© 2018 by Sinem Taş

The answer I received to my question "how does one have the courage to swim to another country?" was "the problem that looks the hardest to solve could have the simplest solution sometimes". 

T.A. prepares himself for a 11 km long swimming experience. Such thoughts had existed for a while. During his days as a prisoner, he kept exercising, taking cold showers to ready himself for the cold water. When the day of his release arrives, he starts looking for ways to leave the country in which he feels in danger.

"There were other opportunities to leave. Maybe they looked safer than swimming. There was a group that smuggled people abroad. But it making business with them seemed riskier to me compared to swimming since I did not trust them. Anything might have happened. I would not be in control of my risk. It was different with swimming. All would be up to me and nature."

"How are you even going to do it?" I was asked. I told them "I will make a deal with the waves". I observed the sea for a while, went swimming for hours and returned. Waves are bigger during evening hours. Something else I have noticed: Waves do not strike you, carry you along. They are in a swing. They push you up and pull you down. I would not fight the waves. Once pushed up, I would make use of it. The waves were about 2 meters long. I was able to strike it our a couple of times at a time,"

T.A. was able to swim from Turkey to Greece in 9,5 hours following a long trial period and countless arguments. He leaves shore after saying his goodbyes to his loved ones, with his wet suit, swim cap and his bag with energy drinks and chocolate.

"Do you know  Henri Charrière's book, "Pappilon"? It tells about a convict's run for freedom, who is sentenced to a life of hard labor,  for a crime he had not committed. My interest in reading might have influenced my choice." he adds, smiling.

"The place I started swimming was under military watch, it had watchtowers so I needed to be very careful. The sea was not the only danger since getting caught would have meant getting shot".

"I trust my swimming skills, I could stay in water for days but I did not know the sea. The current was another risk. But once I did my research, I realized that due to how the shore was shaped, the current was more likely to occur around the island. But the current could have been deadly cold. These were the conditions I had long accepted. I started swimming. I got tired after a while and needed to come up with a style that suited me. I would revert to backstroke whenever I got tired. While reverting between front and back, I got foot cramps. I learned how to react to it from a diver before. Just so you know, you hold the muscle and pull it in the reverse direction if it happens. I continued swimming that way."

"My stomach started to hurt after a while. We had eaten watermelon with those who had come to say goodbye. Turns out watermelon is diuretic. I had the wet suit on and the swim shorts, add in the water pressure... Even though I tried, I could not urinate. It was one of the most challenging aspects along the way."

I have spotted a small, strobing light from a distance, located on the island I was trying to get to. I tried to direct myself towards the lighthouse but it was hard to figure out if I was getting any closer. After a while, I realized I was getting closer indeed and then I thought to myself  "though small as a snail, I am moving forward. This is what life is about, this is liberty".

I hid in the bushes for a couple of days once I arrived to the island. Once I decided to go out to the beach, I noticed a few families around. I don't speak Greek at all and only a few words of English. I started trailing downward with my wet suit and messy hair... Walking uncomfortably, I realized there was no need to panic. Nobody bothers. In Turkey, people would look, trying to figure out who it is, what he is doing here. That moment I realized "I am in Europe alright.". Nobody bothers. They are free".

"I was really thirsty. I noticed a couple and decided to get closer to them to ask for water. They said they did not have water. Again, at that moment I realized "I was in Europe alright. People are selfish. You would not be left thirsty in Anatolia.".

That was my first impression of Europe: Everyone is free but selfish.

Some time after I got there, I saw in the news that the smuggler group I did not trust got caught. Where I swam across, 40-50 people died when their boat had sunk.

I got married after a while, we have a daughter here. We wanted to name her after hope and victory. We named her after the beach I had arrived to".

I had brought a dry twig with me from the bushes I hid in for a couple of days. Every time I hear there is a fire on that island, I just find myself thinking about it... Also brought a couple of snail shells from the same bushes. Why? If the day comes that I forget about it, they would remind me what it is to move forward... even at the speed of a snail..."