Refugee Voices

(from Iranian Refugees At Risk Summer 95)

Refugee Voices intends to reflect the voices, problems, needs and aspirations of refugees. For this issue, we thank A.M. for his narrative essay. (the names of refugees are omitted as a matter of protection).

In my temporary stay permit it is printed that I am barred from employment, education, and doing business in Turkey. But I finally decided to disregard the fact that these rights are taken away from me. I had to support my wife and kids. That day I left the house to look for a job. My best bet was to go to some one that I knew. Why not the baker? He was a kind man and ever since he knew I was Iranian he has tried to bake me a bigger bread. I had learned to speak Turkish quite well. I went to him and described how desperately I needed a job. He thought for a while and told me that unfortunately they had enough workers at the bakery. I asked him to inquire from his friends. I told him about my job experiences and the fact that I have worked since fifth grade, I knew welding, construction, plumbing and I could also do a contractors job. I have a high school diploma and also have studied in a professional school. I could easily understand architectural layouts and could also implement layouts. He said he doubted he could find anything in these areas but that he would do his best to find me something. I called on him three days in a row. On the fourth day he informed me that a friend of his who owns a quarry was willing to offer me a job. I rushed home to give the good news to my wife and children.

The next day I left the house at 6:30 a.m. My wife saw me off with anxious eyes, worrying for my health and the risk of being caught and perhaps facing deportation. We had to take our chances. My baker friend took me to a cafe and introduced me to my boss. In a short while the cafe was full of workers. Most of them stared at me and expressed whether I was strong enough for the job. Finally the bus arrived, a small cargo bus that the driver had converted himself by covering it up and installing a door, two glass windows and some metal seats. Looking at the size of the bus and the number of workers I was sure that we were going to the work place at least in two or three trips. All of a sudden, everyone ran towards the bus, pushing each other to get in. The boss asked me why I was not getting in. I told him that there was no room left. He said that I should hurry up and find room, otherwise I would be left behind. I got in the packed bus. For an instant I recalled the vehicles that used to transport political prisoners in Iran and I felt like a prisoner again. After half an hour the bus stopped and the crowd rushed out. I got the sight of the quarry and in front of me was the scene from the film Spartacus, the period of slavery. There were big holes cut out from the mountains which were covered by dark clouds. We walked towards the job site and precisely at 8:00 a.m. we started to work.

With a roar the electric saw and the delivery machines were turned on. Someone screamed at us to hurry up and lift the railings that were lying on the ground. There were four of us and in teams of two we were supposed to lift a metal rail that was 6 meters long and 1 meter wide. I mustered all my power and to the count of three my partner and I lifted a rail. It was impossible to straighten my back. I could hear my wife asking me to promise that I take care of myself and I wondered if I can keep my promise. After we finished moving the rails, four of us, including me, were assigned to the electric saw. One of the workers turned the two motor-six cylinder machine on and started cutting the slates. He was cutting the slates into 18x30x80 cubic centimeters and the rest of us had to lift and carry them. Each piece weighed about 60 Kilograms. We had to carry them away quickly so that the machine could cut faster. Each of us carried 20 stones in each round while the machine was throwing pieces of the cut stone at us. We didn't have safety helmets. We were so sweaty and covered with dust and dirt that we couldn't tell who we were anymore. I wished it would rain so that we could rest a bit. I could tell that others were looking forward to a rain too by the way they were looking at the sky. Time went by slowly. I was wishing that it was lunch time and we could take a rest for lunch that it started to rain slowly. But I was wrong, work did not come to a halt. In fact it became much more difficult. The stones were slippery and harder to carry. I dropped them on my toes several times. The pain was excruciating and blood was spurting out from under my nails. I could not wipe the mud on my face because I was covered all over. My eyes were red and itchy.

Lunch break was finally announced at 12:30. I sighed with relief. We had an hour for lunch, more than half of it spent in walking back and forth to the kitchen. On my way I started a conversation with one of the Turkish workers and asked him about the pay. He said that before a recent strike they were paid 250,000 TL per day, but thereafter the pay has been 300,000 TL per day. After walking for two kilometers and waiting for another 10 minutes in line I finally got my lunch, one pepper dolma in soup and half an akmak bread. I sat down and noticed the workers who ate their food hurriedly so that they get back to work on time. There was not even time to wash off the mud from their hands and faces. The site of such hardship killed my appetite. I reluctantly ate the small portion of food so that I have some energy for the rest of the day.

On our way back to work I asked one of my co-workers when the daily job ended. He said that at 5:30 we will get our pay coupons and by 6:30 we will be back in town. To my right there was a site where three men were loading the trucks. Two of them would lift a big slate and put it on the third man's back. The man would swiftly transfer them to the truck. I wondered how he could lift such a weight without getting arthritis or a slipped disc. My co-worker noticed my astonishment and asked what I was staring at. He said we had to do the same thing too. I confessed that it seemed impossible and that I didn't have the strength. He admitted that he did not either, but added that there was no other choice. I was truly scared. Perhaps I will survive today but what about tomorrow?