Rama - A Lifelong Learner
Written by Megan Juba
Like the baklava Rama makes and shares with his customers, his story is sometimes sticky and layer upon layer. He explains, in the tone of an educator, that since 1923 when his ancestors' land of Kurdistan was split into four Turkish nation-states, anything Kurdish – the names of the villages, music and even the language was banned and seen as a threat to Turkish authorities.
His dark eyes look longingly at a painting of his childhood home. It is a simple rural landscape with rolling hills and farm animals. He grew up with his parents, six brothers and one sister in a small village of thirty families. “I developed a really deep relationship with the land. From older generation, everything was passed to me. I would love to see that again.”
At age seven, he was forced to go to school and “that is the place where we get punished, assimilated by force.” There is a fence like a high security prison with a Turkish flag above it. A teacher holds a stick to beat the children. Rama recounts this memory and folds his hands in his lap, looks down at them like a subservient child who doesn’t know what is expected because the teacher does not speak his language.
Rama was the first generation of his family to go to middle school and, later, Gazi University in Ankara. To enter the university, students had to step on the Kurdish flag. “I was stepping on my identity…. It was them forcing me to do something that I didn’t want to do.” So, he quits school and joins the Kurdish human rights movement. Shifting in his chair, he recounts “One morning at 5am I woke up and ten police officers with guns in my apartment looking for anything related to Kurdish culture. They found Kurdish music in my laptop.” So, with fear, he gives up activism too.
After this, Rama was trading work for English language classes. This center found him work in the US but a Turkish political coup broke out two weeks after he arrived, so he stayed knowing he would be arrested and put in prison if he returned. He is now able to stay under political asylum.
Eventually, Rama made his way to Salida through the Salida Circus. With childlike wonder, he describes seeing a performer for the first time ever and wanting to learn himself. He says, “Seeing everybody as someone that I can learn something from. That has got me a lot of magical places. If you become a learner, everybody becomes your friend.”