacify it. We repeated Jonah’s prayer in the whale’s belly, ‘There is no God but You, glory be to You, I have wronged myself.’ (Quran 21:87)
The captain we were entrusted was unfortunately trying to benefit from our helplessness. He started to steer us towards a light. But there wasn’t a single sign to show us that the island was inhabited. He was insisting that he was on the right track as he kept asking for more money. It didn’t take us long to realise that if we didn’t hand him the amount he wanted, he was going to victimise us and perhaps was going to give us into the hands of oppressors.
When his request was accepted, he started looking for a shore. He didn’t know the route, and he didn’t know how to steer well. The man to whom we had entrusted our lives turned out to be a swindler. We had stopped worrying about being caught, we now worried about leaving the sea behind alive and well. Our cries were reaching up to the heavens. Right at that moment our boat hit a rock. That moment, we said to ourselves, ‘it is finished’. It was getting colder and the waves were getting stronger. Mothers were embracing their children and were weeping and wailing. Death was at our door; no one deserved such a treatment. Just when we were thinking that everything was over, for the sake of the innocent ones among us, the Lord showed us the shore.
As soon as the boat approached the shore, we jumped down the boat. We were soaked. My child, who hadn’t been afraid of anything till that point, started crying when one of his boots fell into the sea. ‘Mom, what am I gonna do now, my boot is gone!’ More than the hardships we faced on our journey, it was these words of my child that touched my heart the most. We then started walking towards the lighthouse. When we reached it, we started waiting. But the wind and the night’s cold wasn’t going to let us stay there.
We set out to find a solution and we heard a car’s engine. Soldiers on duty at the island saw us. They approached us and told us to get down on our knees, with their guns pointing towards us. We tried to explain ourselves, telling them not to send us back. We told them what awaited us if we were sent back. Fear and the cold was in our very bones now. My brain was almost paralysed. The soldiers put us on boats. The soldiers cared for the children most. Our hopes began to blossom after seeing how they treated our children, after seeing how they were treated and how new born babies were put in prison back at home. It felt very strange to find safety under the flag of another nation in a coastguard’s boat. A journey towards the island of Chios started that felt like it was taking ages to get there. They did what they could to warm up the children and protect them from the cold. Parents were trying to remain strong. Our feet were getting numb from the cold. The wind was penetrating our skins. Finally, we arrived. They treated us like guests on the island. They gave the mothers and children warm rooms to rest.
A kind-hearted policeman took care of all of our needs. They gave fruits and all kinds of chocolates to the children. Their little hearts had persevered through a lot. But now their eyes were smiling. When our documents were processed, we were brought to the camp. When we saw the camp, we were speechless. How could people be forced to live in such conditions? I feared losing my mind. Then, they told us they were going to place us in a hotel after all our documents were processed. These glad tidings created a festive atmosphere among us. Our tears, from happiness and sorrow, did not stop.
We arrived at the hotel after a health check. To be able to take a bath and have a proper meal after days, made us feel so thankful to God, and made us appreciate the fact that were living in such abundance. We felt so thankful, now that we were free. As the poet says, a man can live without bread, but he only breathes, does not truly live without freedom. We started to feel alive. We started to realise, once again, that we were doctors, engineers, journalists, professors, teachers, judges, prosecutors. We must be gaining our self-confidence and started from zero again. A blank, clean page was opening in front of us.
We said our farewells and arrived at the mainland. Everyone was helping us, and everyone was ready to share their meals. This was not a fairy tale, nor was it a figment of imagination. In the house we arrived at, a sister with three children welcomed us, whose husband was in another country. This warmth we felt from people made us feel so good, after the treatment and the feeling of rejection we had received even from our own families.
For us, this is a new life and it is full of unknowns, but we are more hopeful and excited than ever. But I will never forgive those who forced us to leave our homes at midnight and set out on a journey to an unknown. You will drown in the tears of innocent children. Never forget, every Pharaoh had a Moses, and each Pharaoh had a demise worse than the last…
This is a story of a group of people who traveled from Turkey to Greece on a boat, told by one of the travelers. In 2017, over a thousand people embarked on such journey to escape from the Erdoğan regime’s crackdown in Turkey. This is a translated version of a blog post.
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