-Good evening sir, may I see your personal ID?
The policeman stood in front of Erdem, very respectful and good-natured, as they always had been before. Nonetheless, Erdem felt his anger rising in him, despite of his name meaning “virtue” translated from Turkish and the peaceful way of life his parents had done their best to teach him. After all, that was the fourth time this week.
And all because of this terroristic act in the underground, which had been on the news and in the minds in the late time. Besides, this uncomfortable turban on his head, which his chief insisted on. The clients were supposed to be very old-fashioned, and the company tried to use any means available to feel them very much welcome and emotionally bound. Therefore, here he was, the born-in-Germany Turkish representative, who was supposed to meet them every evening for a tour around the city, and that while wearing this stupid dress and unshaven. “Where did they only take this as a characteristic of a Muslim from? “ Erdem wondered. He reminded himself of a beggar from some recently seen movie while looking in the mirror. Some people were suprisingly uneducated and blunt for their high job positions.
A short process of showing his ID followed, while trying to imitate the stupid smile on the photo taken only a few months ago. The perspective of following the officer for a more thorough control in case suspicions were aroused didn’t captivate Erdem. All this started to become an unpleasant routine. Having left behind four years of studying international relations and two years of working abroad visiting European countries, Erdem didn’t expect this short week in his homeland to change his personal view on the subject of discrimination. “That is human nature, you seldom care much until it has to deal with you”, he thought philosophically. The thought left an unpleasant aftertaste.
If anything, selfishness was not a word you could use to describe Erdem with. Voluntary work became his passion and was often the reason for running through the streets in order to not be late for his “real” job, or going to bed tired with an empty belly, but always with his eyes shining inspiringly. Still, it is something quite different: to help people in need from the comfort zone he always enjoyed having been born a European citizen, and to start feeling himself in the position of those people. “Would someone help me now?”
Finally, the train he had been waiting for arrived. Erdem found it almost empty and took a seat comfortably hidden in the corner. The last thing he could use now was to see a few more scared distrustful looks. But before long the train got full, so soon he was discovered by a young mother with her little son. She looked very tired and was rather clumsy with her bags, so Erdem got up and helped her stuck them over the seats. She murmured her thanks and sat down across, her son sitting next to her. Later during the trip she almost fell asleep a couple of times, but each time jumped up nervously and rubbed at her eyes, while not stopping to clutch her bag tightly and not looking in the direction of Erdem rather too insistently. He knew that look, or rather its lack. He appeared to be some empty space for this woman. Empty spaces can’t harm you.
Erdem was glad to leave the train at last. The woman had let him out, moving her feet aside, still not seeing him. On the platform people were hurrying in all directions, home or trying to catch their next train. A girl carried in her mother’s lap let a ribbon she was clutching in her hand fall down and was crying while trying to reach for it. Her mother was too busy and paid her no attention, walking up and down the station impatiently. Erdem picked up the ribbon smilingly and addressed the woman. She got a start at first, then muttered “I am not buying anything” and looked away, then started towards a larger group of people at the station. “A group of reliable people”, Erdem thought with bitterness.
That night he went to bed with his usual ever-shining eyes and one thought which could bring him peace: He will quit his job.
I met Erdem shortly after coming to Germany, feeling completely lost. Going to the market in attempt to buy food or trying to find and buy the right bus tickets required much of concentration and energy, not to mention endless papers necessary for insurances and numerous bureaus, awaiting foreigners. I had always thought of myself being rather talented and capable of doing this paper work and learning German fast, but that appeared to be too much. There are moments when a person stops to see himself/herself as a one, feeling oneself just a number in some books. “Number 539, you can study in our country. Oh, but don’t forget to bring us the formular B52 tomorrow”. Along with some other twenty forms for our friends in other bureaus .
Erdem was the one to help me with his enthusiasm and a smile never leaving his face – a neat friendly polite hard-working young man. He told me his short story with that same smile, which tried to hide sadness in the corners of his eyes. He was one of the first real foreigners I had ever met. I had not been used to seeing people of a different religion, culture or skin colour in Moldova. We are not used to have many tourists. True enough, I had never felt myself superior to them, but I do have to admit, they had always been different to me. Is it so bad to be different? Does it hurt to feel different? Does facing difference have to be scary? I would never think little of people who seem uncommon to me just on the account of their uncommonness, but I did feel a need to beware of them sometimes. Rather often. Too often. I would like to learn to see new exciting ideas and not danger in the things I do not understand. To open my mind. As a way to thank people like Erdem, who have a big heart for everyone, even the unworthy ones. Who do not have a European appearance as a luxury, helping them to avoid strange looks. I would like it to become strange and abnormal not to wear unusual clothes, but to behave the way a person should not. For my sake, and for Europe’s, which I belong to and whom I wish well.
A fortnight ago Erdem and I visited his old town, where he had used to work before. A policeman at the main train station stopped in front of an old dark-skinned woman standing next to us and asked for her ID. She looked dispirited and ashamed, obeying and taking her documents out of her worn coat. “Would you care to make sure that our documents are all right as well, sir?” Erdem was stretching his arm with a card towards the officer, smiling widely, as usual. I followed his example. The policeman blushed, glanced at us shortly and excused himself further on his way. A train announced its coming up the platform. The woman smiled thankfully and wished us good evening before getting on.