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The Odyssey of Hassan

The Odyssey of Hassan is a fiction based on the story of foreign children found wandering the cities in France, alone and homeless. Their plight was brought to the fore by the medias. The French government has since taken measures to feed and clothe immigrants under eighteen, providing them with shelter and allowing them to attend school. But this hasn’t always been the case.

We'd never seen the sea. It hit us like a punch between the eyes; its fierce blue, so vast you didn't notice anything else. I asked you if there was something on the other side. You said yes but that we couldn't see it because the world is round and the other side was over the hill.

It took us a moment to take it in—all that sparkling blue taunting us and burning the retina.

From the pine cliff where we were standing, we scrambled down to the beach and stopped at the edge, intrigued by the waves—frightened of them, even. They never stopped moving. After a while, though, they tamed us, and we ventured in. In the shallows, they sucked the sand away, then brought it back again until we got bedded in and started to topple. We watched our feet disappearing for a while, and then you started pushing me. It made you laugh to see me all wet. I laughed, too. But I laughed yellow as we'd moved in deeper, and I don't know how to swim. After swallowing a lung-full, I became careful and held my breath when the water swilled over me. Once I'd understood that, I started to push you too, but you were bigger than me and harder to bring down.

We got tired of that game. We also got hungry and moved along the beach in search of something to eat. The wind was warm and dried us, our hair sticky with salt, so we must have looked like wild dogs. Some fishermen gave us sardines that we grilled on a stick over an open fire. We had to hide, though. We didn't want the police poking their noses in. It was like an adventure sitting there in the dunes, watching the sun go down over the sea as we ate our supper and licked our fingers clean.

Until then, we'd only ever seen the mountains. Where we come from, there are only mountains; great shards of rock piercing the sky. Toros Dağlari, they're called. There's not much agriculture, I mean, no big fields or anything like that, just villages clinging to the slopes out of despair. Some people have goats and donkeys; others, bees. My Dad has an orchard, hardly bigger than a prayer rug. An orchard on the mountainside in a dip sheltered from the winter winds but stony and dry, making it hard to work. My mother looks after the goats. We sort of liked it there even though there was no telly. We were used to doing the long trek down to the village school and back each day, and I don't suppose we'd ever have thought of leaving until we heard they were coming to build a dam. No-one knew where we'd go if that happened. So when we were fourteen, that is, Mehmet was fourteen, and I was thirteen, Father told us we had to go into the city, to Kayseri, where we had family. In any case, you can't make a living on dried apricots, he said. My mother cried. Pleaded with him. But we wanted to go, anyway. We wanted to see the world.

He gave us money to get our passports done, but we never did.

We left in the height of summer with some of Father's savings in our pockets and hiked along the road that runs down to the coast, a hundred and thirty kilometres of it. We were anxious to discover the sea. We didn't want to go to Kayseri, which is inland. We were just bent on discovering the world. It was stinking hot, so the sea seemed like a good idea. The soles of our feet were burning even though our Nikes were new in those days. That's why we got into walking at night and resting in the day. On two occasions truck drivers took us, but generally, they just careered by. It took us four days. Then we took the Datça-Mersin highway, which runs parallel to the coast except that no one would take us on that road, which wasn’t surprising – by then, we looked like tramps. The most difficult was to keep away from the police and stay clean. But we did. Well, after a fashion.

We found streams to wash in and the sea when there was nothing else. But the sea's not much good for washing. It's just good for tourists. And perhaps, for the fishermen. In Mersin, there's a whole armada of big, steal ships; some Turkish, but not only. There were tankers and liners from all over the world. The sight of the port made us feel small. We didn't know what to do or know where to go. So we kept to what they call the 'holiday resorts' with white hotels and palm trees. That's where people lounge about with iced drinks. In those days, we'd never seen so many people doing nothing, absolutely nothing, just looking good and lazing on beaches, rubbing themselves with oil and getting brown all over, whereas where we come from, we're only brown in places.

We couldn't stay long. Once or twice, we treated ourselves to a tantuni.

by Anne Foster


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