It Took Me 5,106 Miles to Grow Up
This is the story of what a young woman learned when she escaped Turkey and came to Canada. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, a lemon cake or a lemon pie. Make something and share with others. Share your pain so that it lessens, share your happiness so that it grows.
“This is how I feel, walking down the dark path, all alone.”
These are not my words but those of an eight-year-old girl who was forcefully separated from her father first, then her mother. They were put in jail, their crime being part of the Turkish Gulen movement of people united around high human values. Right now, in Turkey there are over 700 children and babies in jail with their mothers. So tell me, how can I overlook these helpless children? Imagine: it was the quietest night with an agitation in the air. A mother was dragged outside by police in front of her child, forcefully separated and put behind bars. Just like that.
I know that feeling – walking down the dark path, all alone. I know that feeling – when my father wasn’t allowed to pass through the gates to a flight to Canada as we tried to escape. My mind went blank and time kept ticking. We had to leave him behind in hopes of reuniting later. My brothers picked up the bags. Maybe they left without saying goodbye to my dad, I don’t remember. But I hugged him, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time.
Now I am wearing my white shoes. They are the first shoes that I bought with my own money. When I put them on, the immense independence and charm makes me feel like I can conquer the day. I remember a very specific day in June 2021 when I wore these same shoes while protesting in front of the Turkish Embassy in Kyrgyzstan. A Turkish teacher who brought changes to the education system in Kyrgyzstan and who won the hearts of many had been abducted by the Turkish government. He was brutally beaten and tortured for days. I protested with others for 7 days under the burning sun, requesting his release. I saw his wife crying in despair, begging for help. I saw the fear and desperation in everyone including myself. Nothing changed…he had been put behind jail bars, he had put on a soft smile in case his family saw him on TV.
The pain of my sunburn from protesting for 7 days was nothing compared to the deep burn marks on our hearts caused by this injustice.
It has been 639 days in Canada. It was never easy to begin with, a constant dilemma of giving up or moving on. I chose to move on while accepting my failures. We all have something to run from but sometimes you need the courage to face it. I found the courage in me through people I met here in Canada, like my friend and mentor Jill, like the volunteer family Helen and her husband, and the powerful women in my writing group. We are here living among you and we are here to be a part of a welcoming community, at least that is what I am here for.
Nikos Kazantzakis once said ‘The only way to save yourself is to endeavor to save others.’
Therefore, today I am standing here with my white shoes on, acknowledging how far I have come, remembering the innocent people, my friends, my professors, my relatives and the children behind bars for 8 years now. This is our story, all of us, each of us.
A girl my age in prison wrote a letter asking: “Is there no humanity left in us?”
I say: “I haven’t lost mine and it is now my greatest responsibility to be the voice of the victims.”
I am your witness. You are not forgotten.
Aybike Yalchin graduated with a major in English Literature and taught English Language Learners for more than 2 years in Kyrgyzstan. She came to Canada with her family a year ago. She thrives to continue her education and do what she enjoys the most. In her free time, she likes to write and spend time with her little brother.