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Where am I From?
Nov 1, 2020

Following a soft negotiation of price with the rickshaw driver, I finally had initiated my way back home from the Time to Help foundation. Next to a quick introduction of our names, the driver asked me where I was from. I smiled at him. It was an easy-to-answer question for the majority of people, but not for me.

I was born in Russia, but my family left the country when I was only two; so I don’t remember much to feel part of it.

Perhaps I could say India, as I had lived my childhood within its peculiar, sweet but dirty, and adaptable environment. I saw clean walls filled with images of deities adjacent to walls filled with human excrement. I made friends who were Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or Jain. My friends taught me the language that is spoken by nearly 1/3 of the world. I also sang the national anthem with pride in every assembly. “Where there is love there is life,” says Mahatma Gandhi. The colors that covered everywhere in the “Holi” celebration were the clear message of love and joy lived by the people of India. I simply had been part of the “Bollywood” of the world. The Bollywood where I lived my childhood, gained my patience from its traffic, and celebrated diversity from its people and culture.

Yet, I could not ignore what was written in my passport and I could not ignore my parents, who raised me with the language and values of Turkey. The majority of the books I read when I was a child were in Turkish. I learned about Turkey by listening to Turkish songs, reading Turkish literature, and on top of all I spent a full month every year in Turkey, which gave me a chance to observe the country with first-hand experience. I have therefore socialized within a modified and extended family. Turkey was not a place where I felt at home to the fullest, however the importance of all these past experiences were revealed following the coup attempt of 2016 since which we no longer could visit what my father used to call our “place of rehabilitation.” Thus, my visits to Turkey temporarily ended.

For a moment, I looked at the driver as he was in the middle of a phone call. The loud African music playing behind me reminded me of the fact that I have been living here in Tanzania for 6 years now. As Turkey was waning from my annual calendar, I thought to myself, “Hakuna Matata.” Tanzania had been where I had built a character and made hundreds of friends in schools, orphanages, on streets, and with rickshaw drivers such as Emmanuel sitting in front of me. The smile on the faces of little orphans when I speak to them and play soccer with them has been part of my favorite experiences in life. The day I tried to dance like those children had placed me into the rhythm of their tradition and culture. I learned the true meaning of benevolence and gratitude as I observed the joyful moments of villagers approaching their water well when it was filled with a pure water supply, or orphans who untie their gift boxes in extreme excitement. I learned that true satisfaction was found through serving others. I learned that life could be sincerely enjoyed only when one would explore himself or herself. Life was, indeed, different in the eyes of each individual. I saw many of those vulnerable people becoming only “happier” than they used to be, while many people in wealth have lots to complain about. This relation had always enhanced my curiosity over psychology. I always felt that I had to understand myself, my existence, and my own sense of being before trying to benefit others. In Tanzania, I developed an ambition; an ambition of living, so that others may live.

I suddenly regained my consciousness as the driver threw a glance at me, still waiting for a response. I looked at him and answered “Natoka Tanzania siku hizi” (I am from Tanzania these days), and watched him, as he was laughing, in satisfaction of making someone happy at least for some part of his day.