It is impossible for us to forget about that photograph. It was on 31 May 2013.
The first days of Gezi resistance. Lobna Allami is the girl lying on the ground in the red t-shirt and blue shorts as a consequence of the incident in which tents were burnt down and people were attacked with tear gas bombs; the incident wherein even the Prime Minister admitted the use of disproportionate force.
She was hit on her head by a tear gas bomb capsule and fell to the ground, the back of her head was bleeding. What happened after that photograph jogged in our memory? 24 days in a coma. Two brain surgeries. Days and nights passing in fear wondering whether she will be able to wake up and live. Thank God Lobna is alive. However, one side of her body is paralysed, she is not able to use her hand and talk, there is damage to her brain.
I cried listening to the story of two sisters. I cannot find anything to say about the fact that nobody in the government wished ‘Get well soon!’ to her family. I want to cry more and more.
What’s your name?
- Fatin Allami.
How old are you?
Why are you in Taksim İlkyardım Hospital?
- There was press release of DİSK in Gezi Park on June 31, 2013. It was a sit-in action. There was no resistance. People were just sitting on the ground. Suddenly, a tear gas bomb attack started. Everybody started to disperse. After everything settled down, they found a girl lying on the ground in shorts and a red t-shirt. Her head was bleeding. And she was my elder-sister Lobna. She was in a coma for 25 days and she had 2 brain surgeries. That’s why I’m here.
WE ARE SIMPLY TURKS
Are you of Palestine origin?
- It has nothing to do with our origin. We are Turkish. Our father is from Jordan and our mother is Turkish. Our story is as follows: My grandmother is Fatma Gülfidanağa from Eminönü. She went to Palestine at the age of 14 with her father. Her father was a Governor in the Ottoman Empire. Palestine was a part of Ottoman territory then. Her father became ill and died and afterwards my grandmother remained in Palestine. She married my grandfather, who was Caucasian, and they had children. They emigrated to Jordan with refugees in 1948. After many years, my grandmother returned to her homeland and died here. Even her tomb is in this territory. We are simply Turks!
How about your mother?
- She married my father in Jordan. After getting divorced, she took me and my elder-sister and returned to Turkey.
When did you come to Turkey?
- I was 12, and Lobna was 14.
Have you ever suffered from the difficulties of being a stranger here?
- No. Because we are not ‘strangers’. We know Arabic; however, we dream in Turkish. We communicate with each other in Turkish. Our darlings are Turks. We like olive oil dishes. We eat Ezine cheese in the mornings. We dip our bread into olive oil with thyme. They called Lobna a ‘tourist’. They said she was a ‘stranger’. I do not know why they did so. Would it be a reasonable excuse for the capsule that hit her on the head?
How did create a life for yourself?
- My mother had graduated from the Department of Arabic Language and Literature, and Islamic History. When she found a job in the Embassy of Libya, we settled in Ankara.
What did you study at university?
- I am a graduate of the Department of Political Sciences at Ankara University. I studied Political Science and Public Administration.
How about Lobna?
- She is a graduate of the Department of Philosophy at METU. And she got her Master’s degree from the Department of Human Resources at METU.
What kind of relationship did you have with your sister?
We resemble each other a lot and we squabble. My mother, Lobna and I have strong characters. Although it seems that we have a relationship full of quarrels when we are together, we have a strong bond full of love for each other.
What is Lobna like?
- She is idealistic and emotional. She likes travel. She rides a horse, swims, and dives. She is interested in sky-diving, but she is afraid of planes. She collects litter in the forest, cleans the beaches, she takes the injured cats in the street to the veterinarian’s office, she feeds and helps them to recover. She is merciful. She helps old people. She likes children a lot. Even so, she speaks up when there is any injustice. If there is injustice towards Palestinians in Gazza, Lobna stages a hunger strike here. When a man burns himself in Tunisia, Lobna wails here. She got her Master’s degree in the Department of Human Resources, and she worked in this sector for a few years. However, this did not suit her soul. She was fond of dance and music. While she was at METU, she joined a Contemporary Dance Group. She is quite social. She speaks four languages. She worked in non-governmental organizations, and then she went to Berlin.
What was she doing there?
- She was working in a company organizing festivals. They were taking Turkish singers abroad. She was there for 3 months. Her visa expired, and she came to İstanbul to extend her visa. She was going to Ankara on that night, on May 31, 2013. She had called my mother and said, ‘I will leave my winter clothes at home and take my summer clothes.’ Unfortunately, she was not able to go to Ankara.
To what extent was she interested in politics?
- She wasn’t a member of any political parties or organizations. She was just a member of National Geographic. She had two brain surgeries. She was in a coma for 24 days.
How did you learn about this event?
