Volume 16, Number 25
April 20, 2010

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This Week

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Damla OkayNotes from a Pessimist

I'm on the coach from İstanbul to Ankara. It's the end of spring break, and I know I have a million things to do. I knew that already while in Istanbul, spending days relatively freely, but, you know, you don't really panic until it's the last minute. As it is typical with Turkish buses, there is a little child a few aisles behind me and she constantly speaks. Or screams. Or sings. Or when she's finally tired and stops talking, her aunt makes her speak. Without a minute of silence in the otherwise silent bus, I (and people sitting near me) all sigh and roll my eyes. This is becoming a secret social event that brings tired and bored strangers together.

The noisy child's aunt asks her if she loves her, her grandmother, her father, her mother, her cousin and then her again -- it's a vicious cycle. This is one of the moments when I want to be very rude. I simply want to go up to the aunt and tell her, “No, your niece will never love you. In fact, I would've hated an aunt who asked me if I loved her every three minutes.”

I can't concentrate on the articles I'm trying to read. I know it's not really about the child. Very frequently, I find myself thinking about very different things and life itself. Life? Is there life, at all? The little TV screen in front of me brings me the news that high school students protesting against university entrance exams were beaten very badly by policemen, who significantly outnumbered them. I find myself in tears as I watch the beating, then I am angry at myself. What right do I have to shed any tears as I watch those teenagers? Who am I but a dedicated soldier of the education system, one who occasionally complained about the system but never did a single thing to improve it? We at this university (or in any other university) are, more or less, all the same. We all rebel, most quietly and a few of us loudly. Then once we get a secure place, we simply forget. I can't blame anyone for this. I know it's natural. Forgetting your previous troubles and adjusting to your now better situation is a very human thing to do.

But then, among the trivial concerns of daily life, I suddenly witness these things and feel deeply ashamed. Young people, no older than my beloved brother, tried to raise a voice, and those who supposedly guard the nation and the state beat them to their bones. This was not the first, nor will it be the last. And it's not only that. There will be more news about kids who commit suicide because their parents cannot afford the “dershane”s, or because they fail at school and feel too useless to live. There will be more news about children frozen to death while begging on the streets, about little girls wedded to old men or shot by their own families, about kids abused by their teachers or parents. These things will all go forgotten, and the guilty will not be punished simply because everybody else forgets. At some point in its short history, this country stopped loving its children and its youth, and I think it's a quite recent point. Think about this for a while on the eve of April 23.

But, no, never mind. You will forget all these as soon as you finish reading this article, just like the way I will forget, as soon as I finish writing it, until I see similar news and shed other useless tears.

Back on the bus: From the woody mountains of Bolu, I have reached the bare landscape of Ankara. The child won't stop, the TV broadcast is suddenly dead, the sun is going down. And I have pages to read and miles to go before I sleep, to quote dear Robert Frost.


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