Memories of my elementary school days consisted of a reoccurring theme: role models. Teachers would always ask, “Who is your role model?” At the tender age of 10, the concept of role models and mentors was alien to me. I never understood the reasoning behind the question and why we had to prepare presentations and illustrations for the rest of the class to hear and see.
I used to sit around the round tables with my peers, confused with the topic of the day as I gazed at their hurried hands drawing pictures of their parents and grandparents. I would always question their choice of role models. How, I thought to myself, was your mother a role model for you? What has she done to deserve this title? Her accomplishments? What would be her legacy and her lasting impression on your life? At the time, I did not comprehend the sacrifice my parents had made for me, leaving behind their life and loved ones to become strangers in a new land for my sake.
I sat with my crying mother as I pulled Viyan Daxil’s video for us to watch together. The emotions and words overwhelmed the both of us and we began to cry heavily. Viyan’s words penetrated deep into my mothers’ wounded heart as memories of the 1991 exodus of central and southern Kurdistan began dancing in her eyes.
She taps her thigh with a harsh smack a few times as she begins to recall, looking at me with the pain of a centuries old oppression.
“Ez kore bibim dayê…ez nemînim işellah/Mother, I (ask) for blindness, God-willing I perish,” she begins.
Her stories are scattered. She tells of the harsh climate of the mountains, then of the impoverished conditions, then the brutality of the Turkish cendurme/jendorme, then specific episodes of death. And all the while, I watch the sorrow well inside of her eyes and fall down the sides of her face. The echoes of my mothers’ brutal past of the 1991 exodus have engraved their mark on her body and soul.
“Your grandmother, may God be pleased with her, was a midwife. Pregnant women from all over the camp came rushing to our tent begging her to assist in the birth of their children. She would regretfully answer their pleas with a no. She would tell them, ‘how will I sterilize her? How will I clean her after the birth, and what will I cut the umbilical cord with? No, I cannot hold this heavy burden.’ But she always ended up rushing to their tent when the women began wailing from the pains of labour. At times, she would come back sorrow-stricken announcing the child had died during birth, or it was a still-born or the mother had passed. Other times, she came with good news of a successful birth only to be disappointed hours later when the child was pronounced dead. Life on the mountain was hard.”
“Ser xatira we, em hatin van xerîbiya da hîn ji nexweşiya xilas bibin keça min./For your sake, we came to these foreign lands so that you would be far from pain.”
She tells me, as we sit glued to our television screen watching the images from the displaced Kurds of Şingal, about her three months trekking the mountainous range of central Kurdistan.
“You were tucked against your fathers’ chest shielded by his coat and I was clinging onto his back trying to keep my balance with your twin brothers resting in the safety of my womb. We walked for what seemed like an eternity. Along the path, my eyes would meet those of abandoned children and elderly. I watched a mother rest her child against a rock, wrap him in a blanket and continue without him while he screeched and wailed after her. Meeting the eyes of the living, abandoned on the side of the path was difficult, but stepping over dead bodies was traumatic. And there were so many!”
After seeing death daily without pause, my mother grew immune. She tells me at one point, steeping over a dead body came as easily as stepping over a twig or a very large rock.
“We went days without food and water. I remember one specific day, I was so hungry. We stopped by an abandoned village and we were going from house to house looking for food. Against the walls of one of the homes, I saw some bread crumbs. I ran to the wall hoping to find left overs and I only came across the crumbs. Desperately, I scooped the crumbs with the dirt and threw them into my mouth. There was a pile of snow close by, so I used that to wash down the dirt and crumbs.”
My mother has become the symbol of my Kurdish identity. Her stories have defined the aspects of my life that would have otherwise been forgotten. Now, she does not censor her pain. She tells me details and specifics. Now her stories are guided by the heart break and emotion of her pain.
“We thought leaving Zaxo we would find safety in Silopî. The Turks were worse. They hovered over us with an air of superiority, wooden batons in hand. I sat with your aunts under the trees for shelter watching armed men beat back a group of mothers trying to cross to the villages in the north with their children. Some were hit so hard that they fell to the foot of the men beating them. Those of us watching cried with her, for her and for ourselves. Crying relieved some of the pain, other times it felt like our tears were uniting us because it became the language of our pain.”
She pauses, looking into the distance and I watch her in silence. She tells me she sees the images replay in her mind as if she were reliving the moments. “Continue?” She turns and asks me, and I shake my head no. I leave her to her thoughts as I sit with her in company.
To my 10 year old innocence I would say this: your mother is a symbol of your nations struggle. She has suffered and lived through the sorrow of her ancestors to become an everlasting mark on your future. Treasure her struggle and sorrow. Nest it safely in the inner fibers of your being so that one day you will recall her steps as the ghosts of her past mark the trail of your freedom.
Role models are examples of great people; people whose actions, and characteristics and behaviours and attitudes serve as sources for imitation. My mother is my role model.