13.11.2011

Behind the fences

By Nermin Noqte

There is a road that takes me far, far away. Someone lost their freedom on that road, someone their relatives. This road reconciled someone with their loneliness and someone with their unfinished life. As for me… I search for comfort on this road that took my childhood once somewhere afar, in a place called “Qızılqum” sanatorium (red. the name of refugees camp).

The sanatorium is in the Pirshagi settlement of Sabunchu district on the outskirts of Baku. It was turned into a camp for the refugees from Khojaly, who had to leave their dear homes and land in 1992. It has been almost 12 years since my family left the sanatorium. And though we promised to never go back, it was the news of death of a relative that took us back to that place of bitter memories. It brought me back my childhood and every other painful memory of war- tears, fear and much more….

I am unaware of any changes at the sanatorium. I haven`t heard much from my friends, relatives, and neighbors who stayed behind. Just as the roads to Khojaly, it was unknown what was waiting for me there.

On the way to the sanatorium, one by one we pass by oil wells, pieces of land drained by oil and dirt, private properties embraced by giant fences. There is less and less of everything as we get closer- less houses, less trees. Dumps and more dumps and the growing smell from these dumps signals that we are getting close- the sanatorium is not far…

“He was to become a man”…

My childhood friend – Elchin meets me as we arrive. He tells me everything, filling me in on every little change that happened here after I left. He tells me about his graduation from the school number 2 that still stands here. He tells me of his university years and his time spent in the army. He tells me of the difficulties he faced, finding a job in the city (Baku) and instead settling as a worker at the nearby construction sights of villas and extravagant residential palaces. He tells me how much he learned on construction while he worked there, even though never before he lifted a stone to build something. He tells me how difficult it is for him to lift those stones and built these palaces here and how he could hardly afford to buy equipment to fix his home that is nearby. He continued to talk and talk…

As we spoke, we found ourselves walking into what once used to be the playground of our school. Yes, I remember now, the same wooden school. The very same classrooms of ten, making us sweat in the summers and freeze in winters. I remembered how our teachers would bring electric heaters to warm up our classroom on cold winter days and then take it back home. Yes, I remember, the same flags on the walls of some non-governmental organization that came and brought us pencils or notebooks once a year to show how “caring” they were.

I remember, the same square. Nothing has changed here- the same two wooden poles, buried into the ground, November rain, physical education class, the wooden school and the anxious children worried their school will crush any minute now. And now, the same students were playing football outside in the cold. The fake square and the sparkles in their eyes- their loud voices, happiness, and smiles- that moment children in Khojaly were laughing too…

This school pretty much has no equipment to provide normal education. Instead, there is Khojaly hoping to get somewhere with its13 graduates. These kids playing on the “made up” playground are Elchins of tomorrow.

There were times, when we said, we will grow up “to be a man”, which meant having a good job and a good statute in the society. But as we grew up, no one even treats us as human beings. Instead we only have “richer CVs”- “we are educated workers; with neighbors who look at us, and say ‘I will become a worker anyway’; we are the residents of wooden homes covered with moss; we are the shores escaping from the ‘black’ness of oil; the hundred meter high “oligarch land” fences; the villas hiding the sea; the kilometers long road to overcome in order to see the sea front; we are the owners of “tuberculosis Khojaly” convicted to suffer from the coming winter, asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer…”

Just as the fields where we once placed games were now “captured” by fences standing helpless with hands tied, I too am “captured” by the realitis I see today, hands tied… Many things have changed. It turns out everything had an owner here, except its people…

I can see our house as well. It is also fenced. Residents of this house, the doors of which are closed to me now, had many doors closed to the them one upon a time. But now my own childhood closed its “door” to my face, because I am leaving it for a second time. Because I am leaving it “behind fences”… Once in Khojaly, and now…
imagineneutralzone.com/2011/11/01/behind-the-fences/

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