Why do I return?
Half of my life was spent in a refugee camp. I was fed by people every day; my very life depended on the good will of others – I was raised on donations. The Red Cross was my God!
As a child I remember lining up in long queue, under a harsh sun, for a plate of food. I was given a mark on my forehead or had my ears painted so it could be seen that I had received a plate of food and was not to eat again. For God’s sake I was a child! I didn’t know what cheating was. In a way these people and the depth of poverty taught me how to remove the mark, how to erase the paint. I learned to cheat for another plate.
Five kilograms of wheat, one litre of oil for a family of four – what is that? For a whole week? What nutrition did that contain for my infant brother? What kind of economics should my mom have done to sustain us all with that? You do the maths; it doesn’t last for three days! We were in a vicious cycle of donation, hunger, fear and mistrust. The world didn’t know what to do with us.
We were a hot item on the news for a month. Then we were forgotten. It was as if we were no longer there and as an end result a few months of empathy from the world crippled us. The depth of the hopelessness turned us from immigrants in to a collective of beggars; hopeless, criminal, aggressive, disappointed. Of all the ceremonies of life, the only one left for us to cherish was the burial ceremony! We attended so many of those ceremonies; they were good opportunities for us all to weep for the inner pain. Death was just a relief; it was an escape to the unknown from a well-known pain. This was a huge drop from the lives we had previously lived. My mom used to tell me how rich we were. We had everything – we even had a dad! We lost everything at once. From peace to war, from having a home we become homeless, from being citizens we become immigrants. And boom! We were stuck.
To be a refugee is to be stuck at a point between your original identity and the new one to come. I was stuck there for 14 dreadful years. I grew up there. Between Ethiopia and Eretria, we were a remnant of a war, a display of its horror. We were just neglected, left standing at a point of not knowing where we belonged; abandoned. It’s like trying to solve a problem which has been caused by the whole world alone. This war made one country into two, one peoples into two; one nation into two. Looking back to it now, it was a whole process of making a division. Like I said, seeking refuge is a point at which you leave your origins and jump into something new. You might land somewhere frirm and you might float. We floated!
I took me just over 10 years to heal the wound. I only remember pain. I am free now, I am healed. It’s just memory; it’s not a pain anymore. My mom pays most of the price, carries most of the burden. I am standing on her shoulder as I describe this.
So why do I return? Specially now, when 5 of my life time best friends left me in a middle of nowhere, August 20, in Madrid, seeking for asylum. It just never crossed my mind, one of them holds a Master’s degree, others are professional architects, marketing managers. The question that comes most strongly to me is, why would best friends do that unless there is indeed a better life? I remember a moment where I had the question, ‘what about me?’ A short moment where the power of the majority, the weakness of loneliness and the financial reality at home took over. For once in my life I asked myself “what if they are right in their pursuit of a better life?” I was so close to believing in the illusion, to falling for the collective stupidity.
Then I woke up to realize that they were going to a refugee camp. To the place which I won’t dare to go again because I was there, and I hate it and it’s ugly. Now if you can simply imagine that war-driven immigration is as ugly as I have told – and my description doesn’t come close to the depth of the reality of it. Now take a step back and think of those young, beautiful people who were deceived by the false information delivered by the media, fleeing in search of something better, risking their precious lives. What is better by itself? If it costs your life, if it costs your peace, dignity, if it costs you every positive virtue you have? Life is far more that financial success! Some of you might think that there is very little in common between refugees in Africa and in Europe. I believe they might be different on many levels, but their essence is the same; the loss of self.
The world is a free place if you have a free mind. I don’t need to be an immigrant in my native world. I understand my birthright and the way to achieve it. In the past three years I have seen more than 12 countries in different parts of the world on very little money; I just freed my mind, became a global self, and am its citizen. That is why I return. Places don’t change me, I change me!
A tribal proverb tells that “a local lizard won’t become a crocodile abroad.”.
I choose to believe my inner truth, instead of the illusive realities displayed by others. That is why I return. My life makes my success. It is not my success which makes my life, I am clear on that.
A wise man once said “you are not rich unless you have something money can’t buy”.
The Bible tells it in a different way,
“... the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, selflessness, gentleness, goodness, faith, humbleness, self-control”. ( From the book of Galatians 5:22 )
I have a few of those fruits of the spirit and with this I am really rich because they are freely given, and with those I don’t have to return I am always home.
Addis Ababa Ethiopia