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Unwanted Students Start Their Own School

Unwanted Students Start Their Own School

Sample translation of first pages


Diyarbakır was behind us, along with my pigeons. My father had chosen this village where his relatives have migrated before him. A small, cosy village of Izmir. My father was a dreamer, he was a quiet man and he loved us. His dreams were the reason we were uprooted from our lands and our mountains. He had only one goal, he would repeat: “You will not end up like us.”

Now that I’ve grown up, I know how bitter those words are. He wanted to show us that the world could be different. Despite his efforts, we ended up in a neighbourhood full of our distant relatives and other people like us.

“We might struggle here; but we will be safer and better fed. We are in the same neighbourhood as our cousins. We won’t be alone,” he assured us the first night. We were in the yard, it was dark, and we hadn’t even moved our things into the two-bedroom house.

My father gazed at the sky, then he faced us.

“Look, the same sky, the same stars are also visible from here.”

But the ground was not like the sky. Rules up there were different than those down here. Did they have balance, we have imbalance. Besides, stars don’t get hungry like us, they don’t require new shoes; they don’t bully the ones next to them based on the way they talk. They don’t get homesick either. I did and so did my brothers and more than us all, my mother. My father wouldn’t show, just like he would hide all his emotions, he would also not admit he missed home.

On our first night, what I missed the most were my pigeons that I had to leave behind in the village. My father had told me we could not take them. I had left them with my great grandmother. How was she supposed to take care of them? “I’ll look after them, don’t worry, you can go in peace,” she said lying to me.


The language we used at home was like a patchwork quilt. Some of it brought from our homeland, some words we learned from the local villagers, some we gleaned from phrases spread on TV, all trying to hold on to each other to form a language. Meanwhile, the language of books didn’t sound like any of those. Ismail couldn’t figure out the language of books and chose to leave school and settle into occasionally boasting that he “used to be good at math”.

He would sometimes belittle what he left behind, “What’s the point of school anyway?”

Ismail either was a very carefree person or he was an excellent actor.


Then the bell rang. The jingle for “12 Giant Men” started playing on the schoolyard and spread to the surrounding streets. I was not sure whether they would turn us into giants as well. As far as I could tell, these twelve giants were basketball players but we didn’t have a basketball court inside the building or even a sports yard outside. I guess, we were supposed to become giants by jumping on the misshapen trees in our neighbourhood.

On that first day, I didn’t talk to anyone, but I observed what was going on and I tried to understand.

The deputy, who had the audacity to berate my father earlier for mispronouncing my name, called me by shouting “Levo”.

“Your father didn’t provide the required number of pictures. You need to bring two more tomorrow, all right?”

As he said, “All right?” he cocked one of his eyebrows. That was supposed to intimidate me. All right, I said quietly. Then I went to the bathroom and cocked my eyebrow just like him. I also put on his bullying tone.

“All right!” I said, “We’ll do what’s required.”

So I was learning. Weren’t we the adults of tomorrow? If this was how grown ups behaved, what was the harm in beginning to practice early.

When they saw my dour and frowning face, friends from the neighbourhood said, “You’ll get used to it”. A few weeks had passed. I didn’t. I also didn’t like my teacher, since he didn’t like us either.


My father turned his dark, stern but melancholic eyes at me as if to look for a light that he himself had lost.

“Don't even think about becoming lazy, you don’t have that liberty.”

I would swear to myself, every morning, on my way to school.

“No laziness, no failing classes, I don’t have that liberty,” I would repeat. Sometimes, I would imagine my great grandmother. She used to put out a cushion in the courtyard of our home and kneel there. She would grab her prayer beads and murmur the same phrases over and over. I would liken myself to her, though I don’t have the beads, I would think those words in my language would give me confidence. My great grandmother stayed behind the mountains of DiyarbakIr, in our village, with her prayers and her beads.

Mere belief, vows or persistence are sometimes not enough. I entered the classroom with the confidence that I was strong, determined and that I was a hard worker. But that faith was so short lived that I deflated like a balloon. Because I didn’t understand a word the teacher was saying. He would speak, read and make us read… But all these were just sounds, meaningless sounds… If a rock stumbled from a mountain, the sound it made would have meaning for me. Even if my back was turned, I would be able to recognise the sound of a rock falling. When I heard splashes in the water, I would know that it was a fish. When a twig snapped inside the hearth, I would recognise the fire. But the words spoken by our teacher were unlike any of those. They didn’t have any meaning! Even if I could recognise some of them, those were left hanging in the air, insufficient to create a discernable meaning on their own. As if the classroom was a howling, dark cave and some echoing noise kept rolling over me.

The books created the same problem. They placed the letters next to each other to create words. Then they placed those words next to each other to create sentences. Those sentences followed each other like train cars. But I had no idea where the train lead. I kept reading, meaninglessly. Our teacher once said, some can understand after one read-through and some after three. Even if I read five times, I still didn’t know what those train cars were carrying. But the books were still better. At least they had illustrations. I would build fantasies based on what those illustrations might depict, maybe they were supposed to illustrate something else entirely but I didn’t care what they say, I would create my own dreams looking at those lines.

The text at the bottom of one illustration said Energy Conservation Week. Those three words did not correspond to any meaning for me. But the picture depicted a dripping water fountain. I rode those drops to our village square. There, I saw the water collecting at the bottom of the fountain. I saw the water taking the colour of the earth below it. Then I saw swallows, landing near the water on the empty square and grab from the mud, again and again. I knew that they were building a nest on the rear wall of our home. That is how I would read books. I would connect familiar pictures and familiar words with happy memories from the past. Even though I knew that is not what was asked of me, this was all I could do.
Miyase Sertbarut
Translated by Canan Marasligil