POV

Running Through the Darkened Land

Then the music stopped, the electricity was gone. The faucet dried out and we had to go get water in big bottles from trucks parked in the square.

Story by Icarus Blake - Images by Muge Karamanci

Turkey has had an influx of over 1.6 million Syrian refugees to date, more than half are children. Camps are filled to capacity, many Syrians are moving to big cities in search of any means for survival. The unofficial number of Syrian refugees in Istanbul is nearing 500,000.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

My name is Moona. I was born in Aleppo, Syria, twelve years ago. My teacher told me that our city is one of the oldest in the world. It has beautiful gardens and busy markets. On my way to school, all the merchants call out my name. They give me small gifts. They make me feel safe. My brother Sami is ten and he is a pest. I love him, but we always fight. My mother says I have to be patient, boys are like that, but they get better as they age. I do not believe her.
I like the Beatles. My dad, Adnan, had some old CDs that he used to play in the car. Some of our local music is nice too, but now I listen to Coldplay and Amy Winehouse. They told me she died, I am very sorry about that. Sometimes I have dance parties with my girlfriends in my room. We don’t have Internet at home, but my cousin has a cafe’ with a big computer and lets me look at music videos.

My dad is a soldier in the Syrian Army. He is lucky to have a good job. Then the war began. I have not seen my dad for many months. My mother got really worried and quiet. She started sewing for some of the stores to make some money to buy food. I help her after I’m done with my homework. My uncle is nice and he takes us out to dinner a couple of times a week. He is a farmer and he told us it is now very dangerous to work in the fields, many of his workers have left. He is always very tired. He says we should stay home and not play in the streets any more.
We are not allowed to watch the news on TV any more. But I read the papers left on the café’s tables and I listen to the old men talking about terrible things while they drink tea in the afternoon. My cousin makes me help a little bit; most of the young people working for him have gone to war. I like working. I don’t like to be home because my mom is too sad and my brother cries all the time.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

Many people walk in the streets carrying old hunting guns. That really scares me. Then the big noises began. At first, I thought it was thunder, but the sky was clear. Then the school closed down. They told me the army needed it. I had to stay home most of the time and when we went out it was only after dark.
Then the music stopped, the electricity was gone. The faucet dried out and we had to go get water in big bottles from trucks parked in the square. People were fighting for it. A big man stole a bottle from me as I was carrying it back home. I fell to the ground and scraped my knee. I did not cry.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

My brother got much quieter. He spent most of his days piling up wooden cubes and rocks in the middle of the living room. His eyes were sad and scared. The noises got bigger and closer. My mother woke us up in the middle of the night. I wanted to drink but there was no water left. She told us to put on as much clothing as we could and wear our running shoes. Mine were pink. We were only allowed to fill our school backpacks with useful things. My mother had a big suitcase with wheels filled with clothing and a picture of my dad. It was very heavy. She told us we had to whisper and do what we were told.
My uncle was waiting for us in the street. He had a big Mercedes car; his son and wife were in it. The city was filled with the black shadows of people running away carrying big things on their heads. Children were crying. The sky was lit up by bombs and gun fire. Sometimes it looked pretty, but I knew it was very dangerous. It took us a long time to exit Aleppo. We took the country roads that went through my uncle’s fields. He stopped to open the fence where he kept his cows. He told us they needed to be free to look for food for themselves.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

I saw a brown and black cow that I loved cross the lights of the car. I had made a drawing of her for school. It was on the wall of my class. We drove in pitch dark for a long time. My uncle kept turning the lights on and off. Men stopped us all the time. Some of them were armed. They wanted my uncle’s car. He got angry with them and sped off. I fell asleep with my head on my mother’s shoulder. When I woke up it was light and the sky was gray with clouds. I was cold. Men in uniform made us get out of the car; they spoke a foreign language. My brother was crying feebly, he was scared and tired. My uncle put him on his shoulders.
There was a long line of people ahead of us. We went through gates guarded by many soldiers, in and out of ugly buildings. A nice woman from the Red Cross gave us drinks and some disgusting food. My mother told me we were in Turkey. I studied that in school, I mean, I knew where we were. She said there was no war there. We were safe. I wondered if my father was in Turkey too.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

My uncle left us to look for a relative that lived in a village nearby. People kept asking us questions. I was thirsty all the time, and very dirty. Scratching everywhere. My brother made buildings with rocks. He was happier. A nice old man came to take us away. We rode in the back of a truck full of broken cotton bails. I sneezed like crazy. It was kind of fun. We arrived at a tent camp. It was away from the main road.
Only Syrians lived there. Their hands were all scraped and dark, my uncle was waiting for us. He told my mother we could stay for a few days, but then we had to move on. He said we had to go to a city so that he could find work, the fields were flooded with refugees and there was no work. We ate meat cooked on the fire. It was good. People were mostly nice except for one man that was always hugging me and laughing. I did not like him.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

We left the camp early one morning. We stopped in many villages along the way, but there was no work anywhere. The police kept asking us for our registration papers. There were places where we could get free food . We rode on trucks and we walked long distances. I felt nothing. It was like a never ending bad dream. We slept in fields along the road. My uncle would make us nice brush beds and sing us songs to put us to sleep. My mother always caressed my face and told me she was proud of me.
In the villages, she would disappear for hours and always come back with some change. She bought us shoes, used ones; mine were ugly and a bit tight. I had to watch my brother for hours; he drove me crazy. One time, a man slapped him real hard because he had bumped into him while he was playing on the sidewalk. He cried so much. It was hard to wash ourselves. But my uncle knew where the secret water was in the fields because he was a farmer. The water was cold and winter was coming. Some people were very nice to us and gave us shelter for a night or two. Other people would push us away and kick us hard. It was scary.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

One day I fell asleep in the back of a covered truck and when I woke up, we had arrived in Istanbul. I had never seen so many lights in one place. So many stores, noise, cars, people… We slept in a big park in the center of the city. In the beginning, the police would wake us up and tell us to go. Then they became nicer and let us sleep for a few hours. My mother would make my brother and I sit on the sidewalk and beg for money. I was ashamed but I got used to it. I saw a café on the edges of the park and I went to see if they had any work. The man was nice and he gave me a tea. Then he told me to go away.
I could not speak their language. Some nice women would come and try to take us away to see a doctor. I always refused when I was alone. We went once with my mother and we found out my brother was sick. They gave us pills. They told us we could leave the city and go back to a camp. My mother would refuse. She left us alone from morning to night. I think she had a job, but she didn’t want to speak about it. I wanted to go back to school. Ask my teacher what was going on. I wanted to go back and see if my father had come back from the war.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

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