Benefits of Being Nobody

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The 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson once wrote:

“I’m nobody—who are you?

Are you nobody too?

Then there’s a pair of us

—don’t tell—

they’d advertise, you know.”

Emily never saw her poems published. Though a newspaper editor once offered to publish her insightful lines, she refused, stating that she enjoyed being nobody.

When I told this story to my Turkish students who were studying English, they exclaimed,

“She had mental problems!”

But maybe Emily had a point. There is great freedom in being unknown. An anonymous person, almost invisible, can walk through a crowd of famous people without being noticed.

There were a lot of professional journalists in Taksim last Sunday. They wore matching colors and had a huge television camera and tripod, a hand-held microphone, real gas masks, and backpacks full of goodies. But Turkish police targeted them, under orders from Prime Minister Erdogan to suppress the news so that Turkey doesn’t look bad to the international community. I saw a four-member team from Germany hanging in the background while I walked, almost unseen, toward the line of police who guarded Taksim Square. They didn’t notice a middle-aged woman, dressed like an English teacher, who carried a small camera.

Of course, the downside of being nobody means that you may operate on a shoestring budget and only with items you can pack into a purse. But you can travel light. That’s extremely handy when running away from police attack vehicles shooting pepper spray at your back.

Maybe someday Erdogan will know my name. That could be a bad thing. I keep waiting for that knock on my humble Turkish apartment door in the middle of the night. Until then, however, I will continue to be the nobody who records what is happening in Turkey.

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