- Lobna’s old flatmate called me and said, ‘Fatin, Lobna has been injured in Gezi, and now she is being taken for an operation.’ At first, I didn’t realize the severity of the situation. I thought something had happened to her arm or leg. I left the office, and tried to find a ticket to İstanbul. When I got home, all of my friends were there. They were hiding the phone from me. It was because Lobna’s soul-shattering photographs started to be broadcast, and they were trying to prevent me from logging into Facebook. I became suspicious due to their panic and anxiety. Therefore, I called my cousin in İstanbul and wanted her to check the situation. When she called me back, she was crying her eyes out: Lobna was hit with a tear gas bomb canister on the head, and she was taken to hospital due to severe trauma. She has had open brain surgery. Her chance for survival is just 20%!’
Wow! What did you do then?
- I was shocked and petrified. Suddenly I couldn’t feel my legs, and started to tremble. My friends at home helped me to get to bed. But after a while, I rallied, got on the plane and came to İstanbul. Lobna was in the intensive care unit.
BONE FRAGMENTS PIERCED THE BRAIN
What did the doctors say?
- Due to the gas bomb canister that hit her on the head, her skull was fractured, some bone fragments pierced the brain and the brain became swollen. They had taken her into the operating theater and removed a big bone in order to relieve the pressure. During the operation, there was some bleeding, and the doctors drained the blood. They connected her body functions to the life support machine. They were anaesthetizing her. They said, ‘The risk is too high. Anything can happen at any moment.’ and we started to wait. Despairingly, I had to inform my mother about the situation.
When you saw her first..
- Her head was in bandages and she was sleeping. Within the first 24 hours, the other side of the brain also started to bleed. In fact, the second operation was much more severe. If the doctors had delayed for half an hour, it would have been too late. The door of the intensive care unit was opened and Lobna appeared. She is normally a little woman, 47 kg. However, after the operation her body was swollen and doubled in size, and so was her head.
What was the reason of swelling?
- It was because of oedema, a reaction of the body. Normally her eyes are big, and since her brain was swollen, her eyes were completely bulging out. Since they were taking her into an operation immediately, they removed the machine from her body, and they connected something like a pump to the tube, they were pumping with their hands and it was making a horrible noise. That person was not my elder-sister, she was like someone else. Her appearance was really horrible. They said, ‘We have to operate. The death risk is too high. If we do not operate on her, she is going to die; however, she may die during the operation as well.’ They wanted me to sign the paper indicating that I accepted the responsibility. Thank God, I had sent my mother home. If she had seen Lobna in that situation, she would have had a heart attack.
What did you think at that moment? – I thought, ‘She died. They are placating us, they are lying. She is dead!’ It was so painful, I
have never experienced something like that throughout my life. The person lying there was Lobna. My only support in life, my playmate, my elder-sister. I realized how much I loved her. You understand this only in such a situation. You experience that the emotional pain turns into a physical pain. My bones were aching and my heart was in pain.
- They said, ‘We drained the blood in her head.’ The brain is the most sensitive and least understood organ of the body. The police had damaged one part of it, and now the doctors are operating on the other side in order to save her life. A few hours later, the doctors came back. I asked, ‘What happened?’ They said, ‘We’re taking her to have a CT scan!’ I asked, ‘Why?’ They told me that the pupil of her one eye was bigger than the other. So, what does it mean? There is a problem in the brain! Another surgery? No. I felt like all parts of my body were being stabbed. I was not able to talk. I was not able to breathe. It was as if I was paralysed. Hours later, the doctor came and said, ‘We were able to fix her eye, we are going to wait.’ We waited, for exactly 24 days.
Did you build high hopes such as ‘When my sister wakes up, everything will be the same.’?
- Yes. I thought she would wake up and say, ‘Hello’. We were going back home happily. However, the doctors were always reminding us of the risks. In the meantime, the doctors operating on her in this hospital, the nurses in the intensive care unit and the ward sisters took good care of her. I cannot find the words to express my gratitude to them. I learnt that 80% of these kinds of patients are lost on the way, before arriving at the hospital. And 10% of them are lost during the operation or one day later.
Did they warn you about anything when she wakes up?
- They told us that she could be paralysed, or the paralysis could be temporary. Despite the physical therapy, she may keep on losing her senses. She may not be able to talk. She may live as a patient in need of care throughout her life. They told us about all these possibilities.
How is she now?
- There is a brain damage, that’s for sure. However, we are not sure to what extent this is temporary or permanent. We can discern that after a year. The center for speech in her brain was damaged.
SHE CAN’T TALK ANYMORE
What happened when she woke up?
- She did not recognize me. The only person she recognized was my mother. The right side of her body was paralysed and she was not able to talk. She had lost 10 kilos since she couldn’t eat anything for 25 days. She was 47 kg before. There were wounds all over her back. Since they removed some bones, there was a pit in her head. It is still like that. She doesn’t have any hair. There are sutures all over her head. However, she is alive at least, and we are very happy.
THE RIGHT SIDE IS PARALYSED
How do you communicate?
