The priceless happiness that comes with $250

It was the night of a cold winter day—February 6, 2023. I was at home in Eskişehir, Turkey. The night had turned to frost. Suddenly, at 4:21 a.m., the phone rang pathetically. It was very late; I was scared. I felt as if I was about to hear some bad news. The person on the other end of the phone was my eldest brother Enis. I wondered why he was calling at this hour. 

He said, “Brother, there is no such thing, it can’t be, the house collapsed and then got back on its feet.” 

“What happened?” I asked. I could picture my dark-skinned brother with thick-rimmed glasses, his hair falling down a bit in the front.

“It was an earthquake,” he finally said. I heard his wife’s screams from behind. “Many people have died,” he said. And then the phone went dead.

At 4:17 a.m., there was a major earthquake; the epicenter was in the neighboring city of Kahramanmaraş. Eleven cities were hit hard, especially Kahramanmaras, Hatay, Islahiye, and Nurdagi. Then, at noon, there was another big earthquake. Thousands of people lost their lives. It was claimed that half of my hometown of Islahiye, a town of 60,000 people, was wiped out.

Exactly 6 months later, I received another piece of news, which, at first seemed unrelated. Rob Alexander, president of the International Association for Literary Journalism Studies, informed me that I had won the 2023 prize for the best article in Literary Journalism for my essay titled “Literary Journalism in Twentieth Century Turkey,” edited by Kate McQueen. Then, Lisa Phillips announced that prize was $250, about 6,590 Turkish Liras. I thought it over and decided to send the money to my eldest brother Enis in Islahiye. Again, I could picture my brother. This time, his old eyes were smiling. 

Enis is the principal of a school mostly attended by the poor and mentally handicapped children of Islahiye. After receiving the money, he immediately slaughtered a sacrifice and distributed the meat equally among the families in the villages. With the remaining money, he bought clothes for the poorest. Thus, the $250 reward I received brought joy to a handful of earthquake victims.

I join my brother Enis Özer in expressing gratitude on their behalf.                      

Ömer Özer

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