We are all immigrants but our circumstances are very different: The view from Istanbul

Dec 20, 2015 | 0 comments

We are all immigrants.

My father’s father was a Hebrew scholar from Minsk in Belarus before he came to Ellis Island in New York to start a new life.Karla logo

My mother’s mother and father escaped the pogroms against the Jews. They left a village that may not exist anymore in what probably is now Poland, but who knows?

I grew up in Brooklyn, “emigrated” many times (broadly speaking). First I moved to Florida, back to Brooklyn, then Manhattan, then California (Big Sur, Ojai, Santa Barbara), then to Buenos Aires, and now I live in Cuenca.

Each move was an adjustment and sometimes bordering on shock of new cultural realities.

We are all immigrants descended from somewhere else.

I have lived as a resident of Ecuador for over four years. And yes, I still am surprised that I am learning new things about chl refugeeliving as an expat every day. I realize a part of me seems to thrive on learning about other ways.

This summer, during a two-month trip to Europe I encountered the current immigrant crisis. It was a daily occurrence to hear on the news of countries fighting each other, people opening their hearts and homes or not. Anger, fear, chaos was exposed as individuals and countries faced their lack of preparation for the great numbers arriving.

Nearing the end of the trip after being in Berlin, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, Istanbul, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of the collective moment/crisis. I felt helpless. Helplessness is never a state anyone likes. We either shut it down like a machine frozen with too many moving parts or we find a way to consciously walk through the complicated realities of the issues and our inner responses.

One of my ways though such chaos of reactions is writing. I wrote the following poem in the cool library on a day of heat and humidity in Istanbul. I share this to open a dialog.

Do you think of yourself as an immigrant? Do you have a story to tell? Do you have a response to what I wrote or anything that you might like to share? What is your point of view?


It doesn’t matter


It doesn’t matter where I go

Or even where I stay

It is all the same


Yes, all the same


I go

I stay

No wrongness to place

No rightness either


But listening and keeping a quiet mind

That creates space, then the possibility of spaciousness

Of mind and heart


Yesterday, I fought for sanity of my thoughts

As my body rumbled and riled with the effects of the Istanbul heat,

Humidity, crowds, noise, history, grief spoken and not


Who is Turkish these days?

I cannot consider their pain

I must not consider it

Losses mounting on losses


Is this trip about loss and ultimately the capacity to feel another’s pain?

I drift in memory

Auschwitz visited by millions and me

Krakow survivors remembering and rebuilding

Dead Syrian baby on the beach in Budrom in Turkey on today’s news


The story I have stumbled into

Is immigration

Immigrants running from oppression

They aim for Europe in the millions

Who are these displaced people?

Who will hear them?

Who will listen?

Who will receive them?

Let alone who will “welcome” them


I say

What am I supposed to do?

Does anything I do matter?


Exhaustion overwhelms while babies cry


Are you listening God?

Are you there?

Kindly pick up the fucking phone

I am calling you!


So many deaths

of ideas, hopes, futile whispers trying to be heard


Come now, my friends,

How bad does it have to get

To wake up compassion


Drugged, we walk the streets

Drugged, we sit and wait for something unknowable to happen


I go to the cistern to the bowels of Istanbul

Maybe an answer there


I pick up Allan Kaprow’s

Essays on the blurring of art and life

In the cool Istanbul library

No flowers and still lifes at this Biennale

One exhibit after another trying to express, come to terms with, voice


I yearn to go home

Not yet

This story is bigger than me and my comfort


Karla Freeman, expat, traveler, tango dancer, writer, currently lives in Cuenca and is the author of Creating Magic in Midlife: 101 Questions and Answers to Reinvent Your Work, Relationships and Life! Available on Amazon Kindle and at Carolina bookstore on Calle Hermano Miguel in Cuenca.


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