- At first, she didn’t have any voice, but now she is making sounds as a whisper. However, the center for speech in her brain is damaged and she cannot talk. We are optimistic, and so are her doctors. Lobna is somewhere inside that body. However, she is coming back slowly due to the brain damage.
Is it hard for her since she cannot talk?
- Absolutely. She was very aggressive for the first 5 days. And now she is crying all the time. Sometimes she does not sleep for 72 hours. She is trying to express herself through hand gestures. She says, ‘Why can’t I walk?’, ‘What happened to my head?’, ‘Why can’t I raise my arm?’, ‘What happened to me?’
Have you told her?
- Of course. We told her at least 50 times. However, she forgets. Even so, she will be better every day. I want to believe in this. Two days ago, I told her, ‘Let’s brush your teeth.’ We managed to take her to the bathroom, on the way she saw herself in the mirror.
What did she do?
- She got scared. She cried a lot. And I said, ‘We have never lied to you. You know, your head was swollen, and then they removed some bones from there, and that’s why there’s a pit in your head. There is a temporary loss of sense on your right side, there are problems in the center for speech and in your vocal tract, but these problems may be temporary.’ Now she sighs while she is brushing her teeth in front of the mirror. She is getting better day by day. However, she will never be the same Lobna.
How will you take care of her?
- I won’t work for a long time. I will be with my elder-sister. I believe it will be much more beneficial than the physical therapy.
It is difficult for you, too.
- She was my elder-sister, but now she is my baby. I take care of her with pleasure. And she is also doing her best to recover. She is still too sensitive. She feels ashamed. She apologizes. She thinks that she puts us to trouble when we take her to the bathroom.
DO NOT DENY HER YOUR PRAYERS
Have you ever thought ‘If only she hadn’t been in Taksim on that day.’?
- No. Never. We support her in this respect. Lobna was not in an illegal action there. She was using her constitutional right: freedom of expression.
Is there anything we can do for Lobna?
- Please send her positive energy, your love and your prayers. I am sure that one day she will read all of them and thank you. #direnlobna
Do you think ‘It’s our destiny, what can we do?’ or ‘Some violent people ruined my sister’s life.’?
- I am not fatalist. I cannot say, ‘We will take the consequences.’ We must be strong and hold on to the life so that we can support Lobna. She is also a strong woman. She will succeed. The only thing that will upset and even tear me apart is Lobna’s losing her joy for life.
Is it possible not to lose the joy for life with such a loss?
- Of course. She may not be able to talk, use her arm, that’s OK. She has so many positive features that she will overcome her short-comings. I do not believe that a person who stages a death fast for others, who struggles saying ‘Do not demolish our park, do not interfere with our lifestyles!’ and who overcomes such big difficulties will lose the joy for life. I wore a gas mask in the hospital. While I was waiting for her in the corridors of the intensive care unit, I had to wear a gas mask from time to time because they threw gas capsules into the garden of the hospital. Thank God, the gas does not reach the intensive care unit, there is a special ventilation system there. However, I felt really bad. I got scared especially when we learnt that the police entered the garden. I waited just in front of the door of the intensive care unit because I felt as if they were going to take my sister away. When I heard about Ethem Sarısülük, I started to cry. I cried a lot when she was in a coma, for 24 days. Finally, it was as if my tears ran out. Now I try to be strong near her, I never cry. Just once I said ‘There are approximately 7,000 injured people and 5 deaths.’ to illuminate the severity of the events. I started to cry when I mentioned Ethem Sarısülük. I thought about those families. We also suffer a lot, but at least my sister is alive. I cannot believe the ones who have lost their sons, I do not know how they can continue their life. May God give them patience and strength. The ones who said ‘The police became an epic.’ should come and see Lobna.
While you were struggling to stay alive with your sister, the Prime Minister said ‘The police became an epic.’, Melih Gökçek hung a banner thanking the police. How did you feel when these happened?
- I felt so bad. It was so cruel. Yes, the police became an epic, they should come and see the epic they have created: Lobna. If there are any police officers who are happy about what they have done to Lobna and others, I leave them alone with their conscience. They did not even wish, ‘Get well soon!’ Nobody called me or my mother. They ignored us. They did not apologize or wish her, ‘Get well soon!’ And perhaps that’s why they talked about the origin and identity of Lobna a lot. Did they think that would it bother the conscience of the Turkish society if she were a foreigner? What if she were a foreigner? She was a child in the street. With shorts, a t-shirt and espadrilles. She did not collide with the police. She is neither a terrorist nor an anarchist. She was just a person who was sitting in Cihangir on a summer day saying, ‘Do not touch my park, do not interfere with my lifestyle!’ She was just sitting there. They came and they shot her. They made her suffer incredible pain. They left a very intense memory in her that she will never be able to forget in her lifetime. And they never called and wished even, ‘Get well soon!, how do you feel?’ Is this humanity? Perhaps they are afraid of our reactions or perhaps I am still very gracious and they just think about us that ‘They deserve this.’
7 July 2013
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