Pink is the color
I know it is now becoming an old story, but I do not want to put it aside yet; I do not want to move to the present, terrible adventure we are about to go through.
I am a foreign journalist living and reporting from Turkey – a place that you can never complain about for lack of news. But it’s also a place where one piece of harder news falls upon another with such frequency that you never find time to digest or internalize your topics.
I am having these reflections amid my incarceration in my flat somewhere in Istanbul, trying to report on the coronavirus crisis in Turkey. Just like so many of us.
Yet, just a few days ago, I was in an entirely different landscape; I was in the open-air setting of Pazarkule, reporting on the previous major event: the waves of migrants and refugees who rushed from every corner of Turkey to the border area after being told that they could go to Europe if they wanted to. Or this was what they thought they were told: The official announcement by the government was that there were going to be no restrictions within Turkey should they wish to reach Europe through Greece.
Looking down from the seventh floor of my apartment on an empty street in this megacity, I fill up the empty external landscape with the still vivid pictures of my Edirne-Pazarkule experience, trying to make some sense out it.
It’s difficult. The expected speed of covering serious events in our profession, like human tragedies, does not leave room for emotions. Emotions mean lost time. Facts or, more correctly, what we are supposed to pick out of a complex set of realities, takes a front seat in our coverage.
Still, I cannot allow my mind to drift into the new surreality of the coronavirus world before saying just a few words about that young mother I met at the bus station in Edirne.
We were told as journalists to go to Edirne’s central bus station. We were told that we could find several people who had just arrived by bus.
I did, and I chose to speak to an interesting woman who appeared to have just arrived with relatives from Syria.
We could not communicate. She could only speak Arabic. A young man, a relative of hers, spoke some Turkish. They had just arrived from Idlib, I was told, with lots of relatives and children. And lots of clothes, blankets and baby clothes.
While I was talking to her young relative, the woman proceeded on with her duties: filling the baby bottle with powder milk and water, tidying up her pile of clothes at the corner of the bus station, occasionally looking at me with a slight smile. No panic, no misery, no fear. I could hardly understand what the relative was telling me as half of his face was covered with a shawl.
What I got was that they had just arrived from Idlib, that they left because of the war, that they had no money and that they needed medicine. I soon realized the importance of medicine. Actually, it was there, in front of my eyes on a big blanket stretched out on the ground: four young children, one next to each other, ranging in age from just a few months to maybe 3 or 4 years old.
At least two were sick; one was severely disabled and maybe blind. But that young Arab mother did not seem depressed or sad about her terrible fate. She just went on with her heavy motherly duties, arranging the heap of clothes, getting her children’s pink anoraks in order, ready to go. To Europe?
The following day, I heard that an ambulance had come and picked up one of the babies as a potential coronavirus case. That was followed by another piece of news: The baby just had a common cold. False alarm then.
Facing a global invisible but known enemy, Turkey, like many other countries, closed its land and sea borders with Greece on March 11.
The news from Pazarkule is confusing. Some migrants have managed to cross to Greece, some have been pushed back by Greek authorities.
Some have been returned to Istanbul or somehow melted into the Turkish landscape. Did some return to Syria? I know that all of those who had found some shelter around the bus station, like my woman, had been taken away. I presume with her sick children.
Now, as I prepare to begin a stressful and claustrophobic type of reporting given my confinement to an Istanbul flat for an unspecified period of time, I often see that image of that young Arab mother at the Edirne bus station attending to her sick children but still strong and determined to make it.
And in spite of everything, her half smile and the pink she chose for her children’s anoraks provides a useful lesson for all.