ABC – Exile

Armed struggle was never really an option, ’though as kids we would spend all our free time discussing the various ways to destroy the occupying forces. But these were always only fantasies because our enemies were so powerful and had such sophisticated weapons that whatever puny punishments we could come up with would not have made the slightest dent in their armour. Communities were completely wiped out, whole families of 5 generations massacred. Defeated by the calculated annihilation of everything we knew and loved, we came here, shrouded in memories and only half alive. Even as I walk down the high street, fleeing my reflection in the shop windows, in my mind I am back in the sunlit village square, buying fruit from a donkey cart, selecting a squawking chicken from a bamboo basket. Finding ingredients for our food here is difficult, no matter how big the shops. Gradually I am getting used to the pale, tasteless tomatoes, the dusty spices, the sour coffee, and the olives being so expensive. Halal meat is only sold in a rather grim butchers’ shop run by two Pakistani brothers. I am sure they are kind and the meat is fine but I’m afraid to go in, so we eat a lot of rice.

Just yesterday I read in the paper that most English people think we all come from the same country because we have brownish skin, dark eyes and black hair, and don’t speak English very well. Keeping to ourselves, clinging to our traditions and cooking our strange food- I can see why they might not be able to see the huge differences between us immigrants. Losing our families and our land has gathered us all into a single indistinguishable race.

Most of us are learning how to live again, build our lives from zero, over- whelmingly grateful that there are no bombs in the marketplace, no hate- twisted soldiers crashing through the door at midnight. Now we live quietly and do not speak often about the past; we do not ask ourselves out loud who we are without it.

Our children’s dreams are about ponies and football, which pleases me. Perhaps when they are older, we will talk to them about all that has been lost. Questions about missing family members are hard to answer, but in this country, families are neither close nor numerous, so the children do not feel lonely the way I do. Reassuringly, they adapted to their new life immediately-they found new friends and in no time acquired the local slang, even the funny accent. Seeing them go happily, fearlessly, off to school in the mornings, I am amazed at their transformation. They have become real children- their days are full of games and new experiences, not politics, weapons and death like at home. Unable to forget, my husband and I find it more difficult – we have bone- chilling nightmares and struggle to hide our sorrow and homesickness from the children and from each other.

Violence, for those who have been sheltered from it, is now available on DVD, the rest of us have it indelibly in our memory. We are haunted by ghosts, but our children aren’t. Xenophobia is mild in this country, and we are careful not to draw attention to ourselves. Yet we can bear anything now, as long as the children are safe and free. Zest for life- that is what we have given them by coming here.

 

Fran Roots

 

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