A Not So Turkish Life

Brain itch

The way depression/anxiety manifests for me is an inability to stem the storm in my brain. When I’m busy climbing trees, teaching lessons, baking and cooking with the boys, I don’t feel anything but content. In the moment life’s everything I’d dream it to be and the smile on my face is genuine. But when the pace slows, when there’s nothing actually occupying my brain, a cacophony of noise erupts inside. Jumping from one topic to another, connecting dots and interlinking it all, doubt and positives all swirling together in a puddle that’s consistently growing and sometimes hard, tiring to stay adrift in.

Last night I had a nightmare. I was at home, in somewhere that isn’t our home, wearing shorts and a little vest top. My hair was scrapped back, there were people around me and we all were laughing together. As we walked past the front door, the bell rang. Without thinking, I opened it, standing back as I did so so the door covered me from the outside. Inside walked three men who immediately began screaming at me in Turkish for having answered the door in such a state of dress. I woke up shaken pretty soon after and don’t remember the rest, but I know exactly where the angst that triggered the dream came from.

Since the July 15th coup attempt, thousands of people have been arrested, imprisoned, removed from jobs and left in a state of limbo that there seems to be no exit from. some of these people were actively funding, aiding or drumming up support for the Gulen movement with full knowledge of the extent to which the group sought to take control in Turkey. Of these, many were in positions inside government offices, schools and other roles of influence. Many of the people arrested however were unaware of the organisations intent. As a moderate islamic cleric, Gulen has for years been a person followed, often loosely, by people seeking to find an Islamic way of life that is complimentary to a western/modern lifestyle. The Gulenist organisation has provided – directly and indirectly – education and jobs to tens of thousands. Many of the people arrested, sacked, interrogated have been people who have simply benefited from education, jobs or financial aid from these ‘social services’ under the Gulenist bracket. People who attended “sohbets” or conversation groups, helped raise funds for schools, sent their children to these schools as the better educational option in the area or took well-paid jobs in these establishments are under suspicion. For lots of these people the repercussions of the attempted coup has meant a loss of jobs with no prospect of finding another job in their field; and it affects the partners of these people too. Stories of both parents being left jobless, needing to find another school for their children, and being ostracised from their communities for the suspicion their interrogation has brought upon them..these stories are common. Foreigners are far from immune. Anyone who has worked for a school, translation bureau, media communication linked in any way to the Gulen organisation is under suspicion and again, stories of deportations, arrests without charge and raids on houses are slowly seeping out into the news. Just yesterday we were pulled over by the Jandarma, or military police. It was a routine road block, all too frequent (and necessary) these days, but even though you know you’ve nothing to fear, even as you tell your kids these smiling soldiers are doing their job to keep us safe, you can’t help passing over your ID with slightly sweaty palms.

Turkey is a country where law and the legal system is fluid. Take for example the housing situation and land deeds; many houses on sale for half a million and more have no valid deed – that is, legally the house does not exist. At anytime it is legally possible that the government could order the house to be pulled down. At the same time, these houses are connected to government supplied electricity, water, gas…all amenities are fed into these houses and bills duly received and (mostly) paid by inhabitants.  The government is well aware the house shouldn’t be there, but as it is, for now, that fact’s ignored. People buy and sell properties like this with little fear there will be legal comeback, or the reassurance that if there is, the process would take so long to finalise that there is no real risk to their lifestyle.When the law is not stable, when you can’t rely on justice because the definition is forever shifting, you start to feel you can pick and choose the laws you abide by, and you define the risk of your ‘crime’. At the moment, we’re living on the illegal side of the law. According to statute, M should have started school this year. We’re not sending him and we’re not worried about the punishment we could face. Of course this is Turkey and things change overnight, but the worst punishment we fear is a monetary fine that even for both kids annually is less than private school for one of them. That said, it is still likely that at some point in this journey we will get a knock on the door from the police. They could question the kids as to why they’re not in school and demand to see proof they’re not being forced into work. While again we don’t fear that…our house is a statement to homeschooling (complete with all the mess that that entails!) and the Minister for Education in this area is aware we’re homeschooling and (unofficially) supports our choice…it’s still something that lingers in the background; will today be the day we’re questioned on the education we’re giving our kids?

Living “outside the law” if you like, no matter how light a reality that may be, makes social interactions complicated. As I’ve explained before, recent history has left an air of suspicion that is hard to clear. If you don’t follow the path dictated and shown by the masses, you bring that suspicion down on yourselves. You’re the wierdos in the corner of the street, the oddities no-one can quite define. Our half-foreign status excuses us some of this; suspicion is replaced with an expectation of wierdness, but it doesn’t remove it entirely and it still makes you different to them. When you’re actively choosing an illegal route to educating your children, you choose an option that is not for everyone. And when your options are not options for others, conversations become complicated and tense. It’s tricky to navigate friendships with people whose kids are in a system you disagree with when you know they disagree with the system too yet don’t have the chance to opt out. To have the confidence to stand out of the system is a privilege that a certain ammount of money, education and determination only brings. You’ve got to feel you’ve got nothing to loose. As dual nationals living as Turks, our kids are expected to be in the school system. As dual nationals, we do have a legal route to take them out. If worst comes to worst and we’re challenged by the government, the boys will be enrolled in an online UK-based school and the legal requirement of providing an education will be satisfied – purely on a paper level. It wouldn’t have any influence on our actual schooling of the boys nor their graduation outcome but the Turkish paper trail would be clean. I hate that. I hate that one it is so easy for us to fluff it…all we need is a little money…and two that it’s an option not available to full nationals. The idea of homeschooling in the shadows adds to the itching in my brain; the knowledge I don’t have to, that I can openly state we choose to educate our kids at home scratches another part. I don’t want this privilege yet rely on the security bracket of it. As a foreign, western, university educated mother I’m able to feel confident that the fluidity of the law could flow gently the right direction; as a headscarved woman with Turkish nationality, I wouldn’t have that confident belief. Again, though our intention is to be in, reality places us out.

In the day, I don’t think of this. We read books by torchlight inside cosy blanket forts, take PE lessons climbing trees, forage blackberries for Home Economics porridge, count tiles and erupt vinegar lava bombs. But at night, when they’re asleep, and the lesson plans aren’t being done, there’s a hundred ants walking in my brain.

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This entry was published on 10/01/2016 at 10:49 and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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