How the first man of a new mankind was born out of my misspelling

 Souvenirs de voyage in Promised Land, Turkey (1988)

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was young, Turkey was a symbol for the entire world. The symbol of mediation. A bridge. One foot in West, the other in East. One side in Occident. One side in Orient. La croisée des mondes. Further more, I remember, that , a very early stage, it’s Turkey that changed me. It’s Turkey that allows me to become the adult I am now, that shaped my vision of the world. Let me tell you my personal simple story, so strangely, so deeply linked with the world story. The one we have now, at this precise moment, at this precise chaotic page of mankind history. Nothing to do with facts, with history, with politics, with religion. It’s all about encounters. And everything, for me, started with a mistake, a misunderstanding, a misspelling.

When I was a teenager, at this golden age where everything seems possible, at the age where we think that we are able to rewrite the world as the world would wait us for that, a book felt in my hands. And this book was for me a revelation. Nothing serious, a simple story. The story of a teenager that changed the world. The story of Memed le Mince by Yazar Kemal. At this time I didn’t know that he was kurde. I didn’t even know Kurdes exist. For me, he was simply a famous Turkish writer. At this time, he was simply an inspiring universal symbol as David against Goliath. A fairy tale with a good ending, as if never David, would have become the old King David, corrupted by power and iniquities. A fairy tale as if the world would be ruled by justice. And until now, I never forgot him.

Later, as I became a student, I learnt about politics, nations, laws, economy, sociology and so on… And one day, l heard about Kemal and foundation of Turkey. Not much more than through tributes from other great world leaders from the same period, de Gaulle, Nasser and so on… as I was not ‘the best student in town’ as we use to say in France, I made a childish, ridiculous lapsus in my thinking. The world seemed to have stop turning for me. My teenager dreams became true. Memed le mince is not a story. It’s reality. He conquered a land over tyranny and create Turkey, leading modern democracy in a modern and civilized world. Fool I was, I made an hudge, riduculous confusion, Kemal the turkish president and Kemal the kurde were for me one and unique person. And Turkey became in one second for me the promise land… Not for me in fact, for mankind as I still was in age to dream of. Mustafa and Yazar, two names for the same dream. A miracle. A simple poetic and imaginative oriental  counter, an idealist fighting with words against oppression, exactly the type of man which I would never have imagined involved in ruling a country, did it ! He allied in the same time the miraculous innocence of Memed and the best of perfect leadership, an inspiring vision in order create a new nation, the charism to federate people, the pragmatism for building and organizing  and the ability to take tough decisions when necessary. A miracle. The first man of a new mankind.
Learning more about Kurdes, I thought nobody is perfect, even  the first man of a new mankind cannot anticipated every unfairness. And yes, once terrorism is there, it’s too late. Whatever the inequalities, the poverty, the lack of education, the disrespect of cultural differences,  which were originally the cause. My heroe took the only possible solution against terrorism. Build a wall, close the or territorial borders. Life of innocents are involved. There is no other choice if terrorists can’t be arrested because they hide and are protected by their communities. Murderers are murderers. And even now, that I discovered my foolish confusion, I believe the same But at this time, my mistake on the 2 Kemal in 1, changed my vision. I started thinking that every thing is possible if we have world leaders like this  …. Even Memed would have laughed from my mistake.

When I stopped being a student, as I belief that “les voyages forment la jeunesse”, I went travelling in my promise Land, Turkey. As simply as would any student without money , with 2 euros per day for eating, sleeping, moving and enjoying. I was so curious about people which were able to elect freely my 2 in 1 Kemal. And, second miracle, hey gave me back my curiosity , hundred of times, hundred of persons whatever their sex, their level of education, their age. Not only oriental generous hospitality. All “desert people” have that deeply in their roots also. I learnt that in Tunisia, in Marocco, in Israel, and through friends from Emirates, from Iran or Irak.

