Esra wants to take me to the local shop. I’m not sure why, but she insists and takes me by the hand. In the shop I want to buy her and her sister a notebook because they want to practice their writing all the time. But she doesn’t like it. She wants a gold coloured necklace. I refuse to buy it; I say I’m not sure if her mother would agree. We leave the shop, and then she whispers: ‘It was for Mother’s Day’. So we return to the shop and get the necklace.
I am spending some time in Gülyazi, the village in the district of Uludere where, at the end of December, 34 civilians were bombed by the Turkish army. I am staying with a family that lives in a group of four, five houses. I stay in a room in Esra’s mother’s house. The massacre made her a widow at age 28, and she is now alone with five children between five and ten years old. She explains her situation very simply: ‘Before it was bad, now it is worse’.
Her husband made a living from all sorts of day jobs: herding sheep and goats, working in construction, and sometimes he went right across the Iraqi border, some six kilometres from here, to smuggle sugar, diesel and tea. Now that he is no longer alive, she has no income. Like all the families of the victims, she refused the compensation the state offered them. The family helps out, but her sister-in-law also has no man to provide for her: he was sentenced to four years in prison for ‘aiding terrorists’ and has two more years to go.
The poverty is striking. The house has no running water – luckily the creek nearby offers crystal-clear drinking water. There are carpets and cushions, a television that I think doesn’t work, very basic food, there is nothing in the house that is not necessary. There are no beds, the kids just get a blanket when they get tired and lay down on the carpet or on a cushion. The main electricity plug is burned and out of use. Underneath the TV is a picture of Esra’s father – it’s covered with a cloth so they are not confronted with the loss all the time.
As I write this, the evening before Mother’s day, Esra is wrapping her present for her mother in a piece of white paper and writes a sweet message on it. But the present is not a necklace. Halfway on the way back home from the shop, Esra changed her mind. She ran back and returned with a set of vegetable peelers and a pair of socks. Practical thinking. I do so hope it will bring a smile to Esra’s mother’s sad face.