Marwan’s place of employment in Ankara turned out to be a sweatshop. He left as soon as he could and taught English in private schools. But when the schools closed for the summer, he was on the brink of starvation (and hid it from me). It was time for him to move on. This is his story:
I wanted to leave Turkey but couldn’t afford it. Then my uncle left Syria with his two daughters, ages three and five. “Get ready to leave,” he said when he arrived in Turkey. “I’ll take you out of here.” I only packed some clothes. There were no goodbyes or farewells.
We stayed at a hotel in Marmaris for a week, waiting for the smuggler’s call. We were nervous the whole time. The plan was to take a fast boat: it’s safer for children. But the smuggler was arrested. The only way out now was a rubber dinghy.
A few smugglers came over to talk to us, but they had overloaded their dinghies. This could mean death at sea. We were running out of time. It was the end of the summer. Soon the weather would get worse; roads would be closed.
Then we found a smugglers’ middleman from our hometown. He guaranteed our safety. “Thirty-six people on the dinghy,” he said. That’s a good number.
We took the bus to Bodrum with a few other boat passengers—many left Turkey illegally from there. Upon our arrival at the bus terminal, policemen took our passports and ordered us to leave Bodrum immediately.
Everybody freaked out.
I stayed calmed and told them to follow my lead. I bought a bus ticket to another city, and so did they. When we got on the bus, the police gave us our passports back. Now I had to convince the bus driver to let us off at the first station without raising his suspicion.
If we didn’t get back to Bodrum in time, we’d miss our boat and get stuck in Turkey.
I quickly befriended an English-speaking Turkish guy (my Turkish is poor). “Are you in danger?” the guy asked.
“Not at all,” I replied. “Our friends are picking us up at the next station.”
The guy then convinced the bus driver to stop for us. There were taxis nearby, and we went back to Bodrum. We contacted our middleman, and he instructed us to meet him in the mountains. But we were late; the taxi had gotten lost. When we finally arrived, he took us to a restaurant where the big smugglers hang out. It was already 9am.
Our smuggler wanted to take more money for my nieces: usually there’s no charge for kids. Then my uncle rushed to buy us life-jackets. Soon it was time to leave. Taxis arrived one by one, taking a few people at a time, not to raise suspicion. We had to wait on the rooftop of a hotel in downtown Bodrum with the rest of the passengers – mostly women and children.
After five hours’ wait, around 3am, the smugglers arrived with the taxis again and took us to a high hill. Turkish men told us to follow them, screaming Yalla (“come on” in Arabic).
The moon was full, the weather was clear, we felt safe.
We walked for 1.25 miles. I held a newborn baby in my arms. No flashlights were allowed. When we arrived at the shore, people filled the rubber dinghy with air. It was 4:30am when they were done. The smugglers called out for the dinghy driver to steer the boat. No one responded. I asked in Turkish, “Where is the driver?”
“We don’t know,” one of them replied. “He should be here already.”
They kept calling out for him, and then they tried to convince me to drive the boat, saying the police were coming.
I couldn’t take such responsibility.
They kept pushing me.
A fight was about to break out. Children had started to cry; the tension had increased. One of the smugglers took me aside and said repeatedly, “Drive the boat. Do it,” and I kept saying, “No, I can’t.”
He tried to hit me, but his partner stopped him. Then the driver showed up. We carried the dinghy to the water, and everybody went on board. The sea was calm at first, but it became stormy as we moved away from the shore.
It was pitch black. I could hear my heart beating. I was sitting on the right edge of the boat. If something happened, maybe I could jump out in time before the waves came crashing over us. Everybody seemed paralyzed. It was overwhelmingly crowded, and I couldn’t move…I felt powerless!
After arriving safely in Greece, Marwan traveled to Sweden and applied for asylum there. On the way to Sweden, he and his uncle and nieces had to sleep in dripping-wet tents for refugees and had to walk long distances in the rain with the children.
In October 2016, Marwan is going to participate in a show at the Royal Theater of Stockholm and tell his story.