I’ve never seen so many confused people in my life; children were crying, men shouting and women, as usual, trying to calm everybody down. I was only nine when we were forced to leave our country, Nabada, to seek refuge in our neighbouring country, Dagal. Rumours had it that civil war in our country was about to start and some said it had already started. One day, my mother decided that it will be best for us to go visit her sister who was already in Dagal. The year was 1984 and my sister was only six by then. We heard gunshots and witnessed a few dead bodies along the way, for some reason, we were not allowed to stare or react. My mother would slap the empathy out of your face if she saw you crying or sad.
We got help from my mother’s family member who insisted that the furthest he could drive us was at the border and my aunt’s friend whom we don’t know would pick us up from there. When my mother asked why, he said, “they are killing us in Dagal; four years ago they killed around a hundred and forty of our people and now they have killed thousands. I don’t know why you think it’s safer there.” I could see the fear in my mother’s eyes but as a typical Nabadan, she brushed it off so quick and went back to being strong. We were stopped a few times on the way by young men who carried guns. Their faces were covered with a piece of clothing except for the eyes.
Throughout the whole journey, I was thinking about how it would have been if my father was still around. He walked out on us when I was 5. He said that he was going to get milk. Four years later and he still hasn’t found good milk for his beloved family. I was sad at first but I got over it, men walk out of their families’ every day, this was not new. My mother’s family was so rich and she worked so hard to keep up with the standards. She didn’t ask for any help from her family when my father left, and she never spoke about it, at least not around us. “We are not beggars, we have hands and legs so we will work for what we need,” she would always say. She was neither weak nor vulnerable, but deep down, I knew she was hurt. People called her mean and bitter, but she was always kind and nice to us.
When we reached the border, we said our goodbyes and met the guy who was supposed to pick us up in a very long trailer. He was different, dark, but not like us. His hair was nappy and rough not silk and soft like ours. This was the first time in my life to meet someone out of my ethnicity. He didn’t say much, he helped us get at the back of his trailer and he started driving. Just like in Nabada, we were stopped several times by police but they couldn’t possibly find us. It was the longest journey of my life. My aunt had set everything for us and I started school immediately we got there and that’s where I met my best friend, Juma.
We settled in the coastal region of Dagal and it was so difficult for us. I was bullied and called names; some were not offensive, rather funny. I didn’t understand the local language, so I was always quiet and lowered my gaze. People looked at me suspiciously and I knew from the very first day that I didn’t belong, they will never accept me and they will always blame me for whatever is going on in the world.
One thing I didn’t understand is thousands of our people died but the hatred against us increased. Weren’t we the victims? Was I missing something? Why would they allow us here if they were going to kill us? We ran from death and we had to beg them to understand why this country is better than the deathbed we were running away from. Why did we come here? I asked my mother one day and she said, “as long as there is food and water, the land is the same.”
To be Continued…