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“I was a newly-wed 21-year-old, when I came to Izmir in 1980. It was the first time I saw the sea; it was amazingly blue. We came here for work. My husband was a cook and I worked as a cleaner. I didn’t speak Turkish then, since my native language is Arabic. I grew up with Arabic and Kurdish people, with Muslims and Christians in a small town in Southeastern Turkey.
Here, in Izmir, I was surprised to see the women I worked for, they were strong, educated women. I never went to school; women wouldn’t go to school in my home town. One day, after work, I was about to get on a bus to go home and I asked the driver about the destination. He didn’t bother to answer. Instead, he asked, “can’t you read the sign?” I was embarrassed, I couldn’t say I was illiterate. I had to do something about it. I started taking free Turkish courses and learned how to read and write.
My whole world changed after that. I had no idea there were so many things in written form. It was as if I was half blind. Usually, I clean windows with damp newspapers because they clean well. Suddenly the newspapers meant something else to me. They were full of stories. I started reading them before using them for cleaning. There were even stories from my home town.
I love the freedom in this city, I love walking alone on the streets. I can see Izmir is growing. We’re surrounded by high-rises, they built two highways next to our neighborhood and it gets harder to breathe because of the exhaust gas. My husband wants to go back to our hometown and sometimes I miss the fresh and clean air there, but then I think, if I go back, will I get to stroll around by myself again?”