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The classroom was filled with children children staring out of stunned wide eyes, children whose only thought was for bread… Their families had entrusted them to the chief-teacher saying: “Take them, their flesh is yours, we’ll keep the bones.”

The chief-teacher belonged to one of those who came from distant Asia, invaded these lands with the bloodied hooves of their horses. Never had the world known a more powerful and sacred nation than theirs!

There was a girl in the class. Her name was Derman, Memo’s eldest daughter… You know, the ones the songs sacrifice to love: “she is barely thirteen, fourteen years old” 1Derman… She was a bit taller than her peers, with a golden tan like that of wheat, she had long braids of black hair reaching down to her waist.

So beautiful she took your breath away, she was the “blond teacher’s” favorite.

“So tell me Derman, how much are two plus two?” The blond teacher took hold of Derman’s hands, he held the soft and fragile fingers, then, so the other children could see, he had her write on the blackboard with the white chalk, still holding Derman’s fingers. He taught them that two plus two were four, he taught them with Derman’s hands. Then came the time to learn the alphabet: “Derman catches the ball, Derman skips rope, Derman runs”2

What had Derman known, other than her mud house fed on poverty, and family violence?

“Good, Derman”, “Bravo, Derman, you are very smart Derman”…

Memo who was poor was short on everything, as were all the others in this village. Memo, father of a family of 9 persons, who had caught the attention of a State servant, a stranger, for the first time. Memo had now become “Memo Efendi” 3. The teacher appreciated him, raised him up, he also found work for his eldest Derman, what more could he do?

Wouldn’t it be a good thing if Derman handled the housework for the teacher? That she washed his clothes, cooked for him, served up his tea…

Derman’s work meant soap, tea, sugar for this poor household. It meant socks for bare feet. It meant black rubber shoes for her brothers and sisters. It meant bitter tobacco for Memo. Derman’s work meant a few scraps for their unquenchable need…

“Thank you to your hands, Derman, may your road be without obstacles, how beautiful you are Derman, sit down beside me Derman, don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you Derman, relax Derman…”

“Yes, that’s right Derman, open your legs, let yourself go Derman, relax Derman, don’t tighten up Derman, let go, Derman, I’ll take you away from here, I’ll save you Derman…You life of suffering will end Derman. Everyone will envy you , you will be the wife of a civil servant… Ah Derman, how lucky you are, Derman, you are Allah’s beloved servant…”

When summer arrives in these mountains, it announces the wedding of Mother Earth. When the mountains, the stones and the valleys turn green, nothing bad can happen to this impoverished people. The earth is generous, it offers everything it has to the miserable ones, like its immaculate milk. It turns the trees into brides and grooms, it brings fertility to the homes with their earthen roofs…And so, that summer was like that, like every other summer…

But there was a problem, a big problem. Derman was pregnant. Henceforth, Derman was two lives in one.

The blond teacher warned her not to tell anyone. “May the god preserve it, if out of jealousy they held you back, if they could not stand that you become the wife of a civil servant, if they stopped you from beginning a lady from the town! …Walls have ears, don’t say a word, don’t tell anyone, ever!” That was the blond teachers’ only advice for Derman.

Derman was pale, she had lost weight, she couldn’t swallow even a mouthful, she plunged deep into dreams of other worlds. Because there was another soul inside her, growing with her. As for the blond teacher, he carried on every day, as if nothing was amiss. And the villagers showed no lack of respect and affection for this “wise man, son of a wise man.” Because this man knew everything, he was a most devout and suave man.

Her mother was the first to notice the changes on Derman’s body. Her swelling belly, her pale lips, her mother saw these…It didn’t matter if Derman was subjected to tons of blows by her mother, would she talk? Later, Memo would learn of his daughter’s pregnancy…

Heavy sticks were broken on Derman’s back…How her hair was pulled off her head by handfuls, how her tears flowed in streams. Only Allah knows. Came the day when the blows she received while pulling her knees up against her belly to protect it, with the blows falling on her back. She was in pain, her young flesh was torn, her young body no longer could stand the pain, could no longer resist the insults, she told her mother everything, to her alone. Did she have any other door she could knock on, other than that of her mother? As for the teacher, ever since the pregnancy, he behaved like a “bum”, and ignored Derman.

