The room wasn’t big enough for eight bodies yet each night my mum and her seven siblings crammed grimy limbs around each other on a makeshift bed on the floor. They’d bring the day with them, the dirt from marbles matches on dusty streets, sore fingers from work on the cotton field, restless stomachs ringing with hunger. As Mum explained, she would toss into someone’s back and turn into someone’s stinky feet and cry from frustration. It was in this room with the iron barred windows where the children fought, laughed and went through puberty that I was born a few years later. In Adana, Turkey, where roads are rocky, men are tall, dark and hairy, and streets are cramped with tattered kids and vendors who showcase their goods on wooden carts.

Mum delivered me into the hands of a local midwife at fifteen. I received a sticky initiation to life. My mum’s aunt sprinkled sugar all over my naked new flesh so I’d be sweet and not resemble her mother-in-law whose wide nose I’d inherited. She got to work on my nostrils, squeezed and squeezed them until my nose shrunk to her liking. I was welcomed into the world with a body scrub and a nose job. Try getting that at a maternity ward!

“We never had dolls,” said my aunt Esin on my last visit, “we had you to play with. Your aunt Pervin would crack your toes one by one until you’d scream.” No wonder they’re a little skewed. Mum would breastfeed me, wash my cloth nappies, and hand me back to her eager family. By fifteen, she’d worked on a cotton field, learned to sew, become a wife, a mother. At fifteen I was figuring out how to tame the brown, wiry shrub on my head and how much work I’d need to do to scrape through high school. Mum had a head start in life but it came with many losses.

I owe my name to the girl at the birth registry office who advised my indecisive dad that Hatice, my grandmother’s name, was archaic and Demet was more modern. Don’t get me wrong, Hatice is lovely but it’s a name that works in Turkey where every letter is pronounced. In Australia, however, I would have been lost in pronunciation and found on the tongues of many children who’d nickname me Hat-Ice. ‘Damn it, Demet’, was more than enough thank you.

Two months after my birth, my mum turned sixteen. In a few months she’d be old enough to go to Australia, leave the backyard with the small cement well my grandfather used to fill up on hot days for his kids to cool off. Leave the street where her and her sisters used to board the tractor to the cotton field, laughing and singing with the rest of the workers. Leave her home with poverty etched into her hands and memories that I’d watch resurface years later. She was leaving for a new country, with fear, excitement and a new family in her lap.

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