Becoming a refugee

I think that those who have benefitted most from this experience are those that have had to show the most courage: the amount of courage required to remove the contents of one’s heart, to take only a few basic necessities in a small suitcase weighing just a few kilos, to see the street and the house one used to live in one last time and to watch one’s city fade away in the distance and in time.

When you travel as a refugee, your heart trembles.  The journey is the biggest change in your life.  I see friends and acquaintances who have lived a long time, have married, had children, worked for a quite a few years,  their children have gone to school, and I see them take the decision to embark on the journey of migration.  I am amazed.  Not by their decision, but by their strength.

How can they take all those risks and turn their lives upside down?  How can they enter a different reality, start from scratch, learn anew the things they already know?  How can they accept to talk the way little children talk, deal with a new alphabet and relearn how to read and write?  How are they able to form relationships with people who are so different from them?  How can they look for new jobs in order to start earning money?  Before all this, money was never a great concern, now it gives our lives a measure of security.

These people have grown up.  How can they forget their worries or explain them in another language?  How can they spend Sunday afternoons in a container or a small apartment, having sold their old home with its many windows?

Leaving requires great willpower.  How strong do you need to be to cross a wooden bridge?  How strange is it to leave everything and to leave forever?  “Forever”.  Such a heavy word.  So heavy that it falls on you and the sheer weight of it leaves you gasping.  It’s really odd.  People suddenly find enough strength to leave everything behind.

Many people utter the simple word “Refugees”, but they don’t understand what they have left behind and what road they have travelled on.  Some refugees lose a loved one on their journey, perhaps a brother or sister.  When we decide to leave our homeland, not only do we leave everything behind, but we hold our lives in our hands.  We risk our lives in order to improve them.  You don’t need to pity us.  We came here so that life can go on, so that we can rebuild our lives.  You have no idea what we have been through.

But let’s not dwell on what we carry inside us, or on the reasons for leaving.  Let’s benefit from the courage that being a refugee requires and let’s be ready for everything.  Let’s be warriors and let our bodies be as tough as iron.  Let’s be strong.   

*This article has been published in issue #12 of “Migratory Birds” newspaper, which was released as an annex with “Efimerida ton Syntakton” newspaper (Newspaper of the Editors) on March 2nd 2019.

Zainab Khalifa