Now Memo’s home WAs like a house in mourning. Memo smokeD his bitter tobacco, his wife chantED her laments, she saID nothing other than “Wiyy, what is happening to us, wiyy”

Memo clenched his fists, he gnashed his teeth until they bled. He waited for night time, if the village were to hear about it his head would hang low, his other children would be demolished. He rose up in anger, went to the teacher’s door. The street was empty except for the barking of dogs and the sounds of insects, the street was deserted…

Derman and her mother waited anxiously, but Memo was not coming back. He returned several hours later, tired, abashed, with his cap in his hand, Memo crossed the threshold into his house, his back stooped low.

Was Memo dead or alive, it was impossible to tell. Derman was asleep on a mattress with his brothers and sisters. Asleep is a big word. Stretched out, as taut as an ark, she waited. She waited to find out what had happened…

Her mother asked Memo “come on, tell me what happened?”

Memo sighed deeply. “Well, uh…” he said. A thousand year old suffering, the tongue of one who was forever “the other” suddenly unleashed:

“I went to the teacher’s with no one seeing me, I walked close to the walls. I knocked on his door. Calling me ‘Mehmet Efendi’ he showed me in. I told him about Derman. He swore, his hand on the Coran. He chided me for accusing him like that. What’s more he added, what we were doing was criminal, I would even go to prison for insulting a civil servant. It could be one of the villagers’ doing…”

“Was there any proof? Shame on us, he had really not expected this from us, he would have preferred that I had not come to see him, and that he had never heard about it. And trials would be very costly, even selling all the cattle would not be enough. What would the flesh on my back look like if I went searching for justice at the State’s door.”

Then Memo had left his house and pleaded with the huge mountains, the white rivers, had taken refuge in them implored for their help, let his tears flow…“Come Xizir 4, he said to the grey horse, come to your children’s aid…” He begged “don’t force me to lower my head, don’t dishonor me in front of everyone”.

Memo and his wife remained seated, desperate, hands on their chests. “Then, Dappir,” they said, “if someone can be a remedy to this, Dappir is the one. She will abort the child, the matter will be settled without anyone knowing about it…”

What else could they do? In the morning, the mother went to Dappir. She kissed her shoulder, rubbed her face against her skirt. In a quiet corner, she told her everything. With hot tears flowing, she said “you are our ‘bilan’ 5, no one else can help us but you.”

Dappir went to the house, had Derman lie down and examined her all over. She mouthed the most improbable insults, put her hand between Derman’s legs, scolding her saying “have you no control over your bottom?” 

Then, “it’s too late”, Dappir announced, “it’s too late that child cannot be aborted. If it’s done, your daughter will die. It will mean sacrificing Derman.”

And they didn’t have a single relative who lived far, far away. There would be all the gossip, all the insults in the world…

Derman would have to hide from everyone, hide her belly and then, they would see about it when the day came. Desperately they told themselves “Allah is great” and the waiting began…

The chief-teacher disappeared. The earth said “never saw him”, the sky answered “neither did I”. He left and disappeared. Nothing was left of him, not even a name to curse later. Just “the blond teacher”, and that was all…

How days transform into years, how hours turn to stone, no longer moving, only Derman, her mother and Memo knew…

Simmer left its warm bed, entrusting it to winter. Derman hid her belly under her mother’s wide dresses. It snowed on the mountains, it snowed as if to weave a shroud for Derman. Derman took blows and insults every day, she shut herself away, her world became darkness…

Memo and his wife also fled from others, their world narrowed, turned into a gaol one step wide.

