Mrs K and what makes a good woman…

(Now how do I always manage to get a song stuck in my head just by trying to find a title for my daily ramblings)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about Mrs K.

She is just one of the people I’ve come across in the last months, working in an outpatient psychiatric consult aimed partly at the migrant and asylum seekers population. And yet that is as unfair as any introduction can be, she is a lot more than that. She is about 8 years older than me, a small, always elegant woman with expressive eyes. She has come from Turkey, with her husband and two children, and has arrived in Switzerland a few years ago after spending about a decade in Germany, and in the end being deported back to Turkey. So now they are trying to find a place in Switzerland, and are, even after so many years, still waiting for a final decision, a permit. Which means they don’t have the right to work, don’t have the right to leave the country, don’t have the right to much.

She was engaged at 14, married – that is, culturally married, but that is the only one that really has an impact – at the age of 15, and had her first born at 16. By that time, she had had to go to Germany to join her husband  – it is an arranged marriage, in case you were wondering, who is a lot older than she is, and gave birth in a foreign country, not understanding anything the doctors and nurses said. She says those first years of marriage were the most unhappy of her life.  But she isn’t one to let things go without a fight. She learned German – despite her husband not wanting it, fearing it would make her – and rightly – too independent. She raised her first than second child.

And now that they are in Switzerland, she is learning French, and is so good and motivated at it that she managed to secure a place in a private and expensive course, that her teachers pay for her because they thought it would be such a waste if she couldn’t continue to learn.  She doesn’t see it as an accomplishment. Rather, she sees it as yet another source of stress (other that the conflicts with her husband, her fear of her sons not being integrated at school, the constant threat of receiving the news that they are expelled from this country, and a few others), because she absolutely doesn’t want to disappoint the people at her class that allowed her to pursue her education.  She values education more than anything. She has a clear view of what makes a strong, real woman: it is a woman who works, doesn’t depend on any man, and until she has found work – no matter what her husband thinks or allows her to do – she won’t consider herself strong, independent. 

Yet she has lived trough much more than I have ever lived through, and is probably a dozen times stronger than I am. But she says she admires me: the fact that I work, that I studied – she was pulled out of school by her parents at 14 to go marry her husband. 

She is probably more intelligent than any of us. She is determined, yet has touching ideals – she told me, the second time we met, that she would like to feel, just once, what it is to feel love for a man, a real passion, even though she knows divorce is not an option, and she is unlikely to  ever leave her husband.  She is a woman in every strong sense of the word. She doesn’t even resent her life, her circumstances, she isn’t bitter.  And she thanks me for my support. That is what I struggle most with: I feel I am the one who has learned a lot more, I am the one who was given support by our meeting. Because I will remember Mrs K. all my life: her tears, her smiles, and what she believes so strongly she isn’t afraid to go against her husband and her whole community to get it: Education. Independence. Freedom. Even love.

Heroes of our days are to be met in refugees camps. Heroes of our days don’t even consider themselves strong, but they are stronger than ever.


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