‘What should I do with him, Jessica?’ asked the janitor’s wife. Emine had come up from the windowless basement where she lives with her husband and three children, to bring me a handful of village cheese and a plastic bag of freshly picked hazelnuts from the Black Sea coast. She had just returned from delivering her eldest daughter to a small college there, where the girl will study to become an accountant. That would never have been possible without the grant the state gave the girl. Emine, who works as a cleaner in a hospital, and her husband scraped together all their savings to buy their daughter new clothes, a uniform, a suitcase, and all those things a boarding girl needs, but to pay for the study would have been impossible. That’s why Emine had urged her daughter to take the exam for the grant. Much to her own surprise, she won it.
Emine has been wringing her hands over the imminent departure of her daughter, and the possible exposure of her 17-year old to all sorts of dangers. My reassurances had not made any difference, but when she saw the high security conditions of the boarding-house, her mind was put at ease. Her daughter is in safe hands.
So now the next one, her unruly 16-year old son, is the object of her concern. ‘He won’t listen to me,’ she complained. ‘He doesn’t care about school anymore. He has started smoking, and he spends day and night behind the computer. When I wake up at three in the morning, he’s there.’
‘That’s taking it a bit far, but not necessarily a bad thing,’ I said. I knew our top floor neighbor had encouraged the boy to widen his world by means of the web. Our neighbor himself is the son of a janitor and has grown up in bitter poverty. He managed to climb up the ladder by sheer ambition. Now he is a successful businessman with his own publishing company. ‘This boy needs to learn to use his brain,’ he explained to me and said he had given him a computer and a connection to the internet. I couldn’t agree more. The boy is bright enough, but stupefied by life in a basement where everyone eats, drinks, watches TV, sleeps and has sex in the same shared room. The only private space is the WC, which doubles as a shower. And even then, the dining table is only two steps away.
‘At his age it’s normal he wants to escape,’ I comforted Emine. ‘It’ll pass.’
‘I want to send him to his sister’s school,’ she said. ‘There he wouldn’t get a chance to spend all his time with this silly computer, or to smoke. Or to chase the girls with these bad friends of his. They’d watch him all the time.’
‘What if they can’t control him?’ I asked. ‘What if he rebels against such strictness by flying off the hook completely?’
‘That’s what the director said too,’ Emine sighed. ‘She said that if he doesn’t work for school here, he won’t do it there either. She can’t force him, she said.’
‘What is it that attracts him to the internet until the late hours?’ I asked.
‘Some game,’ she snorted. ‘He’s building a village or something like that.’
Aha. That must be Farmville, I thought, the Facebook game that every day some 15 million players in the world sign on to. Before I could start telling her that this might be a lot more challenging to a 16-year-old mind than having to learn off by heart the endless, often useless facts that the Turkish school system manages to come up with, she got up. ‘Thank you for listening to me,’ she said.
‘You can take away the modem after ten at night, but don’t block him altogether,’ I suggested.
‘I’m still going to talk to that school again,’ she said.
There’s no need anymore. God has heard her prayers, or rather T.C., the Turkish state has. Today, the day after Emine came to see me, access to Farmville has been cut. God, sorry, T.C. only knows why. One complaint by a citizen is enough for Turkish Telecom to shut down yet another window to the outside world. All together there are now 4.335 websites blocked, of which 2.601 since May.
To be fair, many of these are pornographic, even though watching or showing pornography itself is not an offense according to Turkish law. These get blocked because someone complains they promote prostitution. Other forbidden sites promote gambling or drugs. Or, apparently equally disturbing, they have content that insults founding father Ataturk. Clearly the state does not trust its citizens to decide for themselves what to view or not. And thus here in Turkey we are not allowed to go onto Youtube, Myspace, Geocities, LastFM, just to name a few. When I was still working as the correspondent for the main news on Dutch TV, for a while I couldn’t post my blogs on its site because they used WordPress, which was blocked. No, Emine can sleep tight. Someone is watching her son, her, and all of us, all the time.
P.S. Apparently Farmville is accessible again, but for how long? I’d better go warn Emine.