Upside Down

The story of a preschool teacher who was once acknowledged with many awards but labeled a terrorist later: a mother who had to give birth all alone, a wife who had to afford her family’s life by painting stones, surely a warrior who had to leave everything she built behind.


I was born in 1988 into a family of teachers. My biggest dream was to become a preschool teacher. Years later, my mom showed me my notebook which I wrote in 3rd grade. There was a question in this notebook: “What do you want to become when you grow up?”  And the answer was: “I want to be a preschool teacher.” It was a very sacred role for me.

I taught preschool for eight years.  During all these years, I always taught my students to be honest, just and good people, to love, to be conscientious, to be fair, and to not lie no matter what.

I got married to a math teacher, and we have a son. When our son was five and a half and I was expecting a new baby at any moment, all good things in Turkey started to turn upside down.

It was Friday, July 15th. While my husband and I were watching TV, having tea and sunflower seeds, Our son and my nephew were playing upstairs. Suddenly, there was news on TV that a coup happened in Turkey. We were shocked at what was going on.

My school principal called me to school on July 22nd. He gave me a document suspending me, and just four days later we learned that my husband was also suspended from his position at the university. With one small child and another on the way,we didn’t have a basic salary, or health insurance, we had nothing.

At this time there was an order to arrest my husband.  Anyone can face imprisonment at any time due to the judicial system in Turkey. When my husband learned about his situation, he went to one of his friends’ house, leaving me alone with my son.

One morning, I woke up in a house where I was alone. I didn’t have anyone but Allah. I woke up early in the morning. I did my daily prayer. I went to hospital alone to give birth, praying as I drive the car. Everyone has their husbands, relatives, or mothers with them, but I was the only one by myself in the hospital .

Then my daughter was born. She was premature, and needed to stay in an incubator, but I was afraid of what would happen to me. I took the child, and I got out of the hospital.

After a while, my son started wetting his bed. He couldn’t stand being without his dad. He was waking up from his dream every night screaming “father.” He lost his appetite. He was saying that “mom, even if I grow up, who cares when my father is not with me.” My child was suffering. While he was suffering, I was always crying.

On July 15th when we were having tea and sunflower seeds, all of a sudden, they have declared us traitors. Until this time my husband and I had many awards and recognitions from the Ministry of National Education. I had prominent awards in my profession. But in just a single day I was declared uneducated.

Since I am  a preschool teacher, I started to have activities with my son. I took my son to the beach for a little change so that he could relax. We were interested in nautical rocks at the beach. We started to paint the rocks. While I was painting the rocks, my son was polishing them.  The next day we were going to the farmer’s market to sell these painted rocks with my son. My son was shouting: 1 lira, 1 lira. We made some money from this business with my son. I mean, it was not too much, but at least I could buy a small toy for my son to take home. I could buy bread for us. I was smiling as my son laughed.

After that, the circle was tightening for us. We couldn’t take our kids to the hospital. I couldn’t take my daughter for vaccinations. She had health issues from being born prematurely and not staying in the incubator.

We decided to flee abroad because we didn’t know what would happen to us if we stayed in Turkey. We were being hunted all around.

A week later my mom called me and said that they arrested my dad. And I asked my mom, “How did that happen?” The police officers came home, and they couldn’t find us, and they arrested my father instead. Then we learned that they sent my dad to prison.

Later on, my father was released, but he is still taking heavy anti-psychotic drugs, and he was never himself again.  He felt terrible, had crying fits, unable to believe what he had experienced. During the investigation, they told my dad how they would torture me and my husband.

We had already decided to flee abroad. Then we learned about human smugglers. We had never done anything illegal in our lives. The smugglers demanded a large amount of money. We had to take this risk. They boarded us with three families on a tourist boat. In the middle of the sea, we transferred to a yacht. After a while traveling with this yacht, the captain said that he didn’t want to go further.  He said, “I am afraid to be caught by Greek police officers.” He told us to get out of the yacht and swim. We begged him: “Please do not do this, we have little kids and a newborn baby.”

