Left.Posted: October 16, 2012
I proudly wore my lilac t-shirt walking down the middle of that unpaved street. Printed in the center was a white sunshine and round it written words I couldn’t read and didn’t understand. “Güneş Ana Okulu” My first uniform. I held my mommy’s hand tightly walking the streets of this unfamiliar place. I watched as children who were in the first shift walked home from school in their strange uniforms. I stared at the boys playing football in the street with a thin plastic ball that looked like it might pop if they kicked it too hard, or could carried away in a gush of wind.
Suddenly we hit a main road and from the dusty nothingness we were surrounded by loud, bumper to bumper, traffic. Blue minibuses packed window to window with people commuting to school, to work, to do the shopping, all kinds of people. The odd yellow taxi carrying the fortunate few who could afford it, mixed with the old rusty falling apart private cars. Dust and pollution filled my lungs. Street sellers crowded around shouting, all vying for customers. I clung tighter to that hand in mine, but still I walked proudly, showing off the logo on my t-shirt. I was going to pre-school.
I started to slow my pace. “Are your legs tired pumpkin?” I shook my head, and kept my eyes down. My surroundings beginning to overwhelm me, the noise of words I didn’t understand searing into my brain and filling it with fear. “I don’t think I want to go to school mummy. I think I’ll go back home.” I’m sure there was amusement in my mom’s voice at my pragmatic decision to just go home, but I’m sure it also broke her heart a little too. She tried to re-assure me. “It’ll be fun, it’s a lovely place, with lovely teachers. You’ll have so much to do. You’re a big girl now, so you get to do big girl things, like going to school.” It pacified me for a few minutes. Then the thought of being alone in this new world where nothing made sense caused tears to well up in my eyes, “Maybe I’ll just go to school with daddy and the boys” I suggested. My baby mind so simplistic and so willing to find a solution to any problem. “You can’t go there yet, and this school will be much more fun anyway.”
We were at the gate, before me were a flight of concrete outside stairs to the front door of my new pre-school. My mom had let go of my hand to open the gate, I took a deep breath and then took a hold of my mom’s hand once more. I asked what seemed like a reasonable question, to which the answer would surely be yes. “Will you stay with me mommy?” She stopped mid-step and knelt beside me. She lifted my chin so my eyes met hers. “Mommy has lots of things she has to do today, I can’t stay. You’re a brave girl pumpkin, you don’t me there. Anyway you’ll have lots more fun without me! You’ll make so many friends.” I looked down at my feet and saw my new shiny black shoes, covered in dust from the walk. I was scared, but she was right, I could make some friends, I pondered for a few moments. My mother knelt patiently waiting for me. I took her hand and together we climbed the stairs.
I watched as she pressed the doorbell and I heard it ring inside. Once the ringing stopped I could hear a television in the background and children’s voices. I heard a lady shout to another and then footsteps. She opened the door and smiled big at me. She dragged me in and lent over me. She pinched my cheek hard between the knuckles of her index and middle finger and shook hard. Stepping back she rambled all these words to me, and the only one I recognized was “Merhaba” – hello. I looked at her wide-eyed, stunned into silence. Just as I was regaining sense another lady walked over and also completed the cheek-pinching-ritual, only this time she used both her hands to do both cheeks at once. I winced and pulled away. I turned to look at my mommy, and tears started spilling over quicker than I could stop them. It had hit me, she wasn’t leaving me at a pre-school. She was leaving me in a place full of people who neither understood me nor I them. She was leaving me in a world that made no sense, and I felt like she was abandoning me.
I cried so hard, sobbing and snotty, clinging to her. She allowed me a few minutes to hurt and then began taking off my shoes. I begged her not to leave, to take me with her. I clung to her, and I told her my biggest fear in that moment, the one thought that was overwhelming the whole of my tiny body. “What if you don’t come back?” She looked at me very seriously and replied “I will be back,” and then lighter “before you even know it” and she poked the end of my wet and snotty nose with affection. “But I never got to see my other friends again after we said goodbye to them.”
That’s when I saw it, to my child’s eyes it was just confusion. To my adult eyes it’s a heart breaking, it’s fear, and it’s a realization of what she had stepped into. It was the moment she realized she was bringing up MK’s. The moment she realized the complex emotions she would have to help her children navigate at too young an age, the situations she would have to guide them through, and the fact that already, just a few months in this lifestyle, her baby girl’s heart, mind and life path were being affected. She gave me a tight hug, so tight I thought the air might never fill my lungs again, and then she held me at arms length and said. “but this isn’t goodbye, it’s just see you later.” I stopped crying for a moment and smiled. “I like see you later.”
She turned to leave, I started wailing and crying once more. “But they don’t understand me. When will you come back for me?” She knelt again, the ever patient mother. She slipped her adult sized watch onto my tiny child sized wrist. It dangled round my hand, so loose that it could easily slip off. She held my arm up and pointed the the little hand. “See this line? It moves. See this number, its the number 1, it looks like a line.” I nodded, confused as to where this was leading. “When that line hits the number one, I’ll be here ready to take you home, and we’ll go home and have cuddles and play and wait for your dad and the boys to get home” I looked at her confused, but quietened. “See where it is now? That’s number 9, lets count how many numbers are in between.” We counted slowly together “1, 2, 3, 4” “That’s right! 4! Now 4’s not such a big number is it?” I looked around at the teachers gathered and watching now, this practice so foreign to them, and the language totally alien. I looked back at my mummy “But that’s a long time, 4 is an even bigger number than I am! I’m only 3!” She smiled at me, “4 is easy. if you get scared or sad, you can just sit there and count 1, 2, 3, 4 and you can look at the watch and remember that I’m coming soon.” With that she stood up and left.
I sat on the spot and cried. I felt abandoned. The teachers around me talked to me, but it scared me further. Some girls came by to try and make friends but I just stared, they wore the same t-shirt as me, but they spoke a language I didn’t understand, and they pointed at my skirt, and my pale skin, they stroked my curly then-blonde hair so alien to them. They laughed and I thought it was at me, I felt like a freak for all to mock and see. I cried harder. I was no longer proud to wear that lilac t-shirt with it’s big white sunshine and words that made no sense.