Turkish people were different, a long time ago, when I was young. Turkish  people learnt me Freedom. To me, French, so proud to live in the worlwide symbol of ” Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”. Thanks to Turkey, I become conscious that I was not free. Not free in my human relations.I was suspicious, shy in my relations. Simply not genuine. Turkish people  teached me what means Egalité. Not only that we are equal in our rights and duty. But that we were equal in our very best human qualities : curiosity and fierce in mankind. I was curious and proud of my liberty and my culture.  They were curious and proud of their liberty and culture. And we  were all so happy to be there, to speak together or even keep quite because of the langages’ barriers for older or less educated persons.  Very often only by smoking a cigarette in the street . Yes, I know, it’s a very bad habit, but at those time we were free. Free as nowhere else in the world. Never in America, never in France, I felt free and happy to accept a cigarette in the street from a total stranger. Happy to offer one of mine in exchange. Happy to smoke it together without a word. Without any other intention. Without thinking we were indecent, without flirting. A smoking ritual which meant for both, thanks to be here.

I met so many and so much was offered to me.  You already know by now how bad I am with first names. I remember none. But fortunately, I didn’t spend my time smoking and drinking kahva in caravanseraï. An old man offered me salted cucumbers from his own lunch on a long bus trip to Izmir. A young woman offered me light in Cappadoccia, when I was lost by night in the mountains, as his father refused to help me, simply because he remembered that no one helped him when he was a foreigner in Germany. I even received a pretty nice piece of jewelry in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul by one of the biggest thief in town. One of those that possessed Gold in this Alibaba cave. He tested me on my ability to evaluate true value of things and thoughts. I tested him on his amazing knowledge of langages. We joked together on the poor client I was for him and of his misfortune to fall on me as first client of the day. I’m pretty sure that this universal man would never confuse the story of Alibaba or the first calife designated by Mahomet with the first self-proclamated Calife of Eil. Nobody better than a small thief knows how to recognise a big one. I even thought I met him again 3 years ago in the Bazaar of Tunis, so much the turbaned man looked, spoke and laughed at me in the same manner. As I didn’t pay him enough attention,  saying yes by rote to everything , without beeing interested. He tried to catch my attention in another way in front of the old mosque of Bazaar. He asked me : ‘Nice to see them like this all day long.  Praying is a collective freedom in our country. So much more important than indivual freedom, isn’t it ?” . My mouth opened to say Yes like a robot … but suddenly my brain woke up out of its lethargy, and corrected  ‘ What are you saying ! Of course not! Both are equally important! ‘ He laughed in a very similar way than my Turkish bargainer and offered me a free guided tour in the old town in compensation for the pleasure of his laugh and for the insult to my intelligence included in his joke.

But let’s come back to Turkey even if I can’t resist to Bazaars from everywhere on the planet, including the one of Bagdad or Teheran that I never had been able to visit, including  the one of Jerusalem East where I couldn’t even resist to buy a carpet despite I was there in a very tensed period of intafada. Even if my husband was shocked when I came back, not only by the huge size of the carpet to bring back in France by plane, but also because I was not able to identify a bargainer from another and bought it in the muslim part, where no non-muslim should go without military protection because of the high terrorist risk at this time, long time ago.

Let’s come back  to Turkey despite I can’t resist to Bazaars and to sales  simply because I’m a woman. Because I am a woman ,  I can’t resist to 1001 nights story either. But because I’m not as romantic as an oriental women, I don’t believe that the blue eyes of Lawrence of Arabia transformed the feodal warriors tribes of Arabia into peaceful princes,  not even into loving and caring men toward their women. Because I’m not a romantic oriental woman, I don’t remember only the sweetness of the sunset at Pierre Loti Café and I didn’t appreciate to be touched in Istanbul streets by many men ‘admiring’ my feminine curves despite I was wearing a long and decent dress. I didn’t either appreciate to be stared as a monster by veiled women in the cheap but clean hotel, that I had to share with Pilgrims because of my small travel budget.  I didn’t appreciate their husbands  politness warning that I should better stay in my room and not walk alone in the streets for my own sake, despite they were right.  I felt so ashamed during my visits. It was truly indecent all those  attempts to my woman dignity.