Then, he inflated one white boat. I never forget that boat. He said that he could get only women, men must stay. I mean you can’t ask any questions under this conditions. So you have to do everything that he was saying. If you go back to Turkey, there will be worse than this, there will be torture and being separated from your kids. The boat was moving forward, and we were continuously praying. Oh Allah, please help us. And it was September, it was such a cold day. While we were moving forward, the boat ruptured. The captain was very worried. He started to drive faster. The boat was filling up with more water.  Initially, water reached up to my ankles. The water level was gradually increasing in the boat. While we were getting closer to the coast, the water level reached my knees, and then my son’s waist. I lifted up my daughter, and I started praying: “Oh Allah for these children’s sake, please help us. They are innocent. Maybe I am not but they are. They must live even if we die.” I lifted up my daughter and kept praying. I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt very helpless.

Thank God, we got off the boat. I was in a country where even the alphabet was different from mine. I fled from my homeland, which I loved so much, in tears. I was still looking at the breaking news when I was fleeing my country, just hoping for a change, and that the people would realize that they were wrong. It was as if mountains and rocks told us to go away. Go and be free.

I started waiting for my husband in the Greek Island. An hour passed and my husband didn’t show up. I thought that something happened to him, they might have killed him. Because if they kill fleeing people then they will be given a reward in Turkey. One and half hours passed but my husband didn’t show up. In the meantime, my son grew bored of playing games.

Recently my son did not speak much. He just pointed to the sea and asked, “Mom, isn’t my dad over there now? ” I started to crying as he was also crying. He asked me: “Mom, what are we going to do now? I know that you are good people. Why did they do this evil to us, why didn’t they let me play with my toys? I missed my room, Mom. Aren’t you going to miss Turkey? Aren’t our grandparents there? Why are you doing this to me? Why do you keep me away from everything I love?  They also took my dad away from me.”

Now, we were both crying  while looking at the sea. Then someone touched my back. I looked back, and it was my husband. I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe my eyes, because I had given up hope. My son jumped with joy, screaming “Dad!” So everyone was looking at us.

Our past, our minds, our hearts were all in Turkey. You can run away, but it doesn’t matter. You even feel a weird remorse. You question whether you left everyone just to save yourself. But you have kids, so you have to do it.

Our biggest dream was to come to Germany since we know that education, safety, democracy, civil rights are better in Germany. We got our plane tickets to Germany.

We got on the plane, and the plane took off. Even though the plane took off, we couldn’t believe it, and our minds stayed put.  We thought that someone would come, detain and kill us. We landed in Munich.

While we were on the way to the baggage claim area to get our luggage, two police officers stopped us. They took us to the airport police office. They took my husband and me in separate rooms. When the police officer saw that my baby was crying, he brought milk for my daughter. I was so surprised. While you needed a lot of help, you couldn’t get any in Turkey, but it was surprising for us to see such goodness in a foreign country.  I was so happy.

They told us that we have to take off our clothes due to state laws of asylum. I still can’t forget that. They took my clothes off, and I was having my period. I was crying from embarrassment the whole time – I don’t even undress in front of my mother. I felt like I had lost everything. It was tough for me. My husband and I could not look at each other’s faces after leaving separate rooms. I was feeling like a living death.

Then they sent us to a refugee camp in Munich.  It wasn’t bad for me, because I had been homeless for a long time. I was so much in love with home in the camp, I felt like wiping and kissing the walls of my home. My son had his own bed. It really meant a lot to me. I cried my heart out when I left this place.

We had a court date, at which we told everything that we had lived through. We have all of our documents with us, including diplomas, certificates of achievement, and awards from the Turkish Ministry of National Education. The judge was surprised. He said, “How are they sending out such educated people from your country?”

The judge asked me, what am I thinking about Germany?  I said that I love Germany. They give 90 euros per month per person to refugees in Germany, and I said: “I am recording all the money that you have provided us. When my status improves, and I find a job, I want to pay back all this money to your country. I’m all grateful to the German nation.” The judge was very touched. He said “You don’t need to do that. We didn’t lend you that money. You can record that. You are doing right, you can save that money, and you can give to your friends who came after you.” It was such an act of kindness from him.

Right now we are in our home. It is as small as a box but it is very lovely. When we came home the first time, we didn’t have anything. But at the end of the week, we invited our friends from the camp to our house.  They slept on the floor while we also were sleeping on the floor, because we didn’t even have a bed. Since then, we have furnished our home.

Thank goodness for our situation now. We never thought that we had done something wrong. All this will pass. I hope better days will come. I wish for the sun to rise in our country.”