In secondary school I had a friend who looked like a boy. If someone from the Turkish community saw me walking with her, they would call my parents. That evening, my father would ask me: ‘I know you are not like that, but there are people watching. They think you’re walking with a boy. Will you be more careful next time?’

My father has always been there for me. He felt I should be able to look after myself. That I shouldn’t become dependent on a man. I think a father is very important for a daughter. He determines how she’ll later look at men.

We were the first Turkish family in Koudekerk aan den Rijn. My father was already in the Netherlands, and my young mother followed, carrying me in her arms. I did not have a good time at school. I was bullied because I was different. They all looked like Barbies. Blond hair and those Converse shoes. But I didn’t go to school to show off, I went to learn. I had to cycle more than ten kilometres to my secondary school. As I remember it, I always had a headwind.

The people who made life difficult for me actually helped me. They made me even more determined. I passed my mavo (lower general secondary education) exams and, against the advice of my dean, went on to attend havo (senior general secondary education). She had said: ‘Mavo is the most you are capable of.’ But with my father’s advice ringing in my ears, I thought: ‘I don’t believe that at all. I want to go to college.’

I was sixteen, just home from school when my mother asked: ‘Come and sit next to me. Someone likes you and wants to ask for your hand.’ The boy in question was the son of my father’s colleague. My parents asked for my opinion; I was not married off. I felt good about it. In the end, I became engaged at seventeen and married when I was nineteen. I was engaged for two years, which was a long time because usually you get married a few months later. My father wanted me to finish school first.

Then I went to Delft, to live with a man I hardly knew. It worked out well. My husband and I are still together but, in hindsight, I wish I had made my choices more deliberately. I would have liked to have gone on to study. Within the Turkish community, you were expected to marry young and then get pregnant. When I was 22, I had my first child. Two years later, my second. I had an identity crisis during that period. I was literally between two worlds. I lived my life in the straitjacket of the expectations of my surroundings. My husband’s family was different from my family. I often did what others expected of me, because I thought that was how it should be.

When I was thirty years old, I did what I had always wanted to do: study social work. I was supervised by an internship supervisor who once ‘inconspicuously’ checked to see if I was able to write an address on an envelope. That prejudice again, being different again. I got angry and I told her so. From that moment on, I dared to show more how I felt about things.

Believe in yourself and say how you feel. This is what got me further in life, even if I found it scary at times. I also thought there were things I couldn’t do, because that is what I was told. But one person is not better than another. Everyone is equal. I address the things I see and know when to act.

It has felt to me as if there is a glass barrier between the two communities. By now I know the rules of my own community and those outside it well. With that knowledge, I want to pave the way for the next generation. I’m paving the way in the work I do. And I try to do it as much as possible outside my work, too.

In fact, I used to do that. As a little girl, I used to read the Tina to my cousins and girlfriends in Turkey, when I was there on holiday. I wanted to show them another world, how things can be done differently. That women and men are equal, for example. I think I wanted to be a guide even then.

My feelings show me the way. When I have to make a difficult decision, I put my hand on my stomach and ask myself: ‘Do I want this? Can I feel this? Is it OK, or not?’ Then I listen to my internal voice’s answer. Live your own life. Don’t live the life others expect you to live. The others cannot feel or think for you. This what I want to pass on to my children and, with this, to the next generations.