I was a Refugee
I was a Refugee, but I was lucky
I can just imagine everyone shaking their heads in disbelief. I was a child refugee, and perhaps because of this, I shall probably always be a refugee. Ordinarily, I don’t give it much thought, but now, I see it in the news every day. Day in, and day out; death, and denial. Movie at eleven.
If you have never been a refugee, or at least involved yourself with refugees, you have no idea what it is like to be one. Trust me, you have no idea! Even I — and I was a refugee — have little idea what some of these unfortunate souls are going through. You see, I was one of the luckier ones. I didn’t lose any of my family members. Others were not so lucky. Many are not so fortunate in our times.
Don’t sit in your comfortable armchair, in your cosy lounge, and pass judgement on what you know little about. I am not a distant descendent of refugees — I AM a refugee, and I do have the right to talk about this. I do not talk about myself very often, and I am not about to start now, but I will tell you what it is like for a refugee who really was very lucky. This is part of my story. The rest of it will die with me, as I do not need pity or sympathy.
In 1974, there was a revolt.
As with all colonial powers, when things got too hot, the big wigs ran away like cowards and abandoned their own people. History is testament enough. The ones that were left behind had to pay, and often with their lives. The guilty may have got away then, but karma always returns to knock at their door.
My late father saw the trouble brewing and had the foresight to plan for the hard times ahead. He took what savings he had and bought a small, second-hand caravan. My parents packed up their lives and arranged for their belongings to be shipped across the border. Our much-loved boxer was left in the care of people I can no longer remember, as he could not cross the border with us. It would be many months before we saw Dux again. We grew up together.
Finally, with the caravan packed to the ceiling with all our most precious belongings, we set off, literally a ‘caravan’ of friends. Dear family friends, some now deceased, and my parents, with our old car towing the caravan headed for the border, hoping for the best. We were the lucky ones.
I was young, and I remember little, but I still have flashes of the trip. There were bribes exchanged. Cigarette packs and money, and the rest I don’t recall. We got across the border with what we could take. My parents began a new life with a mere R90 (currently around £4 or $6) in the wallet. We lived in that caravan. My father managed to get a menial job and we eventually rented a modest house. We had no furniture (the rebels would not release it for transport) and some generous South African souls loaned us beds to sleep on.
Weeks, and then months passed, and our belongings just never arrived. We were living on the kindness of strangers and my father’s meagre salary. Something had to be done and since my mother was unemployed, she had to go back to the war-torn land we once called home. A young family was separated due to circumstance. A husband had to let his wife go into a war zone to plead with the rebel authorities to release our only possessions and the family canine.
I remember my mother being gone for a long while, and during that time, I fell deathly ill. My father working long hours outdoors in the icy cold of a harsh winter, and then having to change sheets until there were none left — still getting up to go to work for his next shift. My mother finally returned, having managed to have some of our things released, and our dog sent through to quarantine. It would be a long time before we finally saw our things.
Thus began a very hard refugee life.
In no way does my story compare to what some people are going through right now, but I do know a little about it. I spent most of my life being ridiculed, teased, and bullied for being a refugee. Children would shove me off raised platforms at school, with no concern that I might crack my skull open on the concrete below. I was a foreigner and to be tormented. I was told more times than I can recall, to “Go home!” We were mocked and made fun of, and now in the ‘new’ South Africa, it continues; only now it is ‘legal’.
We moved around a lot, my parents constantly trying to build a new life, and seeking better employment. When I entered high school, I finally met other refugees. We all had a similar story, but others were far more gruesome. Children of war see things that no human should ever see. Parents ruthlessly assassinated in front of their families. Families torn apart, and sometimes never reunited. No refugee ever truly forgets that he has no home, and he has no land to call his own. His heritage is lost, and more often than not, it is bloody too.
For over a decade, my parents saved every cent they could in order to qualify and buy a modest house in a middle class suburb. Not a fancy middle class suburb, mind you … just respectable. My parents worked during the week to earn a living, and on the weekends, they worked to fix up the house.
The years wore on, my father died of cancer, and we had to sell the house. Eventually some old trunks were opened as things needed to be sorted. In one of those trunks were some faded baby clothes, bought for a brother or sister I never had. The one child that they brought with them was all that these refugees could support during those tough times. Eventually they gave up on the notion of ever having more children. This is what it is like when you are a refugee.
If you have never been a refugee, and you pass judgement, know that I will come down on you like a monumental avalanche. I am a first generation refugee. My story is not a fanciful tale of my ancestor’s plight, looking for martyrdom. This is my life, and what you have read is only a small part. I am not a survivor or a victim. I am a human being. Where is your humanity?