Only Dappir knew of their sorrow without remedy, they could only let their poison flow toward Dappir, toward no one else.

Dappir’s house was outside the village. Derman would give birth in Dappir’s stable, no one would hear, no one would know. Derman would hide there and when the snows melted, they would take the child and hand it over to the child protection institute.

Dappir knew Derman’s day was near. The child was about to be born.

Deprived of vitamins, devoid of strength, Derman’s body suffered for two days. For two days, her moaning was absorbed by the walls. Dappir held her up, they walked back and forth in the stable. Both were tired, sleepless, exhausted.

Finally, Derman’s waters broke.

“Push Derman, push, it’s almost over, push sweetheart…”

Dappir alternated between pushing Derman’s belly down and covering her mouth so her cries wouldn’t be heard. “Push Derman, push, almost there, push.”.

The child slid out… Dappir sat on Derman’s skinny legs. Dappir who had served as midwife to all of the village’s women, who had cut the umbilical cord of all the children, who announced the good news, received presents…But this time, for Derman, nothing was right, it was a totally different story.

Between Derman’s frail legs the child’s head appeared first, then, his black hair, as long as four of Derman’s fingers held together. Dappir’s hands pulled the child out. Derman’s pains stopped immediately, she breathed deeply, she was delivered.

The child cried, he made a single “wahh”, then he cried no more…

Derman’s eyes stared. The child’s neck was between Dappir’s hands who had clenched them to cut off his breath. Yes, Dappir had strangled the innocent one. In the stable, by candlelight, there were pairs of eyes, opened wide as wide as the Earth… Derman’s and Dappir’s, crossed each other, stunned, wide, never to close again. Two looks that would become enemies later. These final looks, as if cut off with a knife. This exchange opened a wound that would never be forgotten nor healed.

Derman looked at her child, then at Dappir; Then, like so many other women before her, she fainted…

It is called the saxaoul. This tree grows only on the edge of rivers. Its branches are flexible, they bend, theycan be shaped easily, becoming baskets carried on the back, pouring out manure from the cattle. The basket is light, solid, but not that time. That time, the saxaoul basket was heavy, too heavy. Because it contained the heavy corpse of a baby. A newborn, soon to become food for famished wolves..

Outside, the snow was piled up to a man’s height, the cold was tomb-like, there was nothing but barking dogs and howling wolves. It must have been was is known as Hell. Dappir placed the twitching body of the baby in the basket full of manure and threw it on the compost pile. Outside, there was a smell of blood and the howling of wolves.

With her own hands, Dappir cleansed her honor. These hands whose worst enemy she would become, these hands that would close on her throat everywhere she went, these hands that would strangle her always and everywhere.

These asphyxiating hands that had strangled, turned to stone with stains like clumps of ploughed soil, these hands that cried out, that bled… Dappir’s hands were older than everybody else’s, they were bigger, more painful, heavier…

Nobody likes Dappir… Not even Dappir likes Dappir…

To be continued…

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges

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Suna Arev
Née en 1972 à Uzuntarla (Elazığ).Dans une famille de huits enfants, elle est immergée dès son plus jeune âge, parmi les travailleurs agricoles à la tâche. Tel un miroir qui date de son enfance, la période du coup d’Etat militaire du 12 septembre 1980 a formé sa vie politique. Diplômée de l’École professionnelle de commerce d’Elazığ, elle a vécu, en grandeur nature les comportements fascistes et racistes dans sa ville. Mère de quatre enfants, depuis 1997, elle habite en Allemagne, pour des raisons politiques.
Suna Arev was born in 1972 in the village of Uzuntarla, Elazığ district. From a family of eight children she became one of the agricultural workers at an early age. The military coup d’état of September 12 1980 served as a mirror in shaping her political outlook. After obtaining a diploma from the Elazığ Professional Business School, she experienced the full force of fascist and racist behaviours in her town. She has lived in Germany since 1997, for political reasons. She is the mother of four children.