But I was young at this time, I didn’t always obey to all well-informed persons. I was young and still badly informed on my 1 in  2 Kemal. Turkey was my promised land . My thoughts were simple . Forget about Istanbul. It’s simply not Turkey. Go to the capital. And in Ankara a very little boy taught me about Fraternity. The fraternity before the age of ‘ the muslim brothers’. Fraternity based on sharing the same humanity. Not charity as it was written in my guidebook for tourists : ‘ Take pencils and handbooks with you, you will please many pupils as eduction is a very important matter in Turkey”. A wonderful young boy. So much smarter than I was. He was jumping around me in the street, so funny ans so happy to show me what he learnt at school. He was not even 10 years old and already spoke french and english. As would do a teacher in France to retribute best pupils, I offered him pencils. But not only for that, also because obviously he would have need  some new ones. As direct as I was, he told me that his parents do not allow him to accept gifts from strangers. And suddenly I was much more ashamed in Ankara than I ever was in Istanbul. Ashamed of my occidental  culture of charity, which might have offended his pride and the one of his parents. Thanks to God, he took my poisonned gift for it was. One more mistake, one more misunderstanding. Would he have kept his thought for him, his irritation to be perceived as a smuggler, I would never had understood fraternity or equality. It was a long time ago, far before I was mother of 4 brothers and sisters. I was young and remembered my own childhood. Of course, an ice-ceam ! He was a very well educated and smart child . He instantly catched the difference between both gifts and ran to his parents home to ask permission. His parents, trustful,  gave him immediate permission to follow alone a total stranger in a pastry shop. Never I would do so in France with my children. Only perverse persons  offer candies to children after shool. Definitely, Turkey was my promised land . People were free, equal and fraternal. And definitely , this ice-ceam  with this little boy, was the ever best ice-cream I never ate. I was so flattered of his male pride sitting with me in the pastry shop. Everybody surrounding  looked at our strange couple and I felt suddenly like the most beautiful woman on earth. Simply thanks to how he spoke to me and thanks to his comprehensive parents.

A long story for such a simple mistake. For a simple misspelling. But finally, everything was corrected. It was less than one year ago, thanks to Erdogan and his bad opinion on laughing in public for a women,   thanks to the turkish women that answered by smiling and thanks to the french newspaper Le Monde on its Facebook Page which asked to undertitle their photographies a simple question: ‘  Who knows why are those Turkish women smiling ? “. As I simply wanted to offer my tribute to Kemal, the first man of a new mankind, I wanted to write ‘ They smile because they remember about M… Kemal ‘ . As I didn’t want to appear illiterate and in the same time  because I do a lot of confusion between langages (as you noticed in this english text ) and a lot of confusion in first names, I checked if I should write it Mustapha or Mustafa.

I could die of shame when I discovered that I manage to  live all this time which such a confused mind. I didn’t. I laughed at myself and simply corrected, without any first name : ” they smile because they understood both Kemal, the founder of a modern nation and the writer of Memed le Mince’. I would like the story to stop here. I wish never to had to turn next pages, before they were even  written. I like stories that have good ends. And what I had to read after my innocent and trustful social network comment on Le Monde were the uggliest words I never read. Islamists from many countries, and mainly mine,  men and women, poorly or well educated, very young or older, jumped on my comment. It showed me how much my promised Land has changed and how much I became an indecent woman for them.

It was long time ago. But I never forgot any of the presents I received in Turkey. They shaped the adult, the mother, I am now. I never forgot the smiles, I never forgot the laugh. When I heard about Erdogan declaring that decent turkish women should not laugh in the street, when I saw those beautiful turkish women smiling without a word on social network, I knew I absolutely have to write down my travel memories. I owe it to the people I met long time ago. I owe it to myself before getting too old to remember that once my promised land was real,  that I could walk freely on its ground, that it produced wonderful ice-creams, wonderful children, wonderful parents.  In reality, not only in an old legend book from the past. I owe it to those brave and beautiful smiling women which are , thanks to God, or against God should I maybe say nowadays, still alive. And finally I owe it to my beautiful niece which is born two month ago so that once she will able to read about her roots in a simple way. I owe it to the daughter of my youngest brother, nothing like me, and his wife, muslim, completely French but also completely  Turkish by her parents, Turkish immigrants. They called her Nil, one of the most beautiful Turkish name I ever heard and in the same time of the most beautiful universal symbol which mankind received from Egyptia and from old civilisations.

 I wish you felt asleep which such a long story, like in 1001 nights. But I wish in the same that everybody in Turkey will open his eyes. Always the same with women. One thing and its contrary. That’s universal.

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