Student shares her migration story at Chicago festival

The backpack Saba Aydiner carried with her on her family’s migration to America contained all of her belongings that could fit from her home: Istanbul, Turkey, and one of the objects inside the backpack was a small journal with “Adventure Time” written on the front.

Unfortunately, the pages of the journal were ruined from the water that seeped in during the long agonizing boat ride that brought Aydiner and her family to safety. Her words recollecting the journey in the journal had smeared and dissolved away.

After escaping persecution from the Turkish government, Aydiner and her family traveled to Cedar Falls, a town that they had previously lived in before when Aydiner’s father had been a visiting professor at the University of Northern Iowa prior to moving back to Istanbul.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, Aydiner told her migration story to the public and participated in Inherit Chicago, a month-long citywide intercultural festival sponsored by the Chicago Cultural Alliance.

She was part of a list of three speakers: one Native American, one Filipino and Aydiner from Turkey. She spoke at “Migration Stories of Inheritance” at the Turkish American Society in Chicago. As the program for Aydiner’s speech said, “One of the most innate connections we as humans share is migration.”

Each speaker was followed by performers from that culture. The Turkish culture brought two teenagers girls singing covers of Turkish pop songs.

Aydiner, at 15, was the youngest of the speakers. Her speech was emotionally riveting to the group of about 40 in the room, and for her, too. She and audience members wiped away tears as the story ended.

Aydiner told the story of the day that her life turned upside down, when her father said they were going to have to leave.

“That night my dad came into my room and told me that it wasn’t going to be easy for us anymore, that we were going to face groundless accusations, that they might get arrested anytime like many innocent others for serving humanity,” she said.

Her family, including two brothers Esad,11, and Ali, 7, and her mother and father, Humeyra Aydiner and Mesut Aydiner, traveled by car and then by boat with mysterious people who smuggled them out of the country.

“They told us that we will pass the international water in 20 minutes, and after that, the coastguards can’t do anything. And we’ll arrive to a beach after another 20 minutes without even getting wet, safely. Things didn’t go like they told us it would. Our number was eight in total with the other family, but the tiny speed boat that came to pick us up only had two crappy seats,” she said.

The boat ride that Aydiner was told would be only 20 minutes turned into three hours of of rain and water splashing into the boat on her family as well as the other family that they were aboard with on the small boat. Cemal, the father of the other family on board, had to take action in order to save his baby’s life.

“After another half an hour, there was a rocky cove in our sight, and when the water was about here [7 feet deep], they told us to jump. First we didn’t, but when they threw our backpacks to the water, me and Cemal jumped and tried to reach the cove. After a while, my dad came next to us and so did my mom and brothers, but Cemal’s wife didn’t know what to do, so they threw the baby in the water. His wife jumped after. The boat left in a hurry leaving us in the middle of nowhere.”

Her journal in the single backpack she carried was now wet and soggy. The pages were never same after being thrown into the water and after this experience. Aydiner herself was also wet and cold and never the same.

Her family persevered over the rocky cove and made it into Greece to a hotel with their few belongings where they found safety.

“It was my turn to shower, but the phone in the room rang, and they told us the police are waiting downstairs. I had that feeling again. I was so scared. I was the only one with fluent English, so my dad and I went downstairs. The police had the copies of our passports, and they told us that they wanted to help us. They said they knew we illegally entered the country and we were from the Gulen movement. They told us that they knew what was happening in Turkey. They said they believed in us and they believed in democracy, how they were so surprised that a university president [Aydiner’s father] had left his country like this, so they said they’ll help us and they did. We took a flight to Athena, then Italy and at last JFK [in New York]. All of our friends were waiting for us at the airport cheering,” she said.

Aydiner, currently a CFHS sophomore, has found her new home and embraces her new calm lifestyle.

“Now I live in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and I have amazing friends, an amazing school and teachers,” she told the audience in Chicago. “It’s a friendly, small college town over there that I’m not really used to after living in Istanbul for a long time, but now I am so in love that I don’t want to leave. I feel like we needed this calm life as a family after all the crazy stuff we went through.”

Just like Aydiner’s journal, her old stories and memories went through the wringer in her journey to America, but in Chicago, she again found the words to tell her story.

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